Can the latest Honda Civic Type R back up its outlandish looks with exhilarating performance and handling?
Smooth mountain pass? Tick. +R mode selected? Tick. Foot flat? Tick! The Type R responds instantly by sending 228 kW through a limited-slip differential to the front wheels, where special Continental Sport Contact 6 rubber tears at the asphalt. There is little sign of torque steer or wheel spin as a set of corners is reeled in at a serious rate of knots.
However, the fun truly starts with the first steering input, which highlights Honda’s newest hot hatch’s startling response and its leech-like grip on the front axle. This is undoubtedly helped by the negative camber on the front wheels (which causes noticeable wear on the inner edge of the tyres). It’s obvious why the Type R holds the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record for FWD vehicles.
True hot hatches, in contrast to lukewarm pretenders, are bought first and foremost for the driving experience. Styling and practicality play a role, of
course, as they’re often used for family transport duties … but their drivers live for that occasional moment when an empty stretch of blacktop presents itself and it is time to blow away the cobwebs. The Type R is brilliant at doing just that.
Much has been written about the history of the legendary red-badged Type R range, but in latter years the focus has been on a move from high-revving, naturally aspirated engines to the first, short-lived, turbocharged 2,0-litre FK2 Civic model. Some loved its abundance of torque and hard-edged character; others lamented the loss of a stratospheric redline and more useable day-to-day manners.
This new FK8 model aims to bridge the gap. It employs the engine from the FK2 (there have been some minor changes to improve response, including a single-mass flywheel), but rides on a newly developed Global Compact platform, with the main difference being the addition of independent rear suspension. The result is a vehicle that is longer (165 mm) and lower (36 mm), and appears altogether more purposeful (or tacky, depending where on the spectrum your aesthetic tastes lie). At least its good to know that each scoop, vortex generator, vent or wing is designed with a singular aim: providing maximum downforce and little drag penalty; a coefficient of just 0,26 on a hatchback shape is praiseworthy.
Function and form merge again at the rear where the triple exhaust outlets recall anti-aircraft weaponry, but are said to reduce back-pressure, amplify the exhaust note above 4 000 r/min (in reality, to middling effect) and help eliminate the cabin boom that plagued the outgoing model at cruising speeds (which it
Climbing inside, the driver is greeted by a clearly race-inspired cabin including crimson-hued, form-hugging bucket seats that provide excellent lateral support, that work-of-art metal-topped shifter and a dash with more red inserts and carbon-fibre touches than some may deem necessary. Gone is the tiered dash design, with a digital instrument cluster now taking centre stage (some testers complained about the readability of especially the fuel-level and engine-temperature gauges). USB and 12 V power sockets are oddly sited below the centre console, but a large cavity between the seats has space for phones and wallets. That’s there because the Civic Type R has an electronic parking brake, an odd feature on a honed performance vehicle with a manual gearbox.
There were no complaints about the near-perfect driving position, aided by a low seat setting (the fuel tank was moved aft to achieve this) and fully adjustable tiller. Rear legroom is now class-leading at 720 mm thanks to a jump in wheelbase length of 106 mm. There’s good news in the boot, too, which measures an impressive 312 litres, which we thoroughly tested on a family weekend away (and the vehicle passed with flying colours). Coupled with compliant suspension in comfort mode, the Type R just about makes a composed daily driver. Only excessive road noise dents refinement.
Honda engineers added that softer comfort setting to the already-available settings of sport and +R to broaden the vehicle’s operating remit. We found the former mode, which includes a brilliant rev-matching feature during downshifts, is the best option for fast-road driving. The overly firm, alert +R mode should be reserved for billiard-smooth surfaces.
On our test strip, it was always going to be tough to match the manufacturer’s 5,8-second claim from 0-100 km/h, as it was a scorching day and heat lowers air density and generally affects engine performance. With traction control switched off and +R mode selected, the ECU allows only 3 500 r/min before the clutch is sidestepped. There is so much grip that the engine bogs slightly before an ideal run to three figures can commence. Our final reading was 6,30 seconds, which left us slightly deflated, as the previous Type R needed merely six seconds. Once back in the office, we analysed the data and realised the new model needs third gear to hit 100 km/h, while its forebear could do it in second thanks to a shorter final-drive ratio.
The manufacturer claims an 8,4 L/100 km fuel-consumption figure, confirmed by an excellent 8,2 L/100 km on our fuel route. Mine the depths of its performance, however, and that figure quickly skyrockets, shortening the range on the 47-litre fuel tank to less than 300 km.
Completing the overall stellar dynamic showing were the Brembo brakes, recording a best time of 2,60 seconds during our 10-stop test and a brilliant 2,77-second average. We noticed the brakes emit a slight grinding sound, but apparently this is common.
In a world where too many cars try to be everything to all people, but often fail in that quest, Honda needs to be applauded for such a focused creation. It's divisive to look at and sit in, and, although it is easier to live with than the FK2, it is still a focused hot hatch. The way the front axle manages to put down power in dry conditions questions the need for AWD in similarly powerful vehicles, and each gearshift is a celebration of one of the finest manual transmissions available.
Where does the Type R rank, then? In the absence of the discontinued Golf GTI Clubsport S, the Honda leads the way as the driver's choice in the front-wheel-drive performance category ... for now. Early signs show much promise for the upcoming Renault MÃ©gane RS Trophy, which has its sights set, too, on NÃ¼rburgring lap records.
However, until the French car arrives, the new Type R is the undisputed ruler of the FWD hardcore hot hatches.
*From the April 2018 issue of CAR magazine