Honda Civic Hatchback review (2005-2011)
The Civic Type R is not only better to drive than the old car, but out paces its rivals, too.
Driving The heart of the Civic Type R is its engine, whose vocals are pure touring car howl - hard-edged and intoxicating. As before, there's the familiar VTEC step in power delivery, but Honda's engineers have worked hard to make the highly tuned 2.0-litre four-cylinder more useable. True, you nerd to keep the engine spinning in the 5,400-8,000rpm band to get the best from it, but although the torque output is weak (193Nm at 5,600rpm), 90 per cent of that is available at 2,500rpm, so the mid-range is meaty. This means the Type R is far more tractable than before, so there's no need for frantic gearshifts. But while the 2.0-litre's characteristics have changed markedly, the power outputs haven't, and we can't help being slightly disappointed that the Honda has 'only' 198bhp. The lightweight hatch uses it well, though. More importantly, the Civic feels fast due to the stunning throttle response, snappy shift and short gearing. These factors should also make it a tiring car to drive, but although it pulls 3,400rpm at 70mph, the smooth engine doesn't drone when cruising. Admittedly, the unyielding ride means you can never forget what type of car you're in, but while the tuned suspension is very firm, it's brilliant at taking the edge off sharp bumps. There are no sudden jolts and the super-stiff frame not only ensures taut handling, but helps keep noise at bay. And then there's the handling - it's sublime. The steering is perfectly weighed and, although it's not the last word in feedback, the chassis is incredibly communicative. The honed controls all work in harmony, and no rival holds a line in corners as tenaciously or has such fabulous traction. The Civic is addictive.
Marketplace The Civic Type-R's hard-edged predecessor had a cult following - over 35,000 were sold here, more than the rest of Europe combined. But the new car had to be easier to live with, retaining the uncompromising character, but with added comfort. That's a tall order, but if any company can pull it off, it's Honda. That's why rawfined is Honda's latest buzzword! And we reckon the Japanese company has done it. The Type-R competes in the hot hatch sector alongside the Ford Focus ST, VW Golf GTI, MINI Cooper S, Renaultsport Megane and Seat Leon Cupra; as with every other rival, it channels its power through a six-speed gearbox to the front wheels.
Owning The Type R's styling quashes doubts that it's gone soft. Sharp sills and striking spoilers beef up the visuals, blending perfectly with the three-door hatch's dramatic lines. In fact, so well integrated are the alterations that it's almost as though the eighth-generation Civic was designed as a Type R, and then toned down for the ordinary versions. It's a world away from its predecessor, which looked like a racing bread van. What's even cleverer is that this version has a large cabin. Whether you're lugging people or possessions, no rival compares. And few match the sense of occasion up front. The wraparound dashboard, metal pedals and gearknob, red stitching and central rev counter mean the Type R isn't only interesting inside, but focused and sporting, too. However, the doors are tinny, the dark red trim is questionable, the otherwise superb seats can prove numbing within a couple of hours and the stereo could be richer. The car's turning circle is wide too. And a high-revving VTEC is no recipe for fuel economy; we averaged 25.8mpg, and CO2 emissions are also high. But insurance isn't overly excessive at group 17, and retained values are predicted to be extremely high.