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Steering, suspension and comfort

We tend not to dwell on lap times, but as so much of the Honda Civic’s development was track-based (and given that its front-drive Nürburgring lap record was the subsequent fixation of Honda’s marketing department), the car’s performance at MIRA is illuminating in more ways than one.

On a dry day, the Type R posted a 1min 16.1sec lap of the Dunlop handling course. That’s impressive, given that the undoubtedly quicker and all-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG managed only 1min 16.4sec when tested. 

However, hauled along for comparison, our long-term Renault Mégane Trophy (endowed with optional Öhlins dampers) managed 1min 15.7sec, while a trawl through the archives revealed that Seat’s Leon 280 Cupra (a previous owner of the Nürburgring front-drive record) set an even brisker 1min 15.4sec.

The upshot is less a victory for Spain and more a reminder that the margins between the current generation of hot hatches are as fine as a gossamer thread. More important still, although the Type R didn’t actually deliver a lap record at MIRA, it felt as though it was doing so.

Extravagantly purposeful and very precise, the car excels in both outright grip and a tangible sense of track-fostered composure. Its single-mindedness feels familiar. The previous-gen Type R Mugen was cut from a similar cloth, with the car’s relative ease of use barely concealing a chassis of touring car-like stiffness and intent.

The concession made to comfort is more sophisticated this time, however, with superior wheel control being a trait of its adaptive dampers. Even with them, bumps are less absorbed at a corner than chewed over by an entire axle, although usually not to the outright irritation of occupants.

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Given its appearance, noise and hot-headed performance, one could have expected no more. The Type R’s missing commodity is in fact more nebulous than a manifest lack of comfort.

On the track, its exuberance is obvious enough, but out on the road, where your investment in driving is inevitably more relaxed, the trick chassis, sticky tyres and peaky engine fail to summon up either the sharp sense of connectedness evoked by the Mégane Trophy or the overt playfulness of a Ford Focus ST.

We’d willingly trade an additional half a second a lap for greater evidence of either attribute.