What is it? The Honda Civic Type R is the latest, most potent version of a performance icon.
Key features: New body and chassis, more power, more versatility.
Our view: The new Honda Civic Type R is a much more complete performance hatch than its predecessor, more potent, but also significantly more practical as a daily driver.
Honda Civic Type R – did we not review that quite recently? In fact, it was exactly two years ago. In June 2015, partly on a race track in Slovakia, we attended the launch of the last Civic Type R.
Just 24 months on and we are at staring at another race track, this time the awesome Lausitzring in what was once East Germany, as part of our first experience of an all-new Type R, which arrives in UK showrooms in July.
The reason is, of course, the fact that the mainstream Civic recently underwent its latest regeneration, going on sale in March. And it is a significant change for the model, adopting far more mainstream styling in a bid to increase its share of the market – especially as Honda’s UK plant at Swindon is now the global hub of Civic production.
So it is no surprise that a new Type R is in the mix. But appearing just four months after the mainstream car is almost indecently soon, and perhaps there is another reason. The 2015 Type R was extremely potent, but as an everyday car it could soon become hard work – race definitely ruled over road. With this one, Honda appears to have taken the opportunity to rectify matters, making it more user-friendly a major priority.
Do not think for a minute, however, that the new Type R is watered down. As I will discover in a test that encompasses a challenging race circuit and a legal 150mph on basically a dual carriageway, it’s the most powerful, best-handling version of the car yet.
Exterior and interior
According to Honda, the new Type R was developed alongside the standard Civic, demonstrating how important the model has become to the brand – those that make jokes about Hondas appealing to the ‘older’ set forget that company founder Soichiro Honda was first and foremost a racer.
The car is longer and lower than its predecessor, while its styling makes the car look wider even though it’s not. A lower centre of gravity helps too, and a driving position closer to the road. It sits on a new platform, which saves 16kg of weight while improving torsional stiffness by 37% – better for safety, much better for handling…
Aerodynamics have assumed their greatest importance yet on the new model. The underbody is smoother, while the specification includes phrases such as ‘air curtain’ and ‘vortex generators’ – the kind of thing you hear more often when talking about new race cars. We are promised such measures make the new car the most stable Type R at high speed yet, while other measures include the front splitter, sculpted air intakes, wheels enlarged to 20 inches, even a bonnet in aluminium because that saves 5kg over the steel version on the stock Civic.
Inside is pure Type R, a riot of suede-effect fabric in the signature red and black. The seats might be the lightest ever fitted but they still hold you firmly yet comfortably, and make you feel like you are in a performance car.
The dash is a big improvement – the display is still digital, but no longer something akin to a science-fiction spaceship. It is also no longer in two pieces, the pod sitting atop the fascia has gone which is an excellent move. In the old car, one had to choose either to partially block the view of this pod or the main display with the steering wheel.
And of course this is still a Civic, so benefits from the increased interior room provided by the new design, both in front and rear. All of which helps justify the car as a purchase for daily driving – as a passenger, you no longer feel like the car really doesn’t want you there, as you did in the 2015 Type R.
Powertrain and chassis
Not a great deal is carried over from the previous Type R, but the engine, transmission and brakes are. Honda could not simply drop the old engine into the new car, however, so the 2.0-litre VTEC turbo unit has been ‘optimised and refined’. This means an extra 19 horses, now putting out 320hp with peak torque of 400Nm.
The six-speed manual transmission has been improved too – a switchable ‘rev’ match’ system added. As its name suggests this precisely aligns engine speed to transmission to ensure the most efficient shifts and no ‘shock’ through the gearbox. And the Brembo braking package boasts bigger discs.
Possibly the most visual aspect of the powertrain changes are the triple tailpipes of the exhaust, looking for all the world like some weapon pointing at following vehicles. Exhaust flow is improved by 10% while the smaller central pipe performs multiple functions, both improving efficiency and that essential element, the sound the car makes!
