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2018 Honda Civic Type R First Drive Review | The fastest front-wheel drive is nearing its limits Photo:
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Alex Rae | Oct, 16 2017 | 0 Comments

Honda Australia and Type R enthusiasts have been waiting over five years to see the new red H badge land down under, and finally the fastest front-wheel drive car around the Nurburgring circuit is here.

Perhaps being the fastest front-wheel drive car isn’t really going to cut it though when Honda says it has its sights set on sticky all-wheel drive rivals like the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R. And then there’s its price which, at $50,990, is dead-on with the wickedly quick RS and only a couple of thousand less than the refined manual-equipped Golf R.

Vehicle Style: Small hot hatch

Price: $50,990 plus on-road costs

Engine/trans: 228kW/400Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, | 6spd manual

Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.8 l/100km

 

OVERVIEW

Not only does the Civic Type R join competent rivals in the market like the RS and Golf R, it has upcoming models to contend with such as the Hyundai i30 N and Renault Sport Megane RS.

Helping it stand out from its competitors is a design that looks like something dreamt up in a school yard playground. And although it isn’t for everyone, Honda says all of those exterior bits serve a purpose to increase grip by producing downforce when speeds get over 100km/h. Some of the design also serves more than one purpose, such as the height of the rear-wing which generates immense negative lift but also sits so high that it doesn’t appear in the rear-view mirror.

And although a little ostentatious in design the Type R isn’t gaudy when you see it in the metal. It also looks rather appealing in flat grey which, aside from looking subtler, has an interesting tint of blue and green. Just about all of the scoops and vents serve a purpose too, such as the bonnet scoop that’s plumbed to cool the cavity between the engine and firewall.

 

THE INTERIOR

  • Type R: Cloth seat trim sports seats, leather steering wheel, keyless entry, automatic headlights and wipers, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, 20-inch alloy wheels
  • Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, DAB+ radio, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility, USB and Aux input
  • Cargo Volume: 440 litres to rear seats

Inside, the Type R continues the 'Boy Racer' theme with bright red sports seats and coloured ascents across the dash. The sports seats are also embossed with Type R stitched across the head rest but again practicality dictates that they are ergonomic and comfortable. The leather steering wheel lacks the classic race feel of Alcantara but is nice in the hands and features buttons to some of the standard Honda Sensing safety features, which include adaptive cruise control, AEB and lane keeping assist.

Unlike its fierce Focus RS rival, the driver’s seat sits low and allows for a good driving position, even for tall drivers. The pedals are well spaced too and, despite there being an automatic throttle blip when downshifting (which can be turned off), they are well positioned for heel and toe driving.

Infotainment is delivered on a 7.0-inch infotainment screen and takes care of entertainment with features such as DAB+ radio, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Reversing camera and dual-zone climate controls also use the display.

Unlike some of its two-door ancestors the five-door Type R hatch isn’t just for childless street racers and the rear seats accommodate adults and kids well. The 440-litre boot also grows in capacity with the 60:40 seats folded flat. While the interior is an improvement over other Civic models and feels nicer inside than Ford’s nearest rival it lacks the refinement of the Golf R.

 

ON THE ROAD

  • Engine: 228kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol
  • Transmission: six-speed manual, front wheel drive
  • Suspension: Modified MacPherson strut front, multilink rear
  • Brakes: Brembo four-wheel disc brakes, 350mm front and 305mm rear rotors
  • Steering: Dual-pinion electric power steering

The latest Type R is a departure from the naturally aspirated VTEC rev-pots of old and introduces turbocharged technology for the first time. Power is provided from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces 228kW at 6500rpm and 400Nm between 2500-4500rpm. Honda believes the Type R is a purist’s car and so it is only available mated to a six-speed manual transmission with no option for an automatic.

Honda also opted for a single-scroll turbocharger rather than the more common twin-scroll so it lacks torque under 3000rpm. To circumvent turbo lag the Type R relies on using its VTEC (variable timing and lift electronic control) technology to create more pulling power earlier on.

The result is a fiery four-cylinder engine, but putting such tremendous power (the AWD Golf R develops less power, for instance) through the front-wheels was a challenge for Honda engineers. To negate torque steer and axle tramp, Honda modified the Macpherson strut front suspensions and created what it calls ‘dual axis strut’ – similar to RevoKnuckle in the previous front-wheel drive Ford Focus RS. The result, Honda claims, is a 55 per cent reduction in torque steer with improved steering feel when powering on.

