What is it?
Every engineer working on the dynamics of the new Honda Civic Type R is focused on one target above all others: a Nürburgring lap time of below eight minutes.
If it does so that would make it the fastest production hatch to tackle the Green Hell by at least 8.0sec. Ask if it’s done it already and its chief engineer Suehiro Hasshi will say, “I am not allowed to tell you that, but you can use your imagination.” So it has. This would make this Civic hatchback approximately as fast as the quickest car Honda has ever run around the ‘Ring, the fabled NSX-R.
This Civic is so much more than just another hot hatch heading for an increasingly crowded marketplace. It also marks the return of not only the vaunted Type R nameplate but more significantly still, Honda to the bosom of the enthusiast driver. Years after it quit F1, killed the NSX, the S2000 and the previous Type R, this is the first hands-on evidence anyone has been able to gather to say whether its promise of having rediscovered its mojo is more than mere words.
On paper and even in the flesh it certainly seems so. I’ll say now that approximately 18 months before its market introduction, Honda is playing its cards so close to its chest it’s a surprise even they can see them.
Even so we do know this: the car has a new 2.0-litre, single-turbo four cylinder engine officially claimed to give “over 280PS” which, according to one engineer actually means at least 300bhp as it stands. In terms of pure shove this propels it past the Ford Focus RS, RenaultSport Mégane and Vauxhall Astra VXR and onto a par with the newly announced Golf R. But Honda’s not stopping there: it knows there’s a 355bhp Mercedes A45 AMG out there and it’s going to get as close to it as its resolutely front-drive only powertrain will permit.
Controlling all of this is a lowered, stiffened, widened chassis, still incorporating the beam axle rear suspension of the standard Civic. Honda insists that once fitted with adaptive dampers it offers sufficient tuning options to deliver acceptable ride quality and world-class handling. It will be matched by Brembo brakes big enough to make a 19in rim a necessity, not a luxury. Fascinatingly given the current trend, the Type R will come with a six-speed manual gearbox and no paddles even as an option. When asked why, Hasshi-san simply says “it is more fun this way”.
What’s it like?
A couple of flat-out laps around Honda’s Tochigi test track reveal enough acceleration to keep the traction control light permanently on through first and second on a smooth dry surface. Impressively however there is almost zero torque steer. Inevitably, though, the engine possesses neither the throttle response nor the crisp howl of the old, normally aspirated Type R Civic motor: that’s the price you pay for getting 300bhp from 2.0-litres in a form usable on the public road. Honda says both will improve before launch.
The environment precluded a detailed handling assessment but if its ability to tolerate being flung into a steeply banked curve at 125mph is any guide, the promise is there. The steering is excellent with a conspicuously quick rack, but no nervousness, perfect weighting and decent feel.
For the latest information on the Civic Type R reveal, the official reveal was at Geneva motor show in 2015.
Should I buy one?
These are early days for the Civic Type R which is the single most encouraging thing about it. It’s a pretty tempting proposition even now and the mission for the next year of development is to increase power and drop weight by using a high proportion of aluminium body panels. On this evidence I’d say the fun, fast Honda is not only back, but with a vengeance.
Honda Civic Type R
0-62mph 5.8sec (estimated); Top speed 160mph (estimated); Economy n/a; CO2 n/a; Kerbweight 1330kg approx; Engine layout 4 cyls, 1995cc approx; Installation transverse, front, front-wheel drive; Power 300bhp at 6500rpm (approx); Torque 295 lb ft from 2000-5500rpm
What is it?