It’s audacious, and faintly ridiculous, scooped and be-winged bodywork barely touches sides with the phenomenal superiority of Honda’s latest boy racer
As an example of motorsport improving the breed, I’m not sure Honda’s recent exploits in Formula 1 have been a massive success. Dropping the ‘a’ at the end of Honda gives you the best idea of what two-time World Champion, Fernando Alonso, thinks of the manufacturer’s master craftsmanship. Three years of massive unreliability and underperformance from Honda-powered McLarens gifted Fernando Alonso so much free time, he took up two new hobbies: Indy Car and World Endurance Championship racing. McLaren has subsequently jumped ship and opted for Renault power in 2018, ironically enough, just as smart money says Honda may have cracked the modern turbo hybrid and will deliver a blisteringly quick power unit in Red Bull junior team, Toro Rosso. Well, if Honda’s latest road-going hot hatch, the Civic Type R, is anything to go by, we may have the return of the Honda-powered glory days of the late 1980s on our hands.
The hot-shot Type R is a reworking of the tenth-generation family hatchback Civic, and has a redeveloped 2.0-litre turbocharged motor shunting out 228 kW and 400 Nm of torque. This being a Honda, however, variable-valve timing in the shape of VTec is also in attendance, meaning peak power arrives at 6 500 rpm. Not as heady as the previous naturally aspirated VTec (yoh) that spun to 8 750 rpm, but also nowhere near as weedy as its 148 kW/193 Nm forebear. Augmented with ram air and forced induction, modern CTRs display the type of horsepower and brawn to throw the entire front-wheel drive, hot-hatch horde into sharp relief. 37 % stiffer and 16 kg lighter than before, this car really is in another league, as if the styling didn’t give that away already.
Honda’s boffins insist the CTR isn’t only built to appeal to Plett ragers, everything on it is purely aerodynamic, but you’ve got to admit it does make a Mitsubishi Evo VIII look like a stately family saloon by comparison. There’s a smooth underbody, new rear diffuser and front air curtain that works together to create the perfect balance between lift and drag, according to Honda. As do the toothy vortex generators atop the roof that aid directional stability, like an old Evo VIII. While the goping rear wing is the size it is so it won’t obscure the drivers’ rear view like on previous CTRs. Never mind the reason cars were always filling the rearview mirror of the old one was its lack of grunt. In that regard they needn’t have bothered, because very little can stick with this Turbo VTec.
It’s not just explosive power in a straight line, because drag racing is only a bit-part player in the Civic’s overall armory. 0 – 100 km/h comes up in 5.8 sec, due to its traction-limited front-wheel-drive layout, but a top speed of 270 plus is impressive. However, it’s when you show off its chicanery with a lap dance or two that things really get interesting. Nurburgring lap times don’t just set themselves, although we suspect luck does have a big part to play as far as weather and track conditions are concerned. They’re in fact a carefully choreographed exercise virtually all car makers embark upon to develop and fine tune a vehicle before launch. However, only a select few claim lap record glory. Of the front-wheel drives, it’s this Honda Civic Type R, with a lap of 7 min 43 sec, a lap that shaved 7 seconds off its predecessors’ lap time, and a time that equals the 991 (997) GT3, a car considered by many to be one of the ultimate track-honed 911s, and one that’s a damn sight more expensive than the Honda you see before you.
The Nurburgring narrative is one thing, but I for one was not expecting such an easy and civilised gait when you back drive mode selector out of +R or Sport and pop it into Comfort. Without compromising its highly specialised, single-minded purpose, the CTR is refreshingly lout proof on the daily commute. The versatile, torquey motor doesn’t require much gear shifting to keep on the move, low-profile 20-inch rubber hugs the road with solidity, ensuring a grippier frontend than a Marlboro McLaren F1 car, and yet the CTR displays dexterous muscle twitch fibres to glide over road imperfections, thanks to perfectly tuned adaptive multi-link rear suspension. Only the very best Nurburgring-honed cars feel like this.
But life’s just too short and like all Type Rs that’ve come before, this one loves a merciless thrashing. Dual-axis MacPherson struts upfront absorb all the punishment the 2.0-litre turbo can dish out, transmitting power to tarmac via a vicious limited-slip differential. Off the line, you need precision to feed in enough power to overcome the dreaded ‘bog’, without overwhelming the traction of the front tyres to spin. It takes a few attempts to get a clean, quick run, but it’s so much more satisfying when you get it right than any number of sub 5-sec runs with a dual-clutch auto and launch control. The clutch bite point is consistent, as is the brake pedal feel and the steering – all things you crave when you’re steamrolling through corners on the limit. At revs the motor sounds like an angry vacuum cleaner and I was hoping for more popcorn histrionics considering the three rear trumpets, but the boost-heavy power delivery is utterly intoxicating – it feels much stronger than 400 Nm even. And then there’s the exquisite, short-throw shift from the brilliant rev-matching manual gearbox. Remember footage of Ayrton Senna going one-handed up the hill at Sainte Devote at the Monaco GP, rowing through the gears of his McLaren Honda? Yeah, the 12-year old inside me imagines the gearshift feels exactly the same.
And that’s ultimately what the Civic Type R fulfills: Honda’s tagline, The Power of Dreams. Something which we feared, quite honestly, the manufacturer had forgotten about. Equal parts interactive and intense, one that’ll appeal to hot hatch enthusiasts in search of a totem worthy of their worship, as much as traditionalists after an undiluted drive – it elevates the front-wheel-drive hot hatch into an entirely new league. In the case of Honda’s new front-wheel-drive king, we should more accurately rename the tagline, The Power of Screams!
In a nutshell –
Honda Civic Type R VTec Turbo
Monstrous power. Rev-matching manual gearbox. Giant killer
Expensive. Not heavy, per say, but feels the size of two old CTRs
Engine: 1 996 cc, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol
Power: 228 kW @ 6 500 rpm, 400 Nm @ 2 500 – 4 500 rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h 5.8 sec (claimed), top speed 272 km/h
Tyres: 20-inch alloys, 245/30 – Continental SportContact
Economy: 8.3 l/100 km (claimed)
Transmission: 6-speed manual
CO2 emissions: 200 g/km
Price: R625 000