► We drive Honda's TCR car
► The most extreme Civic yet
► And quite a driving experience
Honda Civic Type R? It wouldn’t see which way this Civic TCR went around the 11 bends that make up the 2.8km Tazio Nuvolari circuit on the outskirts of Milan.
The Civic TCR is Honda’s customer racing car, with the TCR formula taking tin-top hatches and turning them into 335bhp, off-the-shelf racers from as many as 19 manufacturers to compete in touring car championships around the world.
Buy one of these, load up a truck, have a person handy with a spanner come along and you’ll be able to race it just about anywhere, and be competitive. If you’re any good, that is…
Close, competitive racing
Inexpensive racing, too, the idea being that sensible prices makes for big grids and competitive racing. The Civic TCR costs around €130,000 (around £115,000) which is pretty much what all the competition asks for their cars. All are based on 4 or 5-door models, have a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and share a regulation front splitter and rear wing and have a minimum weight of 1,250kg.
Honda’s Civics roll out of the J.A.S. Motorsport facility in Milan at a rate that’s not quite up to Swindon’s output, but very healthy indeed. It underlines not just the success of the formula, but the competitiveness of Honda’s contender.
A serious racer
Wandering around the J.A.S. Motorsport facility it’s clear the Civic’s a serious proposition. Bodies arrive from the UK and they’re strengthened, a cage added and painted. There’s nothing really production about the interior, with its OMP deep bucket seat, racing harnesses, Alcantara rimmed steering wheel with buttons on it controlling everything from the lights, wipers, radio and pit lane limiter, as well as what you see on the MoTec display in front of you.
The TCR is paddle-shifted, the clutch needed when rolling out of the pit garage, but not after. It’s a job clambering over the cage and into that seat, hunkered low, trussed up, firing the TCR’s engine has the naked interior fill with the angry sound of that 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and the accompanying, purposeful note from the very obviously unsilenced exhaust.
And to drive…
The track’s drying, so Honda sent out ex-F1 and Honda World Touring Car driver Tiago Monteiro, to warm up a set of slicks on the drying line. Even so, it’s difficult getting decent heat into the rear tyres, so I’m warned it might be a bit wayward for a few laps. That’s not necessarily what you want to hear getting into a car for the first time.
The track’s relatively technical, a few first and second gear corners, with some faster ones either end of the lengthy straight, which allows the TCR to run up the gears, and exhibit its stability in the bumpy braking area that allows a big stamp on the brakes before committing to a fast right.
Like no road car
The step from road car to racecar is always significant, even when you’ve just gotten out of something as focussed as a Civic Type R. The Civic TCR is a different animal altogether, the front end grip far greater, and those brakes…
It’s sensation overload, the massive stopping power from the big 380mm front discs grabbed by six-piston callipers has you thankful for the grasp of the race harnesses. It’s under braking and in the bends where the TCR generates its speed, on the straights it’s quick, the gearbox firing through the ratios as quickly as your finger asks for the next one, the engine response immediate, the dashboard a lightshow of all the information you need, digestible to make sure it’s not a distraction.
Braking, particularly in the damp, is best done in a straight line, getting off them and committing the TCR to a bend. The steering rack is quick, the turn-in sharp, which can make the rear a bit mobile in these conditions. Useful for adjustability, admittedly, but needing a bit of respect, a spin on a tight left-hander revealing the limits of the grip with cool rear tyres and an over-confident driver.
As the track dries and tyres warm it’s easier to get into a rhythm, the TCR rewarding smoothness but bouncing over the kerbs with aplomb, the result greater speed, it a buzz of sound, information and laugh-out loud enjoyable. Demanding, too, it might be an entry-level racer, but it’s a serious machine, which after just ten laps or so I feel like I’m just getting to grips with.
Honda Civic TCR: verdict
The idea of having one of these, some fancy Nomex overalls and painted lid, for a season’s close racing with 30-odd like-minded rivals for the price of a well-specced supercar is one that’s hugely appealing. It easy to see why the TCR’s such a roaring success. Now I’ve done the test drive, surely the next step is a race…
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