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Honda Civic Type-R 2015 review - the hottest hatch ever?
What is it?
Probably the most hotly anticipated real-world performance car of 2015. It’s the third Civic Type R to officially reach our shores – earlier versions were grey imports only – and it marks something of a departure for the much loved red ‘H’ badge, more of which shortly.
A representative pre-production version set an impressive 7min 50.63sec lap of the Nurburgring Nordschleife – a front-wheel drive record, bettering the likes of the Renaulsport Megane 275 Trophy R and Seat Leon Cupra Sub8 Ultimate.
Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time
The big news in terms of the drivetrain is a switch from natural aspiration to turbocharging – a first for a Type R product. Many enthusiasts will lament the loss of the high-revving engines of previous models, but with the hot hatch power race now dictating no less than 300bhp and environmental regulations getting ever more stringent, the normally-aspirated Type R engine had run its course. This new unit still uses the VTEC variable valve timing system, however.
The 2-litre, four-cylinder unit develops 306bhp at 6500rpm and 295lb ft of torque from 2500rpm.
Power is delivered to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox – the only transmission option – and a helical limited-slip differential (apparently the diff saves five seconds around a lap of the Nordschleife).
Honda claims 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds – which is rapid for a front-wheel drive hot hatch – and 167mph flat out.
Combining VTEC and turbo charging is Honda’s solution to meeting emission regulations, the requisite power levels now expected in this class and to maintain the high-revving character of previous Type Rs.
The Civic Type R is unique in its class, says Honda, for actually producing aerodynamic downforce. The jutting front splitter, near-flat underside, large rear wing and diffuser combine to create negative lift.
The front suspension uses a strut arrangement with a bespoke design, which Honda calls a dual axis strut, to reduce centre offset. This cuts torque steer – by some 55 per cent, the engineers claim.
The rear suspension uses a torsion beam rather than a more sophisticated multi-link system, the sort that underpins some of the Type R’s rivals. An adaptive damping system has been developed to actively monitor each corner and adjust the damping rate to suit the road surface and driving style. With the UK set to be a large market for the model, the engineers did undertake British B-road testing.
The brakes are by Brembo – the front discs are 350mm in diameter – and the tyre is a Continental Sport Contact 6 on a 19-inch wheel.
A button within the cabin, marked +R, sharpens the car’s responses. It reduces steering assistance and relaxes the stability control system, increases throttle response and damper stiffness by 30 per cent.
What’s it like to drive?
The new Type R stands shoulder to shoulder with the best, sharpest and most extreme hot hatches of all time. It finds enormous grip, it has bundles of straight-line performance and body control is exemplary.
The previous, normally aspirated model was a very stiff car, so it had neither the pliancy over an uneven surface or the outright front axle grip to mark it out as a truly great driver’s car. This new version puts those criticisms to bed, because in the default drive mode there is just enough cushioning at each corner to allow the body to ride bumps and potholes cleanly. Where the old car would have skipped and bounced over an uneven surface the new model is altogether more settled.
At the initial entry point to a corner there is also a more natural, predictable rate of roll, which gives you a clear idea of the grip levels across the front axle at first, then down the outer edge of the car as it passes the apex. Turn in bite is very strong initially and the then car settles into very gentle understeer towards corner exit.
It does all of that, importantly, without running out of body control. In fact, even in the softer damper mode the body felt brilliantly keyed into the road surface, without getting light or floaty over undulations and crests.
This latest Type R is also preferable over the previous model for actually being adjustable and playful, rather than being resolutely front-led. A lift off the throttle will encourage the rear axle to take some attitude, and by turning in hard on the brakes you really can provoke the back end. Being able to play with the chassis balance like that makes the car enormously fun to drive.
The steering is very sharp, direct and natural in its weighting, but it’s only when the front tyres have given up their grasp of the road surface that you sense any meaningful feedback and connectivity. Thankfully, the front axle bites hard enough that you don’t find yourself trying to second-guess grip levels.
The +R mode is not configurable, so if you want the keener throttle response you’ll have to put up with the stiffer damper rate, too. On the smooth roads of the test route that didn’t cause any issues, but on the few rougher sections we did find – the sort of road surface we have to put up with in the UK – it felt rather uncompromisingly stiff. When we try the car in the UK very soon we’ll report back on how effective that mode is away from mainland Europe’s billiard table roads.
The drivetrain has always been the centre point of any Type R – until now. The engine still uses Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing system, but in conjunction with a turbocharger the switch over point has been dulled almost to a point of being imperceptible.
Honda chooses to make a great deal of noise about the car’s 7000rpm redline in an effort to persuade us that the switch to turbocharging has not compromised the high-revving nature of the celebrated Type R engines of old. In reality, with peak power arriving at 6500rpm, this new unit only feels modestly more vibrant and energetic at the top end than similar hot hatch power units from Renault and Seat.
The gearshift quality is good – direct and short of throw – and the limited-slip differential gets the power down very effectively. The diff also pulls the nose of the car tightly around the corner under power, which gives it masses of point-to-point pace.
The drivetrain now plays second fiddle to a truly sparkling chassis. It’s also worth noting that the driving position is much improved over the previous model. The seat is still an inch or two too high for our liking, but in all other respects the driving environment is very good indeed.
The new Civic Type R enters a fiendishly competitive class. The Renaultsport Megane 275 is our current class leader, while the Seat Leon Cupra Sub8 Ultimate is a very worthy challenger – particularly on the optional grippy Michelin Cup 2 rubber.
The Civic Type R is available in two specifications – standard and GT. The base price is £29,995, while GT adds £2300 to the cost and brings such luxuries and auto lights and wipers, dual zone climate control, a raft of driver assist safety systems and a more powerful stereo. Honda expects half of all buyers to opt for the GT model.