Probably the most capable front-wheel-drive car in production today, with only limited edition specials getting close
What is it?
A faster, sharper, more hardcore Honda Civic Type-R, made in Japan, for the Japanese. So why is Autocar reviewing it? Because importer Ian Litchfield is selling them in the UK. And if you want a real, uncompromised, spine-tingling Civic Type-R, this one is worth serious consideration.
First things first – why do we need this car? Well, for all its visual and aural sensationalism, the UK Civic Type-R has left more than a few die-hard hot hatch aficionados unsatisfied. As a development strategy, adding one solitary horsepower, offsetting that power upgrade with a helping of extra weight, and opting for a torsion beam rear axle over independent springs hasn’t gone down too well, and there’s a real appetite among those who loved the last ‘CTR’ for something a bit sharper.
The options for those “Hondamentalists” have until now been severely limited. They run like this. Option a) go to JAS Motorsport, the firm that runs Honda’s works racing and rallying teams, and buy a Group R3 competition car, or b) wait for the boys at Swindon to pull their fingers out and offer us the much-mooted, full fat, Type-RR.
Well, allow Autocar to formerly introduce you to option c), the shark-nosed bitumen-botherer pictured above.
What’s it like?
This car’s specification alone is a work worthy of some considerable awe; if you own a new British Type-R, you might not want to read it. This is a four-door, so it’s inherently stiffer than the hatch; half as stiff again, come to mention it, than the highly rated Integra Type-R. But it’s also light; 1250kg, says Honda, making it 83kg lighter than the Brit Type-R we weighed six months ago.
At each corner there is an independently suspended, lightweight, 18in white alloy wheel and a mighty Brembo brake. Feeding drive to the front wheels is a helical limited-slip differential. And under the bonnet is a version of Honda’s 2.0-litre i-VTEC four-pot engine, with a throttle body, intake manifold and induction system you won’t find on the Brit version, pumping out 222bhp at 8000rpm. Or so Honda says; the first one Litchfield got in his workshop was actually knocking out 238bhp at 8600rpm.
Everything about the Japanese CTR is that bit louder, richer, more focused and more vivid than its British cousin – even the brighter red fabric of the seats. Press the starter button, blip the throttle, and the VTEC engine’s buzz and chatter filters almost undiminished into the cabin; there’s no sound deadening insulation here.
Slot the gear lever into first, potter out onto the road, and get ready for shock number two; this Type-R is even more stiffly sprung than ours. On aggressive track day rubber, it rides with almost zero compliance, and has a brutal disdain for troughs and bumps in the road.
But when you summon the courage to really drive it, you’ll find nothing – not acceleration, stopping power, traction, steering precision or body control – wanting. It might be a front-driver, but this car has the capacity to scrabble around and out of corners with incredible speed and surefootedness, yet it has none of the alarming snap-oversteer characteristics of the old Integra.
It steers more precisely and fluently than the Brit Type-R too, thanks to hydraulic rather than electric power assistance, and actually has a more pronounced, old-school VTEC on-cam kick.
Should I buy one?
If you’re an old-school Honda Type-R enthusiast – ie if you mourned the company’s decision not to sell the NSX-R here, if you miss the Integra Type-R as much as we do, and if that’s why the Swindon-built Civic Type-R just isn’t enough for you – then definitely.
Know that you’ll be buying a car built to spend its life beyond 6000rpm though, preferably on a track, and that will feel stiff, unyielding, noisy and pretty uncomfortable on the road, 90 per cent of the time.
And know that you’ll have to pay for it. Honda Japan would charge you the equivalent of £11,561 for this car; once Litchfield ships it to the UK, pays the import duty and does the work to make it UK road legal, that figure rises to £22,995. That’s more than £5k over a Brit Type-R, and £3k more than Renault’s awesome Megane R26.
For those who don’t class themselves as die-hard Type-R fans, there’s really only one way to find out if you can live with the Japanese CTR. Go to see Ian Litchfield; borrow one; find a second-gear corner; nail it all the way around; marvel as the car just grips and grips, howling all the way beyond 8000rpm; then turn around and drive it through the traffic, over the manhole covers, and back to the showroom.
If the smile on your face is still there when you arrive, Ian will show you where to sign.