Honda’s new Civic Type R loses 1000rpm, gains twice the torque and, despite the looks, gets a little bit grown up on us
HONDA’S Daisuke Tsutamori, principal designer of the new Civic Type R, nailed it when describing it as a “war machine”. Because war’s exactly what the new Type R will wage on rivals when it lands in Australia this September.
At $50,990, it’ll bait foes in both all- and front-wheel drive guises, with Ford’s identically priced Focus RS first springing to mind. But the lairy hatch better take a ticket. Subaru’s WRX STI, Peugeot’s 308 GTi 270, Renault’s incoming Megane RS, and hot Golfs of both persuasions, too, will be looking to punch-on for the title as hottest $50K five-door.
More than 250 punters have already confirmed they want one sight unseen, while Honda plans to sell 1000 in the first year. Before it arrives, though, we’ve been flown to Dresden, Germany, to meet Honda’s new contender. It’s some way from Japan, but suits the fifthgeneration Civic Type R’s global appeal. Think about it. A Japanese car developed on the Nurburgring, built in the United Kingdom, and powered by an engine from Ohio, USA. Then, it’ll be exported to Asia, Europe, the Middle East, America, and us Down Under.
In Australia, Honda’s red badge has been missing since 2012, when the high-revving, harsh-riding, angry-looking atmo 2.0-litre Euro Civic Type R was sent packing by better, faster rivals. Timing issues robbed us of the Japan-and-Euro-only 2015 model, and so many rivals have sprang since, we almost forgot Honda could make ballistic road rockets for the masses.
But the company’s back at it. So we’re here to judge a couple of things. First is whether the Type R will honour the hype. Honda fired a loud warning shot by setting the fastest Nurburgring lap for a front-wheel drive car, by a fair margin. Secrecy surrounds what tyres were used.
On top of that, it needs to uphold reputation. Aussies are quite fond of the Integra Type R sold here from 1999 to 2004 (an example of which yours truly has in the garage) and that’s not to mention the NSX and S2000. And if the new Civic Type R is Honda’s way of saying it remembers we take driving seriously, it’ll need to reward and thrill in equal measure. Type Rs also went where no other car dared in terms of noise (and vibration, and harshness) to make gains in connection, feel and excitement. There’s room for that, but progress in this highly competitive segment means it can’t be its only trick.
One thing’s for sure, though, it looks the part. Made up of bulging guards, gaping vents, aggressive angles, and a huge rear wing, the Type R is as subtle as North Korea’s missile program. The car’s combative intent is pretty clear. But Honda claims it’s not just for show, everything’s been done for a reason, and that blistering lap reveals why.
Seven minutes and 43 seconds is how quickly the Civic Type R tore around the 20.8km Nurburgring Nordschleife. Remarkably, the lap’s more than six seconds quicker than the 2015 car’s effort and was achieved with only seven extra kilowatts. But we’ll reveal more on that later.
Engineers haven’t just bolted on a turbo and dusted their hands, they’ve also focused on darker arts like aerodynamics and chassis tuning to unlock even more speed. They were clever, too, to make the new tenth-gen Civic the best canvas for the Type R. A smaller frontal area was crafted from a lower bonnet, flat underbody, and cleverly directed cooling air. All up the Civic’s drag figure was cut by 12 per cent. Meanwhile, using adhesives instead of spot welding for the new chassis made it lighter and stiffer.
Downforce was the next target. Little roof-mounted teeth called vortex generators, a la Evo IX, feed air onto that mighty rear wing. A front splitter pushes the nose down, while guardvents and body-sills also help. The result isn’t elegant, but Honda says it’s the only downforce car in its category. Yuji Matsumochi, the Civic Type R’s Powertrain Assistant Large Project Leader with us at the launch, is proud of the fact, “we confirmed and measured every speed [for downforce]”. But won’t reveal much more, saying the speed it produces downforce at is, bizarrely, a “secret”.
He’s happier focusing on its turbocharged inlinefour. With the company moving to an all-turbo Civic line-up engineers have left behind shrieking atmos to face not only growing emissions constraints, but
Honda fired a loud warning shot with its Nurburgring record lap
competition where 200kW-plus is the norm. Now that its 1998cc fill with 22.8psi of intercooled boost, VTEC lifts only the exhaust valves, while variable cam timing now features on both sticks for maximum overlap. Other technical morsels include direct injection, an 86mm square bore and stroke ratio, a lightweight crank, and trick oil-cooled pistons.
Meanwhile software and VTEC tuning unlocks an extra 7kW for 235kW and 400Nm – if you live in Europe, Japan, or America, but not in Australia. Honda’s held back boost and fuel flow to protect our engines from our hot weather and crap fuel. The result is instead 228kW/400Nm, keeping it in line with the previous overseas-only turbocharged model.
The turbocharger stirs a change of character as well as more power. Urge swells from about 3000rpm, building to a 6500rpm power peak, and then wilts near the 7000rpm redline. Yep, you can now short shift a Type R. That said, it’s very refined, feeling more responsive down low than a Golf R and linear than a Megane RS. Don’t expect an epic noise, though. Besides a small whistle from a deflating turbocharger when the throttle closes, the Civic Type R keeps its voice down, sounding like a twin-cam atmo donk with a sock stuffed in its mouth.
The Autobahn linking Dresden to the launch’s racetrack component doesn’t offer much start-stop driving, so the verdict’s out on how the car manages life at less than 3000rpm. But the exclusive six-speed manual is a treat. Topped with a titanium gearknob, it slots with slick precision, enables 5.7sec 0-100km/h sprints, and the clutch engages without fuss. The drive-by-wire throttle has also let engineers develop a new rev-match system.
That’s right, rev-match, on a Type R. Honda’s embraced electronic assistance like a new religion, and ties it to a drive-mode system defined by Comfort, Sport, and ‘R Plus’ settings. You’ll find the toggle switch to the gear lever’s right, which fiddles with the adaptive dampers, electric-steering assistance, ESP, rev-matching, traction control, and throttle response as you cycle through.
Comfort mode loosens damper travel and deals well with Dresden’s potholes, even with 30-profile tyres, while Sport mode sharpens throttle response and firms the suspension. R Plus prompts the most significant changes to the car, blipping revs when the stick hits the gate, rather than at clutch-lift, and increasing steering weight. But you’ll need to unleash on a racetrack, like the Schipkau’s Lausitzring, to reveal what’s really going on underneath.
Engineers flicked the old car’s old rear torsion-beam suspension for multi-links and stiffened the body’s mounting points. New 245mm tyres add 10mm of tread to each corner, while 20-inch wheels hang over a 95mm longer wheelbase. The rear track, too, sits 65mm further apart.
At the same time, Honda shunned an automatic
The turbo stirs a change of character as well as more power
Honda’s Civic Type R is visually, erm, ‘busy’ – to put it nicely. While aerodynamics and cooling are key, the company’s also going after new blood and hoping the aggro look will attract younger buyers
the market.” Boosting outputs mid life-cycle is almost unprecedented in Type R history, but so are turbochargers. - Manual transmissions and helical LSDs are mainstays of Honda engineering, however, dual-axis suspension is employed to help deal with the added turbo torque