Hot hatches have been around for decades, but now the game has moved on.
We now have hyper-hatches pumping out over 200 kilowatts.
And the leader of the pack by some margin is the new Honda Civic Type R, with its attention-grabbing 228 kilowatts and 400-newton metres.
As Isle of Man racer and TV star Guy Martin would say “it’s properly quick.”
But before we go any further let’s address the Honda Civic Type R’s elephant in the room.
It’s outrageous appearance.
It looks like it has been driven straight off a PlayStation screen and I reckon the designers had an-all night bender on the Red Bulls before sketching the Type R, which would explain a lot. I have to admit at times I did feel a bit silly in it. And everyone wants to race you, including a guy in a Ferrari F458. Really? After three sets of lights of him racing away each time to impress his young lady passenger, with me making a ‘normal’ getaway, I hosed him at the fourth set. Got ya. Yes, the Type R also brings out the boy racer in you.
But I digress. After starting life as a five-door Civic, the track is widened and a lightweight aluminium bonnet, with scoop, is added. Then comes the deep side skirts, puffed-out front and rear guards, vortex generators on the roof, the overgrown rear wing, big diffuser and humongous triple exhausts. All add up to make it slice through the air more efficiently and so it can go fast while generating lots of downforce so it can mash corners.
Mission accomplished I’d say.
Under the flared front guards sit 20-inch black alloy wheels on super low-profile tyres. Behind them are 350mm ventilated brake discs with 4-pot Brembo callipers and at the rear 305 mm discs. Tucked underneath is the key to the Type R’s epic handling; the dual axis MacPherson front struts and multi-link rear end. There are the obligatory adjustable drive modes each colluding with the ECU to deliver their own engine, gearbox, steering, ride and handling characteristics.
The mechanical package is simply brilliant. Two Hundred and twenty-eight is a lot of kilowatts to play with and the brilliant six-speed ‘quick-flick’ manual gearbox and helical limited slip differential ensure every one of them goes to the road through its front wheels.
And forget everything you know about front-wheel drives because the Honda Civic Type R re-writes the rulebook.
There’s no torque steer, even when you floor it from a standstill. Throw it at corners and its bespoke chassis, suspension and steering setup has you nailing them with a neutral and planted feel like an all-wheel drive. It’s hugely satisfying, entertaining and rewarding. And it’s equally at happy to pootle about the urban landscape like a standard Civic. Remarkable.
With the Honda Civic Type R aimed at the track-day set, I was dreading the teeth-rattling ride with concrete suspension and conversation-killing tyre roar. But no. In all modes, the ride retains a suppleness which, given how well it handles, is remarkable. It’s very forgiving at any speed, utterly civilised and does a top job of blending hyper-performance with liveability.
In short, the Honda Civic Type R’s handling sets a lofty benchmark.
And it’s incredibly versatile like a hatch should be. So vast is the interior that after dropping the rear seats flat I could load my road bike in with both wheels still attached. You can’t do that with any other hatch on the market.
There is acres of room in both rows and the black and red body-hugging front racing seats are among the best I’ve sat in for a long time. Supremely comfortable and extremely supportive. The tilt and reach, multi-function, leather-clad steering wheel has loads of adjustability making it a cinch to nail the perfect driving position. The high centre console is also suede wrapped and the stubby gear lever needs nothing more than a flick of the wrist to swap cogs. Around the cabin is black cloth and carbon trimmings. In front of you is the TFT LCD dash, or in Honda speak, Driver Information Interface. The clarity is outstanding, with a digital speedo and rainbow arc tacho, and ancillary gauges.
On the centre dash lives the seven-inch infotainment touchscreen, with climate control functions, reversing camera, Apple Car Play, Android auto and the very clever lane watch, which, when you turn your left indicator on shows the left side of the car and the lane next to it for safer lane swapping. Motorcyclists and cyclists rejoice! Unbelievably, there is no satellite navigation. What was Honda thinking?
When you start it, the 2-litre turbo Type R could be a standard Civic, there’s no fanfare or revving like others. And around town and loping along in traffic it feels like any other Civic; comfortable, quiet and unassuming, apart from its cartoonish looks. As speeds increase you detect an increase in road noise but it’s never intrusive.
Point the deep spoilered nose at a road laden with sweeping bends and corners and the Civic Type R becomes Leyton Hewitt; cap on backwards yelling “Come on”.
It eggs you on to go faster, brake deeper and turn harder, its gobsmacking acceleration is such that the digital speedo struggles to keep up as you flick your way through the six gears, the tacho racing to the redline as the shift light illuminates, flick another gear, then another and another, it’s enthralling. Mash the brake pedal and flick back down the box, the throttle blips are taken care of, allowing you to rush through bends with pinpoint accuracy thanks to quick ratio steering. It’s like a theme park ride you never want to end.
I must confess that on a couple of nights I drove for more than 100km to fang along some favourite back roads just to have another go at punting this brilliantly sorted hyper hatch. It’s very addictive.
Was I sad to hand it back? You betcha. Any car that makes you go driving just for the fun, satisfaction, thrill and engagement of it, is reason enough to own it. Throw in its versatility and the $51,990 the Honda Civic Type R is an absolute bargain.
For full specs on the Honda Civic Type R head to the Honda website.