Driven: Honda Civic Type R

Honda is best known for its sensible family cars – but then it also builds the rebel Civic Type R, writes Robin Roberts.

In my experience, every family has a rebel in its ranks, the wacky wayward one who might be a boisterous brother, a non-conforming uncle, a shout-out-loud sister, or audacious aunty. The Civic Type R is Honda’s.

The top-of-the-range Civic Type R GT costs just over £33,000, or £2,000 more than the standard Type R. The extra money buys you LED foglamps, a satellite navigation system alongside an upgraded audio system, wireless charging for your smartphone, dual-zone climate control, blindspot and cross-traffic monitors, parking sensors at both ends, and red trim highlights throughout.

The road-going Civic Type R is derived from the British Touring Car Championship-winning Civic – and with a marque performance pedigree that includes the mid-engined NSX coupe, you can be assured that the engineers ruled the roost during its development.

But the marketing department obviously has pretty sharp elbows too, because the Civic Type R GT is anything but subtle. The only grey bits on the one I borrowed was the Sonic Pearl Grey paintwork; everything else was very bright, very loud – and very enjoyable.

The key to it all is the refined and sophisticated powertrain. Honda’s 2.0 VTEC turbocharged petrol engine pushes out a whopping 400Nm of torque, enough for a sub-six second 62mph time as well as massive mid-range punch. The maximum speed is unrestricted (Honda clearly doesn’t believe in fettering its performance cars like some other manufacturers do…) and nudges 170mph. Which should be enough, eh?

The +R suspension setting is ideal for the track but you can soften it to Sport mode on the motorway, or even ease it into Comfort for the cobbled surfaces which pass for secondary roads today. Yet, preselecting the ride modes is only the warm-up act, a bit of foreplay if you like because the fun really starts when you push down on the moderately weighted, short-travel clutch and select first gear – at which point you become aware of how precise the gearchange is. It’s rifle-bolt precision continues through the other five ratios, which leaves you free to concentrate on your lines through the corners and to fully appreciate the beautifully balanced, and very accurate, steering.

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The handling is generally neutral but push hard on a damp surface and it does start to run a bit wide; simply backing off the throttle is enough to bring it back on line. It does jump about a bit over bumpy surfaces but in a very controllable manner. Of course, the ride isn’t exactly cosseting but the ride quality, whether in Sport or +R modes, is still pretty good being firm but not uncomfortable. Other manufacturers would do well to emulate Honda when developing their hot-hatchbacks…

A set of big brakes inside the 20-inch wheels are more than capable of bringing you to a stop very quickly indeed and the low-profile Continental 245/30 ZR 20 tyres give a lot of feedback. They also do a surprisingly good job of channeling all that power to the tarmac given that only the front pair are driven.

The 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine is surprisingly muted until you accelerate hard and the triple-pipe exhaust produces some gorgeous noises. Other mechanical noises are muted, which helps you to fully appreciate the delightful click from the gearlever as you move through the gate. Wind noise isn’t a problem and tyre rumble is only a problem when you hit a deep pothole.

With all this sporting potential it’s easy to forget the Civic is a practical family car – up to a point. The bootspace is good but not exceptional, and storage space for the sort of everyday detritus we all carry around with us is plentiful.

The driver’s controls fall easily to hand and the instruments very large and clear with a central information panel to select different readouts. The centrally mounted fascia infotainment display is not very big and can look a bit cluttered and I also found it a bit slow to change settings. The heating and ventilation system was effective but, again, I found it was slow to respond to my inputs.

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Getting in and out is very easy for rear seat occupants but a bit more demanding of those in the front as the deep side bolsters on the sports seats create a noticeable lip, but the shape of the cushions and their backrests is enveloping, supportive and very comfortable once you have managed to sit in them. I only wish that there was more rearwards seat travel for a taller driver as front legroom is a bit tight. On the other hand, you can quickly adjust the steering wheel to set up your desired position and the relationship to gearlever and pedals is very good.

Vision to the front is good but it is pretty restricted over the shoulder thanks to thick B-pillars and to the rear because of the huge aero-wing on the boot. The reversing camera and parking sensors are, therefore, very useful additions on the GT spec cars.

Wipers front and back do a good job in the wet, and the headlights are well up to the Civic Type R’s high-speed potential being very bright and far reaching.

You’ll love or hate the look of the Honda Civic Type R GT, but there is no denying that its extrovert exterior masks a thoroughly well engineered car underneath. It draws an awful lot of attention too, so expect to be asked for a lot of lifts.


Robin Roberts @WheelsinWales




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Happiest in the snow, Carlton is an ex-police officer and prison governor who has migrated to the world of adventure travel via motoring journalism. Carlton drives boats and pickups with more enthusiasm than skill, and is currently working on his first novel in addition to his prison memoirs.