Long-term test review: Honda Civic Type R
Final report: Sizzling 306bhp Honda Civic Type R goes out with a bang as we take it on top speed run
It’s not a car I fell head over heels for immediately, but the Type R has shone. It’s ludicrously fast and has race car reflexes, making it one of the finest hot hatches to drive. The firm ride and characterless engine mean the Civic drops points, though, despite its feisty nature.
Mileage: 11,132MPG: 31.2mpg
One hundred and sixty seven miles per hour. It’s around that speed most commercial airliners begin to take off, but Honda claims it’s also the top speed of its Civic Type R. After nine divisive months, it’s time for the hot Honda to leave the Auto Express fleet, so what better way to say sayonara than with a top speed run?
The location is Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome in Leicestershire. Handily, it has a 1.98-mile arrow-straight stretch of tarmac – one of the longest in the country. The idea is simple: how close can we get to the 167mph top speed in one of the fastest hot hatches currently on sale?
To ensure unflinching accuracy, we hook up a GPS tracker to the Civic. As a general rule, speedometers vary more in their accuracy the faster you go, so at the sort of speeds we’re aiming for, this equipment is vital. Once rigged up, the only thing left to do is strap myself in and go for it.
To squeeze every last mph out of the car, it’s important to carry as much speed as possible through the long right-hander leading on to the 1.98-mile straight.
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Carrying monumental speed through tight corners is something the Type R excels at, thanks to its huge level of mechanical grip and an effective limited-slip differential to help put the power down.
By the time I’m on the straight, we’re nudging almost 90mph. The numbers on the digital readout are a blur as they tick over at a relentless pace. By the one-mile marker, we’re already up to 140mph. Up to this point, the Civic has felt rather effortless – cruising up to double the national speed limit without breaking sweat.
However, it’s at this point things begin to change. There’s a noticeable tail off in acceleration due to the drag generated by the bodykit, and by 150mph, the numbers on the speedo seem reluctant to budge.
With a good chunk of the runway behind me I hold on for a few more seconds and, as the readout is indicating 158mph, I ease off and squeeze the brakes on.
Looking at the data, it seems the car’s digital dash was more accurate than we’d initially anticipated, with the tracking equipment saying we achieved a maximum speed of 156.3mph. After half a dozen attempts, our first run was the best we managed, but with a claimed 10.7mph still left to go, you’d need more than 1.98 miles to max the Type R.
Back in the real world, how has our nine months been with the Civic? The looks haven’t been to everyone’s tastes, but personally, the longer I spent with the Type R, the more I grew to like its wild exterior and unapologetic design approach.
For a blistering 306bhp hot hatch, it’s also incredibly practical, with a big boot, five doors and decent rear passenger space for two. There are niggles of course; the interior design is rather unimaginative and the naff touchscreen has an aftermarket feel.
However, you soon forget those issues when you get the Civic on the right road. Huge reserves of power and torque mean the Type R monsters its way from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds, while the super-precise and grippy front end means you can really lean into corners. Add in the six-speed manual gearbox, which is one of the best in the business, and the Honda has the potential to keep you grinning from ear to ear.
Honda Civic Type R: third report
Extrovert styling of the Honda Civic Type R has polarised the office
Mileage: 10,295MPG: 31.4mpg
We're going to have to talk about it at some point – it’s unavoidable. Having lived with the Honda Civic Type R for five months, I have no doubts about its ability as a hot hatch – it’s fast, feisty and frantic. However, one thing that is proving controversial is the way the Type R looks.
Divisive would be a fair description; calling it an eyesore is perhaps a little too harsh, although several Auto Express staff members don’t think so. It’s a car that’s been designed with one thing in mind: speed.
Everything on the Civic is there for a reason: the massive wing generates downforce to keep it stable at high speeds, the blistering wheelarches house chunky alloys wrapped in sticky rubber, while the maze of slashes and vents feed air to the wild 306bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine.
I can see what Honda has tried to do. The hot hatch market is bubbling over with talent and choice, so manufacturers are being forced to do something that will make them stand out.
Mercedes and Audi are lodged in a power struggle, while Renault and Ford are battling to make their respective hot hatch as affordable as possible. Honda has gone for visual impact, and lots of it. It attracts plenty of attention – if people aren’t standing open-mouthed gawping at it, they have their smartphones out snapping pictures.
But the longer I spend with it, the more it grows on me and the less offensive it appears. It’s an exciting car to look at – every surface has some sort of crease, kink or detail you hadn’t previously noticed.
There are some drawbacks to the design, though. Firstly, that huge rear wing and brake light perfectly obstruct your view out the rear view mirror. Those intricate alloy wheels protrude beyond the tyres’ sidewalls, so kerbing the rims is irritatingly easy.
The Civic isn’t exactly in its natural habitat around London, where our office is based, so I grab any opportunity I get to head outside the confines of the M25. When it has the space to stretch its legs, it really comes alive; it’s one of the most exciting hot hatches around. It’s easy to get frustrated with the firm ride, eager engine and feisty character, but out on the right road, it’s fantastic. The snappy six-speed manual gearbox is one of the slickest I’ve ever sampled, and the front end has a huge amount of bite.
In terms of practicality, the Civic also scores well. The boot is a decent size and can swallow plenty of luggage, and while there is no middle seat, I haven’t had any complaints from passengers back there on my 270-mile trips back home to Newcastle.
