► First sight of new Honda Civic Type R
► Turbocharged to 306bhp, but £29,995
► Mark Walton reports from Geneva
On one side of the room there was Jenson Button, engaging, articulate, flashing his Hollywood smile. CAR Magazine chatted to him about the new McLaren Honda F1 car, sitting on a plinth behind him at the 2015 Geneva motor show, and about testing. 'Are we ready for the start of the season?' he asked himself, helpfully. 'To be honest, I don't know.'
He was good natured, if understandably guarded with his answers, but clearly happy to be at this Honda event, and looking forward to the first round in Melbourne. After helping launch the Civic Type R here in Geneva, he was flying straight to McLaren HQ in Woking, then catching a flight to Australia. The epitome of the F1 driver's jet set lifestyle.
On the other side of the room was Hisayuki Yagi, chief engineer of the Honda Civic Type R. The contrast was palpable. Speaking through an interpreter - who had to shout to be heard over the thumping nightclub bass of the event's pounding mood music - interrogating Yagi-San was a much more awkward, stilted affair; but his answers were revealing, and at least we finally got to see the car.
Honda Civic Type R: the Geneva motor show debut
That's right, after three years of announcements and teasers and concepts, tonight Honda finally unveiled the real production version of the 2015 Civic Type R, ahead of the Geneva show. If you've been following all the Type R twists and turns, the car held few surprises: looking very much like the 2014 Geneva show car, the production version was launched in Championship White (of course) sitting on 19-inch black alloys and red detailing. With angry staring headlights, bulging arches and that massive rear wing, it's every bit as aggressive as Honda has been promising.
Some of the styling is cool, like the louvred vents above the front wheels, and the big venturi beneath the quad exhausts; other bits less so, mostly the rear arches, which (unlike last year's concept) look like stuck-on bits of plastic, rather than proper flared body panels.
Under the skin, Honda announced the car is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo VTEC engine, which revs to a less-than-nutty (by VTEC standards) 7000rpm, and uses the turbocharger to boost low-end torque. Peak power is 306bhp, and peak torque is 295lb ft, available from just 2500m, promising a more muscular and less frenetic drive than Type R models of the past. The claimed 0-62mph time is 5.7 seconds, top speed is an eye-watering 167mph.
Over 300bhp through the front wheels?
Interestingly, all that power and torque drive the front wheels, via a six-speed manual gearbox (changed using an aluminium ball gear stick, as per Type R legend). With the Golf R, new Focus RS and Audi RS 3 all using four-wheel drive to put down their mega-power outputs, I asked Yagi-San if he hadn't considered all-wheel drive for the new Civic?
'We have never thought about all wheel drive. It was always our concept to have the fastest front wheel driven car,' he replies. 'There are no limits in technology. Of course few years ago, an over-300bhp front-wheel-driven car, everybody would say it can't be, but in order to break through that barrier, we found technologies to bring the traction down to the road.'
So, is that the fancy mechanical front diff, the all-new suspension layout, or the engine mapping, I ask. 'Yes,' is the reply (no need to translate that). 'All three - you can't point out one technology, you need a balance to achieve the best steering stability. It's the engine weight, the body rigidity, the tyre technology - all play their role.'
Time will tell if the new Type R can match its rivals on the road, as Yagi-San promises. Certainly on paper, and in its karate-kick-in-the-nuts styling, it's come out fighting.