Ben Griffin reviews the bonkers new Honda Civic Type R on track and on road.
Back in 1997 Honda stuck the red ‘H’ badge – seen previously on the NSX Type R and Accord Type R – to the Civic Type R and a hot-hatch star was born. Five generations later we have the most powerful Civic ever and one that is supposedly the fastest front-wheel car drive in its class.
Honda has designed the new Civic Type R as ‘a race car for the road’. It produces a healthy 310PS and 400Nm of torque from its turbocharged 2.0-litre VTEC engine, with myriad optimisations and tweaks to make it a competent handler.
It all sounds great on paper, but has the five years since the last Type R been too long? Is the competition from the Germans just too much? We headed to Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, for a road test to find out.
The new Civic Type R only comes as a five-door, which means you will have to put up with a slightly less clean design when viewed in profile. No matter though, because the rest of the car screams ‘boy racer’, which your inner youth will probably love (if you’re anything like us).
The new Type R looks more purposeful than its predecessor. The loutish front bumper, supercar-esque rear splitter, LED daytime running lights, gloss black rear diffuser and quad-pipe exhaust arrangement all do their bit to warn others you’re in something a bit tasty.
Honda says there’s no design aspect of the car that is there for show, it’s all about functionality. The aerdodynamics, for instance, have been designed to create overall negative lift, which helps the car cope with its class-leading top speed of 167mph.
Inside is a less impressive affair. Cheap plastics on the door handles and switches make you wish your £30,000 went further, while weird nodules throughout the cabin spoil the aesthetic slightly. The simple rev counter, speedometer and shift displays are beautifully simple so points are clawed back.
The race seats, meanwhile, are soft enough to make long journeys pleasing while providing much-needed support when you lob the car into a corner.
It would be fair to say the proportions of the new Type R are more akin to a a small van, which explains why it has plenty of headroom and legroom in the back and front. Not only that, the boot is a massive 498 litres with the rear seats up and 1,427 with them down. That’s class-leading Ikea flat-pack room right there.
The rear bench arrangement still only accommodates two passengers, but has been redesigned to make it possible to fold them down completely flat in 60:40 fashion.
The small-ish rear doors make it easy to get in and out of so even granny will want to travel in it. That is, until you put your foot down. A large glove box, medium-sized door bins and a large central storage area with an HDMI and USB connection sweeten what is already a very practical machine.
Admittedly, it was a bit too easy to scrape the new Civic Type R’s front bumper owing to the rather low ride height so those who live surrounded by speed bumps may find it a pain.
Performance & handling
As the first VVTi engine to feature a turbo, you can imagine the power output and torque is generous. It is, with 310PS available from 6,500rpm and 400Nm of torque available from 2,500rpm, making it incredibly eager to overtake in just about any gear.
In typical Honda fashion the engine screams up to 7,000rpm but all that torque from low down means there’s less need to keep your foot planted, which makes it capable of covering ground very quickly even if you feel like taking it steady.
The extra torque means you can focus on the six-speed manual. Honda wanted to make the car as involving as possible, hence the lack of an automatic, and we think it is all the better for it. It’s just 40mm between gears so you can really slam through them in rapid fashion.
The Type R’s 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds is quick, but it isn’t the fastest away from the lights. A Golf R dips in under four seconds, while the BMW M135i manages around the five-second mark. The less powerful Seat Leon Cupra 280 with a DSG gearbox is just as quick to 62mph.
In its defence, 5.7 seconds is still fast enough to get the blood pumping and the Civic Type R excels in its ability to carry speed through corners. Once up and running, there’s very little that can keep up with it, and anything ahead of it will be reeled in. Honda recently set a record time on the Nurburgring of 7 minutes 50.63, blitzing the Cupra by almost eight seconds. It is the fastest front wheel drive car around the ‘green hell’, even showing more powerful sports cars a thing or two.
Time spent lapping the Slovakia Ring circuit revealed how rewarding and capable the new Type R is. The helical limited-slip differential works overtime to correct slightly overzealous corner entry speeds, while the specially designed Continental tyres provide oodles of grip. There’s a tad too little steering feel, but it’s just enough to communicate when grip levels reach an end.
On Bratislavan roads the ride quality is a tad firm, with large potholes causing the car to shudder. But as the roads smooth out it’s remarkably civilised and the engine note, although throaty and addictive, settles down just enough so you can arrive at your destination without a headache.
On the subject of harshness, the much-talked about +R button turns the white dial surrounds to red, suggesting something bad is about to happen. Press it and the adaptive dampers firm up 30 per cent, the throttle gains a notch of responsiveness and the steering becomes heavier.
Economy & efficiency
Honda has made the new Civic Type R Euro 6 compliant and surprisingly fuel efficient. Drive like you hug trees and it can return up to 38.7mpg, according to Honda. We’ll have to wait for a bit more time in the car to confirm or deny that claim.
CO2 emissions come in at 170g/km, making it relatively cheap to tax. But the just as fast Leon Cupra 280, which is powered by a 2.0-litre TSI, offers 44.1mpg and 149g/km of CO2. A manual Golf R, meanwhile, is said to offer 40.9mpg while emitting just 148g/km. The Type R is a bit behind the curve.
Equipment & value
The standard Civic Type R will set you back £29,995. The GT model goes for £32,295 and includes a red stripe on the front, a rear splitter, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, interior red ambient lighting and navigation with four years of free map updates from Garmin.
GT also gets Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Information, High-Beam Support System, Cross Traffic Monitor (which tells you when a car is crossing behind you when reversing) and an upgraded 320-watt sound system. Whether it’s worth £3,000 depends on how much you value safety and the hassle of bringing your own satnav.
The standard car has a good-sized infotainment display but lacks navigation. Automatic climate control and cruise control with a speed limiter are also standard.
Those prices put the new Type R in Peugeot RCZ R, VW Golf R and BMW M135i territory – and that’s dangerous. In fact, the Seat Leon Cupra 280 is faster in a straight line and more efficient, while costing £3,000 less.
Those who crave a little more luxury and personalitation can opt for the Carbon Exterior Pack, which adds carbon fibre to the fog lights surrounds, tailgate and rear wing. It can also be specced inside for a sportier interior.
Honda wants to sell 1,500 in the first year and then will ‘see how it goes’. This is a deliberate move to make it a rare sight and therefore more special than many of its rivals.
Like its predecessor, the new Civic Type R has a five-star Euro NCAP rating and features various safety systems that can help prevent an incident in the first place, such as City-Brake Active, which applies the brakes for you if an imminent collision is detected below 19mph.
Other additions like huge 18-inch vented and drilled discs at the front and 16-inch solid discs at the rear, which can bring you to a halt as quickly as you can reach breakneck speeds, and a number of airbags throughout the cabin inspire confidence.
We really are fond of the new Civic Type R. We love that it can handle track hooliganism without breaking a sweat but take gran to the bingo without causing her any discomfort. We love how it makes you feel like a good driver, even if you’re not. We love the fact it feels so planted and eager to please.
But the competition is tough and there will be few people that can really ‘pull off’ a Type R – it might look very odd on a middle-aged man’s drive, unlike the understated Golf R and BMW M135i.
But if you grew up with the Fast & Furious or one of the older Type R cars and fancy a trip down memory lane, the new Type R is extremely capable and practical enough to make it a worthwhile consideration. If you want a blisteringly quick hot hatch that is, arguably, the fastest front wheel drive car money can buy, it’s definitely worth checking out.