Honda Civic Type R – return of a genuine legend

HONDA CIVIC TYPE R: Engineered so that performance has priority.

It’s been widely publicised Honda has a new Civic hatch in the New Zealand market, it launched mid-way through the year and, sitting beside its sedan stablemate, the two are commanding solid sales.

What hasn’t been quite so noticeable is the inclusion of a Type R Civic hatch. Type R Civic, and other Honda models wearing that badge, appeal to enthusiasts who relate to the feisty, rorty performance offering. A friend of mine is an avid Type R Civic fan, and every time we have talked about its impending arrival, his eyes lit up in anticipation.

The Type R Civic represents everything a hot hatchback buyer could want. It has a 2-litre turbocharged engine, it drives through a six-speed manual transmission and has suspension engineered for quick cornering.

Honda rates the engine with 228kW and 400Nm, peak power is reached at 6500rpm, but it’s the area of maximum torque that is the most interesting, full boost is available all of the way from 2500rpm to 4500rpm. The combination provides solid response to accelerator request, the engine thrives on revs and offers strong initial and mid-range acceleration. Honda claims a 5.7sec standstill to 100km/h time, but in my research I’ve seen independent evaluations which have times of around 4.8sec to make that speed. Honda also claims a 272km/h top speed.

The Type R gets driver-selectable engine management protocols, there’s a comfort mode (which also adjusts the suspension to softer levels), there’s a sport mode which heightens engine anxiety and firms the suspension, and the ‘R’ mode for those track days at Ruapuna’s Mike Pero Motorsport Park.

In ‘R’ mode the Type R is manic, it responds with the slightest hint of accelerator pressure, it is urgent and frenetic, the kind of feeling that Type R buyers have become used to in models past. In that mode the exhaust sound is at its most reticent, there is a sound enhancing centre exhaust pipe, but the throbbing, popping sound out of it is far from overbearing.

I took the test car west of Terrace Downs in the Canterbury high country. It was in its element on the complicated array of corners which make up that fantastic road. Riding on extremely low profile, sport specification Continental tyres (245/30 x 20in), the steering is pin-point sharp and there is a strong self-centering feel at the wheel.

Drive is channelled through the front wheels, and while the performance car purist might not relate to that, the entire handling feel is one of neutrality.

At the media launch for the new Type R we, as journalists, were treated to hot laps at Hampton Downs motorsport complex. Rain was intermittent which made the track very greasy. Even with the natural push developed by front-wheel-drive the Type R was directional and controllable, and with the complex electronic traction devices there was little to indicate front-wheel-drive was a disadvantage.

When presented with some tight corners it’s reassuring to feel the power of the four-corner Brembo brakes. The pedal is sharp and inviting and retardation is massive; just when you think that brakes are working at their maximum you can squeeze the pedal just a little bit harder and speed is quickly arrested.

The Type R is a true performance machine, it has complex engineering structures within the suspension, and other mechanical and electronic components, so that its ability in the performance sphere is uncompromised. But it also appeals in many other ways. Just to look at the Type R Civic tugs at the senses. The body shape, while distinctively Civic, is adorned with carbon fibre accents, edges and spoilers which wouldn’t look out of place on a formula one car.

On the inside, bright red, sports-style seats and red seat belts command the cabin, the dash graphics exude a sporty look and leave nothing to the imagination, the Type R is aimed at a buyer who wants to stand out in a crowd and had best be prepared to be looked at. I know during my time with the evaluation car it captured looks from all quarters.

Interestingly, the Type R lands here from England, it is built to Honda Japan’s quality control criteria at its Swindon plant. Even though shipping costs are high, the newcomer lands at a competitive $59,900.

While Honda has had a tough time in formula one in recent years, the Type R Civic is a result of Honda’s healthy motorsport heritage and it is built to traditional hot hatchback criteria.

It also lives up to the reputation of its predecessors; however, it is by far a better car that any produced before, those who do buy one will certainly be rewarded by the fun factor every time the wheels turn.

Price – Honda Civic Type R, $59,900

Dimensions – Length, 4556mm; width, 1877mm; height, 1435mm

Configuration –  Four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, 1996cc, 228kW, 400Nm, six-speed manual

Performance –
0-100km/h, 5.7sec

Fuel usage – 8.8l/100km