Car reviews - Honda - Civic - Type R 3-dr hatch
Engine a masterpiece of performance and efficiency, striking styling inside and out, captures the hot-hatch essence with rare purity
Room for improvement
Ride can be hard, non-memory front seats, cramped rear quarters, four-seater-only seating
18 Jun 2007
HALLELUJAH and hold on to your driver’s licence! The sporty Honda is back!
We were beginning to worry that, with the demise over the last decade of the CRX, Prelude and Integra, the worthy but dull model line-up of Japan’s number two car-maker (Accord Euro and Legend excepted) was becoming much too much like you-know-who’s.
But despair not. Just when we thought we had one-too-many Toyota Corolla clones when the latest-generation sedan-only Civic range from Thailand was introduced, out comes the Civic Type R hatch from Britain.
This car is mad, a howling banshee of a hot-hatch runabout that serves as a reminder that, yes, Honda has racing in its blood, and, no, it isn’t just interested in making lots of money from boring cars.
Looking at the styling, you could be forgiven that in-your-face design is this car’s biggest party trick.
Certainly, the wedgy monobox silhouette reveals a body that is rich in sharp, futuristic detail – such as the complex two-piece rear-window layout that instantly associates this with the late and lamented CRX of the 1980s.
Walk around this Civic and other things will catch your eye, such as the diamond-shaped door-handle, triangle-motif driving lights and exhaust outlets, the narrow headlight and tail-light shapes, mesh grille, bumper and rear valance inserts, and big clap-hand wipers.
Like some gaming escapees, they add up to make a car that begs the question of whether a computer game like Gran Tourismo influenced Honda, or vice-versa.
They outshine the more clichéd hot-hatch styling cues like the subtle bodykit, matt-silver alloy wheels and door-handles, and hunkered down body stance.
Almost unbelievably, the base five-door Civic hatch in Europe looks even more way-out, with its one-piece fibreglass grille and smaller side doors featuring Alfa 156-style hidden door handles.
Honda hasn’t spared us inside either.
Like the exterior, the Type R’s hot-hatch-R-Us clichés abound – Recaro racing-style front bucket seats, red-stitched leather-trim steering wheel, red carpets, searing red instrumentation and the obligatory ‘Engine Start’ button (that annoyingly you have to keep pressing until the motor fires up, rather than press once briefly like most other European cars do) are all by-the-book in 2007.
And as with the exterior, they pale against the basic Civic dashboard architecture.
It isn’t only split-level – with a large digital speedometer sitting proudly within the driver’s line-of-sight above an analogue tachometer that houses a comprehensive trip-computer function in the centre, paying nice lip-service to the original 1979 Honda Prelude that featured a combined speedo and tacho – but also angled partly towards the driver for all climate-related functions and then partly front-passenger focussed for all audio needs.
Some may call the dash fussy, scattered or even insane, but it looks like no other new car’s on earth with the way it flows and integrates with the rest of the cabin trim, and even manages to tick all the correct ergonomic boxes.
We particularly like the small steering wheel, raised little gear lever, close-by handbrake, classy cup-holder arrangements front and rear, multitude of storage spaces and nicely finished and textured plastics. The varying technical grains and contrasting hues all match and are very pleasing to the eye.
The driving position is pretty much faultless too, aided by a set of the most supportive and comfortable set of seats you could want in a hatchback that steers and handles like this one – but more on that later.
Some other car-makers can learn from what Honda does in here – the easy-to-access dashboard illumination dimmer, steering wheel spoke-mounted toggle-switched remote audio and cruise control switches, a large centrally-mounted clock and audio display unit, lovely fabric door trim inserts and one-touch lane-change indicators.
Drivers will also appreciate the large exterior mirrors, but they will rue Honda’s persistence in having front seats that don’t fold back to their original place once rear occupants have made their move. This is especially annoying in this car because the access process is otherwise well-thought out.
Did you know this is only a four-seater? So there is no rear centre seatbelt, but child-restraint hooks are thoughtfully placed behind the rear-seat backs.
And, being based on the Jazz platform, Honda has thoughtfully moved the fuel tank below the front seats, so the rear seats fold right down low and flush – and with one easy movement – to create a massive loading area that even belies the very appealing true-to-being-a-small-car proportions of this generation Civic hatch.
The rising window line does make the rear slightly claustrophobic, despite the commendably-low tailgate window that further evokes CRX memories inside-looking-out.
Painfully icy cold palms result in colder climes when the driver touches the metallic gear knob the rear windows don’t crack open or retract for some reason larger posteriors will find the front sports seats a constant reminder of their girth and there needs to be more face-level ventilation for our environment.
That’s about all we could find fault with the Type R’s fresh and rattle and squeak-free interior, which dazzles us as thoroughly as the stylish and very-now set of designer clothes it wears.
But everything takes a back seat compared to the real star of this car, the fabulous, raving rev-mad, 2.0-litre four-cylinder powerplant, delivering just 148kW of power at 7800rpm and 193Nm of torque at 5600rpm.
Just? As the Honda press kit points out, its raw figures seem a little “lowly” compared to the Golf GTI (147kW/280Nm), Focus XR5 Turbo (166kW/320Nm), Megane RS (165kW/300Nm) and Mazda3 MPS (190kW/380Nm).
The fact is, it’s the way the Type R engine operates that elevates it.
The clue is to look at where in the rev range the others’ power and torque outputs max out: Between 5100 to 6000rpm and 1600 to 5000rpm respectively in the others.
What this all means is that this Civic has an extraordinarily deep set of lungs from which its performance breath can be drawn from.
So supposing you are cruising at 100km/h with the tachometer ticking over at around 3000rpm. The urge to overtake overtakes you, so you put your foot down and – at just under 6000rpm – it is like another engine kicks in, giving you that extra shove right up to the 8000rpm redline without strain or effort.
Meanwhile, that snappy little six-speed gearshift swaps cogs with lightning-quick action.
The steering – hitherto as linear and progressive as you could possible wish for in a modern hot hatch – is on red-alert, pin-sharp but not nervous, guiding you through the manoeuvre like there are grooves on the road.
And when it is all over, your ears are left tingling by this jet-turbine like experience, and you start dropping down to fourth and third just to visit that magic sub-6000rpm boost sweet spot. It then becomes an addiction, and your friends start to worry as you sometimes just leave the car in first around suburban streets – just for the shrill of it.
We did all this and more, and we still could not exceed 10L/100km. This car is Minnie Ripperton in full song and Scrooge McDuck with the premium unleaded all rolled into one.
Stratospheric power and torque tops have the added bonus of not causing unwanted steering tug if all you want to do is tootle around the city streets. Plant your foot and drop the clutch though, and shrieking front rubber will illicit rude stares from others.
Compared to most rivals – let alone the concrete settings of the original Integra Type R – and the sauciest of all Civic’s ride is generally quite good even on our bad urban roads, but can get hard on some really rotten surfaces.
A week with the new Honda Civic Type R is more than an injection of adrenalin – if you love scorching small cars it is an elixir of youth, channelling the racy boy (or girl) racer that may have receded with some hairlines.
Except that there is some fuzzy black art at work here, because the Civic resorts to being a benign Honda when all you want to do is chill out.
Who would have believed at the start of 2007 that the Ford Focus XR5 Turbo and VW Golf GTI would have been shoved aside – if not exactly sidelined – not once but twice in the space of a month?
We really, really like the Renault Megane RS R26, and we really, really dig this little Civic Type R.
Welcome back, the Honda we once knew and loved.
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