By Steve Berry
THERE is a word for a car that belies its true nature. It is an alternative to the phrase “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. The word is “Sleeper”.
The new Honda Civic Type R is not a sleeper. In fact, it is rather shouty in a very “wide-awake” kind of way.
That huge rear spoiler screams “hot hatch” as does the triple-pipe exhaust and the plethora of diffusers and air-scoops that adorn the Type R from front to rear – all of which, Honda assure us, have a role to play in making the Civic Type R the best-handling front-wheel-drive performance hatch on the planet.
Let me reassure you: As the Civic Type R is a new model most young hooligans can’t possibly afford the £31,525 asking price, so you can only be seen as a much-less threatening “enthusiastic driver”.
Personally, I like the look. It is bold enough to be totally unapologetic and if you think it looks vulgar, you’re probably missing the point.
At this point I would normally be talking about the car’s interior, but let’s just skip to the important bit – how the Civic Type R drives and how it may well (re)awaken the driver in you.
Okay, the interior is fine. It’s not great but it’s okay. It has an infotainment screen that looks a little low-rent compared to the competition but the body-hugging sports seats are terrific and the driving position is perfect.
Some of the plastics look a little cheap. There are cupholders. Rear space is better than expected and the boot is big enough with a unique roller-blind instead of a parcel shelf. All Civic Type Rs now have five doors so families are well catered for too.
The Civic Type R’s two-litre VTEC engine is now turbo-charged to produce 320PS (316 bhp) and 400Nm of torque which can take it from 0 to 62mph in just 5.8 seconds, putting it firmly in Ford Focus RS, Renault Megane RS and VW Golf R territory.
There is a more expensive GT version (£33,525) of the Civic Type R that adds such things as Sat Nav, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate, uprated sound system and some exterior red trim garnish but you would be hard pushed to notice the difference outwardly and both trim levels have exactly the same performance.
From the off it is abundantly clear the new Honda Civic Type R is leagues ahead of the former non-turbo model. The new model may share the same engine as the older one but it has been fettled to provide more punch and because it is also allowed to breath much easier through the triple-pipe exhaust it feels all-round more willing to throw itself at the horizon. Even the merest hint of turbo-lag doesn’t spoil the party.
It also shares the same six-speed manual gearbox as the older model, albeit with a lower final drive ratio which adds to the overall driving refinement. It is an absolute belter of a gearshift too.
Then there is the weight-loss. The new Civic Type R is significantly lighter than the previous model and at 1,380kg is around 140kg lighter than a Ford Focus RS.
The excellent helical limited slip diff is still there but thankfully the old car’s torsion-beam rear suspension has been dropped in favour of a much more pliant multi-link set up.
The chassis is well up to the job of keeping all that torque in check too. Honda claim a 38 per cent improvement in torsion stiffness over the older model and I certainly found nothing to complain about in a week of driving a variety of roads.
Grip levels are phenomenal and this, combined with such direct steering, provides turn-in that makes the mid-sized hatchback feel much smaller. It appears to have the agility of a frightened rabbit.
This all adds up to a performance hatchback that appears to be greater than the sum of its parts – by that I mean with everything the Honda engineers have achieved to make the new Civic Type R the king of the hot hatches it is still a car you can comfortably drive around town without losing your fillings or the kids losing their lunch.
Yes, its ride is on the firm side and that is why the Civic Type R is such a joy to switch into ‘sport’ mode and take across-country on some twisting B-roads, but for a car that was developed at the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit it is remarkably refined when you select the ‘comfort’ setting and just sit back to enjoy the drive.
The new Honda Civic Type R has just taken Which? Magazine’s Best Hot Hatch award for 2019 – an award it also won in 2018 and it garners many five-star reviews despite most journos being less than complimentary about the looks, which speaks volumes about what they think of the car’s abilities.
Honda have a tag-line on their website for the Civic Type R, which simply says “If you Never Try You’ll Never Know” and is designed to play on your fear of missing out on something just because at first glance you may not find it appealing.
Now, I’m not suggesting the Honda Civic Type R is the kiwi fruit of the motoring world, but believe me, they are both very delicious indeed. Go ahead, try one. You’ll love it.
AT A GLANCE: Honda Civic Type R GT
OTR Price: £33,525
Engine: 2.0 VTEC Turbo
Power: 320 PS
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-62mph: 5.8 secs
Top Speed: 169 mph
Combined Economy: 36.7 mpg
C02: 176 g/km