Just my type R
Honda’s hot hatch returns with an old-school approach
PLANES take off at 250km/h, which is why this Honda hatchback — with a claimed top speed of 272km/h — has wildlooking wings and fins.
We’re on one of Germany’s speed-unlimited autobahns, seeing how close we can get to the new Civic Type R’s peak velocity. The aerodynamic downforce is designed to keep us on terra firma.
But things aren’t going to plan. I shift down a gear and floor the throttle to move into the fast lane — but there’s a dead spot in the engine which has left me without enough power to safely join the faster traffic, let alone commence a high-speed run.
I’m wondering what just happened to the fastest frontdrive hot hatch to ever lap the Nurburgring, the perilous 21km racetrack in Germany where manufacturers stake their performance claims.
For all the internet hype about the new Civic Type R, which is returning to Australia after a five-year absence and is the first edition of the model to be sold globally, there’s one thing fans are glossing over.
The first turbocharged Type R is as tame as a Toyota Corolla unless you shift down at least a couple of gears to get the revs high and the engine working at its optimum.
Most performance car makers have overcome turbo lag over the past decade with twin-scroll technology that spools up at lower revs and creates a seamless surge of power.
Honda, however, is playing a different game.
The Type R’s old-school single-scroll turbo is designed to be effective above 4000rpm to match the powerband of its high-revving VTEC engine, which screams all the way to 7000rpm.
This is why the Type R is no ball of fire in the 0-100km/h dash. Honda claims 5.7 seconds but the best we achieve in perfect conditions, using satellite timing equipment and the Type R’s launch control and “Race” mode, is a pair of 6.2second runs.
Second gear runs out at a true 98km/h (versus 102km/h indicated on the speedometer); the shift to third costs valuable fractions of a second in the sprint to 100km/h.
This makes the Type R slower to the speed limit than a VW Golf GTI and Subaru WRX, both of which are cheaper.
At $50,990 plus on-road costs the Type R is in the same price bracket as the much faster, all-wheel drive VW Golf R (4.9 seconds on our timing equipment) and Ford Focus RS (5.2 seconds).
Of course, performance is not all about straight-line speed and the Type R more than compensates in other areas.
If you want to reach its potential you need to also reach for the six-speed manual’s titanium gearknob.
“Rev-matching” technology makes every gear shift smooth, which is handy given the engine is so highly strung (at 110km/h in sixth gear, the tachometer shows 2600rpm).
Once in the engine’s sweet spot, the Type R is a missile. The power comes on in an exhilarating rush, making up for time lost lower in the rev range.
But exploiting it requires concentration. You can feel the steering wheel wriggle as the front tyres scramble for grip, especially in first and second gears.
Keep engine revs above 4000rpm and the Type R is one of the most responsive hot hatches on the market.
We eventually reach 261km/h on the digital speedo before running out of autobahn, so the Honda starts to redeem itself.
Designed in Japan, codeveloped in Germany and built in Britain, the Type R has a chassis to match its manic engine.
The same magnetically controlled suspension technology used in Ferraris, Corvettes and HSV’s GTS sedan has three driving modes, comfort, sport and race.
The default position is sport and it’s the sweet spot. Despite running 20-inch rims with super low-profile tyres (Continental 245/30s), the Civic Type R is not a bone shaker.
It’s surprisingly compliant over bumps. Indeed, “comfort” is almost too floaty.
More impressive is the stopping power. Again according to our satellite timing equipment, from 100km/h to rest the Type R averages just 33.1 metres over four emergency stops. This is Porsche 911 territory.
The steering can feel a touch too sensitive at freeway speeds but on a racetrack this pays dividends.
Few Type R buyers will explore their car’s potential on a weekend track day but if they do they will come away beaming. In race mode, the car’s reflexes are amplified.
The steering and throttle inputs are sharper and the stiffened suspension stands up better in tight turns.
Thankfully, the sports seats’ large side bolsters keep occupants in place and help the driver feel in control of the car, rather than the other way around.
After hours of road and track driving it becomes apparent the Civic Type R is no ordinary hot hatch. It has been designed for specific tastes.
It’s not going to win a beauty contest — and its peers are quicker, cheaper and easier to live with day to day.
But some people want a more involving experience, enough to work up a sweat getting the most out of a car. And for those people there is the Civic Type R.
New and old: Civic Type R for 2017, left, and 2012 predecessor