What's the secret of Honda's hottest ever Civic Type R hatchback? It really sucks! RAY MASSEY tries the new 170mph British-built superstar
- New model will built in Swindon and exported around the world, including Japan
- It's the fastest front-wheel-drive car to lap the infamous Nurburgring circuit
- 'Vortex generator' creates downforce to suck the hatchback to the tarmac
- Turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine produces 320 horsepower
After months of hype, Honda’s scintillating 169mph Civic Type R hot-hatch has finally been unleashed.
I was one of the first journalists behind the wheel on the road and on the track. And let me tell you: ‘it sucks’.
Honestly, it really does.
It’s been aggressively but aerodynamically styled – including with what the car firm calls a ‘vortex generator’ - to create air-flows that combine a strong downforce and suction effect that helps the car stick like glue to the tarmac.
The hot-hatch that sucks: This is Honda's new Civic Type R performance car that will be built in the UK and exported around the world, even to Japan
A Honda spokesman said: ’The overall aerodynamic profile helps to suck the car onto the road and deliver a more rewarding driving experience.’
Honda says the new Type R has been built ‘with Japanese precision and British passion’ in Swindon to be ‘exported across Europe and to other markets around the world, including Japan and the US.’
But it’s also been designed to be a more practical and comfortable road car – not just a head-banging cult model for hardcore petrol heads.
The new Type R already has the necessary hot-hatch feather to its bow – it has set a record for a front wheel drive car around the infamous Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit of just 7 minutes and 43.8 seconds.
So, as part of the international European launch of the car in and around Dresden in Germany, I took it for a spin on the road, on that the derestricted autobahn, and on the Lausitzring racing and test track.
And boy does it sizzle.
Ray Massey was among the first group of motor journalists to put the car through its paces in Germany on the track and road
The Civic Type R has already claimed the Nurburgring lap record for a front-wheel-drive car, clocking a time of 7 mins 43 seconds
Aerodynamics suck; 2.0-litre engine is blown
The secret to the ‘sucking’ effect that at high speed helps it defy the urge to take off like an aeroplane is a combination of clever but effective styling cues.
These include a short front overhang, an almost entirely flat underside and new covers under the engine and under the floor to aid airflow under the vehicle.
The front bumper is shaped to inhibit air turbulence around the front wheels. Special grooves – dubbed ‘flick-ups’ direct the air in an efficient way to create more down force.
At the same time, the vortex generator – made up of four air ducts on the rear of the roof – directs the airflow onto the aerodynamically designed rear wing to ensure the car stays grounded. So it really is fair to say that nothing sucks like a Honda Type R Civic.
It blows too - its lively 2.0-litre engine develops 320 horsepower thanks to a hefty turbocharger and is mated to a slick manual six-speed gearbox.
A clever new rev-matching system blips the throttle when you shift down the gears and makes for a smoother transition. The gear ratios have also been reduced by seven per cent to make it a sharper change.
Acceleration response has also been tuned, with the introduction of an electronic F1-style ’drive-by-wire’ throttle that replaces the traditional cable.
Ray Massey gets behind the wheel of the new super hot hatch Civic Type R
The six-speed manual gearbox has an auto-blip system on downshifts to improve the slickness through the transmission
It wouldn't be a hot hatch unless it had some sizeable exhausts. The Civic Type R doesn't have one - it has three!
There are also THREE fully-functioning exhaust pipes poking out the back. And it’s not just for show – the two main outer tailpipes deliver exhaust flow from the engine.
The smaller pipe in the centre controls the ‘sonic tone’ of the engine, helping to generate a more aggressive sound as the engine builds speed. But it also moderates the sound at mid-level engine speed, eliminating the ‘booming’ sound that can permeate the passenger cabin.
Compared to the outgoing Type R, this one has three driving modes instead of two, though the default setting is ‘Sport’.
Hit the track and you choose +R which dramatically tightens up the sinews to make the engine response, steering and damping more extreme.
But a ‘comfort’ mode means that the car is also more rewarding and civilised to drive on the road.
On urban roads, and even on the motorway, this more relaxed mode makes for refined driving on all sorts of road surfaces with the knowledge that a beast lurks beneath. It’s an easy car to live with, despite its performance potential.
But out on the race track, it’s really let off the leash.
Frankly, its hi-tech engineering far exceeds my ability on the circuit. But pressing down on that accelerator and then braking into the tight corners, I did feel more confident than was necessarily justified, thanks to the on-board stability systems.
The Type R roared along the straights with a satisfying but not overblown roar as I snapped through the six gears on a slick stick adorned with a large grippable metal ball.
It’s powerful and high performing car, but thanks perhaps to its British and Japanese pedigree, it also has impeccable good manners.
A comfort setting makes the tuned Civic reasonably liveable on the road. Bigger dimensions than the outgoing car should also boost practicality
The 420-litre boot is class-leading for a family-sized hot hatchback
Honda claims you should get 36.7mpg from the new hot hatch, though that's only if you drive it a low speeds - it's unlikely many owners will be doing that
Performance doesn't limit practicality
To make it a more practical high-performance hot-hatch it comes with a generous 420-litre boot – that makes it a class leader.
There are added practical boosts thanks to greater proportions, with the new car being longer, lower and wider than its predecessor.
Throw into the equation a wider track and chunkier tyres (the new ones are an inch bigger at 20 inches), a lower centre of gravity and a new suspension system and it's easy to see why the car is able to corner with stability at higher speeds.
Performance is aided by a highly rigid body frame that is 37 per cent stiffer and 16kg lighter than the previous model..
CO2 emissions are 176g/km and Honda is claiming average fuel economy of 36.7mpg – though, as this depends largely on driving styles, I would guess that in this particular car that is highly ambitious.
The sporty seats have been made softer and more compliant to make them more liveable with on long cruising journeys.
The colour palette comprises red – my favourite – black, white in standard form plus the addition of blue, sonic grey and polished metal in GT versions.
There are five different colour choices, though only red and white are available on the standard models
Ray Massey preferred the red version during his test drive in Dresden
UK factory will build 13,000 models a year
Honda says that of 13,000 Civic Type Rs being built at Swindon in the current financial year, 6,000 will be going to the USA, of which 1,500 have just been delivered ready to hit showrooms. A further 2,200 will be exported to Japan – higher than the 1,500 first envisaged.
Some 2,500 Civic Type Rs will go to UK customers in the first full year to the end of March 2018 – out of 3,700 for the whole of Europe – rising to around 3,500 the next year.
A further 1,000 Type rs will be exported to other smaller countries.
The UK manufacturing base is also the global hub for the standard car, creating 60,000 non-Type R Civics each year.
Civic engineering project leader David McDonald said: ’It’s the first time we have exported the Type R to the USA and it has instantly become our biggest market for it.’
The British built car has been dubbed ‘The People’s Supercar’ for its relatively modest pricing compared to its performance.
Prices start from £30,995 for the base model Type R, rising by £2,000 to £32,995 for the higher specification GT version, which adds extras such as blind-spot aids including a cross-traffic monitor to help drivers at blind junctions, dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and upgraded sat-nav system, a wireless charging pad, an 11-speaker audio system and LED front fog lights.
Being Honda, which prides itself on its engineering prowess, the technical expertise invested in this car is immense and highly complex, even to those with engineering degrees.
Suffice to say it blends together to create a car that is a tour de force and will no doubt become a collectors’ item that remains on the road in years to come, as previous generations of the Type R already have.
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