Honda unleashes its first turbocharged Type R. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Honda Civic Type R returns, this time with 310PS beneath the bonnet thanks to forced induction. Drive goes to the front wheels via a six-speed manual 'box, so no change there, but under the skin, this thing's rammed with trick bits. It looks the real deal.
Cards on table time. I absolutely adore hot Hondas. There's just something so unashamedly extreme about the way these cars are built. It pops up in the most unexpected places but speaks of a deep devotion to engineering excellence. Whereas most other manufacturers would be content to beef-up the engine, stiffen the suspension and add a few go-faster cues inside and out, Honda is different. That's just the start. A Type R Honda has, to date, been about the subtle details. This latest Honda Civic Type R is a bit different. For a start, it's a bit shouty about its power output and its Nurburgring lap time. Perhaps Honda felt the need to make it appeal to a broader audience. It's also the first turbocharged Type R. Is it representative of the breed, or something different altogether?
The headline figures are undeniably impressive. Power comes courtesy of a direct-injected turbocharged 2.0 litre VTEC petrol engine, which really delivers a solid punch of both power and torque. Peak power output is 310PS at 6,500rpm, and peak torque is 400Nm at 2,500rpm. If you still associate hot Hondas with having no torque, it's time to recalibrate. Red-lining at 7,000rpm, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine catapults the Civic to 62mph in 5.7 seconds, which is extremely brisk for a front-wheel drive car. As indeed is the top speed of 167mph. A short-throw six-speed manual transmission will satisfy the purists and the car is equipped with a Brembo brake package, with 350mm drilled discs up front. A four-point Adaptive Damper System has been developed and an advanced Dual Axis Strut Front Suspension system helps to reduce torque steer by 50%. At the rear, the Type R's H-shaped torsion beam suspension (which caused so much grumbling when the company abandoned a multi-link rear end) is further refined. Rear roll rigidity improves by 180%. There's also a '+R' button that, when activated, heightens engine responsiveness and alters the torque-mapping to a more aggressive and performance-focused setting. The electric power steering receives reduced power assistance and the damping force is increased by 30%. It's like Honda's take on BMW's M Button. That 7m50s Nurburgring lap time? Although it was achieved with a pre-production spec car, Honda reckons it can go even faster with a production Type R. That's faster than a 996-generation Porsche 911 GT3!
Design and Build
The Type R really amps up the otherwise slightly muted styling of the ninth-generation Civic. Honda's insistent that it's all functional and talks of the hours on the Nurburgring, being thrashed round the Takasu test track and forensic studies of the aerodynamics in the Sakura wind tunnel. A new, almost completely flat underside sucks the car onto the road and the rear wing, front splitter and deep side skirts are also demonstrably functional. Big grilles in the bumpers direct cooling air to the engine and brakes. The lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels look pretty mean with their 34-series rubber. The signature colour scheme is Championship White, but the Civic's also offered in pearlescent Crystal Black, metallic Polished Metal, metallic Brilliant Sporty Blue and Milano Red. The cabin gets the trademark machined-alloy Type R gear lever. High-backed sports seats grip the front occupants with a suede-effect fabric offset by red double stitching. The red highlights continue across the leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearstick gaiter.
Market and Model
There's a real sweet spot for performance cars with around 300PS under their bonnets and it's at £30,000, around which are clustered cars like the BMW M135i, the Volkswagen Golf R and the Audi S3. Therefore, it's no real surprise that when Honda announced pricing for the Civic Type R, it started at £29,995. There's also a better-equipped GT version which costs an additional £2,300 at £32,295 on the road. GT drivers will get gear such as forward collision warning, a traffic sign recognition system, lane departure warning, blind spot information including cross traffic monitor, dual control climate control, rain sensing auto wipers, dusk sensing auto lights, front and rear parking sensors, interior red ambient lighting, high beam support and Honda's new infotainment system, Connect, with Garmin navigation. Honda hasn't ruled out an even more focused Type R version, aimed to combat the track specials that are periodically wheeled out by the likes of SEAT and Renault. The beauty of a turbocharged engine is that more power is fairly easily attainable, something that was never the case with the old normally-aspirated VTEC screamers of yore. It'll likely be stripped of items like air conditioning, soundproofing and audio gear and will be something true petrolheads will adore.
Cost of Ownership
Economy and emissions figures for the Type R are, as expected, competitive though not quite up with this car's German rivals, VW's Golf R and Audi's S3. Residual values shouldn't put too much of a bash in the budget as there's always been a strong used trade in Type Rs. With this Civic being the only Type R model in Honda's line-up for the foreseeable future, demand ought to be very healthy indeed.
There's a lot of competition in this market sector. The Audi S3, Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS offer all-wheel drive grip and sledgehammer acceleration off the line, while the BMW M135i delivers rear-wheel drive handling beloved by purists. So where does that leave the front-wheel drive Civic Type R? It suddenly looks a bit conspicuous. Honda is a company that insists we judge on results rather than on engineering dogma. It has a point. Drive an old front-wheel drive Integra Type R against, say, a rear-wheel drive BMW E36 M3 from the same era and the Japanese car will always feel like the more exotic, exciting drive. The latest Civic Type R makes a whole lot of impressive numbers but the acid test will come against its most talented European rivals. Something tells us that this British-built Honda will manage to inveigle itself into its own niche and feel quite unlike the rest of the field. Type Rs have always been something different, something very special and this one promises to be no different, turbo or otherwise.