Honda Civic Type R (2015-2017) review
Honda Civic Type R is a 306bhp pocket rocket, but the looks are divisive
The Honda Civic Type R has been one of the most eyecatching hot hatches on sale the past year or so, serving as a strong rival for the likes of the SEAT Leon Cupra, the Renaultsport Megane and even the new Ford Focus RS.
The hot version of Honda’s ninth-generation Civic is the fourth time the company’s family hatchback has been subjected to Type R treatment, though the power underpinning this model is quite different to the rest – the Civic Type R has gone turbo.
Previous iterations of Honda’s hot hatch have been famed for their high-revving, naturally aspirated VTEC engines, so the move to forced induction is a big change.
The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder under the bonnet produces 306bhp, and Honda says that the move to turbochargers brings about more accessible performance, a higher outright output and better fuel economy.
However, with a new tenth generation Civic en route in 2017, this car's replacement - the new Civic Type R - is tipped to surface in just a few month’s time.
There are two different versions of the Type R, plus a run out Black Edition model to mark the current generation version's end. Prices start from £29,995, meaning that although it’s more powerful, it’s more expensive than its rivals too. The sub £30k figure is for the entry-level variant, but there’s also a GT model on offer at £32,295.
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Standard Honda Civic Type Rs come with a fair level of equipment, including 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, climate and cruise control, a parking camera and LED headlights, but it’s the GT version that gets the full suite of tech.
On top of the standard spec, this car gets lots of improved safety kit, with forward collision warning, rear cross traffic alert to warn of passing cars when backing out of a space, traffic sign recognition and blind spot and lane departure warning all featuring. There’s also dual-zone climate control, automatic wipers and headlights, parking sensors all round and Honda’s latest CONNECT infotainment system with sat-nav.
The hot hatch arena is particularly competitive at the moment. Rival SEAT took the front-wheel drive Nurburgring lap record with its Leon Cupra in a time of 7 minutes 58.12 seconds. Renault then beat that by four seconds, but Honda claims the Type R is more than three seconds faster again, completing the lap in 7 minutes 50.63 seconds. While that's not the overall front-wheel-drive record anymore - that's held by the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S - it's still two seconds faster than a Lamborghini Gallardo supercar around the famous 'Green Hell'.
Engines, performance and drive
Although the high-revving, naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine has been replaced, it’s still a VTEC unit, so you get an extra punch of power as the revs rise. On top of this, the turbocharger means there’s lots of mid-range shove with 400Nm of torque on tap, this is the most flexible Civic Type R ever, which means it’s easier to use the Honda’s incredible performance.
On paper the Type R will sprint from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and hit 167mph flat-out – and it feels up to the claims, too.
Put your foot to the floor and it pulls hard with a great slug of torque, meaning you can leave it in gear. However, if you want to work the box, the six-speed manual is perfectly suited to the power unit, with a super short throw and a lovely, precise mechanical action.
Despite the VTEC system, you can’t actually feel the engine kick anymore (it now performs its magic as low as 1,200rpm for more immediate response), but there’s still a ferocious top end to play with and the engine will rev out to its 7,000rpm redline with real aggression.
Those who like to chase revs will appreciate that Honda has left the Type R character alone – up to a point – and with the added whooshes and whistles from the turbo, there’s a new element to the Honda’s engine note.
It’s not all positive, however – those four fat exhaust pipes emit a bassy rumble at idle, but on the move the engine emits more of a drone and the noise is quite intrusive if you’re on a long cruise.
The problem is easily solved by turning off the motorway and onto a twisty back road though. If you push the +R button the dash turns from white to glowing red, the already firm suspension dampers get 30 per cent stiffer, the throttle is more responsive and the steering weights up.
As a result R+ mode gives the Type R an extra hardcore, focused edge and feels even more lithe and agile. The big 350mm Brembo brakes have huge stopping power and nice feel, and the heftier steering is very precise. It’s not overflowing with feedback, but it’s so accurate you can guide the Civic through a corner adjusting your line with tiny movements of the steering and throttle. Floor the accelerator out of a bend and the traction from the limited-slip diff and super-sticky low profile tyres is immense.
It’s helped by a clever new suspension system at the front to give it this extra dynamic ability. By separating components with a new ‘dual axis’ strut design it means each can do their job better, reducing torque steer by as much as 50 per cent. It’s not completely gone, but the wheel wriggles less and doesn’t tug your hands quite so much under hard acceleration.
You can use all of the Civic’s power, too, as the chassis is so grippy and communicates what’s going on clearly. The adjustable dampers are noticeably stiffer in the +R mode, but the car still rides nicely (even if it is very hard) and doesn’t crash over bumps. Body control is excellent, too.
