Feels like we’ve been waiting an eternity but the Type R is finally here
Yes it's been tough for us too. We’ve had a terrible couple of years where we’ve had to suffer endless parades of 500bhp Mercs and BMWs while waiting for Honda to get its act together and give us the new Type R. Truth be told we were a little worried. The last Type R was a huge commercial success and incredibly exciting to drive when you were in the mood for a full-on thrash. But wasn’t without its faults. The ride was poor, the power steering numb (and prone to shed assistance mid-opposite lock on the track) and the cabin was noisier than a six-year-old’s birthday party. On the plus side, it was priced so competitively that rival car makers were left reeling. But Honda reckons the new car will wipe the floor with the opposition. Want to find out if they're right? Then check out the latest issue of CAR where the Civic faces all its rivals in our definitive 18-page mega-test. In the meantime, read on to find out if the hot Honda is worthy of the Type R name....
So what’s changed since last time?
If you’re looking under the bonnet, not much. What you see is effectively the same 2.0-litre 16-valve four-pot and six-speed manual gearbox upgraded with a lighter flywheel and drive-by-wire throttle. Even given Honda’s assertion that it didn’t want to get bogged down in the horsepower war that seems to be raging between Europe’s top firms, the meagre 1bhp improvement over last year’s 197bhp tally is a bit disappointing. In a sector where 225bhp-plus is the norm, 198bhp doesn’t sound much, and the torque story is even sorrier: the naturally aspirated Civic offers just 142lb ft, a good 70lb ft less than its key rivals, all of which are turbocharged. It is lighter than those rivals, however, and although weight is up over the last Type R, the on-paper performance – 6.6sec to 62mph and 146mph all out – is on a par with both its predecessor and Volkswagen’s Golf GTI. Part of that weight saving must be down to Honda’s unusual decision to dump its multi-link rear axle for a low-tech twist-beam.
It certainly looks the part!
It’s crying out for something bigger than the standard 18in alloys to really differentiate it from the cooking Type S, but the Type R tell-tales – black mesh grille, body-colour wheelarch mouldings and red ‘H’ badging - are all there. There’s more red inside too, most notably on the sports seats. They’re suede-edged and very comfortable, or would be if they weren’t mounted so high up and the steering wheel too low. Like other current generation Civics, the R gets that incredible sweeping multi-level dash and a metal-topped gearlever mounted conventionally between the seats rather than up on the dash as on the old car.
Let’s get to the driving bit...
Okay, let’s start with the engine which may not be any more powerful, but has had its torque curve massaged so that the peak is now delivered at 5400rpm rather than 6000rpm. That makes a useful difference on the road, particularly with that extra weight to lug around, but there are still times when you’re presented with an unforeseen overtaking opportunity and are caught in the wrong gear when the Civic feels painfully slow besides its blown rivals. Catch the right gear, though, and the Civic’s motor swings round to 8000rpm like there’s a gigantic magnet attached to the redline. It’s moments like these that remind you just how special a good naturally aspirated engine can feel. Yes, it’s harder work without a great big turbo on the side, but this 2.0-litre VTEC has more character than 300 Golf GTI engines. The gearchange is slick, the brakes well weighted and feelsome, and body movements are more tightly controlled than security at Guantanamo Bay. And though we drove it exclusively in the rain, it felt grippy and composed at all times. The steering feels better, more natural than it does in regular Civics, but still isn’t as communicative as a Focus ST’s. But like the regular Civic, it always feels keen to change direction even if, just as we discovered in our first drive of that car last year, it prefers to be pointed with the steering than the throttle.
But is it more practical this time?
The cabin’s neither as roomy nor airy as the old car’s, but there’s certainly enough room to make this realistic family wheels. The boot offers the same 485 litres of luggage space as the old car and there’s a secondary storage area under the floor. But there’s no five-door version and no plans for one – Honda reckons it goes against everything the Type R brand stands for. Thankfully, a racket of road and engine noise wasn't deemed essential so the new car is substantially quieter. A faint background hum at motorway speeds gives away the still very low gearing, but the ride is tolerable and long journeys need no longer be approached with dread.
So what will it cost?
Good news. If you’re one of the hardcore who loved the old car and bought one without air-conditioning, you can still get a Type R to the same spec for £17,600. That’ll be about 20 people then. The better news is that a car equipped to the sort of level most of us will want – air-con, dual curtain airbags and cruise – will still only set you back £18,600, making it £1600 cheaper than the equivalent Golf GTI and about the same price as a same-spec Focus ST. Or you can go for the full monty, complete with sat-nav and hands-free phone kit (available together for £1400) and still have to reach no further into your pocket than you would for a bog-standard GTI. Clearly value is still high on Honda’s list of priorities for the Type R.
The brief was to build a new Type R that exhibits all the brio of the old model, yet makes a giant leap in terms of refinement and usability that customers now want. Maybe it’s what they always wanted. The main thing is that it worked. The new Type R is quieter, more comfortable and just plain more enjoyable in day-to-day driving than the car it replaces. It’s better looking, makes you smile when you open the door and grab a look at the interior and the twin cam’s performance is more accessible, too. It’s still not the all-rounder the torque-laden Golf is, but the gap is closer than ever and the Civic feels more exciting. And when it comes down to it, that's what hot hatches are all about. Once again, the Type R won't be everyone's cup of tea - it requires effort and could be a little more communicative - but those who do indulge will likely love (almost) every minute. But don't just take my word for it, grab the latest issue of CAR for the full 18-page group test and find out if the Type R can beat the best hot hatches in the business.