AT A GLANCE

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Cover Story - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING ED­I­TOR

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 HONDA CIVIC TYPE R PRICE From $50,990 WARRANTY 5 years/un­lim­ited km CAPPED SER­VIC­ING Not yet pub­lished SER­VICE IN­TER­VAL 12 months/10,000km SAFETY 6 airbags, not rated ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 228kW/400Nm TRANS­MIS­SION 6-speed man; FWD THIRST 8.8L/100km DI­MEN­SIONS 4557mm (L), 1877mm (W), 1421mm (H), 2700mm (WB) WEIGHT 1393kg SPARE None; in­fla­tion kit 0-100KM/H 6.2 secs 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.

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