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New models - Honda - Civic - Type R

First drive: Type R breathes life into Honda's Civic

UK-built: Three-door Type R is a taste-test of the five-door due in 2008.

Honda unleashes Australia's first Civic Type R, as a preview of its not-so-hot hatch

Honda logo18 Jun 2007

AT THE launch of the eighth-generation Honda Civic sedan in 2006, the motoring press almost indignantly decried the edgy hatchback version’s non-appearance as part of the new range.

Honda’s response generally was that, yes, we would like to see it here too, but unfortunately Australia is not at the top of the world market pecking order and we’ll just have to wait.

Honda Australia is making no secret of its desire to see the five-door here and senior director Lindsay Smalley says it is now expected here "within 18 months".

In some ways, the arrival of the Type R Civic hatchback into Australia takes a little of the pressure off.

The British-built three-door hot hatch is a derivative of the five-door and thus gives us our first taste of what Honda’s high-style Civic might be like.

This will come as the rebuilt Swindon, UK factory that manufactures CR-V, as well as three and five-door Civics, gears up to churn out as many as 250,000 vehicles a year to meet the extraordinary demand Honda has experienced with the slick and practical hatch.

So the Type R, even though it will add only about 100 a month to local Civic sales, meets the needs of those wanting something a little more sporty from Honda.

It gives the local product range a racing edge it has not experienced since the Type R Integra made its exit from the market in September 2004 (the Integra itself was quietly discontinued locally late last year).

The Civic Type R aims to compete with the likes of Mazda3 MPS, Ford Focus XR5, Holden Astra Sri Turbo and Mini Cooper S.

Where the Japanese Civic Type R is a pared-down, weight-reduced four-door sedan that barely stops short of being race-ready, our Type R is based on the shorter wheelbase five-door hatch which differs in quite a few ways from the sedan we know here, not the least of which is its use of a torsion-beam rear axle in place of the sedan’s double-wishbone independent back end.

Dimensionally, the hatch is different too, measuring 265mm shorter overall and running a wheelbase that, at 2635mm, is 65mm shorter than the stretched-out sedan. The Type R hatch also sits a little higher than the sedan and is fractionally wider in body and front and rear track measurements.

Understandably, the Type R is heavier than the Civic Sport sedan, but not by much.

15 center imageThe practicality of the hatch is underlined by the fact that it offers, even in the coupe-style Type R, a good boot able to contain as much as 485 litres with all seats in place, and 1352 litres to the window line when the split-fold rear seats are down.

And the wheelbase, even though not as lengthy as the sedan, is still quite good for its class, meaning there is ample room in the back seat as well.

However the practical aspects of the sporty Civic don’t count quite as highly as the tech specs.

Here, the new three-door Civic bristles with the best of Honda technology to ensure it delivers what the respected Type R nameplate promises.

The engine is a higher-tuned version of the 2.0-litre alloy four-cylinder seen in the sedan, punching out a healthy 148kW at 7800rpm (comparing with 114kW at 6200rpm for the sedan), along with a respectable 193Nm at what, at first, seems like a peaky 5600rpm until Honda tells you that 90 per cent of peak torque is already on hand by 2500rpm.

Honda has been using advanced valve control technology for longer than most car-makers and in this case the Type R engine gets variable timing for the inlet valves, as well as variable lift for both inlet and exhaust valves via twin-profile camshafts that increase lift at higher rpm.

The result is a tractable bottom-end for easy around-town driving and an eager top end that allows the Type R to spin willingly to an 8000rpm redline.

This engine is coupled to a close ratio six-speed transmission – no auto is offered – that extracts the most out of the eager 2.0-litre.

The upshot is that the Type R Civic will reach 100km/h from a standstill in a respectably swift 6.6 seconds and stop the clocks over a standing 400-metre sprint in just 14.8 seconds.

The Type R’s suspension is set to squat 15mm lower than the regular hatch, and the tracks have been bumped out by 20mm, while extra reinforcements in the body and the more rigidly mounted steering aim at giving a more racetrack oriented flavour.

The brakes, with four-channel ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist, are sizable 300mm ventilated discs at the front with solid 260mm rear discs.

We are not yet familiar with the hatch’s styling in Australia, so the Type R Civic will look a lot different to the sleek and low-slung sedan. The hot hatch looks fairly mundane from the front, but is pert and cheeky in side profile and distinctively boy-racer from the back, where the triangular twin exhaust outlets and high-set spoiler add to the slightly fussy, over-detailed styling.

The same applies inside, where the hatch picks up the two-level dash theme of the sedan and adds nicely grippy sports seats, "drilled" floor pedals and a leather-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel with buttons for operating the radio and the standard cruise control.

At a tad under $40,000 the Type R is equipped pretty much as you’d expect with dual front and side airbags, full-length curtain airbags, climate-control, cruise control and, in contrast with some other hot hatches today, standard, switchable VSA electronic stability control.

For Honda, sporty, spirited driving experiences are back on the agenda.

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