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2017 Honda Civic Type R: The track beast is back

25 years ago Honda unleashed the Type R and Fireblade performance brands. To celebrate, we raced around in the 2017 Civic Type R at the Rockingham Motor Speedway circuit in Corby.

Ready to feel old?

It was 25 years ago the Type R badge was born, having been attached to the NSX-R ─ a lighter, more potent version of the Japanese supercar legend. Although back then it was known internally as the R-Type before Honda decided it sounded better the other way around.

Over that lengthy time we have seen increasingly rapid front-wheel drive hooligans, ranging from the Accord Type R, which featured a 209bhp 2.2-litre, ranging to the Integra Type R and, of course, the Civic Type R – now in its fifth generation, believe it or not.

The last Honda Civic Type R, the FK2, was easily the most aggressive hatchback on the market, both in terms of the drive and looks. We thought of it as a touring car for the road and it went on to become one of our favourites ─ narrowly edging out the Focus RS.

Based on the 10th generation Civic, the 2017 Civic Type R ‘FK8’ has been dialled back in terms of styling but it still makes a VW Golf R look as exciting as a park bench. It is also less harsh in other areas to make it easier to live with when driving to the supermarket or picking Gran up from the airport.

The performance figures are, however, no less ludicrous. Honda is happy letting the 2.0-litre VTEC Turbo petrol pump out 315bhp at 6,000rpm and 295lb/ft of torque at 2,500-4,000rpm through the front wheels, which is frankly mental.

As we headed out onto Rockingham circuit, having let the Fireblade riders have their turn at brushing apexes, we buried the throttle and felt that addictive, savage punch of acceleration, which, thanks to losing a few pounds and some engine fettling, has been made even stronger than before.

The instant impression you get from the new Type R is that it is more civilised and less rough around the edges. 37 per cent extra torsional rigidity should mean more pain for your spine, but the reality is that the new multi-link rear and MacPherson strut front suspension setup is noticeably more forgiving.

There is barely a whiff of torque steer, making it all-too easy to test out the 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds. Nor is it especially difficult to control as you head towards the top speed of 169mph (4mph faster than the NSX-R and faster than any other Type R), thanks to various aerodynamic revisions.

A helical limited-slip differential and the dual-axis front suspension design are two of the main reasons why the engine can deliver its power without any fanfare and so our first lap is over in rapid fashion. It is immediately clear that the FK2 and FK8 share a lot of character traits.

The six-speed manual gearbox has a short throw that lets you shift fast and straightforwardly, not that you need to change gears too frantically because the high-revving nature of the engine and generous low-down torque.

Where the Type R stands tall over its rivals is to do with predictability. Its sharp, carefully weighted steering provides more than adequate communication with the front wheels so you can tell exactly how much speed to scrub off before going into a corner. Invariably, you can get away with carrying too much.

In a Focus RS you sometimes find the all-wheel drive system can be unpredictable, while the BMW M140i – though hugely fun because of its rear-wheel drive nature – has steering so vague you have to let the rest of the car fill you in on the situation. In a Type R you know exactly what’s what, all the time.

This, then, is why on the second lap we are already almost up to the speed of our instructor who had come along for the ride (safety is king, apparently). Its beefy 350mm discs and four-pot calipers dig in hard and the level of travel on the pedal makes it easy to be precise ─ another plus in a track setting.

Rockingham’s tightest corners do flag up a torque lull, where second gear is that little too slow for the turbo to blast you out the corner with the usual level of enthusiasm, but applying the accelerator oddly early compensates nicely.

Helping keep the balance of the car is the auto rev function, which bumps up the revs as you shift down. Some would prefer to heel and toe, but only those who spend their life racing will be confident enough to do that without taking your mind off all the other good stuff.

What actually matters is the triple-exit exhaust system is 2dB louder than before so you get to enjoy a bigger dose of its slightly harsh, purposeful engine note when you want to, but the rest of the time it is actually quieter. Because a constant drone can prove annoying on motorways.

Most cars actually generate very little downforce, but the Civic Type R apparently needs it to shine brightest. Hardly surprising, really, when its rear spoiler could be used as a dining table and it certainly helps keep the car stuck to the tarmac. The level of grip is, honestly, sensational.

If we had any gripe, it is the 2017 Civic Type R is so capable that, even with our limited track experience, our co-driver admitted his demonstration lap would be as quick. Reaching the edge in a Type R and keeping it there is just so easy.

That is true even when you use the +R mode, which makes the throttle even twitchier, suspension firmer and steering heavier than in Comfort and Sport. Not that you need to because even the weakest setting is dangerously eager in Civic Type R land.

It is clear a lot of effort has gone into making the new Civic Type R better behaved and that is the case, but the reality is that it is still an absolute track weapon and anybody with a modicum of confidence can find that out for themselves.

We have yet to give the 2017 Civic Type R a go on public roads because, sadly, we had to miss the European and UK launches, but we can already tell it will be better than its predecessor. Not that most buyers of a hot hatchback this shouty will care too much about refinement and ride quality.

The bigger deal-breaker is how the Civic Type R looks. Maybe some people appreciated driving around in a spaceship, but we found the older model hard to fall for. As for the new version? Well, let’s just say you will be less self conscious when at the wheel.

Based on first impressions, the 2017 Civic Type R is like the old one. But better. And faster. And less ridiculous. If it is as capable on the road, the Focus RS and other hot hatchbacks should be very worried indeed.

The 2017 Honda Civic Type R is on sale now, priced from £30,995 for the standard car and £32,995 for the more generously specced Civic Type R GT.

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