Hot Hatch of the Year 2020: Honda Civic Type R
The Honda Civic Type R is the 2020 Auto Express Hot Hatch of the Year, with the Ford Focus ST and Mercedes-AMG A 45 S commended
Yet again the Civic Type R tops what is an Auto Express heartland category. But Honda hasn’t rested on its laurels, because the Japanese brand has overhauled its high-performance Civic variant for 2020, broadening the line-up to three separate models, as well as focusing development on tweaks to the already superb six-speed manual transmission and enhancements to the chassis.
There are subtle styling modifications, too, but shy, retiring types once again need not apply, because the Civic Type R still boasts plenty of scoops and vents, including a larger radiator grille, which helps cooling.
However, that’s not totally true, because one of the new variants Honda has added is the Type R Sport Line, which is a more subtle, slightly softer car without the huge rear wing. This version might be more suitable if the standard Type R’s looks and hardcore attitude are a little too much for you.
At the other end of the spectrum is the lightweight Limited Edition model, which tips the scales at 47kg less than the standard Type R. But it’s already sold out anyway.
The regular car remains the best of the bunch, however. It’s available in standard and GT trim levels, and we’d still go for the latter thanks to the extra equipment it offers.
But what really makes the Type R package is the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Power and torque figures are unchanged at 316bhp and 400Nm, so the 0-62mph time of 5.8 seconds is as impressive as it ever was. However, Honda’s upgrades to the dampers, suspension bushes and geometry, an improved braking system and a revised rear subframe have helped improve the car’s focus without impacting its usability. The Civic Type R still handles with the balance, precision and bite that make it feel like a touring car for the road, yet in its softest setting the Honda offers genuine compliance for a hot hatchback.
Helped by those chassis tweaks, grip is superb, while the limited-slip differential gives great traction. We’re so glad Honda has stuck with a manual gearbox, because it’s one of the most involving transmissions at any price, and the new teardrop-shaped gearknob feels great, too.
Despite their performance, these cars still have to be usable, and with a 420-litre boot, the Type R is genuinely practical. But it’s that raucous engine, superb transmission and sublime chassis balance that’ll really snare you and get under your skin, like the best hot hatchbacks should do.
Honda Civic Type R GT (£34,820)
GT has wireless phone charging, built-in nav (even though Apple CarPlay or Android Auto will be more useful), dual-zone climate control and all-round parking sensors. Kit is key to make this car easier to live with, and should help its everyday appeal, but it’s the engagement that makes the experience.
Ford Focus ST
Available as a hatch or an estate, in petrol or diesel form, the ST offers lots of choice. The petrol hatch with Ford’s Performance Pack is our pick; it’s a headbanger of a hot hatch when you want it, but also genuinely usable. We love its focus, hyper-alert responses and price.
Mercedes-AMG A 45 S
If you’re after ultimate performance from a hot hatch, then the 415bhp A 45 S is what you need. Its 0-62mph time of 3.9 seconds embarrasses some £100k-plus sports cars, making it more of a hyper-hatch.
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