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Honda Civic Type-R long-term test review
the CAR road test team
Long Term Tests
25 September 2008 12:00
Long-term test goodbye, 20 October 2008.
Twelve months ago RO57 JJV turned up looking like it had arrived from another planet. Three-door Civics were (and still are) a rare sight, and matched to a lustrous ‘Milano’ red paint our Type-R attracted attention like no other hot-hatch. However, judging from the comments below, not all have fallen for the Civic’s styling like us…
After a tortuous running-in period limited to 4000rpm we began to ride the 198 horses found mostly in the i-VTEC zone. Initially the Type-R felt slow – Golf GTIs and Mini Cooper Ss provide much greater shove in the mid-range – however, once the needle whips past 6000rpm the Type-R flies. But you know that, right?
In the real world we discovered that the peaky engine demands a different driving style to its turbocharged rivals. You plan your overtaking manoeuvres further in advance and you ensure that you are always in the right gear on the exit of a corner. Simply put, you can’t rely on torque to pull you out of a tricky scenario because the Type-R has none. Well, not a lot.
The Type-R’s engine demands a disciplined, confident and precise technique from the driver. And we liked that characteristic especially on trackdays where the Type-R’s surefootedness and unglueable (is that a word?) front-end put it among much faster cars. Chasing a 911 at Brands Hatch in the wet, and eventually overtaking it, was a particular highlight. There were times when some of us (well, me) would’ve preferred a little more adjustability from the rear – but this wasn’t one of them…
Our Honda came with the £1000 GT pack (dual-zone climate control, foglights, cruise control, folding mirrors and a refrigerated glovebox). We could’ve done without the sat-nav and phone – a TomTom does it so much better these days – and saved £1400, but overall the Civic was nicely spec'd for its price.
Grumbles? The seats! Arghh! Honda can engineer a walking robot but can’t give us front seats that return to position after entering the rear. The ride is harsh at low speeds, but our car improved with age – especially at higher speeds. What else? Oh, the rear visibility is dire and you can’t dial out from a Bluetooth enabled phone or transfer phone contacts.
Still, none of these were enough to spoil our year with the Type-R. Truly unique among its (mostly turbocharged) competitors; the Civic is fast, fun, reliable, roomy and utterly reliable modern hot- hatchery. Running costs were low too - £133.83 per month on fuel and a splash of oil and that’s it.
We can’t recommend anything else in its price range, and we’d go as far as saying that even if you’ve got the extra £2000 for a Golf GTI, try a Type-R before you buy.
By Nick Trott
Since Last Report
Since Last report
Unique character, engine, handling, gearbox
On first impressions the Type-R struggles to impress. It has no torque, a rock-hard ride, Marmite-styling and an interior by Atari. But spend some time with it as I have over the last three months and the Type-R worms its way into your affections. Three months ago I didn’t like this car. Now I do. A lot.
This got me thinking.
The Type-R isn’t designed for short test drives; it comes into its own when you live and breathe it every day.
The ride is hard… but only on short, town journeys (your typical test drive, in other words). Pick up the pace and the suspension reveals a fluidity hitherto absent at low speeds.
The lack of torque? Yes – a Golf GTI has more pull but the Civic’s sweet gearshift and perfectly stacked ratios make it a joy to actually use the ‘box. Consequently you think more about your driving; you plan more. The result? You become a more disciplined driver. A good thing, no?
The styling? I love it – but that’s an objective issue. What can’t be faulted is the packaging. The huge sunken boot, the fold-flat seats and the roomy cabin all impress. How often do you take a Marshall stack and a pair of guitars to a test drive?
The interior is troublingly messy on first acquaintances but after a while you realise that the space between the controls actually makes it impossible to hit the wrong button, or worse, waste precious distracted seconds visually searching for the right control.
There’s something very, very cool about Honda engineering a car that doesn’t impress on first impressions. It suggests that Honda builds cars to develop relationships with, rather than brag and boast on a short, pointless test drive. And I like that philosophy.
PS. Spoke to a leading Jaguar engineer about this. He believes that potential customers become actual customers within seconds of taking a test drive, which goes some way to explaining why the XF 'welcomes' the driver by rotating the vents and raising the gear selector…
By Nick Trott
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It’s not comfortable being an outsider. CAR loves the Type-R Civic – I never did.
Was it just me? Was I missing some genius that everyone else on the mag noticed? Well, I have two months to find out because sitting outside the front of my house is CAR’s Honda Civic Type-R and boy does it look good.
Yep – the Honda has enormous showroom appeal. Anyone out there buy a Type-R before driving it? Can’t say I blame you.
