With over 350 pre-orders, fans of the red-badged Civic rejoiced when the latest model launched. But almost six-months later the surge has ebbed and Honda’s flashy-if-not-plasticy Type R needs to stand on its own two feet as more than an offering for the already converted.
And it joins a growing segment with some immensely capable competition. The over $50k Type R faces established rivals such as the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STi and Volkswagen Golf R, while the new Renault Megane RS arrives later in the year and South Korea’s inaugural hot hatch the Hyundai i30 N launches later this month.
But the Japanese maker is pitching its flash looking hot hatch as a more mature vehicle than ever, for those who appreciate things like calmer suspension and room in the back, with a nod to the traits that made the old model special.
Vehicle Style: Performance Hatchback
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 As tested: 10.6 l/100km
Honda made a statement last year before the launch of its five-door weapon when it broke the front-wheel drive lap record on the torturous Nurburgring Nordschleife in Germany, sending a warning message to competitors - but more importantly a sign that the brand responsible for bygone performance had returned.
Powering the hatchback was a new four-cylinder turbocharged VTEC engine producing 228kW at 6500rpm and 400Nm from 2500-4500rpm, bringing for the first time a force-fed Type R powerplant to Australia with a high-revving 7300rpm ceiling.
The spec trumps the previous Type R that featured a highly-strung 143kW/ 198Nm 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine pushing a lightly tinkered torsion-beam rear-end chassis with firm suspension that was fairly underwhelming.
The new tenth-generation Civic is built on a tighter, lighter aluminium alloy chassis with a multi-link rear-end that is already sporty in RS trim. The Type R further adds adaptive suspension, modified McPherson strut front and a trick mechanical limited-slip front differential with brake torque vectoring for minimal torque steer.
The set-up echoes the previous-generation Ford Focus RS’ RevoKnuckle setup and lays down the gauntlet to the new front-wheel driven Megane RS which previously held the fastest front-wheel drive title in Trophy R guise.
But behind the flashy exterior bodywork and plastic spoilers is a more practical car that blends everyday liveability with performance, and answers contemporary safety expectations with Honda’s ‘Sensing’ suite of safety assists.
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
Don’t expect much relief from the exterior styling inside as there’s lots of bright red trim and stitching infused with black inserts and carbon-fibre look panels. The seats are influenced by previous Type Rs and have become so entrenched in the model’s history it’d seem faux pas to omit them.
They also offer a snug fit with some deep bolstering and firm shoulder support. The padding is comfortable and not as hard as previous seats that felt like they were plucked from the local auto shop. Seat adjustment is also very good, moving into almost any position needed for small and tall drivers alike, and the arm rests either side are neither too high or low – all big ticks towards practicality - but the seat still slings low for a sporty driver’s position and the steering wheel adjustment is just as good.
The star of the show is the nicely proportioned one-piece steel knob for the six-speed manual transmission. Positioned where the hand naturally falls, the solid hard metal ergonomics are a nice connection to the car’s mechanical package.
As a driver’s car the front is centred around the number one pew, but the other four seats offer just as much comfort and the rear seats are afforded enough leg room that it doesn’t feel cramped back there – kid seats are also an easy fit and a rear-facing baby seat won’t bother parents.
The boot is also roomy – 440 litres – and 60:40 split-fold seats fold down to carry larger items.
But the quality of some materials isn’t great and plastics in particular are less than stellar. Some touch points don’t click or move with precision such as the adaptive cruise and lane keeping assist buttons which flank steering wheel’s iconic red H. The infotainment screen is also a touch outdated in look and feel, however, it does offer the latest connectivity with Apple Carplay and Android Auto.
Put up against its rivals though and features like good seat adjustment are head and shoulders above the Focus RS, and while the interior is also better than the blue oval’s hot hatch the premium Golf R carries the baton for fit and finish.
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 Type R is packed with a cohesive driveline that communicates to the driver through a quality steering wheel, pedals and gear knob.
The motor doesn’t scream like old VTEC engines because of a compromise in compression for the single-scroll turbocharger, but it does have the nature of one, surging harder when higher in the rev range and roaring into 7000 revolutions per minute before the short-throw manual eagerly jumps into the next gear. The quality of the transmission and clutch, including the automatic rev matching, are so fluid that it’s easy to find yourself changing gears more than required.
The turbocharged engine also results in a more economical claimed fuel consumption of 8.8L/100km; we hit 10.6L with mixed driving. There’s a small torque gap down low and the full 400Nm doesn’t come on until 2500rpm, but it’s not compromised for town driving and a gear or two out doesn’t demand shifting down to get going.
That’s particularly helpful when commuting and using the adaptive cruise control function which works very well. Likewise, lane keeping assist is just as well tuned and keeps a consistent, predictable position inside the lane.
Rounding out its soft side is comfort settings for the adjustable suspension dampers, steering weight and throttle response. It tames the beast but without dulling it entirely, and the more forgiving suspension adds compliance the Type R never knew existed. Though the 245/30 wide tyres roar at higher speed on coarse roads and the thin profile is firm on bumpy surfaces they do complement the Type R’s dynamics when driving harder.
Default driving mode when pushing on the ignition is Sport, with +R mode a flick up the tree that has the sharpest settings applied. But Sport is a well-balanced blend of firmer suspension and increased steering weight with more finesse in throttle response. Honda claims 0-100km/h in 5.6 seconds which is quick enough, but it’s the dynamics of the Type R that really shine.
Tuck into a sweeping corner with some pace and the car doesn’t flinch, inviting more speed and confidence in tighter corners that hold up even when it’s a bit slippery. It holds steady on the nose and through a combination of the LSD and torque vectoring it’s hard to induce an ill tug through the steering or unease from the front. The rear follows through in tidy formation and isn’t as prone to playfully squirmig like all-wheel drive rivals, but is no less satisfying to drive.
The steering is sharp and rapid, with good feeling weight in Sport and more aggressive in +R, but it’s a touch detached from the road and filters out some feedback. The rest of the package is tack sharp, however, and the 350mm Brembo front brakes are progressive and predictable in bite.
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.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals occur every 12 months or 10,000km (whichever occurs first). The Type R is available with Honda Tailored Service Program at a capped price of $307 per service for a maximum of five years or 100,000km, whichever comes first.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Ford Focus RS is competitive on price and brings all-wheel drive for the first time in its history. It equates to the fastest RS yet and a car that on paper beats the Type R, but the easy (and fun) to drive fast ability doesn’t feel better than Honda’s poise, and its interior and driver’s seat aren’t as good.
The Golf R is a more premium hot hatch inside with a comparatively subdued appearance outside and it’s also just as capable.
The Renault Megane RS doesn't arrive here until later this year but our first drive impressions overseas are that this front-wheel driven five-door might be the closest rival yet.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Honda hasn’t robbed the Type R fan club with its practical twist on the cult car classic and beyond the plastic bodywork are plenty of nods to red-badged cars of the past. The driveline is a highlight and despite lacking the old VTEC rev-happy scream its pliable nature is easy to live with yet engaging to drive.
The practical arguments are now better than ever before, and should tickle the interest of buyers that might have been questioning if its intentions matched its looks.
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