Earlier in the summer, a group of us travelled over to Europe to put Honda’s brand new Civic Type R to the test. It was, as you may have gathered already, rather good. Despite the obvious technical excellence though, there was still something bugging me.
Out there, we were testing the new Type R on pristine surfaces – silky Austrian motorways and an even silkier Slovakian race circuit. Even on gorgeous and no doubt well-funded surfaces such as these, the Type R still felt overly firm. Not once over those two days did the car have to deal with anything rough or unsettling under its boots.
With those doubt still fresh in my mind a Type R arrived fresh for a winter examination, and it was to be conducted on some seriously demanding roads. Crucially, could the brilliant-in-Europe Type R deliver on a cold winter’s night in Stoke? Well, Devon if we’re being precise.
From a driving perspective, Devon is a county of contrasts. It can be a wonderful one day and terrible another, but one thing always remains constant – the woefully neglected road surface. Nowhere else epitomises driving in Devon more than the Exmoor National Park. Breathtakingly pretty backdrops are linked together by a mix of fast sweeping, tight and tricky, on and off camber corners that some of the world’s more modern racetracks can only dream of possessing.
Perfection though, it isn’t. The surfaces are littered with deep potholes, gaping cracks, and half-baked patchwork repairs hastily arranged prior and post tourist season. It was here the Type R would have to show it has what it takes. This was to be the location of the Civic Type R’s final exam.
It began by reminding me just how ferociously fast it is. The 2.0-litre VTEC Honda engine is – for the very first time – turbocharged, and this means it produces a quite barmy 306bhp. Yes, we’re now talking about 306bhp in a Honda Civic. This catapults the once timid shopping car to 62mph in 5.7 seconds, and onto a top speed of 167mph. By anyone’s standards that is some serious performance; faster than a base Boxster or Cayman.
On track it felt fast, but on tight country roads it just feels ballistic. The almost old-school feeling turbo surge arrives in a whopping great lump somewhere around 3,000rpm and before you know it you’ve entered the kind of speed realm where excuses are simply not going to cut it with the Rozzers. If you’re not careful you’ll be swapping the fantastic Type R bucket seats for a hard mattress in one of Her Majesty’s establishments. Consider yourself warned.
Providing drivers with performance of this nature means it’s absolutely vital Honda make the Type R controllable and stable. It has a duty to ensure the driver can remain in control to exploit all of those horses. Yes, lots could be said about the sophistication and engineering found in the structure and setup of the suspension – but all we really need to ask is whether it actually works or not. On the slippery, malnourished road surfaces of Exmoor, the answer is undoubtedly – and perhaps surprisingly – yes. It remains stable and settled in what is a really challenging region, dealing with the unexpected and unfamiliar on some wonderful stretches of road. In nearly everything it came across, the Type R was unaffected – only tending to slip on greasy white lines between lanes.
A significant element of the Type R’s exceptional armoury is the steering. Even the smallest of inputs into the steering wheel are relayed instantly to the wheels, and this means the Type R can change direction just as quick as it can accelerate. The speed at which your direction can be altered is complimented by the stability and huge amounts of grip, meaning drivers with less experience – particularly with performance of this level – can quickly grow in confidence. On many occasions this car will end up flattering you.
To do this, of course, it simply has to be setup in an incredibly firm manner. However, on our roads it is really not as harsh as originally suspected. In its normal mode it’s actually rather pleasant when you’re getting from A to B, and remember, that’s probably going to be 80% of the time. When you choose to engage ‘+R’ mode you do so only because you’re about to make an assault on a certain road, and by that point you’re so busy concentrating on the drive that you don’t even have time to care for comfort levels. In fact it’s best not to think of ‘+R’ as a sport mode at all, it’s more of a full-blown attack mode.
So, it can be put to bed. The Civic Type R is perfect and that’s the end of it. Well, no, not exactly. The infotainment system feels incredibly dated and is rather infuriating to use – you will never find the digital radio station you want to listen to – and there are far too many driver assistance gadgets and, for that matter, buttons on the steering wheel. Also, while the engine/exhaust note is noisy enough, it’s a little bit bland for a car that can provide so many fireworks out on the road. However, these small mistakes can be forgiven, because the Honda Civic Type R is one of those cars you just can’t help but love. It’s got a real character of its own and its ruthless gobbling up of your favourite roads will leave you gurning with delight.
Ultimately, the Type R is a timely reminder that Honda does its very best work when it builds its cars around the driver. Honda has consistently proven over the years that it knows how to build a car for people who love cars, and it is in this field that its expertise and experience really comes alive. Honda can touch upon the essence of the love of driving just as well as any other manufacturer can; it just needs to do it more often.