The new Honda Civic Type R is as at home on the track as a shark is in open water, but it manages to avoid being uncomfortable
UPDATE: There’s a facelifted Civic Type R, and it’s now in Singapore! Click here to see details of the 2020 Honda Civic Type R
DRESDEN, GERMANY — If you see a new Honda Civic Type R on Singapore roads, consider yourself lucky. For now at least, supplies of these are tight, even through the official sales channel of authorised importer, Kah Motor. There’ll be maybe half a dozen this year in the Singapore allocation, and half of them have been spoken for already.
If you find yourself behind the wheel, consider yourself even luckier, you fortunate bugger. The new Civic Type R is a five-door, four-seat barrel of laughs. If you can zing the 2.0-litre turbo engine to the redline without at least cracking a smile, you might want to check if you’re dead.
If you get to sit on this every day, we officially hate you
For all that, the Type R was built with a serious, no-laughing, no-giggling-even mission from conception, which was to snag the title of world’s fastest front wheel-drive car around the Nürburgring. Which it did, with a time of 7 minutes, 43.8 seconds, if you want to know. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, the Audi R8 V10 FSI took longer, back in ’09.
Our man pretends he’s on the Nürburging. Loser
And boy, wouldn’t I give my editor’s bollocks to have a go at the ’Ring in one of these. As a sort of next-best-thing, Honda booked the Lausitzring, a circuit in the part of Germany where the road signs have weird cyrillic writing on them, and let us have seven laps in the Type R.
In that sort of setting, the Honda is magnificent. It’s so beautifully track-focused that it’s hard to imagine any other hatchback you’d rather be driving on a circuit.
The engine scrambles up 320 horsepower, enough to make the Type R the most powerful FWD car there is, and it hauls the 1,380kg Civic along much more urgently than the 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds suggests. It’s a four-cylinder, so it was never going to sound magical, but the exhaust has been tuned to produce a nice, tight rasp. The centre pipe actually sucks air in at some rpms, and Honda says this cancels out some boominess.
But really, it’s the handling that’ll take your breath away.
The Lausitzring has a decent mix of corners, and the Civic just slays them all in a brutally effective way, like a ninja who drops into the middle of a crowded room and whips his sword around for a few seconds, then stands up silently while everyone else falls to the floor with their throats spurting crimson.
With high-geared steering and front-end grip that can’t be broken, it whips into corners with no hesitation, like a shark that’s suddenly spotted a drowning turkey. If you’ve overcooked it there’s the tiniest hint of understeer, but you can dial things back a little by easing up on the throttle and exploiting the car’s easy adjustability to trim your line.
The car has three driving modes (and it says something that the default one is ‘Sport’), and the hardcore +R setting is obviously the one for the track. It stiffens the dampers to just short of go-kart levels, and banishes body roll to, well, wherever body roll is banished when it’s been bad and tried to interfere with a car’s composure.
The driver may be all excited, but the Civic Type R itself is a paragon of calm
Stability under braking from high speed is the single biggest area of improvement over the last Civic Type R, thanks to a new multilink rear suspension set up. Our market never got the previous Type R so we’ve never driven it, so we’ll have to take Honda’s word for it, but to be sure, the car hauled itself down from big numbers to small ones on the speedo at the Lausitzring without drama. The Civic’s big Brembos are mighty fit for purpose too, and were good enough that they were one of the few things Honda saw fit to carry over from the last car.
If anything is truly mind-bending about the Civic, it’s the enormous mechanical grip it conjures up. It’s front-wheel drive, remember, but when you power out of tight corners there’s just no lighting up the tyres. There’s a mechanical limited slip differential, but it’s supplemented by an active one that lets the car brake the inside wheel, both to curtail wheelspin on the unloaded side of the car, and to impose a torque vectoring effect.
The system (Honda calls it “Agile Handling Assist”) operates both on turn-in and when you exit, and is one of the things that helps the Civic keep such an implausibly tight line through bends.
In spite of the engine’s serious muscle, the Civic doesn’t feel like it needs all wheel-drive, that’s for sure. Things might be different in the rain, but in the dry the car lacks nothing for traction.
There’s a pleasing lack of torque steer, too. You might feel a small tug on the wheel, coming hard out of a filter lane, but nothing like the wild fishtailing you might have expected from such a powerful car with front-drive.
That’s down to a tricky dual-axis strut set-up in the front suspension, which a Honda guy tried to explain to me but I couldn’t understand.
Anyway, the fact that the Civic’s suspension is pretty sophisticated is more apparent out on the street than in the circuit. The bit of Germany near the Czech border has some surprisingly crappy roads, and in a car designed to kick ass at the Nurburgring you’d expect the ride to be bumpy enough to put your liver in your mouth. But no. Even in the +R mode, the suspension is somehow merely firm at worst. Maybe because the dampers are adaptive, or because the car has a low centre of gravity, the springs themselves don’t feel super hard.
Crappy roads, yes. Crappy ride, no
In fact, the suspension is so well-resolved that the +R mode is perfectly acceptable on a bad road, while the softest Comfort mode feels alright even when the car is bombing along an autobahn on the sweet side of 200. Heck, it’s as stable as a house even above 250.
For that you can thanks the car’s shape. Whatever you think of the Civic Type R’s aero add-ons, they’re all there for a reason. The wings, flick-ups and slots either speed up, slow down or smoothen airflow where it’s needed, and the result is a car that generates actual downforce at speed, with less drag than the previous Type R. Honda says none of its rivals are shaped to produce negative lift, and none of them have less wind resistance than the Civic. Which explains why none of them look like the Honda, come to think of it.
That difference in approach sums up the Civic Type R. I mean it’s called a Civic, but the Type R was developed in tandem with the basic hatch, so it isn’t really a souped-up family car. It’s basically an assault weapon for the racing circuit, given manners. Other hot hatches feel like they were well-mannered to start with and given muscle.
I mean you can only buy the thing with three pedals, for goodness’ sake. That’ll cost Honda sales in Singapore, for a twin-clutch thing would have ten times the sales potential, but it’s also a way for the Type R to select for the right kind of the customer, the sort of person who’ll understand what it’s about, and who really wants to get involved in the process of driving.
There’s a small concession to comfort in the form of a rev-matching function — drop a gear and the engine blips automatically to smoothen the gearchange. But it works better on the street than on the track, and anyway you’ll want to heel-and-toe yourself when you’re going for that satisfying laptime. And if you don’t know how to heel-and-toe, you’ll want to learn if you buy a Civic Type R. And if you don’t do track days, owning the Civic Type R will make you start. It’s the reigning King of the Nürburgring, after all, and what’s royalty for, if not to inspire the best in people?
NEED TO KNOW Honda Civic Type R Singapore price
Engine 1,996cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 320hp at 6,500rpm
Torque 400Nm at 2,500-4,500rpm
Gearbox 6-speed manual
Top Speed 272km/h
0-100km/h 5.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.7L/100km
Price $186,999 with COE