Overall rating: 4/5
A VTEC screamer no more, Honda has added a turbocharger to create the latest Civic Type R performance icon. It's a hugely capable and very fast hot hatch, but it's a different proposition from its naturally-aspirated predecessors. Here's our first review.
In the Metal:
Divisive. Extrovert. Functional. Forget subtlety, as the new Civic Type R wears its Nürburgring-lapping intent with winged, vented, blistered and diffused pride. Honda claims it's all there for a purpose, the flat-bottomed, wind-tunnel honed shape entirely functional - debatably to the detriment of form. That means, Honda says, negative lift (i.e. downforce), though it's not saying how much so it's unlikely to be a big number. All those protuberances might be for performance, but we'd happily add a few seconds to that lap time for something a little bit less, well, rude.
After the shock of the exterior the cabin is a little more restrained, Type R specification adding a pair of deeply bucketed seats, mounted 30mm lower than in a standard Civic. The dash is familiar, which is to say as busy looking as ever, with the three-cowled analogue instruments supplemented by the digital speedo above, a cheap-looking low-res screen alongside and the much better central display of the infotainment system. Press the +R button and the dials glow with a devilish red intent, while the shift lights gradually race to meet to signal it's time to grab another gear via the alloy-topped, short throw manual six-speeder.
In all previous Type R Hondas you'd be hanging on for the very last few revs before reaching for that gear knob, but the new Civic Type R is different in character. However, the shift quality remains among the best out there, the 40mm throw, its speed, accuracy and the real feeling of mechanical interaction never anything less than a joy to rush across its gate. Perfectly positioned pedals help make throttle-blipped downshifts a necessity and a glorious reminder of the pleasure of a beautifully engineered manual transmission. The engine, a 2.0-litre unit, still VTEC equipped, is different in its character though, as the addition of a turbocharger is the transformational element in the mix.
Those used to the high-rev histrionics and indulgent, race-car evocative howl of Honda's naturally-aspirated VTEC engines will barely recognise the power delivery in the new Type R. There's lots of torque for a start, 400Nm coming at 2,500rpm, yet the engine can still be revved out to 7,000rpm (peak power arrives at 6,500rpm), but the need to do so is obviously less. There's no marked kick as the cam profile changes either; indeed the VTEC system's party trick happens earlier and imperceptibly to increase exhaust flow for improved turbo response. The result is an entirely different Type R experience, that's not without benefit in regards to performance, tractability and response. It's a marked departure from the VTEC system being the defining and unique feature of Honda's hot hatch offering, though.
The performance gains are obvious: the Type R reaches 100km/h in 5.7 seconds and a 279km/h top speed, while the engine delivers more of its performance more of the time. That change is fundamental to how the engine sounds too. There's none of the heady, high-rev mechanical shriek of before; indeed, the engine's sound is not one that's rich in musicality. Constructed of resonance and boom overlaid with some turbocharged breathing the Civic Type R has lost its unique voice, which is a shame.
The sharpness of response remains though, as Honda's turbocharging installation is impressive. And the engine is mated to a talented chassis that's able to exploit it to the full. Trick front suspension reduces the tendency to torque steer, though with 400Nm at the front wheels there's still a degree of squirm on the road, just not to an unwelcome, intrusive level. The steering itself is nicely weighted, with a modicum of feel through the rim, and the Type R's nose is keen to turn in, while the adaptive dampers help rein in unwanted body roll and pitch. There's the option to stiffen it all up via the +R button. It not only adds intent to the suspension (and an even more uncompromising ride), but reduces power steering assistance, loosens the stability control's thresholds and changes the throttle mapping for improved response. There's no option to have one without the other unfortunately, so the suspension's too-firm ride turns the +R button into a track day only novelty.
On the road, grip is huge and traction impressive, the mechanical limited slip differential unquestionably adding to the front's keenness. The Type R's limits are so high you'll be doing well to approach anything near them in public. On the track, it's impressively stable, turning in on the strong brakes and generally allowing some liberties with its forgiving, adjustable nature. It's hugely capable.
What you get for your Money:
Irish market pricing and specifications have not yet been released for the new Civic Type R, but with relatively high emissions leading to high VRT we suspect it'll be in the region of €45,000. In other markets, there's the standard Civic Type R, or the GT pack, the latter distinguished by the red highlights on the front splitter and rear diffuser. GT specification also brings Honda's suite of anticipatory safety equipment, which we'd avoid given its propensity to over-inform and distract with its incessant beeping.
Opel Astra OPC: one of the best looking of the high-performance hot hatches, if not the most engaging.
SEAT Leon Cupra: not quite as impressive at elevated speeds on track, but for the road it's just as good - and far better value.
Volkswagen Golf R: likely to be about the same price as the Civic, yet comes with four-wheel drive and a much more subtle image.
Something of a last hurrah for the Honda Civic, the new Type R is a different proposition to the iconic cars that preceded it. The turbocharged engine is hugely transformative, the Type R's character more rounded, less mechanically melodious and manic, but faster and more useable by compensation. The chassis is adept at exploiting all that and Honda's usual fastidious engineering attention to detail is obvious. A different Type R then, no less impressive as a result, but more divisive.