We’ve had to wait an agonising five years for a new Honda CivicType R, but finally we’ve driven the latest hot hatchback to hit the market – and although Honda might be a bit late to the party, it’s definitely been worth the wait.
First of all, there are some big changes under the new, bulging skin compared to the old hot Civic, including a new 2.0-litre turbocharged engine in place of the previous naturally aspirated high revving unit. Hardcore Honda purists might not be so pleased, as the old car’s character was defined by this feature, but the new Type R is a worthy successor.
Hot hatchbacks are all about mixing performance with real-world usability, and the Honda excels at both. But lets start with the former.
The new four-cylinder turbo engine kicks out a seriously muscular 306bhp and 400Nm of torque, which means extremely rapid performance. The 0-62mph sprint takes just 5.7 seconds, while the family hatch will top out at 167mph - but the first thing that strikes you is the engine’s mid-range.
Put your foot to the floor and it pulls with a great slug of torque, meaning you can leave it in gear. However, if you want to work the box, the six-sped manual is perfectly suited to the power unit, with a super short throw and a lovely, precise mechanical action.
You can’t feel the engine’s VTEC system kick in any more (it now performs its magic as low as 1,200rpm for better low down response), but there’s still a ferocious top end to play with and the engine will rev out to its 7,000rpm redline sweetly, so the traditional heady Type R character is still accessible. And with the added whooshes and whistles from the turbo, there’s a new element to the Honda’s engine note.
It’s not all good news, however – those four fat exhaust pipes emit a bassy blare at idle, but on the move the engine is more droney and the noise is quite intrusive if you’re on a long cruise.
The problem’s easily solved by turning off the motorway and onto a twisty back road though, as it’s here the Civic really starts to come alive. Push the +R button and the dash turns from white to glowing red, the suspension dampers get 30 per cent stiffer, while the throttle is more responsive and the steering weights up.
As a result the Type R takes on an extra hardcore, focused edge and feels even more lithe and agile. The big 350mm Brembo brakes have huge stopping power and nice feel, and the heftier steering is very precise. It’s not overflowing with feel, but it’s accurate enough for you to guide the Civic through a corner, adjusting your line with tiny movements of the steering and throttle. Floor the accelerator out of a bend and the traction from the limited-slip diff and super sticky low profile tyres is immense.
Honda has designed a clever new suspension system for the Civic’s front-end to give it this extra dynamic ability. By separating components with a new ‘dual axis’ strut design it means each can do their job better, reducing torque steer by as much as 50 per cent. It’s not completely gone, but the wheel wriggles less and doesn’t tug your hands quite so much under hard acceleration.
You can use all of the Civic’s power, too, as the chassis is so grippy and communicates what’s going on clearly. The adjustable dampers are noticeably stiffer in the +R mode, but the car still rides nicely. Body control is excellent, even if it is a bit bumpy on poor roads.
The Type R isn’t designed for cruising, but dial the chassis back to the normal mode and it’s surprisingly refined. The sporty bucket seats offer lots of support, but they’re comfortable, too, and mean you can find the perfect driving position.
There’s plenty of standard equipment, including Bluetooth, keyless entry, cruise and climate control, rear parking sensors, autonomous braking and Honda’s CONNECT multimedia system. It’s not the neatest unit and looks like an off-the-shelf part stuck in the dash, but it works well.
At £29,995 it’s more expensive than some of its rivals, but for another £2,300 you can spec the GT pack, which adds sat-nav and some extra safety systems, including blind spot, forward collision and lane departure warning, as well as cross traffic alert.
In either form the Civic is massively practical – visibility is good despite that huge rear wing, there’s plenty of space in the rear and, with the standard five-door hatchback’s clever Magic Seats, there’s a cavernous amount of luggage room on offer. There’s 498 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place, but fold them down with the clever one-movement operation and it increases to a massive 1,427 litres.
This real-world usability is supported by decent efficiency. Honda has not yet confirmed fuel economy or CO2 emissions, but it expects the Type R will return 38.7mpg and put out 170g/km, which is 4g/km less than the less powerful Renaultsport Megane.
Even the steroidal styling doesn’t affect practicality – it actually contributes towards performance and efficiency, with clever cut outs and vents to reduce drag over the Type R’s angular body. The jutting splitter, nearly flat underfloor, rear diffuser and huge wing also add ‘noticeable’ downforce to improve grip and balance in high speed turns, according to Honda’s engineers.
Overall then, the new Honda Civic Type R might have lost a touch of its old banzai rev-happy character, but it’s gained much more in terms of performance and practicality. The engine and chassis combine to make a devastatingly effective package that boasts surprising practicality to boot, but next to the best in the sector, the Civic lacks that last layer of feel.
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