Honda Civic Type R: second report
Mileage: 6,054MPG: 32.2mpg
The Civic Type R is the fastest front-wheel-drive car ever produced, and Honda is quite proud of this achievement.
It lapped the fearsome 12.9-mile Nurburgring in Germany in seven minutes, 50 seconds, breaking a record previously held by the Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R. Now, to you or I, this isn't hugely relevant, but it is helpful to know you'll make it down to the shops in good time.
However, having spent the past few months driving the Civic, its link with the Nurbugring and its race car DNA is becoming ever more prevalent. So much so that the only place smooth, but and empty enough to safely and legally use all of its performance is the race track - so that's where I headed.
You don't even need to get behind the wheel of the Civic to see it means business. That huge rear wing, angry rear diffuser and bulging bodywork wouldn't look out of place on a BTCC car - in fact, remove the number plates, and you're almost there. It's a similar story inside, with the red bucket seats and digital readout providing that race car feel.
A wet and windy Castle Combe in Wiltshire played host, but even in the biblical conditions, the Type R ploughed on unfazed. The first thing you notice about the Honda is just how much traction it manages to find - even when it looked like a canal boat would have a better chance of setting a lap time in the conditions we faced.
Initially, the front wheels bite and claw at the tarmac as they attempt to harness the 306bhp on tap, but once they hook up, they simply don't let go. Being on the track also let me finally test the R+ mode, which tenses the car up and adds a whole lot more aggression to the driving experience.
Use it on the road, and the car fidgets and hops about like an impatient toddler - the ride is so stiff it's almost unbearable. Yet on the track, it makes a difference. The engine responds more eagerly and the steering weights up nicely in such slippery conditions. It certainly didn't have any trouble keeping up with the lightweight track day specials you can see either side of it.
But what's it like to live with in the real world, away from the track and among the traffic? Well, it appears Honda's efforts to make the Type R 'the fastest front-wheel-drive car in the world' have had an impact on how it deals with daily life.
It's not very comfortable and the 2.0-litre turbo is also rather loud - but not the sort of loud you relish hearing as you put your foot down. Quite the opposite, in fact. At motorway speeds, the engine note booms through the cabin - and when you have to drive 270 miles from London to Newcastle to see family, this is something you become very aware of. There's also the matter of the divisive styling, although that's a debate we'll save for another day.
But despite all this, when you peel back the bodywork, the Type R is still a usable five-door hatch. There's a big boot and room for three adults (just) in the back.
Better still, if you're after a true hot hatch - where practicality ultimately plays second fiddle to performance - few do it better than the Type R.
You can turn up at a track, embarrass some sports cars while you're there and then drive home again. Just be sure to take a cushion for the journey back.
Honda Civic Type R: first report
Mileage: 4,439MPG: 33.2mpg
Race on Sunday, sell on Monday. That’s the mantra car manufacturers recite to justify the billions they invest in motorsport each year. However, the link between race cars and what normal motorists use every day of the week is normally tenuous.
Step forward the Honda Civic Type R, which definitely feels like it wouldn’t shy away from circuit duties. Of all the modern hot hatches, the Type R also looks the most like a race track refugee. It seems like you could throw a few stickers on to it and it would be quite at home chasing British Touring Car Champion Gordon Shedden around the tracks of the UK.
Of course, this means it’s not to everyone’s taste. When I rolled up in it to my mother’s recently, she said I looked ‘ridiculous’. This came from a woman who bought me Rudolf slippers for Christmas...
Certainly, the massive wing, widened vented wheelarches and snowplough-like chin spoiler are all largely pointless at road-legal speeds. At the same time there’s no doubt they let onlookers know this practical hatchback has more than 300bhp and can top 160mph.
There is a price to pay for some of the sporty trinkets, though. That wing impedes the view out of the rear window and means a rear wiper can’t be fitted, which is a real pain in winter because you can’t clean off the road grime while driving. Traverse a speed hump at more than walking pace, meanwhile, and that low nose will not only plough snow, but tarmac, too.
Then there’s the distinctive black alloys. They look ace, but I’m convinced that they actually leap out at kerbs. I’ve already lathed the red highlights off one while negotiating an underground car park. Badly. My fault, I know, but the rubber band-thick tyres provide little room for error while manoeuvring in tight spaces.
Finally, there’s the bucket seats. They’re a joy when you’re strapped in, but you have to lift yourself over their huge bolsters just to get in or out. Still, if you want a car that looks like a racer, I guess you have to accept some compromises in practicality.
You’d think the same would be true of the driving experience. A machine capable of lapping Germany’s Nürburgring race track in record-breaking time must surely ride with the delicacy of a shopping trolley?
Yes – and no. In R mode, the Civic is so firm that it fidgets like it’s just downed three cans of Red Bull. However, leave it in normal mode and the adjustable suspension is just compliant enough that you needn’t worry about returning from the supermarket with your eggs already scrambled.
That’s why I’ve only once driven the car in R mode (which also changes the throttle map and makes the dials glow red), and that was around Rockingham’s National Circuit. Here the Type R’s split personality really shone through. It may be based on a very sensible hatch, but it has one of the best manual gearboxes ever, a thumping turbocharged engine, superb brakes and a limited slip diff-enhanced front end that grips hard. And as you hurl it round a track, you feel like Gordon Shedden on one of his charges through the back markers.
For me, no other hot hatch so successfully mixes raw race car appeal with everyday usability.
*Insurance quote (below) provided by AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.