Tested: Type R was worth the wait

Tested: Type R was worth the wait

Johannesburg – Well that certainly took a while. We first drove a seemingly road-ready prototype version of the new Civic Type-R at Honda’s test track in Japan almost three years ago. Which means it’s been at least five long years in the making.

That’s a bucketload of fettling, finessing and fine-tuning a car which at the end of the day is basically just a hotted-up everyday Civic. Here’s the finished product, available from South African dealerships now. Finally. Was it worth the wait?

Heck yeah it was. For a brand which seemed to resist turbocharging until the final hour, it’s come out swinging with its first true effort. Outputs of 228kW and 400Nm are pretty darned spunky in this neck of the hot-hatch woods.

Sure, there are certain AMGs and RSs that’ll cream it in pure power stakes, but remember, the Type-R is a front-wheel-drive, manual gearbox car.

Wait, what? A turbocharger? Sacrilege! Since 1992 (2007 in our market) no Honda Type-R has been force-fed, and legions of dudes with red “H” badges tattooed on their chests will have their naturally-aspirated noses turned up at this notion. Having owned a high-performance Honda of yesteryear, I know how an atmospheric four-pot screaming upwards of 9000rpm is indeed something to salivate over. But my message to previous generation Type-R fanatics is, drive this one. Then judge.

RAUCOUS REVVER

It’s safe to say that at least some of that lengthy R&D time was spent tuning this turbo motor to feel, at least a little, like an old-school Vtec unit. Instead of a typically sweeping wave of boost, the Type-R delivers in a more gradual fashion.

It’s still Vtec equipped, meaning valve timing is electronically controlled and here there’s still that telltale change in tone midway through the rev range to let you know it’s working.

Redline comes at 7000rpm, and while that’s nowhere near its fast-spinning forebears, it’d be hard to tell without the tacho saying so. North of five grand it’s a raucous revver with similar rasp and audible fanfare as previous non-turbo Rs. Very firm engine mounts also send sweet vibrations right through to the pedals, steering wheel, and fantastically bucketed seats.

A rev counter is almost unnecessary, so tactile is each crankshaft revolution.

GEM OF A GEARBOX

Nope, no dual-clutch autobox here. A six-speed manual transmission is the only option in this Civic, but what a pearl it is. Atop the gearlever is a perfectly palm-sized spherical aluminium knob, and movements into each gate happen with hugely satisfying snicks. The best manual box in the business? It’s a definite contender. Rumour has it the shift action and travel is identical to the original NSX Type-R. Very, very nice.

Ride quality is excellent considering it rolls on 19-inch rubber bands, and it’s a vivacious handler when a bendy road presents itself. There’s a proper mechanical limited-slip differential between the front wheels so it lays down plenty of grip on corner exits, and body roll is almost non-existent.

STEERING ‘FIGHT’

Honda says extra work has gone into the front suspension to prevent torque steer (a must with this kind of power at the front axle), but I’d be lying if I said my forearms weren’t busy under hard acceleration. It’s better for it, though. A little steering fight adds to the sense of occasion every time the throttle’s hoofed. Those huge power all-wheel drive models mentioned earlier are seriously quick, but deceptively so, so composed are they at putting down power. Not so with the Type-R. It’s quick, and it feels that way absolutely all the time.

And then there’s a red ‘+R’ button on the dash which alters throttle mapping and suspension stiffness quite dramatically. Too dramatically, actually. When engaged the shocks are far too firm for anything but a smooth racetrack. Even at 120km/h in the fast lane of super straight N1 the Type-R quivers like a Red Bull overdosed chihuahua. Unless it’s on a racetrack, best leave +R off, trust me.

SO HOW FAST?

The Civic put down some pretty good times at our test track, but we feel they could have been much better. For some inexplicable reason (possibly to prevent clutch damage) it refuses to rev beyond 4000rpm at a standstill, and after repeated launches the best we could muster was 0-100km/h in slightly bogged 6.2 seconds. Not a bad figure at all, but one that could be greatly improved without this prohibitive electronic nanny.

And I can’t get away without mentioning the Type-R’s OTT styling. There are enough winglets, flaps, splitters and spoilers here to make an eight-year-old spaceship designer’s knees wobble. Honda says they’re all fully functional, but they do make for a rather in your face look. Some might like it. I found it a bit embarrassing.

VERDICT

Is it basically just a hotted-up everyday Civic? No. Not at all. Honda’s put massive effort into this one and the end result squares up just fine against the competition. Just enough old-school Type-R charm’s been injected as not to betray its heritage, but at the same time modern tech keeps it relevant in a seriously competitive pool of hot hatches.

* Rivals such as VW Golf R, Scirocco R and Audi S3 are not included in this comparison because our test figures were achieved with automatic transmissions.

Star Motoring

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