Road Test: Honda Civic Type R
Beneath the lairy exterior and lunatic pace, the Type R makes a great day-to-day car, reckons Alex Grant.Sector: Lower Medium Price: £29,995-£32,995 Fuel: 38.7mpg CO2: 170g/km
With the last Civic Type R axed due to Euro 5 emissions limits at the end of 2010, and no S200 or NSX to prop up the sportier side of Honda’s model range, a brand with one of the world’s largest enthusiast followings has felt a little out in the wilderness of late.
There’s nothing wrong with its recent focus on green motoring, of course. Under the slightly ambiguous Earth Dreams Technology eco-friendly banner, it’s developed one of the best-performing diesels in real-world use, and quality, reliability and customer service are still among the industry best. But it feels like that engineering spirit which once took Honda to motorsport victories and built some iconic names in Japanese performance motoring had gone by the wayside.
Not any more. Honda has hinted at a new Type R since 2014 and, shortly after launching a user-chooser friendly diesel-powered Civic Sport last year, the production car has finally materialised. It’s another Earth Dreams Technology car – so, has the shouty, high-revving hot hatch lost its way?
Visually, at least, there’s no chance of that. Swollen from every angle with vents, spoilers to press it into the tarmac at up to 167mph, huge Brembo brakes behind 19-inch black wheels and four cannon-like exhaust tips under the rear diffuser, it makes the rest of the segment look very conservative. This isn’t a car for someone who doesn’t like having conversations about VTEC engines on petrol forecourts, or finding heavily-filtered snapshots of it on social media.
That’s only half the battle. Previous Type Rs were renowned drivers’ cars, though its predecessor divided opinions at launch, and there’s a fundamental change in this car. No longer powered by a naturally-aspirated engine with all of the power at the top of the revs, it’s now turbocharged and even has a stop-start system. Great news for CO2 emissions, but likely to make Honda enthusiasts twitch nervously.
They needn’t. This is a stellar engine, its 304bhp howling into life at higher revs just like VTECs of old, but this time accompanied by the addictive rush of spooling turbocharger. Press the +R button and it becomes a savagely fast way to cover ground, every bit the hooligan it looks, reaching 62mph in 5.7 seconds from rest. It feels even faster.
What’s even more impressive is how little the lack of four-wheel drive blunts its ability to cover ground. The power needs metering out on very cold, damp roads but the available grip is staggering and there’s never a sense that it’s trying to dive into the nearest hedgerow. Beneath the swollen bodywork, it’s a pussycat.
And that’s perhaps the most notable point. Yes, the ride quality is firmer than most, and yes those Type R trademark red bucket seats are hard to get into gracefully, but this is a very easy going motorway car with plenty of space on board. It’s quiet, comfortable and – if you can resist unleashing the fury within – it’s quite easy to achieve the claimed fuel economy on the motorway. There isn’t even a compromise on rear visibility from the spoiler, though anyone who’s driven a standard Civic will know that isn’t saying much.
Obviously, this isn’t a core part of Honda’s fleet offering, but it is important. There’s an affection towards Honda’s brilliant engineering, and a love for its high-performance offerings. Now that it’s back in the game with the best hot hatches on the market, and with a reborn NSX on the way, there’s no need for its bigger-selling models to slip out of the limelight.
Beneath the brawny exterior, the Type R has grown up significantly between generations. Thankfully, it’s also happy to show its thuggish side when the chance arises.