► All-new 2015 Honda Civic Type R on test
► Full first drive of the turbocharged hot hatch
► Brutal looks, 167mph top speed. But finesse too?
Honda needs this car to be good. Stuck in a product vacuum with few surprises to please enthusiasts, a dearth of Type R products for five years and a hugely delayed NSX supercar slayer, the Japanese company has been treading water for recent years.
But the 2015 Civic Type R is the harbinger of brighter things to come. Unveiled at the Geneva motor show after interminable concept cars and prototype appetite-whetters, the car launches this summer. Does it have what it takes to dislodge the class best? Has turbocharging ruined the VTEC reviness? In short, can Honda still cut it in an arena beset by talented hot hatchbacks from Ford, Renault and Volkswagen?
Our first drive reveals all. Read on for our full Honda Civic Type R review.
Spec, power outputs
This car takes the five-door-only Civic bodyshell and applies some pretty serious surgery. The cosmetic sort, you'll spot yourself. That huge rear wing, side skirts, hilarious venting that thinks it's nabbed from a 991 GT3 RS. It's at once Max Power, OTT and brutal - and yet distinctive and an antidote to the sanitised Germanic polish that's gradually become the norm in GTI-ville.
Make up your own mind on the gaudy styling, but there's no denying the serious engineering at the heart of the new 2015 Type R programme. Honda calls it 'a race car for the road,' and the spec bears that out. Even those swollen, cheesily tacked-on wheelarches are bespoke, crafted from aluminium to save 42% of heft compared with if they were fashioned from steel.
This is Honda's first turbocharged Type R in history. The VTEC variable valve timing and lift remains, but it's now assisted by a large, single blower to ram more air into the 1996cc four-pot. Raw figures are these: 306bhp at 6500rpm and 295lb ft of twist, developed in a broad smear from 2500-4500rpm.
Taming that at the front end is a limited slip differential between a set of 235/35 R19 Continental tyres, suspended by a dual axis strut. And there's no multi-link rear end, just a lower-tech torsion beam holding the back axle.
Approach the new 2015 CTR and it'll take a while to get over the exterior brutality. It's no shrinking violet, the new Honda hot hatch, and that impression continues inside as you settle into nicely upholstered, alcantara racing buckets. Some taller drivers found them a mite too high - despite being 20mm lower than in a shopping Civic - but most will find an immediately focused driving position.
There's a good chunky sports steering wheel and the good-to-clasp aluminium gearknob is perfectly positioned. If this can match the tactility of Type R gearchanges of yore, we're in for a good ride.
This is still a rather mixed-up cabin vibe, though. We find the interior of the Civic a riot of trying-too-hard styles and schizophrenic design: there's a digital read-out high up in your line of sight, then a bunch of conventional dials low down, large touchscreen in the centre console and separate heating display lower down. Talk about distracting. And look away if you don't like bright red, sporty colour palettes.
What'll she do, mister?
Honda has now released the full performance figures for the Type R. Nought to 62mph takes a scant 5.7sec and top whack is a pleasingly politically incorrect 167mph. Sounds like a modern-day Lotus Carlton from the east...
Thumb the starter button and the 2.0-litre four-pot fires into life with little excitement. In fact, the first few miles of our drive are on fast dual carriageways and the Type R proves a comfortable cruiser, with little hint of what's to follow. A special shout goes out to the major driving controls, with a beautifully judged action to the pedals and gearchange. No dual-clutch trick 'boxes here; first impressions are of one of the finest manual gear actions around, with a pleasing snickety-snick to its action - just like on the S2000 before it. There's just 40mm between each cog selection, according to Honda; feels like a short-shift to us, although it misses the last n-th degree of slickness that the best Honda manuals enjoyed.
But what sticks in the memory is how the Type R comes alive when you turn off the motoway and fling it through your favourite switchbacks. The electrically assisted steering is lighter than you might expect, but it's accurate, direct and has a reasonably judged response. The Civic turns and dives into the corner at your bidding but we'd like more outright feel; the best rivals are more tactile.
Clever damping keeps body sway in check and the control the chassis exhibits is remarkable. This is one super-composed hot hatch, and the threat of near-300lb ft twisting the front tyres out of shape never materialises. Just watch out for some understeer if you charge too hard into a corner.
At least the Brembo brakes are up to the job, providing strong retardation and there's a good pedal feel.
Performance, turbo Type-R character
That turbo 2.0-litre has quite a punch. Fears that turbocharging would kill the VTEC character are largely unfounded. Yes, there's some turbo whistle - and plenty of wastegate chatter as you back off - but the thing just wants to rev to the 7000rpm redline and beyond with an insatiable appetite for revs. From 3500rpm on, it charges to the redline - but watch out for gloopy turbo lag low down where little happens. Ironically, this perhaps helps tame unruly torque steer and wheelspin.
Opinion is divided on the character of this engine; they've somehow kept a degree of switchover character, just like on Type Rs of old, but some testers miss the full-on, banshee VTEC effect. It doesn't sound as industrial as certain rival 2.0 turbos, but can be boomy and annoying after a while.
Prod the +R button and you can stiffen the dampers, sharpen the throttle response and beef up the steering further. In a neat play on the eco colour-coding that beset the Honda CRZ and Insight hybrids, it also turns the dials red. Be warned, though: the Sports setting was way too hard for us, and we much preferred the more compliant, softer set-up.
Honda is back - and how. We were worried they might've dropped the Type R ball in the wilderness years, but we shouldn't have. The Type R is a brilliant hot hatch - one that's distinct from the existing competition, wild-looking and yet polished fun to drive. We like it, a lot and welcome its surprisingly lairy, in-yer-face character.
Weak points? It can take a while to pinpoint the 2015 hatch's strengths and, while it's technically impressive, we occasionally found ourselves craving more fizz and interactivity. But find the right stretch of tarmac and let it rip, and the Type R shines.