Honda's ultimate Civic – the Type-R – is unveiled today (Thursday 14). Set to go on UK sale in March 2007 for around £18,000, this Type-R attempts to mate the outgoing hot hatch's high-revving, wild child drivetrain with a more mellow driving experience – when the mood takes you. Indeed, Honda is billing the new car as a 'refined superhatch', a concept Ford and VW have nailed successfully with the Focus ST and Golf GTi. The Type-R is no quicker than its predecessor, but it looks radically different, following the grafting of a butch bodykit onto the cooking hatch's already sci-fi styling.
Design: if aliens did cosmetic surgery
The boggo Civic is eye-catching; in Type-R guise, it's eye-watering. The body has been extended in every direction, by deep sills and bumpers with pouting lips. Mesh packs out the vents, with the nose ditching its plastic lens bar for a contoured grille seemingly modelled on mediaeval chainmail. At the rear, the triangular exhaust ports remain but a vast wing crowns the funky screen. The body hunkers down 15mm lower over the 18-inch wheels, packing out the arches beautifully. Honda admits that the styling of the last Type-R was an afterthought, but the designers have made amends with the new generation. All Type-Rs will have three doors.
The Type-R's heart: that 2.0-litre VTEC four
There's no shame in carrying over the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre DOHC i-VTEC engine. Indeed, it would have been sacrilege to drop it. The engine is remapped, to plunge you into its ballistic power band some 700rpm lower, at 5200revs. A Type-R logo glows red at the cam change, and that extended, frenzied power rush begins, finally ceasing at 8000rpm. Drivers will be able to dip into the peak power band more frequently, and won’t have to work quite so hard to reap the benefits. Honda claims a by-wire throttle makes the engine even more responsive, and power continues to be transmitted to the front wheels by an ultra-precise six-speed 'box. Peak power inches up to 198bhp, but the 6.6sec 0-62mph dash and 146mph are identical to before, thanks to lower gearing offsetting a few extra pounds.
Stiffer suspension and quicker steering
While performance remains much the same, Honda claims its new Type-R is a far more sophisticated animal than its predecessor. Tiresome tyre noise is reduced, and Honda vows that the new suspension, complete with wider rear track and revised damping, delivers a far less bouncy ride. Extra bracing further stiffens the chassis, which should boost refinement and ride quality. Honda says the rack is quicker than the standard car's, which is no slouch to turn in anyway.
Cockpit: the red zone
The cabin continues the established Type-R colour scheme: more red than a tart's bedroom and a hint of silver. The snug racing seats have red inserts, the aluminium-brushed gear knob has the gear pattern engraved in red and, in case you had any doubts, the red H logo hammers the Type-R message home. The kick plates also carry Type-R branding, along with the brake callipers. Air-conditioning will be standard this time around, as will stability control – unlike in the Focus ST.
GT or not GT
Two Type-Rs will be offered: the standard, £18k model or a GT version. This adds cruise control, dual zone air conditioning, automatic lights and wipers and curtain airbags. Expect to pay a couple more grand for this version. Voice-activated navigation will be an option.