Anyway, my issue is with the chassis and its inability to do anything but point and go. For me, the best hot-hatches are those whose engines slightly overwhelm the chassis. Think 205 GTi, Clio Trophy and 306 Rallye. In many ways, these cars were undergripped. They would slide and steer from the rear at moderate speeds – but such is the Type-R’s grip, balance and security you’re forced to travel at near warp speeds to extract any form of movement from it.
Yes, it seems odd to criticise the Type-R for having a competent chassis but I’d happily trade ultimate grip for a little more playtime at moderate speeds.
Or is it just me?
By Nick Trott
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Ever since I first drove the distinctive-looking Civic, I’ve complained about the rear vision. That rakish rear end and svelte-looking integrated spoiler might look like nothing else out there, but they don’t half ruin your view out the back.
Excuse the hastily grabbed cameraphone snap, but it does illustrate this rather elementary design flaw. What could be lurking in No Man’s Land? A police car? An autobahn-storming lunatic overtaking at high speed? This poses a big question mark over the car’s safety in my view. And let’s not get started on the lack of rear wiper.
All in all, Honda is conspiring to make this car difficult to see out of. Which is a real shame, as the rest of it is thoughtfully designed. The interior ergonomics are impressive – and I admire the typically inventive approach Honda took to this hot hatch. I’m struggling to think of another mainstream hatchback that is so refreshingly different. Just don’t look over your shoulder.
By Tim Pollard
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Loose engine, tight car - 20 March 2008
Our Honda Civic is loose. Or rather the engine is. We passed the 1000-mile mark a few months back, and it was a period no Type-R owner should have to go through. Come across a winding road and you’d curse the running-in period. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder was like a caged animal, waiting to be unleashed.
It still feels like a caged animal, but at least now it can come off the leash and scream to 8000rpm. Give the engine and the oil ten minutes to warm through and then go for it. It’s utterly addictive as you rev well beyond where other engines would be banging into their red lines.
But while the engine is loose the rest of the Type-R is as tight as a drum. Despite the hard ride there are no rattles, no creaks, and no squeaks. Hopefully it’ll be that way when it comes back from its next custodian. CAR contributor Ben Oliver is borrowing the Civic’s keys for a few weeks, and we don’t want the Type-R showing itself up.
By Tim Pollard
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With the trusty Nissan Qashqai on another run to the airport, and editor McNamara keeping a vice-like grip on his BMW’s key, it was the Civic that took me to Gatwick airport. Why? It’s the only other car on our fleet with sat-nav and it gives me the traffic updates.
It needs a decent clean but apart from that it was great on a blast back from south London. Forget the comfy, loping ride of the Qashqai. If you want to get home quickly, and without falling asleep at the wheel, you need nothing more than a VTEC engine that screams to 8000rpm in the cold evening air. And yes, the running-in period is over.
By Ben Pulman
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Even before the Honda Civic Type-R blitzed its hot hatch opposition in the March 2007 issue of CAR Magazine, we knew we wanted one. Knew we wanted to have at our disposal one of the last hot hatches to still come with a naturally aspirated engine. Knew we wanted to run a car that had now ditched the OAP/MPV body so it finally had the looks to go with that engine.
And what an engine. Honda’s engineers might have only added a piffling one brake horsepower over the previous car’s 197bhp (while while piling on an extra 64kg) but there are few better four-pots on sale today. Forget Caterhams, Subarus and even Honda’s own S2000, this is the finest four cylinder-engined car you can buy in the UK.
Except our Civic Type-R is currently being run in. Being limited to 4000rpm is like torture. There’s another bloody 4000rpm to come. A long, dull cruise up the motorway is in the diary for this weekend. And that should take it past the threshold so the return journey can be a thrash coming back.
Hopefully, that’ll free up a bit of extra torque too. Peak twist is 142lb ft at 5200pm. I haven’t seen a graph of the engine’s output, but I don’t think I’m getting much of that torque below our imposed limit. Pull out to overtake and you either accidentally fly past 4000rpm, or gradually gain speed as you stay below the threshold.
And this engine needs to rev. Even the interior is built to focus your attention on the driving experience and what’s under the bonnet. The titanium-topped gearstick sits close to the wheel, and the gearchange quality is brilliant. Slightly mechanical, but without any of the horrible heft that feels built into a BMW’s shift.
The whole dashboard is angled towards the driver, so much so that it feels like the car is turning its back on the front passenger. All your companion gets is a temperature control on the door, part of our optional GT pack. For £1000 you get dual-zone climate control, front foglights, automatic headlights, cruise control, electric folding door mirrors and a refrigerated glovebox. A further £1400 went on the sat-nav system, but we were too tight to buy bigger wheels or spend on metallic paint. We were stingy and went for the no-cost red.
We loved the Civic at out hot hatch contest, but we’re about to find out what it’s like to live with day to day. Will we pine after our recently departed Focus ST, or forget that turbocharged five-cylinder the instant we scream to 8000rpm? We’re about to find out.
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