WHAT IS IT about some cars? The ones you spend ten minutes behind the wheel with, and then you’re hooked.
You can’t stop thinking about them, how they feel at wheel, and how they make a sound that gets into your skin and makes your neck hairs tingle when you’re firing through the gearbox and the tacho is dancing at the redline.
This is Honda’s brattish but charismatic Civic Type R. It’s as cheeky as schoolies week and has fun written all over it.
It is deliciously balanced – few sub-$45k cars are as satisfying on a winding mountain run – and few have such poise and ‘connectedness’ at the wheel.
From the mesh grille, to the funkified interior, the chunky racing-style seven-spoke alloys, to the high tail and twin-exhaust rear, Honda’s little warrior oozes enthusiasm and on-road vigour.
Not everyone is a fan of the Type R’s edgy lines. Me? I love them. To these eyes there is not an angle that doesn’t work.
Short, with bobbed tail and raked road-hugging nose, its lines are classic ‘wheel-at-each-corner’ styling. And hunkered over guards-filling 18-inch alloys, it looks loaded and ready for business.
Subtle fender extensions rim the guards and carry through into the side sills, front spoiler and rear diffuser.
Out back, a high integrated rear spoiler wraps across the hatch, a styling ‘nod’ to its spiritual forebear, the stunning CRX of twenty years earlier.
There is a distinctive triangular motif repeated in the fog lights, door handles, and twin tail-pipes, and a flattened chevron crease linking the tail-light clusters.
The goodness continues when you pop the bonnet. With smart brushed-alloy surfaces, exposed pipes and exquisite layout, few engines this side of an Alfa Romeo have such appeal.
Head to tail, ‘our’ Type R, in white, looked a treat. There’s little I’d fiddle with or want to change… perhaps I’d put a set of graphite Compomotive Motorsport rims under it. But otherwise, straight from the box, the Type R has head-turning style.
Inside, things don’t work as well for me.
No complaints though about the hugging Alcantara sports seats, nor the feel of the leather-bound wheel, drilled metal pedals and fabulous stubby gear-shift. The moment you nestle into the Type R it feels right. It feels like a car begging to have its wheels driven off.
It’s comfortable and surprisingly roomy – even for back-seat passengers. It is also nicely trimmed with an up-market feel to the materials and fit and finish.
The problem I have is with the over-designed dash. I find it a bit of a mess of lines and pieces. Sure, I can get used to it, but I’d prefer something less fussy and easier on the eye.
It seems to be a feature of a lot of Honda dashboards at the moment – in the Accord, the Jazz and the Odyssey. It seems like Honda’s interior designers did not know when to stop.
It’s no deal-breaker, but I’ll take simplicity over fussiness any day.
That said, there are also no complaints with how things work; the logical arrangement of the controls and functions, the immense ‘in yer face’ tacho, eye-high speed readout and the layout of the centre console.
So, all up, a ‘thumbs up’ for ergonomics, fit, quality of materials and for one of the best six-speed shifts you’ll lay a hand on; but a ‘thumbs down’ for the fussy dash.
Equipment and Features
There is no shortage of features nor standard-fit equipment for the Type R. From the natty start button, to the tilt and reach adjustable steering wheel, retractable wing mirrors, halogen headlights with auto on/off, and rear parking sensors – all standard – the Type R is well-configured out of the box.
It also comes with dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, iPod, USB integration, aux-in jack, and high-fidelity radio and MP3-compatible CD.
For safety there are driver and front passenger side and front airbags, full length curtain airbags, seat-belt pretensioners, progressive crumple zones and a tyre deflation warning system.
And down below, to keep the show on its feet and pointing where it should, the Type R features ABS (with EBD), vehicle stability assist (VSA) and traction control (TCS).
When at the wheel and cosseted in classy sports buckets, the Type R looks and feels like a premium small car package.
The soul of the Type R though is in its engineering.
The DOHC i-VTEC engine in that short swooping snout is a jewel. Just 1998cc, race-car style ‘square’ (with an 86.0mm bore and matching 86.0mm stroke), and engineered with low-friction high-compression pistons and lightweight conrods, it’s designed for revs, and lots of them.
Maximum power of 148kW is not found until 7800rpm, just 200rpm short of the 8000rpm redline, with maximum torque of 193Nm chiming in at a high 5600rpm. From 5500rpm up, it howls like a Banshee (it simply sounds fabulous).
