Honda's latest Type R is a serious performance hatch with more than 300bhp
I remember a time when hot hatches were all the rage and 150bhp was the magic number. Everything from fast Fords to the much-loved GTis were two a penny.
I was the proud owner of a 1999 Mk 4 Golf GTi turbo with 150 horses — and I was a happy camper. OK, it wasn’t the best version of the GTi, but I loved it nevertheless.
Now though, my family diesel has 150bhp and hot hatches are producing double the power and blisteringly-quick 0-100kph times. I’ve driven Audi’s S3 and the new VW Golf R, both 300bhp beasts with four-wheel drive — and they are mega.
But what of the front-wheel drive brigade, can any of them join the mighty 300 club? The new GTi only gets 230bhp with the addition of a performance pack — even though the same engine tweaked by SEAT produces 280bhp in the Leon Cupra.
Now there’s a new player in town, and it’s exceptional. The Honda Civic Type R is a performance car lover’s dream. A high-revving VTEC engine and pin-sharp handling gave it a cult following. The last version was launched in 2007 but it has been crying out for a change, and the new one is something special.
For the first time, Honda has thrown in a turbo to work with the VTEC engine and the results are astonishing. With a VTEC you can red line it, and that’s where the fun is had. But a turbo works differently and marrying the two is a real challenge.
There is real magic happening under the bonnet of the new Type R, and just when you think you’re running out of turbo boost, the revs keep rising, right up to 7,000 when it screams at you.
There’s no doubt it’s a fast car, but the buzzword for the launch was it was very forgiving. You can throw it into a corner and it just pulls you round. No drama, just grip and power. The limited slip diff really helps and, for a front-wheel drive car, it has all the ability of four-wheel drive rivals.
When you first set eyes on the new Civic Type R you know something is lurking beneath. It’s all spoilers, splitters and intakes, and I love it. I’m a big fan of subtlety in hot hatches, but the Civic wears its performance clothes very well, and from every angle it is a thing of beauty.
The interior is also excellent. The bucket seats are supportive and provided great comfort. The layout is simple with an eight-inch touch-screen the main focus with the climate controls below. The instrument panel is well laid out and you can choose everything from a G-force reading, to a stopwatch for the 1/4-mile sprint if you can find a disused airfield.
The 0-100kph time is 5.7 seconds and has a top speed of 270kph, I only managed to push past 200kph on the main straight on the Slovakia ring, that might have something to do with fear, and standing on the brake pedal. The gear change is fantastic and has a short shift, much like the MX-5.
Running costs aren’t that bad for a performance car, with road tax costing €570 a year and Honda claiming the Civic Type R will return 7.3 litres per 100km.
The Type R on track was sublime and with the aid of the +R button the Civic’s blood pressure rises and the steering and dampers stiffen. It doesn’t actually give you more power, just better throttle response and sharper handling, but in reality, you’ll only appreciate it on track as there is more than enough get up and go for the road.
I had great fun on the Slovakia ring where the new Type R was launched this week. At nearly 6km long it’s one of the longest tracks in Europe and my five laps went quite quickly. There were a few scary moments but the hot Civic didn’t slap me in the face for being naughty, it just wanted more and not a bit of gravel touched the rubber on the sporty 19-inch wheels.
The brakes were amazing and when Slovakia Stig, Lamborghini factory driver Stefan Rosina, took us for two hot laps (they were bloody hot), the brakes just kept working. He was ringing the neck of the Type R for an hour on track as the blood left the journalists’ faces, but the Brembos kept delivering, even he was impressed.
There is one major flaw with the new Civic Type R, and it’s not the styling or how it drives, it simply comes down to price. As yet, there isn’t an Irish price, but it looks likely that it will be in the same ballpark as the Volkswagen Golf R. That’s almost pushing €50k, which is into luxury car territory.
I would have loved to have seen the Type R in the low forties, as it would make it much more accessible to those looking for a performance hatch. It is very, very good, and for me, the best-looking hot hatch currently available.