All of which contributes to a 5.7-second 0-62mph time and a 169mph top speed. The Civic Type R claims the title of fastest-accelerating car in its class. It also – currently – holds the title more manufacturers these days appear to be chasing, as the fastest front-wheel drive car ever around the daunting 14-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife track in Germany.
Honda also dubs the Type R’s chassis as the most sophisticated in the model’s history. Allied to the platform and rigidity improvements is the significantly revamped suspension. The front MacPherson struts use a lot of aluminium and a bespoke ‘dual-axis’ setup which cuts torque steer – the tendency of a powerful front-wheel-drive car to want to go sideways when the power is put down.
The rear suspension is completely new too, a multi-link system designed to improve stability under braking. But just as important are the revisions to the adaptive dampers, both improving performance at pace but adding ride comfort in normal use.
On the road
It all sounds great, on paper, but how does it work in practice? It’s not often one comes to a new performance car with such recent memories of its predecessor, which in the case of the Type R was one heck of a hot hatch but in daily driver terms only for the slightly masochistic.
Honda’s launch event in Germany gave us the opportunity to test all aspects of the car, from driving through the traffic-choked streets of the city of Dresden, to letting it loose on an unrestricted autobahn, and then the highlight – laps of the challenging Lausitzring road course.
The answer to the vital question is yes – one really can use the new Type R as a daily driver. General comfort has been markedly improved over its predecessor, and there is now even a ‘Comfort’ setting alongside the now default ‘Sport’ and track-special ‘+R’ driving modes, setting dampers, steering, gear shift and throttle response accordingly.
As a result, uneven roads are no longer akin to a session from a sadistic masseur, the chassis smothering the bumps. Cruise along in the car and it’s a quiet, refined environment not far removed from any other Civic.
And then one gets out on the motorway – and in parts of Germany, they are rather different to in the UK. With no speed limit to worry about one can fully experience the Type R’s pace, and boy does it have some…
Said pace comes in much earlier – above 2,500rpm you feel the car dialling up, but in a much more smooth and refined manner compared to its predecessor thanks to improved throttle delivery and slick gear shifts.
I admit I wimped out at an indicated 242km/h, which equates to 150mph, on what was basically a dual carriageway. At such speeds the Type R felt very fast indeed, yet still refined and fully in control. Obviously, such an experience will be irrelevant to anyone who buys a Type R in the UK, but I would suggest membership of a track day club will be an essential option, so as to experience and enjoy the car’s full dynamic abilities.
Because on the track the Type R really comes to life. The German instructors at the Lausitzring had an interesting technique, simply telling us to follow them in their Type R, and then indulging in laps that had us pushing on hard merely to keep up.
And the car soaks it all up – accelerating crisply, braking with confidence, turning in with confidence and maintaining superb grip through the bends. It very quickly becomes a whole lot of fun…
Entry cost to Type R ownership starts at £30,995. Spend an extra £2,000 and one can have the GT model, which gains a raft of mostly technology.
The GT specification includes a cross-traffic monitor, dual zone climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Honda’s Connect assistant incorporated into the navigation, wireless phone charging, an 11-speaker high-power version of the audio system, and LED front fog lights.
Type R has come to mean something special to performance car fans. With the red badge, they know they will get the most potency available in the Civic, a truly hot hatch.
This is not a lot of good, however, if the car gets left in the garage because driving it on a regular basis is just too full-on. And in the last Civic Type R, the balance was shifted just a little too much in the direction of the track.
The new Civic Type R rectifies that but, remarkably, does this while also offering increased performance – more potency, and more ability on the most demanding of race circuits.
This is a complete package that one can live with happily all week on the slow commute to and from work. Just make sure you take it to the track of a weekend and let it off the leash…
Honda Civic Type R – key specifications
On Sale: July 2017
Range price: £30,995-£32,995.
Insurance groups: TBA
Engine: 2.0-litre VTEC turbo petrol
Power: 320 hp
Torque: 400 Nm
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Top speed: 169 mph
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 36.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 176
Key rivals: Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R, Renault Megane RS
Test Date: June 2017