Though it loves revs, its breeding is also evident at idle where it hums with perfect balance and Swiss-watch precision.
Putting drive to the front wheels, that sweet i-VTEC engine is hooked up to one of the nicest six-speed boxes in the business. Firm, precise, topped by a snug brushed-aluminium knob, and with each gear slotting home with a satisfying ‘tuk’, it is simply a joy to use.
Below, keeping traction to the tarmac, the Type R comes with a limited-slip diff and sports suspension – McPherson struts up front and torsion beam rear.
Steering is electric assisted. Precise, direct, with thread-the-needle accuracy, it provides the right feedback from the road and a surprisingly tight turning circle (given the big rubber).
Ventilated 300mm discs up front and 260mm solid discs at the rear wheels, take care of stopping power. With a relatively light body, a wheel at each corner, and pedal-feel that is just right, braking performance is at the top of the class.
If you’ve got to this point and have not yet worked out that this reviewer finds the Type R a cracking drive, then you seriously haven’t been paying attention.
Some reviewers have completely missed the point with the Type R. They assume that driving satisfaction is derived from a single narrow point – raw kilowatts and blood ‘n guts straight line performance.
Which is quite wrong. Well, for many of us that is.
Now I’ve never met a kilowatt I didn’t think was a thoroughly decent chap, but I like balance and on-road finesse even more. To me, the car you can wear like a skin is the superior drive and ultimately more satisfying.
The Type R is a finely-honed blade, it’s not a broadsword; it doesn’t bludgeon out performance figures, it neatly incises. And it doesn’t hurl you down the road like its turbo-driven competitors - Mazda’s MPS, Focus XR5 Turbo, Megane Turbo – but is light on its feet like a sprinter.
And it does it in such an appealing way. The howl of the 2.0 litre i-VTEC DOHC engine on song is one of the great affordable car sounds… better than an Alfa 147, much better than the MPS or Focus XR5, better even than the GTI Golf.
We put the Type R over a range of roads and surfaces. Around the city, it is the perfectly behaved commuter – comfortable, stylish, fun to drive, economical, a good turning circle and with surprising space inside.
Let it loose on a mountain road though, and its true character emerges. Then, that beautifully calibrated sports suspension and the inherent balance of the package comes to the fore.
Below, it is firm but not jarring, with just the right amount of elasticity and initial compliance to take the harshness out of the road surface, but retain go-kart like handling balance.
It is also brilliantly damped. Even at speed there is little wallow or loss of feel with the contours of the road. Who needs all-paw with this sort of balance? With the Type R, you can carry momentum deep into a corner, lift, then fire out.
Keep the revs on song and it’s a rocket around a mountain road. Torque steer is barely evident; ok, you feel a little tugging sometimes, but it’s telling you you’ve got the torque in the sweet spot and the next apex in the gun-sights.
With the Type R, when you’re really punting things along, you can’t help but appreciate the superior performance-car ergonomics at the wheel. Then, everything comes together, the free-spinning i-VTEC jewel in the nose, the slick precise shift, the hugging seats, the feel at the wheel and the ‘conversation’ with the road.
Some reviewers have found the Type R’s underpinnings a little too firm. That’s a creaking bones baby-boomer comment if ever I’ve heard one. Fact is, it simply feels taut like a sports car should.
Drive it and you’ll understand.
The moment you pick up the keys to the Type R, your blood will run a little hotter. Well, mine does… the Type R is a box of chocolates; the best bits are sensational, and even the bits that are not so good are delicious.
But don’t buy the Type R if you are looking for the fastest kid on the block, or if you want the kind of thumping torque that its forced-induction competitors offer.
It’s not that kind of car and not that kind of drive.
But put the Type R high on the list if you value finesse, sporting balance, Swiss-watch engineering, a silky-slick gear-shift and a screamer of an engine.
Though it’s a segment where we’re spoiled for choice, among the hot-hatch ‘brat-pack’ the Type R is something special.
- Jewel of an engine
- Riotous free-spinning howl as revs rise
- 'Feel' and precision of six-speed shift
- Chassis balance and taut, but elastic, on-road compliance
- Quality seating, driver ergonomics and fit and finish
- Fussy over-designed dash
- For daily driving, needs more torque accessible at lower revs
- Could shed some kilos (a stripped-down version perhaps Honda?)