Bold, brash and brilliant
You certainly won’t miss the new Honda Civic Type R. The regular car is already distinctive-looking, but this hot hatch range-topper takes things to a whole other level, with its huge wheelarches, jutting front bumper and massive rear spoiler.
It’s all functional too, insists Honda, giving the new car the aerodynamic sophistication to take on formidable rivals such as the Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R and BMW M140i. Oh, and the sheer downforce to cope with the firepower of a monster 2.0-litre VTEC Turbo engine. Although it’s not quite as potent as, say, a Focus RS, you’re barely aware of this as you stomp the accelerator and it surges round to 7,000rpm with free-spinning surge.
It’s a brilliant engine, and the six-speed gearchange is equally wonderful. Because it’s front-wheel drive, rather than the four-wheel drive Focus, it doesn’t put its power down as cleanly away from the lights, but a limited-slip differential does a great job of compensating; the drive out of corners is exceptional.
Surprisingly, the ride quality is decent, at least in Comfort mode. The new Type R has adaptive suspension so you can balance comfort and sportiness: if you want it more tied down, Focus RS-style, switch to Sport and enjoy best-in-class agility. You can go further, with +R mode, but this is ultra-stiff and best reserved for the circuit.
Even the brakes are fantastic, meaning it’s only the purity of its steering where the Type R slightly stumbles. It’s an accurate and crisp system, but it doesn’t quite have the feedback of hot hatchbacks of old. Saying that, the same is true for most of its rivals.
You sit much lower in the new Type R than the old one, with a high-mounted gearlever and a spot-on driving position. There is a small price to pay in rear visibility, but a standard reversing camera helps a little here. The dashboard itself is easy to use, although the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system is a real let-down, looking dated and proving slow to use.
Honda hopes the Type R features throughout are enough to take your focus away from it: you’re left in no doubt this is the hottest of Honda hatchbacks. There are red seats, red inserts in the dashboard, carbon fibre trim and a metal-topped gearlever. It feels really special and, even if it’s not quite as high-quality as a Volkswagen Golf R, it is still easily plusher than a Focus RS.
It’s a practical car, with ample space both front and rear – only the sloping roofline could limit headroom for taller adults here. The boot is great, far larger than rivals from BMW and Ford, and Honda’s attention to detail on the practicality front is faultless. As for economy, it’s not super-parsimonious but, at 36.7mpg and 179g/km CO2, it’s no worse than its rivals.
The Civic Type R is offered in two trims, standard and GT. Both are well-priced and well-equipped, with the GT adding built-in sat nav, a powerful stereo upgrade, dual zone climate control, all-round parking sensors and wireless phone charging. It’s worth spending the extra. As for reliability, Honda is famously superb, although the four-star Euro NCAP crash test score is a bit of a surprise: most of its rivals score five stars.
Overall, we don’t hesitate to award the Type R top marks. There are negatives, such as its dreadful infotainment system, but its overall blend of top performance, handling, practicality and visual appeal make it a hot hatch hero in our eyes.