Reprise of the R

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - COVER STORY -

Re­turn­ing from a five-year ab­sence, Honda’s fast front-driver takes 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 $56,318 drive away in Cairns 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.


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