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Car reviews - Honda - Civic - Type R 3-dr hatch

Launch Story

Honda logo18 Jun 2007

By CHRIS HARRIS

GoAuto 18/06/2007

HONDA gives us a glimpse, with its new Civic Type R, of the forthcoming Civic five-door hatch that should arrive here within 18 months. The connections between the Type R and the existing Civic sedan are not really all that obvious. As well as the styling, which is far more adventurous than the low-slung sedan, there is also a different floor pan with a shorter wheelbase and a beam-axle rear end that replaces the sedan’s independent wishbone arrangement. The raspy 2.0-litre engine shares its basics with the power unit seen in the Civic Sport sedan but the transmission is a close-ratio six-speed manual with super-low ratios that ensure the 148kW powerplant lives in the high-rpm regions it is only too delighted to explore. Tight, bolted-down and nicely reactive to the electric power steering, the hot hatch Civic is a worthy recipient of the Type R badging. An interesting aspect is that, while it is decidedly a hot-hatch among hot-hatches, Australia's first Civic Type R is also entirely practical, with a genuinely large boot and enough space for four adult passengers.

We like:
Eager, buzzy powerplant, tight handling, surprisingly efficient packaging

We don't like:
Occasionally sticky gearshift action, slightly high-set driver’s seat

INSERT yourself into the unashamedly grippy, contoured sports seats and you know straight away you are in for a nice ride.

The Civic Type R is a welcome return to focussed Honda driver’s cars and adds a certain sense of refinement to the hot-hatch segment.

This is further underlined by the finely crafted, thrumming buzz from the Type R’s high-output VTEC engine as you hit the starter button on the left of the complex, two-tier dash and grab the brushed-satin shift lever.

So far, first acquaintances with this prelude to the five-door Civic hatch that is reputedly due to arrive here within 18 months, are positive.

The British-built Type R shows no evidence of anything less than typical Honda attention to detail, and the latest Civic’s ability to assail the eye with some interesting visual surprises gives a decidedly upmarket feel entirely consistent with the company’s place in the Australian psyche.

The triangular external door handles are a Star Wars indulgence more attuned to styling concepts than ergonomics though, and the highly detailed exterior with its sharp-edged wheel arch extensions, view-blocking rear spoiler, triangular tailpipes and slightly fussy side skirts will maybe prove a little too cute for some.

Shorter, taller and wider than the now familiar eighth-generation Civic sedan, the Type R is a chunky, short-overhang coupe/hatch that is more generous inside than you’d imagine.

While the driver is able to find a perfectly comfortable (if slightly high-set) seating position, passengers in the back will find the three-door Civic a quite comfortable place to be, with surprising legroom, an almost-flat floor and capacious load areas under each seat.

The boot, with its 60-40 split-fold and 485-litre load space, is an absolute surprise – unlike the space-saver spare sitting underneath the floor.

Ahead of the driver is a dash that could hardly be described as minimalist.

The theme is similar to the Civic sedan, with an analogue tachometer directly ahead of the driver in its own hooded binnacle, and a digital speedometer in another binnacle directly above it.

The Honda differs from normal practice by completely separating the climate-control knobs, contained within the lower instrument binnacle, from the sound system controls that remain in the centre of the dash.

It all works okay after you’ve adjusted to a few things that are done differently – such as the odometer reset on the steering wheel – and the vital displays are easy enough to read.

The shift lever is carefully placed, as you’d expect, and the centre armrest is in a cosy enough position for the driver eager to relish the short and precise gearshift.

On the road, what you’ll notice, immediately after you’ve tuned in to the eager exhaust rasp, is that the steering is quick (2.3 turns lock-to-lock) and the movements through the standard six-speed transmission are slick and generally positive.

Generally, that is, because unless the driver concentrates it is possible to get confused by the narrow gate that sometimes results in a mis-shift into the wrong gear – particularly between fourth and fifth.

The engine is a delight. Very smooth, crisp and always pleased to take you on a trip beyond 7000rpm if you so wish, it is smoothly responsive across the whole rpm range with no noticeable holes in the torque curve thanks to the variable-lift camshafts.

Like the delicious S2000, there is a noticeable surge in the upper ranges as the high-lift camshaft profile is activated, although it happens without the same sense of drama.

At the same time, the Type R is happy to cruise along at low speeds, still sounding great, and responsive enough to the accelerator not to give any sense of hesitation or reluctance.

To capture the high-revving nature of this engine, Honda has given the car a stupendously low, 5.062:1 final drive ratio which means that, travelling at 100km/h in sixth, the tachometer is registering exactly 3000rpm.

The good thing is, the engine has a smooth, well-oiled feel to it, and noise levels are carefully tuned so as not to cross the border of overt intrusiveness. There’s never any feel it is over-extending itself when cruising at freeway legal limits.

Torque delivery is as linear as Honda suggests, without the sort of sudden rush experienced in a turbo engine. The 148kW VTEC offers more than a one-dimensional experience.

The stiffer body (than other Civic hatches) pays dividends too, giving the car ca tight, responsive feel that is complemented by the more tied-down suspension.

The Type R’s 225/40R18 wheel/tyre combination provides an entirely acceptable balance between road grip and ride comfort. The ride might feel a little firm for some, but hot hatch buyers will revel in the car’s sure-footed behaviour and its ability to deal effectively with hard-edged bumps.

Really, it’s hard to find many faults in the new Honda.

Apart from a sometimes-sticky shift action and some styling over-indulgences, the Type R is a great combination of sporty looks, sporty behaviour and practical packaging.

What you see, in some ways, is quite a bit less than what you get.

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