The Type R isn’t designed for cruising, but dial the chassis back to the normal mode and it’s surprisingly refined. The sporty bucket seats offer lots of support, but they’re comfortable, too, and mean you can find the perfect driving position.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
One of the major benefits of the Civic Type R’s turbocharged engine is improved efficiency alongside the staggering performance. On paper the Civic Type R returns 38.7mpg combined and 170g/km CO2, which means road tax of £205 per year.
Running costs are comparable to its turbocharged rivals, but Honda’s servicing costs are usually quite steep, so routine maintenance could be more costly than on the Honda’s closest competition, the Renault and the SEAT.
Interior, design and technology
There’s no denying the Type R is a proper pumped-up hot hatchback, with a deep front bumper featuring lots of scoops and cooling ducts, flared wheel arches with huge 19-inch alloy wheels, eye-popping quad exhausts, a diffuser-style rear bumper and a huge rear wing.
Compared to the more subtle approach of the SEAT Leon Cupra, the Honda Civic Type R is aggressive and in your face – this design approach won’t be to everybody’s tastes, and some of the styling elements look a little ‘boy racer’, but there’s no denying the Honda’s creation grabs attention wherever it goes.
Gloss black plastic inserts on the front and rear bumpers look great no mater what colour the body is in, but the vibrant metallic blue, pearl white and bright red body colours all looks great and show off the Civic’s angular design to the full.
Just like Honda’s regular family hatch, the Type R features the Civic’s most recent updates and gets the latest headlight clusters and taillights. The overall shape is the same, but the sporty add-ons – including the slashes and vents in the front wheel arches – are bespoke to the Type R. It looks every inch the British Touring Car racer.
Inside, the racy theme continues. You have to lower yourself into the deep two-piece bucket seats, and there’s plenty of Alcantara, contrasting stitching and red touches for the dash, steering wheel and doors to change the tone.
While the exterior styling is attention-grabbing but divisive, like the standard Civic, the interior design is much more bland. The dashboard layout follows that of the Civic five-door, and it’s not that exciting – although the racier elements inside make the Civic feel a lot more focused such as the Type R-specific performance meters. There are read-outs for cornering g-forces and 0-62mph sprint times, as well as a row of LED gearshift lights that flash up as you approach maximum revs.
Along with the supportive two-piece bucket seats and racy red and black trim, these features add a focused feel to the cabin, but the equipment spec looks a little miserly compared to its rivals. You do get keyless go, cruise control, Bluetooth, a rear parking camera, stop/start and LED headlights as standard, but – crucially – sat-nav is extra. For this you’ll have to pay £2,300 more and upgrade to the GT pack, which also adds parking sensors all round, dual-zone climate control and a host of extra safety systems. This takes the price to £32,295.
The plastics are still hard and unforgiving in places, and although it’s extremely roomy inside, it’s nowhere near as slick as the Volkswagen Golf R’s classy cabin.
Still, praise should go to Honda for being bold enough to design a car that looks like this.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
One of the standard Honda Civic’s major strong points is its practicality, and although it’s a much more focused car, the Type R retains this trait. The Magic Seats from the standard Civic aren’t carried over here, so you can’t fold the rear seat bases up to add extra load space behind the front seats, but the standard split-folding rear bench folds down in one smooth, easy motion to give a fully flat load floor.
Given how much performance there is on offer, it’s amazingly practical with 498 litres of boot space on offer. Fold those rear seats down and this rises to 1,427 litres, while the opening and load bay are both a good shape.
Although there are plenty of sporty touches inside, they don’t affect practicality too much. The front seats are deeper, so there’s marginally less legroom for rear seat passengers, but it’s still very spacious.
Storage is good, too, with decent sized door bins, a coin tray behind the gear lever, a large central cubbyhole and a roomy glovebox.
Reliability and Safety
Honda slipped further down the rankings in our 2016 Driver Power driver satisfaction survey to 20th overall. However, for reliability alone, it faired much better, taking fifth place behind Toyota, Dacia, Lexus and Tesla.
Although much of the Civic’s running gear has changed for the Type R, the Honda’s electronics are mostly unchanged, so it should prove dependable here. The current Honda Civic was voted the 40th best car to live with out of our top 200 in 2016's Driver Power survey.
The last time the Honda Civic was crash tested was back in 2012. Euro NCAP awarded the Civic a full five-star rating, and as the facelifted car packs even more safety tech, the Type R should be just as robust in a crash, and have more features to try and avoid one.