My eyeballs are hurting, but it doesn’t matter. Why would it matter? Life is a head rush. The road ahead narrows, turns sharply to the left, then to the right, the camber all wrong, clearly designed by a Mussolini of an engineer in the pay of the emergency services. But it doesn’t matter. Snick, snick, snick – the lateral Gs pile up instantly, but the virus-red sports bucket seats have me in a vice grip, so, again, no matter. Minimal roll, no scrub and no torque steer on the exit – what is this thing and how has it delivered me from evil so well? Welcome to the frenzied world of Honda’s latest and hardest model from Nippon – a revenge of turbocharged VTEC excess.
Revenge because, for five years, Honda has suffered the slings and arrows of rude journos bemoaning the lack of racing cred in their line-up – both in F1 and on the mean streets of suburbia. But all that’s over now with the Type R, and Button and Alonso’s McLarens, aiming to put the red and white ‘H’ back on centre stage where it belongs. And while the F1 coupling has not exactly gone to plan – yet – the Type R really is the business – as volcanic as the Mobilio and Brio are now dormant. With the spirit of the S2000, this Honda is focused on flattening your eyeballs.
There have been some very important changes. Honda Racing has always been about VTEC – that fiendish wizardry that extracts power where there shouldn’t be any, at and beyond the normal rev range. VTEC engines traditionally scream well into the 8 000 rpm range and deliver that characteristic post-nervous-breakdown surge where most other power plants would be sending cylinders through the bonnet. In a nutshell, VTEC means insane revs from a normally aspirated engine. Well, no more. The new Type R has less of that, and for the first time, employs a turbocharger to force the issue and reach into the realm of the ridiculous. It’s a big turbocharger and the results are big news too. On paper, it is all a bit unbelievable –
0–100 km/h in… oh wait, 5.7 seconds, a top speed of 270 km/h, 400 Nm of torque and 228 kW at a very pedestrian (for a VTEC Honda) 6 500 rpm. This lunatic fringe Civic is the fastest front-wheel drive available, as well as the most bonkers.
There is the other insanity: front-wheel drive. Putting 228 kW down on tar while turning the front wheels and accelerating like Zeus out of Hades is a big ask, but the techies have somehow managed it. Thank the differential lock-up front for that, as it means there’s no huge surge of power to a single wheel under heavy acceleration. Wrestling with the steering wheel is no fun when you’re overtaking a couple of trucks and a centipede of taxis – ask any owner of a previous generation Renault Megane RS or Ford Focus ST. In reality, the Type R’s set-up is not as sorted as a good all-wheel-drive system (the Audi S3 as a benchmark), but far better than nothing at all.
Both of these cars will be firmly in Type R’s squinty little-LED headlights. At this end of the hatch-with-anger-issues spectrum, these three, together with the Golf R and Opel Astra OPC, will face off against each other. But while the Opel and Focus are the brutes, and the Golf is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, it is the Megane that offers the most direct comparison. Like the Civic, the Megane is a light, turbocharged two-litre dancer of pure-bred racing pedigree. Expect the rafts of comparison tests soon, but remember, you heard it here first – the Civic might make you wet yourself, but the Megane will win your heart.
Back on the road, with the inadvertent chicane behind me, there is time to settle in and get a sense of the car. I turn off the +R race mode (which increases the response of the chassis and drivetrain systems, including steering and dampers) and look around. If the Golf R only hints at speed in its interior, the Type R screams it out from every crevice: red embroidered seats, the steering wheel inserts, lighting, piping and a cool boiled-sweet-like start button that yells ‘I’m reeeally fast!’
And the harsh ride backs that up. It has active dampers, but this is still a car that needs to be rock steady while going at nearly 300 km/h. A spine: you’ll definitely need it for this insanity, as the Type R will fuse yours to the seat.
Look closer and you’ll see plenty of less Civic-like bits that will remind you of your Aunt Jane’s daily hatch. The split dashboard, once novel, is just irritating, with the top of the steering wheel still obscuring the digital speed read-out. The infotainment screen is big enough, but Honda’s Connect system is fiddly to operate and is clearly a recent addition to the generally ageing architecture – notwithstanding the race chassis and engine.
Out the back, the tea-trolley rear wing, which will be the envy of every Subaru WRX STI owner, reduces more of the already limited rear view. And then there’s the noise issue. Almost as much a part of the VTEC allure as the insane revs is the cat-in-a-blender scream that comes when wringing the engine’s neck. Except, it seems to be missing here. The residents of Parow will not be pleased.
None of these will ultimately deter the legion of Honda fans out there who have long waited for the Type R’s return. And for them, the good news is that at no point does the Type R feel like an ordinary Civic – unlike the Focus, Golf or Opel, all of which do a relatively passable job of masquerading as repmobiles until you summon their demons. Only the Megane comes anywhere close.
There is a special sense that is transmitted in the way the car steers (precise, heavy), the way it shifts through gears (smooth, short throw), the feeling of the coiled steel and the gasp it elicits when the turbo kicks in, a second or so after you drop the hammer.
It is singular, a manifestation of purity, both in design and intent: make car go fast, make me wet pants. Job done.
The new Type R will no doubt reignite the public’s imagination and fire up the generation still mourning the previous Type R. And Honda will breathe a sigh of relief; the manufacturer, which has lately been stripped of its racing colours, and seems truly intent on producing econoboxes and some memorably unmemorable motors, doesn’t need to hang its head any longer. There’s a new crazy in town and its name is R. Not very Civic at all, thankfully. Welcome back, Minato, stick around.
In a nutshell
Honda Civic Type R
Purpose-built rocket, seriously
fast, tractable, pure and engaging
No VTEC engine song, hard suspension and expensive
- Engine: 2.0ℓ VTEC, direct injection, petrol
- Power: 228 kW @ 6 500 rpm, 400 Nm 2 500 – 4 500 rpm
- Performance: 0–100 km/h in 5.7 sec, top speed 270 km/h
- Tyres: 19” alloys, 235/35 R19 Continental
- Economy: 8.5ℓ/100 km
- Transmission: Six-speed manual
- CO2 emissions: 170 g/km
- Price: ±R550 000
Renault Megane RS Trophy 275
Race-bred, visceral, emotive, light as a feather and lots of fun. Horrible interior, but who cares? 0–100 km/h in 6 sec, top speed 255 km/h, power 201 kW / 360 Nm R449 900
Ford Focus ST3
If cars were boxers, this would be Tyson. A man’s car for guys with something to prove. In new ST3 guise, though, it is also a very decent drive, more sophisticated than its rep allows. Don’t tell the manne. 0–100 km/h in 6.5 sec, top speed 248 km/h, power 184 kW / 360 Nm R421 900
For the real Golf fans – and you must be to choose it over the R100K cheaper GTi. Fast, chic, absolutely capable and comfortable to boot. Curiously uninvolving though; the adult choice. 0–100 km/h in 5 sec, top speed 250 km/h, power 206 kW / 380 Nm R514 000
Opel Astra OPC
The long-distance tourer, biggest of the bunch and unbeatable as a low-flying cruise missile across the Karoo. A bit clunky in town though. 0–100 km/h in 6.2 sec, top speed 250 km/h, power 206 kW / 400 NmR496 300