What is it? All-new version of Honda’s signature Civic Type R hot hatch.
Key features: Most power yet, advanced chassis tech, extreme body style.
Our view: Based on a first drive, the new Civic Type R is a very worthy wearer of the famed Honda red badge, and a car that enthusiasts will love – on the road and very definitely on the track.
The image of the Honda Civic Type R is neatly summed up by the venues for its media launch events, of which this writer has attended three – missing out on the launch of the initial model in 1997.
To try out the 2001 version we went to the Isle of Man, with the mountain section of the TT motorcycle race course closed to the public so we could exploit the power of the Type R to the full. Then in 2007 it was a trip to Goodwood, driving Type Rs up the famed Festival of Speed hillclimb.
That Type R was discontinued in 2010, and enthusiasts have been waiting for a new one ever since. Finally it’s here, it’s the most powerful yet, and the reason why The Car Expert finds itself at a brand new world championship standard race circuit in Slovakia.
Honda proudly describes the Type R as “a race car for the road” and it is the model that most highlights the competition ethos that has been so central to the brand and its founder Soichiro Honda – something forgotten by the many who scoff at the ‘more mature drivers’ reputation around models such as the Jazz.
The new Type R certainly fulfils that aim. Honda says that it signals the start of a new performance era for the brand, which is why it gets the model’s most extreme engine yet, and one that for the first time is turbocharged.
It is an all-new direct-injection petrol unit of 2.0-litre capacity, with a 7,000rpm red line – actually quite low by previous naturally-aspirated Honda engine standards. Before reaching that red line it will be pumping out record Type R performance figures of 305bhp and 295lbft of torque.
Such potency makes the Type R a rapid hot hatch, the 0-62mph sprint dispatched in 5.7 seconds and terminal speed rated at 167mph – no arbitrary electronic anchors at 155mph here. But while not so long ago such attractive performance would have been accompanied by truly painful efficiency figures, the 38.7mpg combined cycle fuel economy and Euro 6 emissions compliance, producing CO2 figures of 170g/km, is impressive.
The power needs a chassis to match and the Type R has spawned new suspension systems specially developed for it. Adaptive dampers operate on all four wheels, making changes at rates of 1/500th second dependent on the car’s status, and also acting to limit front-end lift during hard acceleration and nose dive when braking.
The redesigned front suspension, dubbed Dual Axis Strut, separates steering and roadholding functions for more precise control and aids high-speed straight-line stability, while the driveshafts are balanced to cut torque steer, always a front-wheel drive issue.
A typical example of the attention to detail is in the rear suspension. The stock Civic torsion beam unit is made from a solid block – the Type R’s H-shaped unit is formed from crushed pipes which boosts rear roll rigidity by 177 per cent and removes the need for a rear anti-roll bar, thus saving weight.
The car of course looks the part, though the designers insist the extreme body style, already familiar to those who have followed the Honda team in this year’s British and World Touring Car Championships, is about more than cosmetic enhancement – in fact the aerodynamics are said to have been directly inspired by the World Touring Car Championship.
With the aim of generating downforce or ‘negative lift’, the car gets a wide front bumper and splitter, the air that gets beyond that being channelled by deep side skirts along a flat underside and into a rear diffuser. This keeps the rear of the car on the ground aided by the rear spoiler, which has an equally important task of not generating too much drag.
The upper and lower front grilles are larger, to accommodate the extra cooling air required by the engine, and this air is vented through the bonnet beyond the front wheels. These wheels are new, lightweight but rigid 19-inch alloys and sit within arch extensions constructed in lightweight aluminium, the fronts bearing vents for brake heat on their rears.
An ordinary Civic this certainly is not – it certainly looks the part, and the impression continues on slipping into the driver’s seat, high-backed and bespoke to the Type R as are the steering wheel and gear lever. The seat is also lower, thanks to a thinner construction, while there is space for just two occupants on the rear bench seat. A theme of black with red stitching pervades throughout.
All good on paper, but does it meet the brief in reality? Very much so. And firstly, after so much talk of a competition-based car, it should be emphasised that the Type-R is perfectly usable on the road, as Honda demonstrated on the launch with a road route that started and finished in the busy city of Bratislava.
The Civic Type R can be perfectly refined on the road – it inches along in city traffic with no hint of its potency (well apart from the not so subtle styling of course). Once out on the open road it will cruise happily, if quite noisily thanks to the performance-tuned exhaust, while the ride is firm but not achingly so. It’s practical too – the boot space is no different to any other Civic, the rear seats still fold down, so yes, you can live with this car as a daily driver.
It is, however, so much more, and the reason that the launch event included several laps around the SlovakiaRing, a highly-testing 3.7-mile race circuit that was due to host the Civics in the World Touring Car Championship just three weeks after our test.
Honda expects many Civic Type R owners to be taking their cars on the track, and the centre console display even includes the useful competition-based extras of G meter, various pressures and temperatures and a lap timer.
To access these, you need to press a button on the edge of the dash marked +R. The digital display changes from white to a neon red, but more importantly engine responsiveness sharpens, the torque-mapping becoming more aggressive and performance-focused unleashing more pulling power at lower engine speeds.
The steering is heavier and tighter, the rating of the Adaptive Damper System stiffens by 30 per cent and the Vehicle Stability Assist programme majors on pace.
All of which makes the Type R a hugely enjoyable car to take around a track, with as much control, or potential, as the skill of the pilot requires. It’s very placeable, and equally forgiving, as this writer found when a damp track forced the back to step out around a hairpin, easily and rapidly straightened with a flick of the wheel.
The final opinion on the Civic Type R will of course await a UK-spec car on UK roads, and the argument as to whether it is better than its VW and Renault rivals will continue – as will the question of its price tag, which is under £30,000 just, unless you choose the higher-spec GT version.
Based on the first drive, however, this is a very worthy wearer of the famed Honda red badge, and a car that enthusiasts will love – on the road and very definitely on the track.
Honda Civic Type R – key specifications
Model Tested: Honda Civic Type R
On Sale: July 2015
Range price: £29,995 – £32,295
Insurance group: 33E
Engines: Petrol 2.0
Power (bhp): 305
Torque (lb/ft): 295
0-62mph (sec): 5.7
Top speed (mph): 167.8
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 38.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 170
Key rivals: Volkswagen Golf R, RenaultSport Megane RS
Test Date: June 2015
Honda works racing driver Gabriele Tarquini has also been testing the track ability of the Type R.