The new Honda Civic Type R is now the current fastest front-wheel drive car around the Nürburgring. It’s also surprisingly forgiving on the track and on the street. That red Honda badge really means business this time. When you Americans get one in a few years, you’re in for some fun.
[Full disclosure: While the U.S. press is driving the Type R today in Bratislava, we weren’t invited to that gig. Luckily, a fellow from Honda UK was nice enough to let me crash the British party two weeks ago since I only had to drive 124 miles to get there. I lost part of my Autobianchi’s second gear on the way, but hey, we’re talking about the new Type R here!]
The last European Type R debuted in 2007 and left the showrooms five years ago. While enthusiasts were hungry for a new one, Honda was waiting for the right moment since it seemed like nobody was buying fast cars during the financial crisis. I’m sure the premium manufacturers would disagree, but no matter, the new Type R is here now, and I dare to say it was well worth the wait.
The hottest Civic yet is the first Type R to combine turbocharging with VTEC, and the resulting 2.0-liter engine is quite a kit producing 306 horsepower at 6,500 RPM and 295 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm with a compression of 9.8:1 using normal pump gas.
It can do that by having a small turbo with an electrically controlled blow-off valve, lightweight, double-forged internals with a high lift at low revs and a low cam profile as you approach the 7,000 RPM redline. Yes, just 7,000, I know. That’s still pretty high for a turbo, though.
Honda is a Japanese company and one that desperately needed to make an exciting car after all the boredom we saw in recent years, so the new Type R had to be a proper job.
That’s why it comes with a helical limited slip differential, dual-axis front struts and balanced drive shafts, which are claimed to cut torque-steer by “up to 55 percent”. I’m not sure about the exact figure, but the setup definitely works. It’s pretty amazing, especially since the father of Type Rs, Hisayuki Yaga-san told me those front wheels will be able to handle even more power in the near future.
Yes, Honda is responding to your criticisms of powerful front-wheel drive cars by possibly sending even more power to the front wheels. I believe that’s called doubling down.
Yet no matter how good the engine or the suspension is on the Type R, the centerpiece of this hatchback is, in fact, a common six-speed manual. You see, the Type R could have been all-wheel drive, but Honda wanted to build a driver’s car that was as involving and light as possible, so they went with simplicity. They could also fit it with a dual-clutch automatic since there’s enough space for it, but they have no intension to do so, for the very same reason.
The new Type R shifter has a stroke of 40mm. As in 1.73 inch. It’s a bit easy to miss gears with it at first, but after you got the hang of it, you’ll never want to use another manual.
The last time I grabbed a Type R shifter, I was sitting in an Ariel Atom, and this felt like one that should certainly make it to the next Atom. Or anything else with four wheels, really.
Back at the Geneva Motor Show in March, I loved all the craziness of the Concept, and while the final styling of the Type R might still be too much for some, everything you see is functional, even the bits that look a bit silly at first.
The wheel arch ducts allow the car to have sufficient cooling without a massive grill, reducing drag. The rear wing might have lost its devil horn lights, but that’s because those LEDs would have made it too thick. It’s also pointed upwards to guide the air coming from the roof, thus creating real downforce.
But the bit that convinced me the most was this piece of plastic on the rear quarter panel:
Talk about being anal.
Honda chucked out the air-con and the stereo of an early Type R to balance out the weight of the added roll cage that was bolted in without making the car any stiffer. Said Type R went around the Nürburgring eight seconds faster than the previous record holder, the 276 horsepower Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 wagon.
The Civic also happens to be a 167 MPH car with electrically controlled dampers, 350mm drilled Brembo discs with 4 piston calipers up front and custom Continental tires with a soft compound and a reenforced shoulder in each corner. Basically, we had to take it to the track.
The Slovakiaring is a rather technical little circuit that I had no chance to master during my five laps in the car. However, having truck racing master and fellow Hungarian Norbi Kiss in the passenger seat, I could learn that this really is a very forgiving car, even if you drive it like an idiot.
The brakes didn’t fade, the tires took a lot for a road rubber running on very hot tarmac, and I had plenty of power on tap to pull out of a corner once I dared to floor it. The gearbox almost asked for those hard downshifts to third, the steering was very accurate, there was less understeer in the corners than I expected, and torque steer didn’t feel like an issue at all. The only thing I missed out there was about 1,500 extra revolutions. Hitting the red-limiter in the main straight reminded us all that this is indeed the first turbo VTEC.
Later on, BTCC champ Gordon Shedden told me between two slides that while the previous Type R felt soft in some cases, the one before was a little bit too keen to crash, so this is basically Honda’s idea of having the edge without ending up in a ditch.
It’s lots of fun, that’s for sure.
You know how the Golf GTI is the best all-around fast car money can buy? Well, this isn’t a Golf GTI. It’s much more hardcore than that.
That means at low speeds in the city, it’s bumpy alright. Sure, you can take your kids to school with it, or go shopping, no problem. It’s a proper hatchback with all the bells and whistles.
But even in normal mode, the suspension is set up for accuracy, not forgiveness. Press the +R button on the dash, and those electric dampers get 30 percent stiffer, the servo-assist is toned down and the engine mapping forgets all about fuel economy as well. I would daily the hell out of it, but the Type R is not for everyone. After a Golf GTI, this feels like a slap in the face that better make you wake up.
The problem with the Type R on the highway is that at the top of the legal speeds, it only starts to come alive somewhere above 3,000 rpm. And since it’s loud and makes all the right noises with that electric blow-off valve, you want to double your speed instantly, which it will also do happily, much to the chagrin of your driving record.
While the steering feels surprisingly vague at the center position, once you leave the straights and go for some curvy roads, it comes alive from that dead feeling and loads up nicely. And with the +R button pushed and the dash lighting up in red, God save those cyclists on your way.
The interior gets some nice leather and Alcantara trim, but remains a bit outdated with some cheap plastics here and there, plus a confusing navigation system in the middle which took us off-road at some point into somebody’s farm. What mattered though was that aluminum shifter in my right palm and the nice seats that hold me in place at speed. The rest could be just a Civic for all I cared.
With that navigational glitch, we were forced to do bit of rallying on gravel before giving back a very, very dusty car indeed. But she did well.
The Honda Civic Type R starts at just under £30,000 in the UK, where it’s built in Swindon. That’s £825 less than a Golf R, and the UK market was the first to get it, because the previous car was really popular there. The first batch is sold out already. Western Europe will follow, and while Honda realizes that America and Japan is also eager to get their it, don’t expect them to rush anything before Europeans are satisfied. You Americans will get your own version, likely with the same engine on the next global Honda Civic set to debut in a couple years.
Don’t hold your breath for a HR-V Type R either. Honda was pretty clear on how they won’t put a red badge on any old like Mercedes or BMW does with their AMGs and Ms. They believe only a “race car for the road” can be a Type R.
Meaning that the next thing going red will be the NSX, most likely followed by this mysterious mid-engined sports car. Place your bets.
If those drive anything like this hatchback, we’re in for some loud bangs and many giggles.
Photo credit: Máté Petrány/Jalopnik
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