Honda invited us to a very early road test of its prototype Civic Type-R, which goes on sale in 2015. We accepted.
This is a real peek into the future. Honda has been very nice to us and allowed a drive of a prototype of the next Civic Type-R, which won’t actually go on sale until 2015. This doesn’t happen very often, but Honda is very keen to make sure the next Type-R goes straight to the top of the hot hatch tree.
Based on the current generation standard Civic model, the Type-R’s final specification has yet to be finalised, understandably. But we do know some important bits; firstly it will have a VTEC turbocharged engine, a manual-only six-speed gearbox and it will be five-door only too. Expect to pay around £27,000 when it eventually arrives.
The current generation Civic in standard form splits opinion. It’s quite a modern design with a high tail and a low nose, and at the very least stands out from most rivals. The Type-R is a whole different story however.
It wasn’t long ago that hot hatches were almost apologetic, trying to hide their performance with low-key looks. The Type-R goes completely the opposite way, with a massive rear wing, big flared wheel arches and a shovel-like front bumper. The matte black paint and big ‘VTEC TURBO’ lettering down the side doesn’t hurt either. We think it looks fantastic.
Aside from all the performance-enhancing stuff, the rest of the Civic is exactly as the standard car. The front seats are the slightly bulkier sporty variety so there’s a fraction less legroom for those in the back, but other than that it is one of the more spacious family hatchbacks. It also retains the clever rear seat mechanism that leaves a completely flat floor when folded.
There’s good space for adults front and rear and the boot is plenty big too. Happily the Type-R fulfils that most important criteria of a hot hatch, namely that it remains a useful and practical car.
Performance & handling
Even though our test drive was restricted to just a few laps of Honda’s Tochigi test track, the Civic Type-R quickly got it’s point across. For starters, that brand new 2.0-litre turbocharged VTEC petrol engine has a nice crisp bark from the exhaust when you start it up. Pull away and there’s instant torque from low revs in contrast to the old naturally-aspirated Type-R, and right around the rev range there’s a strong shove. The only thing that’s missing is the high-rev burst when the VTEC starts to strut its stuff, but there’s still time for this to be engineered back in.
Through the bends the Type-R feels very focussed. The steering feels sharper and more weighty than in the standard car, while the suspension is substantially stiffer and lower. It feels really planted on the road with no body roll. For the first time on a Type-R there is an ‘R’ mode, which sharpens the suspension, throttle response and the steering map for even quicker responses. What it will be like on a bumpy British B-road we will have to wait and see, but on the test track it felt like the real deal.
Economy & environment
With 18 months still to go before the car goes on sale, there were no official figures from Honda available. That said, one of the key reasons Honda has switched to turbocharged VTEC engines for the first time is for efficiency; turbos help to extract the maximum performance from a given engine size.
The VTEC technology also has a big part to play in this; essentially it alters the timing of the camshaft to give efficiency at low engine revs and power at high revs – a perfect combination. So when the Type-R eventually arrives you can expect somewhere near 40mpg combined for the official figure, which is pretty good given it will likely crack 150mph.
Equipment & value
Again this is something that won’t be decided until late in the day, with specification and price always matched according to the competition at the time. Having said that, the important bits on the Type-R will come as standard, such as the R-mode which includes the electronic dampers.
As mentioned there will be no option for an automatic gearbox, but luxuries such as leather seats and satellite navigation are likely to feature. Hopefully they’ll also include the matte paint as an option, although this can cost over £1,000 on other manufacturer’s cars.
If anything the Civic Type-R will be safer than the standard Civic. It has bigger brakes, wider and grippier tyres and the strong performance from the engine makes it easier to get out of trouble and overtake safely. Alongside that the Type-R will feature the usual electronic stability control system, brake assist and airbags front and rear should the worst happen.
An element of caution is required when judging a car this far ahead of production, but to us the Civic Type-R feels like the finished article. It looks fantastic with a real edge to it, the VTEC Turbo has the required performance bite and character, and the handling should be spot on – the standard car has recently been revised to good effect.
There are two clear rivals for the Civic; Ford’s excellent ST and the Volkswagen Golf GTI. On first impressions it appears that the Civic is more lairy than both of them, and splitting them on price could easily make it the first choice for hot hatch lovers everywhere. Do we really have to wait until 2015 to find out?