Car reviews - Honda - Civic - Type R
Over-the-top styling, slick gearbox, generous torque band, ungodly amounts of front-end grip, Comfort mode
Room for improvement
Lack of exhaust noise, touchscreen infotainment system, variable ratio steering, driving characteristics at odds with boy-racer aesthetics
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16 Oct 2017
By TUNG NGUYEN
HONDA has returned the Civic Type R nameplate to the Australian market after six years in the wilderness due to poor timing of the previous model, with its fifth iteration built on the tenth-generation Civic hatchback.
The Australian hot hatch segment has moved ahead in leaps and bounds since the discontinuation of the 2011 148kW/193Nm three-door FN2 Type R.
Volkswagen and Ford have a dominant grip on the market thanks to their circa-$40,000 front-wheel-drive (FWD) Golf GTI and Focus ST, while the $50,000-plus all-wheel-drive (AWD) Golf R and Focus RS cater to hotter hatch fans.
Honda, however, has opted for a FWD layout in its latest Type R but with the performance and price to compete directly against its AWD rivals.
Helping the Civic’s case is a 2.0-litre turbocharged VTEC four-cylinder engine producing 228kW/400Nm and a tricked-out front suspension to help make the most of the performance.
But can the world’s fastest FWD production vehicle really outgun its all-paw competitors, or has Honda’s ambitions with the latest Civic Type R exceeded its grasp?
Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way first, Honda’s latest Civic Type R is certainly no shrinking violet.
From the eye-catching rear spoiler, pumped up fenders, roof-mounted vortex generators, carbon-fibre-like bodykit, 20-inch wheels, bonnet scoop and triple exhaust outlets, the Civic Type R is about as subtle as slap to the face.
To our eyes though, the Civic Type R is just the right amount of over-the-top aggressiveness you want in a $50,990 before on-roads road racer, but, love it or hate the style, Honda says every bit of the aesthetic accessorising serves the function of making the hot hatch the most capable front-wheel-drive (FWD) mass production vehicle on the planet.
Helping its claims is a 2.0-litre turbocharged VTEC four-cylinder engine producing peak 228kW of power at 6500rpm and maximum 400Nm of torque from 2500-4500rpm – a large departure from the high-revving characteristics of the Type Rs of yore.
The change in power delivery though, is a welcome one, with a generous torque curve delivering plenty of thrust at the prod of the throttle without the need to downshift.
A shame that the Type R doesn’t ask you to stir the cogs more though as the six-speed manual gearbox is about as slick-shifting as they come thanks to short throws and satisfying engagements in all gears.
The rev-matching feature – which eliminates the need for the heel-toe technique with an auto-blip of the throttle on downshifts – is also a brilliant addition, making novice drivers feel like racetrack heroes. For purists though, this function can be switched off completely.
As power is fed exclusively to the front axle, Honda has had to fit the Civic Type R with a helical limited-slip differential and tweaked suspension components to ensure the cars front wheels can handle both steering and driving duties.
The system works unbelievably well, offering a sensational amount of front-end grip, almost zero torque steer even under full-throttle applications and gifting the Type R with unbelievable cornering speeds.
Seriously, you would need to have a death wish to get the Honda’s flagship Civic unstuck on public roads. It feels planted, secure and confidence inspiring in both the bends and straights and is likely the easiest Type R to drive at speed.
However, one major misstep with the Type R is the exhaust noise, or lack thereof.
Fitted with a tricked-out three outlet exhaust system with a smaller-diameter centre duct that can either help evacuate exhaust gases or suck air in to minimise noise while cruising, the Civic Type R certainly looks like it has the pipes to snap, crackle and pop.
In reality though, exhaust noise is more Justin Bieber than Led Zeppelin. Even upshifting at redline and engine braking into corners failed to illicit little more than a high pitched whine.
Adding to its user-friendliness is a new Comfort mode – a first for the Civic Type R – which softens suspension, steering and throttle settings to make the hot hatch a bit more liveable for daily driving.
While it doesn’t transform the car into a pillowy, supple cruiser, we appreciate that the option is there for those who may want to tone down the hardcore nature of the Type R or if there is a particularly punishing patch of bitumen on the horizon.
For other times though, there is Sport and R+ modes to sharpen agility and responsiveness.
Some might argue that red-badged Hondas should be hardcore and uncompromising, but we actually love that the Civic Type R has grown up and matured – much like fans of its earlier instalments have.
All three modes are noticeably distinct with the Sport setting offering the best balance of usability and capability, however we weren’t much a fan of the variable ratio steering that can feel a little numb off centre and would artificially get heavier depending on drive settings.
Also aiding in daily driving duties is Honda’s full Sensing safety system, which carries over from higher-spec Civics and includes autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control.
The Type R also adopts the Civic’s touchscreen infotainment system that incorporates climate control, audio streaming and phone connectivity. However, one noticeable omission with the system is satellite navigation which should really be included at this price point.
Furthermore, we found the high-gloss black screen attracts too many fingerprints and smudges, and is nearly unusable in direct sunlight or by the driver while on the move.
We are not fans of this system in the regular Civic range and Honda has done nothing to change our minds about its implementation in the Type R.
Other interior changes include sports bucket seats up front and red cabin highlights throughout, which lift the already excellent interior ambience to another level.
When we sampled the Civic Type R on Tasmania’s public roads during the local launch, we walked away impressed by its approachable performance and easy-to-use nature.
Switching to a racetrack setting, the Type R still maintains its amenable characteristics, changing direction swiftly and confidently while offering a steady wave of torque and remaining planted at high speeds.
It’s on the track where the 350mm ventilated and drilled front discs and four-pit Brembo callipers come into their own, as well as the sticky Continental SportContact 6 tyres, to shed kilometres from the speedo promptly with the dab of the middle pedal.
However, close to the limit, some of the Type R’s shortcomings begin to emerge more prominently.
As advanced as the FWD Type R is, Honda simply cannot cheat physics. The car can’t quite power out of corners like its AWD competition can and, when entering turns in the triple digits, just a hint of understeer can be detected as the front axle has to contend with all 228kW/400Nm, steering and braking duties.
Don’t get us wrong, the Type R is still a fantastic hot hatch and arguably the finest front-wheel steer in the world, but there is a noticeable disconnect between its hardcore styling and vagueness on the limit.
If buyers can look past the polarising looks, Honda offers a versatile, accessible and extremely capable overall package that will keep Civic Type R fans happy for years to come.
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