True to form for a company famed for its engineering prowess, Honda can’t sit still. No sooner had it launched the eagerly anticipated Type-R version of its latest Civic than engineers were commissioned to start working on possible improvements.
The firm entrusted with this task was the Italian outfit JAS; its brief was to make a more powerful machine with even sharper reactions and the result is the Type R-R, a machine that would certainly appear to live up to those demands.
White wheels apart, the R-R doesn’t look much different to the standard model. The 18-inch rims are more than satisfactory at filling the wheel arches, the front fog-lights have been replaced with air intakes and there’s a rally-inspired roof intake. However, it’s not until you open the door that you realise how the engineers have managed to pare the standard car’s 1267kg back to a shade under 1100kg. Gone is anything not required to improve the car’s performance: the sound-deadening, the air-con, even the stereo. All the Type R-R driver has for aural entertainment is the noise of the engine.
It might be the same basic 2-litre unit as the standard car but the devil – and the difference – is in the detail. There’s a new and bespoke exhaust and redesigned camshafts, but these are the only parts of the reworked unit that aren’t standard. Otherwise, JAS has concentrated on refining stock components, so the cylinder head, con rods, pistons, crank and fly wheel have all been optimised whilst the throttle body and air filter housing have also been modified.
But the engineers reckon the biggest gain in boosting power to an incredible 260bhp has been made through the electronics. By reprogramming the ECU they’ve altered the behaviour of the VTEC system so that it now cuts in at 5100rpm instead of 5400. While a new fuelling strategy significantly increases low-speed torque.
Press the starter button and the engine grinds and grumbles before barking into life with a more raucous idle than any regular Type-R. The standard six-speed gearbox has been replaced by a sequential unit so, whilst there is a clutch, you use it only for starting and stopping and once underway your left leg can remain planted on the foot rest with upshifts performed simply by pulling back the shift lever. The engine modifications and substantial weight reduction make for a crisper throttle response lower in the rev-range, the only downside being the loss of that wonderful scream as the revs wind up and the VTEC system really comes to life.
While the standard manual gearbox is a fairly snappy shifter, the new unit cuts engine power for a mere 80 milliseconds to perform changes. It feels brutal and under hard acceleration causes the steering wheel to squirm in your hands as you move up through the cogs. Slamming the lever forward to downshift feels awkward and jerky at low revs but more progressive the faster you’re travelling. It’s a similar story with the brakes: the massive Brembo discs currently do without a servo so the pedal feels pretty dead initially; it’s only at speed that you can begin to make sense of them.
Like the standard model, the Type R-R is a car that thrives on being driven hard, offering up plenty of poise and minimal body-roll. However steering feel, or rather a lack of it, still blights this car, even if the chassis is responsive to inputs. Thankfully, tweaks to the set-up seem to have addressed the overly artificial weighting-up as speeds increase.
stonishingly for a front-wheel driver that boasts 260bhp, wheel spin is surprisingly absent from the Type R-R’s repertoire: plant the throttle and you simply rocket forwards with none of the anticipated scrabbling for grip.
This is something the JAS engineers are particularly proud of. They’ve also managed to banish torque steer, which was apparently proving a problem until they softened the front suspension with the pleasing side effect that the ride isn’t as punishing as you might expect.
All of this good news is more relevant than you might assume because, whilst the complete Type R-R may cost a stiff £65K, you can purchase various components and have them fitted to your regular Type R. The six-speed sequential ’box costs £5400, the front and rear shocks are just over £2000, whilst the four-piston brake callipers are £410.
But this car isn’t just a tweaked-up special. Honda has confirmed the lessons it learns from the Type R-R will be employed on future versions of the hot Civic. And that’s only going to turn Honda’s road rocket into even more of a driver’s dream.