2017 Honda Civic Type R First Drive

We British love a hot hatch. We consume more of them than anyone else in the world, so it’s no surprise that we’ve been rather looking forward to a new Civic Type R. You see, the idea of a reliable, spacious family hatch with an obscene amount of power rather gets some people going.
The latest Honda Civic is a good car – huge boot, space in the back, looks pretty swish, etc – so we’ve all been looking forward to what Honda does with it. The last-generation Civic Type R was only around for a couple of years but caused a stir. It was the fastest front wheel drive car around the Nurburgring, offered silly power, mad looks, and was a touch unhinged. Hot hatch fans loved it. Honda reckons its new car will get them going as well.
Under the hood is a 2.0-litre turbocharged VTEC engine pumping out 320hp and 295lb-ft. To get the grunt to the (front) wheels there’s a six-speed manual gearbox as well. Purists will rejoice that even though Honda’s gone for big power, it’s not resorted to an auto-only approach like others – 0-62mph takes 5.8 seconds and it’ll top out at 169mph. It is not a slow car.
It’s a record breaker like its predecessor. At the time of writing it’s the fastest front-wheel-drive car around the Nurburgring circuit with a 7:43.8 lap, the kind of time that would be reserved for serious machinery about 15 years ago. Sooner or later Renault will surely take the record back with a new Renaultsport Megane, but for now Honda’s in the lead.
The default drive mode is ‘Sport’, an angry, shouty mode that Honda reckons is the best mix of a good ride and a good giggle. They’re right, of course, because it’ll happily chunter along an autobahn at 150mph and at no point will you feel uncomfortable. You can throw it around and it’ll comply. Though Honda has added a ‘Comfort’ setting if you find life a little much on the day to day. However, the ‘turn everything to angry’ +R mode is the one to go for if you’ve got some space – the steering gets sharper, the throttle keener, dampers ready to be abused… it’s quite the thing.
In fact, the steering in any of the three modes is a joy. It’s not too heavy and is wonderfully progressive. Add in Honda’s new multilink rear suspension and you’ve got yourself a treat in the twisties. At speed on a gentle curve you feel the back end hunker down and grip, giving you the kind of confidence you’d normally get in an AWD hot hatch (the impossibly uncomfortable Ford Focus RS, for example). At no point did the car suggest it was going to punish speed and giggles with some dirty understeer. Its chassis is impeccable, as are its massive Brembo brakes. They’re easy to modulate, not overpowered and can get the car to a standstill from very high speeds very quickly.
You can’t miss its ridiculous wing, but it’s there for a purpose – to reduce lift and create downforce to keep the car on the road and not upside down. Honda claims that its wing does actually generate downforce, while others in the Civic Type R’s class only reduce lift at speed. It’s big and silly, but it does have an actual purpose.
The whole car is covered in aero trickery to aid grip, reduce fuel consumption, and to make it glide through air a little better than most. As a result its looks are a touch hit and miss. Some like it, others think it’s overdone. Horses for courses.
Inside there are a heap of ‘TYPE R’ badges and trim bits, and the interior can be a touch overwhelming if you’re not in to the more ‘racy’ side of things. It does suit the spirit of the car though. Sitting in the middle of the centre console is the Type R’s party piece: its manual gearbox. It’s a short shift, notchy, and a joy to use. It’s easily one of the best out there.
Nothing can be perfect though. That interior is very dark, which isn’t ideal. The infotainment system is ‘old school’, but only just on the side of it that still makes it ok. The GT-spec cars get a Garmin navigation upgrade – not a great thing in the grand scheme. Also, the pursuit of ergonomics mean there are precious few buttons, so everything’s done via touch. Great in theory but a huge pain in reality. In fact, most things have to go through that central screen, which means changing the intensity of the air con removes your view of the nav screen. Oh, and the bonnet wobbles alarmingly at high speed. Minor issues, but they do add up.
Here’s the rub though: The new Civic Type R reward good driving with a brilliant experience. It’s a scalpel in a world of big power hammers. It’s not the quickest to 62mph, it’s not got the most power, and it’s not got the biggest motor. But when you hook up a perfect gearchage with the right apex, all the horsepower in the world won’t replace the feeling it gives you. The old Civic Type R was good – this one is much, much better.
Alex Goy
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