YOU’VE READ that the Honda Civic Type R drives brilliantly, but what is it like to do 5000km in one? Let us regale you in the things beguiling and bugging.
Broadly speaking, it’s a case of so far, so good – to the point that, despite personally being neither a Honda nor a hot hatch person, I would easily buy one. Seriously. The bulk of kilometres have been urban and no complaints there, as the Type R rides very nicely with its adaptive dampers in Comfort mode, somewhat of an achievement with 20-inch wheels and 30-profile tyres. The manual gearshift is a joy; in fact, it’s so forgiving and enjoyable to use, clutch included, not even in the heaviest of congestion have we longed for an auto. Part of that has to do with the rev-matching software (which can be turned off), also matching revs up gears for spooky smooth changes.
It’s with the gearbox we encounter the first of our gripes; on a couple of occasions we’ve encountered an odd crunch with a quick gear change, even when warm, as if the synchros are tired (which surely is not the case). It’s an experience reported by other owners.
While the Type R accelerates like a startled possum and we enjoy the flexible, turbocharged mid-range torque, we have found occasion to miss not having all-wheel drive: in the rain. Know those traffic lights they have on Melbourne freeway on-ramps? An all-wheel drive Mercedes A250 Sport made us look silly, for crying out aloud. And in the wet, sometimes it’s as much the (quite ugly) axle tramp holding you back as wheelspin itself.
The Type R certainly doesn’t sound anything like the way it looks. Where a Ford Focus RS or even Hyundai i30 N can be a bit fun and rorty even off idle, at lower rpms the Type R’s engine note is snoozy, actually like some sort of electrical appliance. There are no exhaust crackles or pops here, no matter the rpm or engine mode. It’s certainly one of the more behavedsounding hot hatches. Fortunately it somewhat redeems in the upper revs, a frenetic noise with more than a trace of the delicious old atmo VTEC DNA, the whole car excitedly fizzing with rpms like the engine mounts are solid.
In the interior, while the four-seat thing has caught us out once, the Type R makes up for it in the practicality stakes as the rear seats fold down to create an enormous extended boot.
This month it was also interesting to jump into a lesser Civic RS model and discover you can adjust the volume by lightly swiping your thumb up a touch-sensitive, friction-less pad on the steering wheel. This same pad is on the Type R’s steering wheel, but apparently Honda turned it off after some owners accidentally, in an instant, swiped the volume to maximum while driving (quite a fun scenario to imagine). We wish that decision was left to new owners who aren’t oafs – the sensitive thumbpad is actually not a bad volume knob alternative – however there is no such option in the menu.
Other thoughts – the stereo is nothing special. Sometimes it sounds tinny, other times it sounds good, other times it’s like there is too much treble – it’s proving tricky to get the settings right. Audiophiles keen on a Type R, beware.
We have horribly mixed feelings on the exterior styling. We’re not sure if it’s growing on us or if we’re simply getting used to it. From some angles we find ourselves thinking, that looks great! From others, you want to look away... especially the rear bar. That the car is so good, doubtless makes it look better. Enzo Ferrari said, “racecars are neither beautiful nor ugly. They become beautiful when they win”. Perhaps there’s some truth in this in the case of the superbly engineered Type R.
As ever, for those for whom no level of brilliance can improve the styling, the aftermarket is only too ready to help with styling bits. There’s a simpler, more open front centre grille with red Honda badge. The central element of the rear wing can be replaced with a carbon-fibre item. You can even buy specially shaped panels that go on the lower trailing edge of the rear doors, which fill out the otherwise inelegantly scalloped rear arches. All these five per cent improvements add up.
The next level again is fitting aftermarket, lower offset wheels, perhaps with some lowering springs – a look that really improves the Type R (and a strategy I’m a fan of), but in the case of this Honda hot hatch, I’d be torn as you don’t really buy one for anything other than its Porsche-like handling, which I’d be too scared to stuff up. If looks matter more to you than handling, buy something else.
We know the Type R is a bit epic on a circuit. Next month, we see how it holds up to a proper day at the track.
1. Driving position
2. Ride quality
3. Driving it... full stop
1. Axle tramp in wet
2. Road/tyre noise
3. Turning circle