The drought has broken. Honda is back in performance road cars. And it’s quite a comeback to judge by the billing: the new Type R is a ‘race car for the road’ and ‘an animal’. Gulp. We’d better go scare ourselves then…
We’ve driven it on road, on track and sampled it from the passenger seat with a certain Matt Neal driving it as hard as it will go (video coming soon, ed). Bit of a change from the Camaro Matt drove to that thrilling victory at the Members’ Meeting in March!
All our driving has been in Slovakia though, not Swindon where the car is built. It would be nice to drive it on home turf – the UK after all will be the biggest market for this resurrected hot hatch icon, newly crowned Nurburgring champ and one of the must-see new models to make its UK dynamic debut at the Festival of Speed in a couple of weeks.
Our verdict so far? No fast car that handles as sweetly as this could be called an animal, unless you’re talking pussycat. Honda engineers’ brains must be very large indeed to get 310PS through the front wheels with so little ill effect. And race car for the road? Well, sometimes it is just that, and just when you don’t want it to be…
First, a quick refresh. Honda has been promising us a new Type R now for most of the five years since the demise of the last one. There have been lots of lairy concepts and now we have the slightly less wild, but still dramatic looking, reality.
This is a car you are unlikely to miss with its ‘race car for the road’ body bolt-ons, vents and quad exhaust pipes. But everything here is strictly functional, with the possible exception of those four pipes. And, though the rear wing has been toned down, it’s still a pretty impressive appendage. Also impressive in this five-door-only car is its huge boot and capacious cabin: you can even get someone in behind Matt Neal, and he’s 6ft 6in!
The new hot Honda – how good it is to be able to say that again after so long! – stays true to its roots, despite temptations in the form of paddleshift transmissions and four-wheel drive adopted by some rivals. (You can see what the chief engineer says about all that here.)
The one big update is a turbo bolted on to the 2.0-litre VTEC engine. We all know and love VTEC engines but who hasn’t longed for some torque below 4000rpm? This turbo engine delivers that in spades, with almost 300 lb ft at 2500rpm. There’s typical Honda cleverness in the electric wastegate and the engine revs well, too, spinning to a red line of, well, not the eight-and-a-half of previous Type Rs but still a pretty good 7000rpm. Peak power of 310PS or 306bhp – unequalled for a front-drive hatch – comes in at 6500rpm.
And so to the driving, first at the Slovakia Ring, all shiny and new in the countryside near the Austrian border, and with so many long fast corners that it’s easy to lose count.
First impressions? Less a wild child than the hottest Renault Megane but more engaging than a four-wheel drive hot hatch like the Golf R. Where does that leave it against another FoS debutante, the Ford Focus RS? Well that’s just something we can’t wait to find out…
Typically for a Type R, there’s nothing low slung about the driving position. You sit high and relatively close to the wheel. The pedals may not be located for natural heel and toeing – yes, some of us remember that! – but in other important respects it’s a comfortable and businesslike environment. The seats, as lairy as the outside in bright red alcantara, support without squeezing and have terrific bolstering right up to your shoulders. They are fab seats.
Does it matter that it can be difficult to see the speedo? The digital read-out, along with the row of change-up lights, can be lost behind the top of the thick-rimmed steering wheel. The dash is a bit dated in fact, but then that’s not entirely unexpected – the Type R comes towards the end of the current Civic’s life cycle. Incidentally the good news is that there will definitely be a Type R version of the next generation Civic, due at the end of 2017.
The tacho’s a proper dial and, rightly for a car like this, has pride of place. It’s even outlined in red when you push the +R (for race) button. What else does that do? It firms up the dampers 30 per cent, remaps the engine and turns down the stability control (you can also turn it off completely but we never felt the need on road or track, so gentle is its nannying).
Circuit laps quickly show the Type R to be a) very fast, b) stable and largely understeer free, and c) well balanced and nicely adjustable on the throttle – there’s torque out of corners and loads of traction thanks to an LSD that you can really feel working. Oh, and d) with fine (Brembo) brakes.
All of this is, of course, exactly what you need when trying to remember where this very fast circuit goes to next. Here’s a car that definitely feels on your side – but also, as Matt demonstrated and the ‘Ring front-drive record shows, a car with a formidable combination of pace and high-speed stability.
Did I miss having a paddleshift transmission as I thought I would? To begin with yes (if only so I could use the left foot for something other than boring clutch duty). But then the gearchange is so exquisitely light and precise you soon get over that.
On a circuit it’s a terrific car. And on the road?
Well, all of the above, which makes it a very secure and effective cross country machine. But for less manic driving the engine’s always on the loud side, and a bit boomy at 4000rpm. Neither is it all that responsive at low revs. Unusually these days, it is obviously a turbocharged engine, not just for some lag but for an assortment of sucking and blowing noises that some will like and others won’t. It still does the business – 0-62mph in 5.7secs and 167mph.
And what of torque steer? On a dry road at least you have to go looking for it, and then – flooring it on a bumpy and cambered road in second, say – you feel a slight tugging at the wheel. Otherwise, zilch. The trick apparently is Dual Axis front struts. Honda say by positioning them closer to the hubs the steering stays more neutral. It certainly works. If there’s a better handling front-driver we’ve not driven it.
The ride on the road – in standard mode, there’s absolutely no need to push the +R button for road driving – is very firm but stays on the acceptable side of harsh. It’s the first car in its class with adaptive damping and it shows.
Well it does in Slovakia. And in the UK? Honda people say they have done quite a bit of testing of the car on local roads, in response to a major theme of the journalists’ questioning at the launch.
And they certainly tested the car in London: a camouflaged Type R, driven by two Japanese engineers with laptops and wearing little face (they were suffering from very English colds) were doing stop-start tests on The Mall. That’s when the police swooped. Thankfully the road wasn’t closed for long…
Spec and price? £30k (or £3k deposit and £300 a month) and just two versions: standard (no satnav but otherwise generously equipped) and GT which, curiously, for £2300 more adds a raft of electronic safety gadgets (as well as satnav). There are no options otherwise and virtually no opportunities for personalisation, though a range of aftermarket carbon-fibre accessories is on its way.
And a Mugen version? Bound to be. Mugen UK have already placed their order for two cars.
All told then a very welcome return to the performance arena for Honda with a car that deserves to win a lot of friends for its awesome handling and huge pace.
There’s a lot to beat though including the new Focus RS. A winner? You will be able to judge that for yourself when Type R meets RS for the first time in anger at the Festival of Speed. Game on, we reckon.