By Declan Colley.
I think I can say with some degree of certainty that in all my years doing this gig, I have never come across a car that created as much excitement among the general public as the Honda Civic Type R I had a few weeks ago.
Friends, neighbours, passers-by and complete strangers in their droves, were all magnetised by this car and, to be honest, I was not at all surprised by this phenomenon.
In its “crystal black pearl” overcoat, the tester bore a truly menacing demeanour — all swoops, air dams, wings, winglets, diffusers, roof ridges (sorry, vortex generators) — and more than one observer commented that there was a very definite Batmobile vibe going on here.
When I first saw the car — in the incongruous surrounds of a Cork suburb — it looked positively menacing. It simply oozed an intimidating and dark aura and, despite being aware of all the pre-launch hype that this was one of the best hot cars Honda has ever made and applied the usual grain of salt to that assertion, I had to admit that this thing certainly looked the part.
Having driven each of the three previous incarnations of the Type R nothing could really have prepared me for this new one.
Everything about it suggests a finely honed application of technologies, aerodynamics and sheer élan. The car combines beautifully a sense of purpose with equal amounts of foreboding and scariness factored into the mix.
Look at it from any angle and you cannot but be taken by the outrageousness of it. From some angles it looks like one of those starfighter things from a Sci-fi movie, but Honda has managed to give the car that hard-edged look without making it look like mutton dressed up as lamb.
No, they have made it purposeful and exciting without being silly.
That said, the look of the Type R will divide opinion and it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for anyone looking for a seriously fast, beautifully built, driver-oriented hot snot, then there is not further to look.
Certainly the near 54 grand price tag will put many off — and I cannot honestly say this represents a value-for-money proposition compared to such as the Golf R or the Focus RS — but, heck, what a machine.
The thing is that this is a vast improvement over the last version because Honda has actually made it as much of a companion as an assault weapon. The last one had two driving modes — Sport and R+. In the latter the ride was so firm you were in danger of permanent double vision and spinal fusing.
The current one has three driving modes, adding a comfort setting to the aforementioned two and this transforms the car from being only really a track day special into something that is actually liveable with on a daily basis.
But, personal comfort aside, what is it that makes this thing so special? Well, Honda developed the Type R in tandem with the regular Civic and this allowed for a much quicker launch time by comparison with the FK2-desginated predecessor. This one — the FK8 — is also 16kg lighter, 38% more torsionally rigid and has a 95mm longer wheelbase, all of which is designed to provide greater overall stability.
On the suspension front the new car shed the old torsion beam rear arrangement for a multi-link one — again for greater stability, especially under braking, while at the front there are MacPherson struts with revised geometry. All-round adaptive dampers also feature, while the 245/30 R20 tyres have been specially developed by Continental for this car.
On top of that, by moving the petrol tank from under the front seats to a more practical site under the rear seats allowed the designers to lower the driving position (which is now fantastic and makes you feel like the car is built around you) and find an overall lower centre of gravity — again for greater on-road stability.
The engine is a developed version of the two litre turbocharged VTEC unit in the older car and now outputs some 316 bhp — 10 more than previously thanks mainly to a revised exhaust system, which boasts three fully functioning tailpipes sited in the rear diffuser. Peak torque is 400 Nm from 2,500 to 4,500 rpm and the 0-100km/h dash is achieved in 5.7 seconds, while the top speed is 272km/h.
A feature of the engine — a delightful one — is a rev matching control system which allows engine speed to be aligned to the gearbox’s main shaft speed during upshifts or downshifts and provided an added sonic thrill to proceedings.
And what about that gearbox? Well this is a six speed unit, but it is so slick and mechanically precise, it will shock most people. Honda’s assertion that the pleasure derived from merely using this gearbox is so much part of the fun of driving the car, is far from being an idle boast. It is true, believe me.
Delightful steering (although the turning circle is poor, as per most hot hatches), beautifully responsive (and efficient) brakes, a frightfully willing engine and that snick-snick-snick ‘box, all combine to provide a car that will thrill press-on drivers and astonish less appreciative ones.
Throw in savage grip levels, a near absence of understeer (thanks to a mechanical limited slip diff), ferociously tenacious handling and excellent high speed stability and you’ve got a package which will stand up to the most considerable and rigorous examination. And, as I’ve said, the addition of the comfort mode makes it all a lot more bearable than before.
It is also a practical car with enough room for four adults and a decent boot and an interior that bears up well by comparison with anything else in this class. In fact the layout is a lot more intuitive than previously and the GT pack will add stuff like sat nav and smartphone charging to an already comprehensive specification. The excellent sport seats are worth noting too.
This is a car that has been developed from an excellent base and it is good that Honda listened to what the critics said about the last car and addressed and corrected every issue put to them.
The car they have built is so good it clipped seven seconds off the previous best Type R time around the Nurburgring. Think about that — seven seconds. That is some improvement and it simply underscores what a tour de force this car is.
It might seem we here at Examiner Motoring are getting very fast and loose with the awarding of the rarely
accorded five-star recommendation — two so far this year — but a third has just blasted into view and it is the Honda Civic Type R. What a car.