Type R v GTI

The Civic Type R must re­gain Honda’s mojo, but a trim­mer, tauter Golf GTI stands in its way. Game on

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

HAL­LELU­JAH, it’s rain­ing hot hatches. In the com­ing months a flotilla of fast five-doors will reach Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing the Fo­cus RS Lim­ited Edi­tion, new Me­gane RS and Hyundai’s i30 N. How­ever, beat­ing them all to mar­ket is the Honda Civic Type R. It’s an iconic model, though lo­cal ex­po­sure has been lim­ited to the un­der­whelm­ing FN2, a car that was as much the work of Honda’s ac­coun­tants as its en­gi­neers.

Honda’s sport­ing rep­u­ta­tion in Aus­tralia was largely built on the back of the DC2 In­te­gra Type R, one of the finest front­drivers, and it’s this rep­u­ta­tion that the likes of the NSX and new Civic Type R has to re­build. The me­chan­i­cal make-up is promis­ing. The days of high-scream­ing atmo en­gines are sadly over in the hot hatch seg­ment, how­ever, the 228kW/400Nm pro­duced by the Civic’s 2.0-litre tur­bocharged four is fair com­pen­sa­tion. Aus­tralia’s hot cli­mate robs lo­cal cars of 7kW com­pared to their Euro­pean coun­ter­parts, yet the 0-100km/h and top speed claims of 5.7sec and 272km/h re­spec­tively re­main un­af­fected.

A six-speed man­ual is the only trans­mis­sion op­tion while a he­li­cal lim­ited-slip diff ap­por­tions power be­tween the front wheels. Keep­ing those wheels planted is a dual-axis front sus­pen­sion, which like Ford’s RevoKnuckle and Re­nault’s Per­foHub de­signs, sep­a­rates the steer­ing knuckle from the strut to re­duce torque steer, while an in­de­pen­dent multi-link setup re­turns at the rear for the first time since the sec­ond-gen (2001-’06) EP3. Wheels are 20 x 8.5-inch front and rear wear­ing the lat­est 245/30 Con­ti­nen­tal SportCon­tac­t6s that hide Brembo brakes and three­mode adap­tive dampers.

Honda proved the Type R’s ef­fec­tive­ness by set­ting a 7min43.80sec lap of the Nur­bur­gring Nord­schleife, a record for a front-wheel drive car, eclips­ing the pre­vi­ous mark set by the VW Mk VII Golf GTI Club­sport S. Time for re­venge, then? Our cho­sen chal­lenger for the Civic Type R’s first lo­cal fight is the up­dated VW Mk7.5 Golf GTI, specif­i­cally the Per­for­mance Edi­tion 1. We did con­sider the Ford Fo­cus RS as it shares the Civic’s $50,990 price tag, how­ever, in the end we felt the front-drive VW was the fairer foe.

The Per­for­mance Edi­tion 1 (PE1) picks up the ba­ton passed by the Mk VII Per­for­mance Pack – a Golf with a sharper sport­ing edge for the keen driver – al­beit with a few key tweaks, the first of which is the dele­tion of two doors. VW Aus­tralia has bowed to the wishes of en­thu­si­asts and re-in­tro­duced the three-door Golf, but they’ll need to be quick, as just 150 Per­for­mance Edi­tion 1s will land on Aussie shores for $47,990 in a choice of White, Sil­ver or our test car’s Dark Iron Blue.

Me­chan­i­cally, the PE1 scores an 11kW/20Nm boost over the stan­dard GTI (and pre­vi­ous GTI Per­for­mance) to 180kW/370Nm, which has ne­ces­si­tated the move to the stronger seven-speed dual-clutch gear­box. The ex­tra grunt cuts the 0-100km/h claim to 6.2sec with top speed lim­ited to 250km/h, while larger brakes, 19-inch wheels and a me­chan­i­cal front lim­ited-slip diff round out the Per­for­mance Edi­tion en­hance­ments.

On the road the Golf wastes no time in im­press­ing, the EA888 en­gine of­fer­ing a seam­less surge from the mo­ment peak torque ar­rives at 1600rpm to the point the gear­box au­to­mat­i­cally up­shifts (black mark, VW) at the 6500rpm red­line. Its note is ob­vi­ously ar­ti­fi­cial, sound­ing not dis­sim­i­lar to a diesel at low rpm, but once rolling there’s lit­tle to com­plain about in the way it shifts down the road.

The trade­mark DSG hes­i­ta­tion can make smooth take­offs a chal­lenge, though the more you treat it like a man­ual with an elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled clutch (which is what it is) rather than a tra­di­tional auto the hap­pier your ex­pe­ri­ence will be. A big­ger prob­lem is the con­ser­vatism of the trac­tion con­trol/ESP, which can’t be com­pletely de­ac­ti­vated and even in ‘Sports’ mode cuts power dras­ti­cally once it de­tects wheel­spin.

