If this first test of the new Honda Civic Type R was served up at a fancy dinner party as a dainty, daring amuse-bouche you’d be forgiven for complaining about portion size: here it is in all its glory, potentially one of the most significant launches of the year and a prototype only in name and chassis plaque (00000, if you want to know, although nobody would admit how many 00000s there are in the world), and we have just two laps and around 180sec in which to sample it.
It’s a drive that’s as delightful as it is frustrating; an unexpected opportunity during a deep dive into Honda’s future product and development plans in Japan, complete with a twisty but challenging race track to play on (fourth gear wasn’t exercised, but high in third was enough to sample some decent speed in some challenging bends).
It’s a bit of a crazy decision to even let us near it, be honest, with the full test drives just days away in Germany now, but given the chance, what would you do? Honda, always ready to defy logic as well as convention, has done it again.
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So, full disclosure: this ‘review’ is not laden with conclusions. To judge a car that has cost many millions to develop and that has had many thousands of man hours poured into its creation on such scant evidence is not our style.
So no star rating and a flip-flop of a conclusion, but several observations that - and perhaps this was the point - mean that next week’s verdicts cannot come soon enough. To come back to that amuse-bouche analogy, while I might complain about portion size, I’m certainly not complaining about the fizz-bang-pop delivery of tasty intrigue.
New Honda Civic Type R features more powerful turbocharged engine
Lest you have forgotten, this latest Type R is notable for arriving soon after the launch of the all-new, tenth-generation standard car. Powered again by a turbocharged 2.0-litre VTEC petrol engine, power is up on the outgoing model by 10bhp to 316bhp, torque the same at 295lb ft and it’s all channeled through the same six-speed manual gearbox.
Some stats, like the 0-62mph time, remain under lock and key until next week, but a tenth of a second here or there is no matter; more significant are the all-new chassis and suspension, stiffer, stronger, no heavier and more able to be tinkered with, teased and enhanced, according to Honda engineers. It is longer, lower and wider than before, too, with associated benefits for the centre of gravity.
Two laps on an unfamiliar circuit. Not much to learn from pussyfooting around, then, and I dare say that had any racing driver been there to witness my efforts he or she would have pondered whether I’d ever heard of a racing line. To bastardise a familiar phrase, I barely put a foot right.
And yet. Too much speed into a bend? Out steps the rear. Too much throttle through a bend? Again, a playful slip, but nothing scary. And boy does it grip. Too much out of a bend? Keep your foot in and it’ll grip, wheels and steering wheel squirming, but pulling you out of trouble. And always, always with feedback through the steering wheel, telling you what’s happening beneath those wheels.
Is the steering feel a touch light? Yes, I think so, but it is also very purposeful and very precise. Where the old Type R was regimented to the point of being racing car focused, there’s more than a tease here that this is a car that will play with you, in the way the standard-bearing Ford Focus ST might. Fingers crossed.
Perhaps most significantly, the poor engineer paid to sit next to me raises not even an eyebrow as I prod and poke my way around the track, stamping on the brakes, charging on the throttle and making a general hash of things.
Instead, he smiles, occasionally laughs and, in a move that makes me question if we’re going as fast as it feels, takes notes. 0/10 for Holder, I fear. Still, his Japanese script is immaculate. The sports seats really are that cosseting. That a succession of drivers emerge with similar stories of their amusingly unflustered companion says much for his confidence that the Type R is set to flatter rather than bite.
The kerbs are neither large nor really kerbs, more a set down change of surface from smooth Tarmac to broken concrete. But hit them I must, to do my best to learn whether the ride of this new Type R, a massive, rock-hard failing of the old car that made it borderline unliveable-with in the real world, is any more cosseting.
I risk being damned by this time next week, but the feeling, based on not enough evidence, is that it is closer to the right side of supple. What’s more, if there is a compromise to the body roll, grip or stability, I wasn’t fast enough to find it.
The rest of the experience is much as you might hope; the engine is as sweet as ever and the gearshift as delightful. The interior meets expectations and the exterior, well, you either love it or hate it.
Conclusion: the new Honda Civic Type R shows early promise
We said no conclusions, but because some people have already bought one, and many more will be thinking about it, it is only fair to deliver something: that the new Type R is good is not in doubt, but the question now is how good?
As ever, there’s a succession of first drives, group tests and a road test to come, all of which will be increasingly conclusive. It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that this is a most competitive class - perhaps the most competitive. A car that in isolation makes you feel a hero doesn’t always look so smart when it’s ranged against its rivals.
But, no question, finding out where the new Civic Type R sits among the current crop of truly great hot hatches is going to be fun.
Location Tochigi, Japan; On sale July; Price from £30,995; Engine 4cyl, 1996cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 316bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 295lb ft from 2500rpm; Gearbox Six-speed manual; Kerb weight tbc; Top speed tbc; 0-62mph tbc; Economy tbd; CO2/BIK tax band tbc; RivalsFord Focus RS, VW Golf GTI
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