The fast & the flawed

ITíS THE FWD NURBURGRING LAP RECORD HOLDER, BUT DOES THAT MAKE THE CIVIC TYPE R A BRILLIANT HOT HATCH? JOHN CAREY DECIDES

THE further you are from the Honda Civic Type R, the better it looks. Itís hard to say exactly how far is far enough. Just keep walking until the details of its designer-frenzy exterior begin to blurÖ Itís hard to believe this hot hatch comes from the same company whose studios once turned out the calm and cleanly elegant shape of the 2003 Accord Euro. The new Civic Type R is instead a visually shouty assembly of aesthetic offences.

Hondaís design language may be incoherent gibberish lately, but this hasnít entirely extinguished the brandís appeal. More than 250 customers ordered the new Type R even before the official price Ė $50,990 Ė was announced.

Maybe the deposit-placers have more faith in Hondaís engineers rather than disdain for the Civic Type Rís designers. It was engineers, after all, who carved the cornerstone of the companyís reputation. And, whatís more, the new Civic Type R has proven than itís fast. A development car running on road-legal tyres recorded a 7m44s Nurburgring lap time back in April. Itís the best ever lap time there, claims Honda, by a front-drive car.

Fast lap times arenít a guarantee of all-round greatness, but maybe the Civic Type R engineers got it as right as the carís designers got it wrongÖ The Type R is based on the new Civic hatch that recently went on sale in Australia. But while the regular line-up is produced in Thailand, the hot version is made p p in England. Hondaís big Swindon factory is, in fact, the only one in the world assembling the Civic Type R. But the USA is where the Civic Type Rís engine is made.

The turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-litre four is from a Honda facility in Ohio that has been building the engine, designed specifically for the Type R, since 2015.

Yuji Matsumochi, the engineer who led development of the Civic Type Rís engine, says its fundamentals were inspired by the atmo 2.0-litre four of Hondaís 1999 S2000. He says that engineís basic dimensions, including its square 86x86mm bore and stroke, were also perfect for the high-revving turbo Honda wanted for the Civic Type R. But everything else, says Matsumochi, had to be changed. The turbo engine was a completely clean-sheet design for the gen-four Civic Type R.

Only minor changes to the engine were made for this new fifth-generation car. Power rises (in Europe) by 7kW, mainly because the underfloor layout of the stiffer platform of the new Civic hatch can accommodate a straighter, freer flowing exhaust system. The system ends in a trio of tailpipes. The outer outlets are fulltime, while the smaller centre pipe provides a route for exhaust gas only when needed.

While the output of a European Civic Type R engine is 235kW, for Australia the maximum is 228kW. Itís a difference that reflects the poorer quality of fuel stipulated for Australian certification testing. This is why the Australian Civic Type R burns more fuel in the official consumption test.

Other noteworthy drivetrain changes compared to the fourth-gen Civic Type R include a seven percent shorter final-drive, which pushes the six-speed manualís ratios a little closer together. The adoption of a by-wire throttle enables a rev-matching system that blips the throttle for smooth downshifts.

Most important of the chassis upgrades over the regular Civic hatch is a new front suspension design.

It delivers different geometry and more stiffness. Some stiffer Type R parts are also installed in the rear multilink set-up. p There are three-stage adaptive dampers all round.

Their behaviour changes according to the driving mode selected; firm Sport is the default on start-up, with softer Comfort or stiff +R just a flick of a centre console switch away. The modes also alter throttle sensitivity and the level of assist delivered by the electric power steering.

Clearly confident that the new Civic Type R could cope with repeated spankings, Honda hired the EuroSpeedway Lausitz, near Dresden, Germany, for the carís international launch.

What joy it is to drive

MORE THAN 250 CUSTOMERS ORDERED THE NEW TYPE R EVEN BEFORE THE OFFICIAL PRICE Ė $50,990 Ė WAS ANNOUNCED

STOP IT, PLEASE

The Civic Type R rolls on 20-inch wheels wrapped in 245/30ZR20 Continental SportContact 6 rubber. Big four-piston Brembo calipers bite the Hondaís drilled and ventilated 350mm front discs (left), while the solid rear discs are larger than on the standard Civic, clamped by single-piston sliding calipers.

That rear wing, meanwhile (right), isnít just for visual impact. It really does generate downforce, apparently. In fact, Honda says all of the body addenda are functional, reducing lift, smoothing air over the tyres, and, in the case of the hood scoop, cooling the engine. So not just for Ďlooksí, then. Phew.

CAREFUL THROTTLE MANAGEMENT IS KEY TO SPEEDY CORNERING, THOUGH THERE ARE OCCASIONAL HINTS OF LIFT-OFF OVERSTEER

a Honda-made manual again! Quick, slick, and perfectly discover the Civic Type Rís new rev-matching feature is excellent. It can be switched off, but itís hard to think of a reason why youíd want to.

Around the Lausitzring itís easy to keep the Civic Type Rís engine in its juicy zone between 3000 and 7000rpm. While the keening, high-pitched wail of earlier generations of atmo Type R engines is absent, the turbo 2.0-litre sounds eager and, at the top of the tach, even a little angry.

The broad Continentals chosen for the car are quality rubberware. The Type Rís naturally nose-heavy weight distribution demands a lot from the pair on the front, but their turn-in bite and drive-out grip is strong through the trackís longer corners, though the latter is aided by a good limited-slip differential and torque-vectoring that brakes the inside wheel.

Cycling through the Comfort, Sport and +R modes in succession is instructive. The softest mode is reasonably crisp, but switching to Sport adds some weight to the steering and brings an appreciable increase in throttle responsiveness. Going to +R brings more of the same.

Regardless of the level of steering assist, thereís useful feedback from the quick, 2.1-turns lock-to-lock rack.

Careful throttle management is the key to clean and speedy cornering, though there are occasional hints of playful lift-off oversteer. The Honda is reaching more than 200km/h on the pit straight, and a heavy hit on the fadefree Brembo brakes is needed for the corner at its end. precise, this is a great gearbox. The metal sphere atop the stick is a treat to touch, too. And it doesnít take long to speed. to squeeze the throttle to the stop in sixth. The Honda leaps forward and the speedometer is reading 240km/h and still rising when the time comes to back out of it. The Type Rís stability at this speed is impressive.

Itís in city traffic that the Type R is less persuasive.

The engine feels lethargic below 2500rpm, where itís below the boost zone. Ride quality in Comfort mode is bearable rather than brilliant and Sport is tolerable rather than terrific.

Hot hatches are supposed to be sensible as well as speedy. Though the new Civic hatch is much longer than the car it replaces, the interior package doesnít feel that especially spacious, especially in the rear seat.

And while the steering wheel and deeply bolstered front seats hit the right hot-hatch notes, the overall quality of the very well-equipped interior doesnít reach the heights that Honda once regularly achieved.

There was a time when cars that wore the iconic Type R badge stood for something that you could find nowhere else; high-revving naturally aspirated engines that no-one else would dare build, in cars that few could rival for quality. This ainít the case with the new Civic Type R.

There are better to drive hot hatches with turbo four-cylinder engines than the Honda, some of them with better interiors and all of them with better exterior designs. The way the Civic Type R looks is probably the least of its problems.

Heading back to Dresden on sometimes unrestricted autobahn, the Civic Type R reaches an even higher speed A gap in the traffic presents an irresistible opportunity