Other modifications to the front-end include the addition of dual-pinion electronic assisted steering, a helical limited slip differential and when cornering the inside brake helps point the car in.

Along with extra weld points around the car the rear multi-link suspension has been stiffened, but ride comfort is improved thanks to electromagnetic adaptive suspension with a new-to-Type R ‘comfort’ mode – sure to be appreciated by the mature crowd. There’s three drive modes in total – comfort, sport and +R mode – and Sport is the default when turning on the ignition.

On the road, comfort mode does provide a gentler ride compared to either sport or +R although it doesn’t go so far as to disguise the inherently stiffer design and re-engineering of the standard Civic’s chassis. The benefit to all of that stiffening, however, is that the Type R is setup to handle well and provides tack sharp response from the front-end. The difference between sport and +R mode isn’t large, but +R mode gives a firmer and sharper ride without being a handful on poorer road surfaces.

When we quizzed Honda about its thoughts on pitching a front-wheel drive hot hatch against all-wheel drive rivals its simplest answer is probably its best: “Just wait until you drive it, you’ll understand what we’re saying”.

The Type R is not the point-and-shoot weapon of something like the Focus RS, but drive it properly and there’s such a great amount of grip available that it doesn’t ever seem ready to let go. It’s so planted, in fact, that it loses the playful trailing throttle character of some rivals (and older Type Rs), but driven ever faster it holds onto the road like a cattle dog chasing sheep.

It also hides its speed well so it’s easy to glance down and see the needle further north than anticipated, however excess speed is easily pulled back thanks to strong Brembo brakes with four piston callipers biting onto 350mm front and 305mm rear rotors. And the brakes held up brilliantly after a long day of use.

Despite feeling accurate and confident on turn-in, a lack of communication gives the feeling of filtered feedback regardless of the driving mode. And its 245/30 Continental SportContact 6 on large 20-inch alloy wheels were noisy regardless of road surface. In conjunction with a firm ride the Civic Type R doesn’t make for a comfortable commuter, although it shines on twisting roads.

Looking at specs the Civic Type R has one of the most powerful engines found in a front-wheel drive car, but the lag below 3000rpm is noticeable regardless of what the VTEC is doing; above it the car pulls hard well past 6000rpm. It isn’t the same VTEC screamer of old anymore but it does have a long enough torque range that the middle gears are all that’s needed for many twisting roads.

Which is a shame considering that the six-speed manual transmission with a short-shift is lovely to flick around. And when you do get stuck into it, the automatic rev matching works on both the up and down shifts, and it works well.

Despite our test roads varying in condition from buttery smooth to falling apart, the Type R was doing its best to remain settled. Torque steer was usually absent with only minimal intervention on tighter corners, which inspires confidence to push get on the accelerator earlier than expected.

Perhaps what was missing most is a good soundtrack from the rear. The triple exhaust setup provides a Euro-inspired rasp rather than screaming VTEC rumble and as a further nod to the mature Type R crowd the centre exhaust works as a vacuum when cruising to reduce resonance. Higher in the rev range the soundtrack does improve, even it doesn’t seem to befit the Type R’s intent.

 

SAFETY

ANCAP Rating: Not yet rated

Safety Features: Six airbags, stability control, ABS, AEB, forward collision warning, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist and active cruise control.

 

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

The Ford Focus RS shares the Civic Type R’s price and offers quicker performance that’s more easily accessible. The Volkswagen Golf R outclasses the Type R inside and is just as capable on the road, albeit a little more expensive.

There’s also incoming competition from the Renault Sport Megane RS and Hyundai i30 N, although pricing is not available yet.

 

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL

The Type R landed with a lot of hype and much of it was warranted. It impresses with its ability to grip unlike many and Honda’s trick front-end setup makes torque steer seem almost non-existent.

But it’s not too dissimilar to the previous Ford Focus RS which went the way of all-wheel drive, and perhaps that’s the future for the Type R if Honda want to dominate the segment.

However, there’s plenty on offer from the Type R and beyond enthusiasts who are already lining up it’s one of the more rewarding hot hatches when driven properly. The inclusion of Honda’s complete safety suite and infotainment with good connectivity options help bolster its value proposition.

MORE: Honda News and Reviews
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