Honda's racetrack

ready driving


Honda Civic Type R, front action
Honda Civic Type R, front action 2
Honda Civic Type R, front action 3
Honda Civic Type R, front static
Honda Civic Type R, overhead
Honda Civic Type R, rear action 3
Honda Civic Type R, rear action 2
Honda Civic Type R, rear action
Honda Civic Type R, dashboard 2
Honda Civic Type R, dashboard
Honda Civic Type R, at racetrack
Honda Civic Type R, static track
Honda Civic Type R, action duo
Honda Civic Type R, driving action
Honda Civic Type R, seat detail

DON'T tell BMW, but someone has pinched its famous boast; buy one and you'll have the 'ultimate driving machine'.

The cheeky interloper is Honda, more specifically the company's latest, hottest, brashest, loudest version of the Civic Type R.

And there on a presentation screen at the press drive event in BMW's homeland were the three words that the 169mph Civic wants to take as its own.

But, you ask, is 320 horsepower and a deeply serious approach to building this winged, spoilered and extravagantly vented Type R enough to deserve any of that trio of well used words?

Quite probably; there is no denying its performance potential and Honda has the video to prove it.

Around the notoriously unforgiving Nurburgring race track, long considered too dangerous for grand prix cars but now a stretch of tortuous Tarmac for everyone to hire at 25 euros a lap.

The latest Type R polished off the 14.1 miles in 7mins 43.8secs to claim a record for any front-wheel drive production car. If you're the sort of youngish thruster who might sell his mother for a down payment on a new one, this time matters. A lot.

Other rivals - the likes of the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen's Golf R - are also no slouches round the 'Ring but the Type R is unarguably in the mix now. It is also, by a useful margin, less expensive than either of them.

You can have the hottest Honda hatch for £30,995 but nearly everyone will find another £2,000 for the GT model, which comes with goodies including satellite navigation, dual zone climate control, wireless charging pad, 11 speaker sound system and a clutch of added safety features like blind spot warning and cross traffic monitor which keeps watch as you reverse from a parking space.

None of these features are fundamental to the nature of the beast that is the new Type R. And at its beating heart is a modestly reworked version of the 2.0 litre engine from the old car, forcing 320 metric horses (up 10 horsepower) through its front wheels, now wrapped in larger alloys and carrying wider, super sticky tyres.

Thank a turbocharger for giving the Type R the sort of mid-range back shove you might be pleased with in a junior Lamborghini and enough to max out at 169mph, not approached on an unrestricted but busy stretch of autobahn, with this driver finding the brake pedal as the speedo eagerly chased its way to double the UK motorway limit.

The hot RS from Ford manages 165mph and is usefully faster to 62mph than the Honda (4.7 seconds plays 5.7 seconds) but it feels less ferocious, which may not be a virtue in this type of machine.

The £33,500 Golf R is also quicker to the magic 62mph than the newcomer, posting a 4.7 seconds time but its top speed is electronically limited to a 'mere' 155mph. It also feels more mature and less exciting to drive, and might well appeal to a rather different sort of enthusiast.

Buying the Honda will save you a PCP payment (£299 monthly on a three year contract) thanks to lower exhaust emissions, with a £500 first year tax hit versus £800 for the Ford and VW (actual CO2 readings are 170/175/180g/km).

You won't buy any of these hottest hatches to worry about fuel economy, but for the record the Honda is officially best at 38.7mpg with the Golf next at 37.7mpg and the Ford trailing with 36.7mpg. None will approach that on the road, of course, let alone if let loose on a circuit track day.

But back to the bits that might make you badly want a four-door Civic Type R parked outside the house, raring to head for a track or deserted mountain pass high in the Alps.

We've looked at the engine, but the engineers have been equally thorough in every other go-faster aspect of this Swindon-built superhatch.

So, the brakes are big and made by Brembo, the go-to name for superior stopping power. A little larger than before, they took several laps of the many cornered EuroSpeedway without complaint, as did the specially developed Continental tyres with rubber as clingy as a needy child in a strop.

There are now three driving modes, from comfort (which did a decent job of taming the ride on Germany's surreally smooth roads) through sport, which tightens throttle, steering and damping to +R for the race track, where things sharpen to a scimitar-like level.

All those body add-ons - enough to raise a smile and thumb's up from a German van driver alongside in a traffic jam (yes, in Germany!) also make the Type R the only one of its breed to actually force the car down on the road at speed.

Away from the track the Type R ought to prove a mostly undemanding companion when you simply want to get somewhere briskly, although the eyeball attracting triple exhaust pipe, especially developed to dampen droning in the cockpit is only a partial success.

Ditto the revised rear suspension, which sets out to stop a mild uneasiness from the rear under heavy braking but still lets you know the back wheels are working hard as you slow hard.

Minor details, these, in a car that shows Honda - once likened to a Japanese BMW thanks to its engineering focus - is fighting hard to wrench the German marque's slogan from them. Ultimate driving machine? Not far off.


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