Launch Drive: New Honda Civic Type R Turbo

What is it?

A dichotomy of new and old. On the one hand new Honda Civic Type R Turbo makes a long-awaited shift to turbo propulsion and on the other hand mates this to a self-shifting manual gearbox. The sophistication of active dampers meets the 90s wings-and-aero look. But realistically Civic Type R is not in the middle of anything, it’s far more biased towards the track…towards the enthusiast… than a Golf GTi or Ford Focus ST.

Honda Civic type R (5)

The latest Civic Type R Turbo has low-volume niche appeal sticking out like a sore thumb in a world that has opted for auto transmissions and conservative styling. You’ll either love it or loathe it but it has avoided all the generic trends and clichés and for that alone Honda should be applauded.

With Honda NSX put on hold indefinitely for the South African market, the ninth generation Civic Type R with 228kW and 400Nm becomes SA’s most powerful Honda on sale.

What’s it like?

Brilliantly sharp or very compromised, actually a bit of both. Around Cape Town’s Killarney Circuit where we began the launch drive I proffered it as the best front-wheel drive turbo hatch in the segment. Plentiful front end grip generated by Conti 6 tyres and helical limited slip differential, uncorrupted feedback from the clever torque-steer mitigating dual strut system and flat body control. No wonder Honda’s Civic Type R turbo is the current British Touring Car Champion.

Honda Civic type R (2)

If you ever doubted the significance of the Type R’s title as the fastest front-wheel drive around the Nurburgring, you reap the rewards on a piece of tarmac like this. Brembo brakes, the largest of any kind fitted to a Honda Type R, hold up well and downshifting through the gears is made all the sweeter by 40mm of short-throw gearbox – the best setup on the market by a country mile. Honda’s claim of 5.7 seconds for the 100km/h would be even quicker with a dual clutch gearbox but that’s missing the point entirely.

While some of that high-pitched VTEC shriek is missing, Type R Turbo still revs eagerly to 7000rpm and the low-end noise is deep and cubic-rich, even though in reality it’s far from it. Prod the throttle and it burbles a little louder than a Renault Megane RS and has none of the silly electronic controlled interjections of a dual clutch gearbox. The turbo howls and the dump valve gushes and for Honda fans this is all very new and exciting while VTEC still plays a role in turbo spool and economy.

Honda Civic type R (6)

As kilometres of bumpy straight road unfurl outside the circuit’s grounds the Honda Civic Type R bobs and weaves as if rooted to its bump stops. This is the trade-off and it’s a big one, perhaps only the Mini Cooper JCW can match it for overall stiffness. Not even Honda’s very clever continually adjustable active dampers can do much about the springs’ little vertical travel.

Honda claims the Civic Type R is the only car in its segment to achieve proper aero for high speed stability and with even a vague understanding of a wing’s function you’ll buy wholeheartedly into that statement. The double layered boot wing is obviously the main focus but more discreet sweeps and vents channel air out the engine, through the brakes and over the diffuser.

The smaller pieces particularly look a bit flimsy on peeled adhesive and the Civic Type R straddles a blurred line between OEM and aftermarket – it’s not like other hot hatches slide off the road because of fewer wings… Our only crit are the wheels; the arches swallow them up with ease and they need a wider track fill the bulges.

Honda Civic type R (4)

Should I buy one?

Do we think the new Honda Civic Type R Turbo is R100 000 better than a Renault Megane Trophy? The Honda with its new touch screen and slightly more logical switchgear holds the slight upperhand but the differences everywhere else are too close to justify that premium.

Instead we must see further than just the Honda Type R and consider what turbo power means for Honda as a brand. Ever since the S2000 Honda has been missing that performance sparkle and Civic Type R is just the beginning in a long plan to bring it back.


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