There’s a moment’s hesitation as you feed in the power in the Honda; enough, certainly, that if you find turbo lag a particularly irksome phenomenon in a driver’s car, this one may not be for you. Which isn’t to say the Civic is some kind of 1980s throwback; just that there are modern driver’s cars that respond more crisply to the position of your right foot. The pervading, immaculately metered accuracy of the rest of the car’s controls make that stick out a bit. But once that instant of latency is overcome, the car lunges hard at the horizon and keeps working hard at crank speeds where other-four cylinders turbos wouldn’t. The surges of force the engine serves
up on a planted throttle at 3500rpm and 5000rpm are addictive, and unless you’re on wet or very bumpy roads, there’s plenty of traction available under that pair of 20in front wheels and extra-wide 245-section tyres. A wiggle of
wheel fight occasionally presents
if the surface under those tyres changes when you’re using full power, but it’s certainly not torque steer and, as a constituent part of a properly absorbing, physical driving experience, it’s far from unwelcome.
The weighty, direct wheel of
the Honda is one you hold with both hands. It’s heavier and more direct than any of the others and it offers greater feedback, too. By comparison, the Golf R’s steering could be managed with a couple of digits for most of the time. The A45’s is a little heavier and more satisfying, and the Peugeot’s is a slightly over- assisted, side-plate-sized object of criticism that we’ve run up against before. A hot hatchback’s steering should put you into such an intimate conversation with the front contact patches that you can almost feel the sidewalls flex and squidge with your fingertips. The Type R’s steering is excellent; both the A45’s and the Golf’s are very good; but the 308’s is poor, allowing you almost no feel at all for what’s a much better-balanced chassis than you might think.
Ride sophistication is of almost equal importance in a great hot hatchback, I reckon, because on country roads, you have at least as many ruts and bumps to negotiate as bends. In this respect, the Honda is not quite our class hero. Nothing comparable rides an uneven B-road with the mastery of an adaptively damped Golf R, which has the compliance and chassis dexterity to smooth surface ridges away and filter out nasty imperfections quite brilliantly.
But the body control, handling precision and sense of connectedness that ride compromise leaves the
Golf with are all farther off the standards set by the Honda than what separates the Honda from the Golf on ride. Select Comfort mode on the Civic’s drive selector and there’s a suppleness here that the previous Type R never even approached. On a really testing surface, it can feel
as though Honda has yet to find the perfect tune for the car’s suspension: it is, perhaps, just a little bit too soft in Comfort, becoming ever so slightly wooden at times in Sport.
But most roads are gobbled up
in a blur of speed, grip, vigour and excitement in the Civic. Most corners are simply greater opportunities for line-enlivening, attitude-adjusting, smile-widening fun than is on offer in everyday circumstances in any of the other cars here.
At the end of three days on
road and track, our judges were unanimous: the Golf might have been objectively ‘better’ in the broadest sense, the A45 faster, the 308 GTi cheaper – but the Civic Type R had shown itself to be the champion driver’s car of them all. The most improved hot hatchback of 2017 is also the best.