This has tra­di­tion­ally been the bug­bear in

“Our cho­sen chal­lenger for the Civic Type R’s first lo­cal fight is the Mk7.5 Golf GTI Per­for­mance Edi­tion 1”

“The com­bi­na­tion of short gear­ing and turbo torque makes the Type R a roll-on rocket”

ex­tract­ing quick ac­cel­er­a­tion times from front-drive, DSG-equipped Golfs. Launch con­trol uses too many rpm, the re­sul­tant wheel­spin caus­ing a tantrum from both ESP and driver as tenths tick frus­trat­ingly away. Thank­fully, VW now al­lows some driver in­put into the process, as ev­i­denced by the Golf’s 6.06sec 0-100km/h ef­fort, best­ing its claim by 0.14sec and our best time in the pre­vi­ous GTI Per­for­mance by more than 0.7sec.

A firm press on the brake while sta­tion­ary ac­ti­vates launch con­trol and floor­ing the throt­tle di­als up 4000rpm, how­ever, the sys­tem now al­lows you to mod­u­late the rpm for a much cleaner getaway. Around 2000rpm is the sweet spot, al­low­ing just a hint of wheel­spin be­fore the shortly stacked ra­tios (sec­ond stretches to just 86km/h and third is done by 125km/h) pull the Golf across the quar­ter mile in 14.21sec at 166.13km/h.

De­spite the need to shift your own gears, the Civic is much quicker – with a far su­pe­rior power-to-weight ra­tio (165kW/tonne vs the VW’s 133kW/tonne) it was al­ways go­ing to be. Its 5.82sec 0-100km/h and 13.84sec at 170.15km/h quar­ter mile num­bers put it lineball with the Re­nault Me­gane RS275 Tro­phy-R as the fastest front-driver we’ve ever tested, but ex­tract­ing the last tenth or two is hard work. Trac­tion is much bet­ter than you’d ex­pect, but man­ag­ing wheel­spin in first gear costs time and the 0-100km/h num­ber is hurt by sec­ond gear hit­ting the lim­iter at 99km/h.

Still, the slick shift min­imises time loss and the com­bi­na­tion of that short gear­ing and turbo torque makes the Type R a roll-on rocket. Over­tak­ing from 80-120km/h takes just 2.8sec in third and 7.7sec in sixth – by way of com­par­i­son, a man­ual HSV GTS needs 2.8sec and 7.6sec re­spec­tively. The en­gine isn’t the most soul­ful unit, of­fer­ing a hint of old-school Honda buzz over­laid with plenty of turbo whoosh, but it’s def­i­nitely ef­fec­tive with sharp throt­tle re­sponse in its sportier modes and a power­band that only be­gins to ta­per off be­yond 6500rpm. Its big­gest is­sue is heat soak; its quick­est ac­cel­er­a­tion times came on the sev­enth or eighth run, how­ever, on its first run it was 0.4sec quicker to 170km/h de­spite the slower bench­mark times. And this on a 17°C day.

The good news from a driv­ing point of view is that this is one of very few cracks in the Type R’s ar­mour. Honda has built a proper weapon. What im­presses most ini­tially will de­pend on the en­vi­ron­ment in which you first ex­pe­ri­ence the Type R. At a re­laxed pace it’s likely to be the ride qual­ity. With the drive mode se­lec­tor set to Com­fort the Civic has an al­most Porsche-like abil­ity to de­liver com­pli­ance on 20-inch rims and low-pro­file tyres; on poor roads it can turn a lit­tle jit­tery, but by and large the Honda ab­sorbs your typ­i­cal bumpy Aussie back road in a man­ner a Fo­cus RS or pre­vi­ous-gen Me­gane RS can only dream about.

Then again, if your first Type R taste oc­curs in a more ex­cit­ing set­ting, you’re likely to be blown away by the limpet-like grip it gen­er­ates in cor­ners. Se­lect­ing Sport turns the di­als an an­gry red, sharp­ens the throt­tle and stiff­ens the dampers to im­prove body con­trol, yet doesn’t turn it into a go kart. On dry sur­faces the front-end is nailed to the road, ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing in­cred­i­ble en­try speeds, yet the diff more of­ten than not en­sures a tidy exit by pulling the front in the in­tended di­rec­tion rather than let­ting it slip wide un­der power.

Civic chases Golf, but on a twisty road there’s only one win­ner. Just 150 three­door Golfs will be of­fered, Honda will be hop­ing to sell more Type Rs than that

Two very dif­fer­ent trans­mis­sion ap­proaches: Civic’s sixspeed man­ual is very slick while GTI PE1 scores a new seven-speed dual-clutch

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