The hot hatchback class must be just about full now the new Honda Civic Type-R has arrived. Based on the imaginative current Civic, this latest ‘R’ has an unenviable fight on its hands to repeat the sales success of the old model; 15 per cent of all old-shape Civics sold in the UK were Type-Rs. It's a car we weren't fully prepared for, and won't forget for a long time.
The specifications sheet of this new one doesn’t make terribly encouraging reading, however. Honda has found just one extra horsepower within the confines of its 2.0-litre VTEC engine in the last six years, instead concentrating on broadening the engine's effective VTEC zone, and its urge outside of that zone. Most controversial of all, though, is Honda's move to dump the Civic's proven independent rear suspension; this new fast Civic has a torsion beam at the back, just like the regular Civic.
What's it like?
Some Type-R fundamentals just don’t change. This is still an engine that will delight enthusiasts with the crispness of its throttle response and the machined purity of its soundtrack. And, to be fair, it now has a better spread of torque over a wider rev range, even if the reduced sensation of the engine coming on cam does spoil the excitement a little.
What's regrettable about this new Type-R has more to do with the basic Civic. Like that car, and most modern hatchbacks, the Type-R's no lightweight, tipping 1338kg on our scales. With the 2.0-litre i-VTEC engine only cranking out 142lb ft of torque at a high 5600rpm, the latest Type-R only really feels quick once you’ve reached the last few hundred rpm near the screaming 8000rpm cut-out point. You'll have fun staying at the top end of the rev range, admittedly; the Type-R's fascia-mounted gearshift is as great as ever. You just won't be having particularly fast fun.
But Honda knew this. It wanted to create a more rounded CTR with this car, with a smoother ride and better general refinement. It has succeeded, although that’s not to say the car has lost its frantic edge entirely; there's now a genuine pliancy to the way the car reacts over bad surfaces which was notably absent from the original CTR.
The steering – always a weak point before – is much improved; it's now got a consistent action from lock-to-lock, but lacks feel. But – and here's the bit Swindonian door-handlers won't want to read – if you're a keen driver, you will notice the switch to a torsion beam rear-end. This car lacks the poise and throttle adjustability that its forebear exhibited when driven quickly, and its body control at speed becomes slightly ragged over bumpier surfaces. It serves up a driving experience you value chiefly for the engine’s character; this car has little else, other than perhaps its bold interior and exterior styling, that'll really delight the enthusiast. And that's the real shame.
Should I buy one?
The Honda Civic Type-R still offers a unique take on the hot hatch mantra; it remains good (if no longer exceptional) value, and is now even more dramatic to behold. But, though it seems churlish to write 'we told you so,' it isn’t quite the car we'd hoped for.