If there is a single car on sale today that actively discourages ownership due to the way it looks, it’s probably the Honda Civic Type R. And those who are put off by the spaceship styling are missing out, because it’s quite simply the finest hot hatchback to come to market since the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S and Renault Sport Mégane R26.R.
The astonishing thing is that for the driver, and indeed passengers, it’s nearly without compromise. The Golf and Mégane were intense. No back seats, trackday-spec rubber, reduced sound deadening, caged and fitted with plastic windows in the case of the Renault, but the Civic has everything – a big boot, spacious rear seats, and a stunning primary and secondary ride, despite the 30-section tyres that we’ll come back to later.
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In short, the Civic Type R doesn’t feel like a hot hatchback, but a superbly engineered sports car that just happens to be front-wheel drive. As a leader of front-drive performance car development in the ’90s with models such as the DC2 Integra Type R and Prelude, it’s remarkably fitting that Honda fill this niche in 2019.
Don’t lament the turbocharged engine, bloated proportions or flaky interior if you’re a VTEC diehard either, just enjoy the Type R’s uncanny ability to constantly surprise, delight and amaze.
Honda Civic Type R: in detail
- Performance and 0-62mph time > The Civic takes its 2-litre engine from its FK2 predecessor, and in a similar state of tune. Likewise, it gets the same excellent gearshift, but the new body is longer, wider and lower, as well as being lighter.
- Engine and gearbox > Some rivals offer more power, but the Civic’s chassis gives it great traction for strong acceleration. Scoff at that body kit too, but it’s there for stability at the sports car-like 169mph top speed.
- Ride and Handling > Sitting on more appropriate foundations for a hot hatch than its predecessor, the new Civic Type R makes good use of its stiffer, lower chassis and multi-link rear suspension.
- MPG and running costs > The new WLTP 33.2mpg combined figure is achievable in normal driving, but like any turbo car the Civic can be thirsty when pushed.
- Interior and tech > Longer, wider and of much better quality, the new Type R benefits from the same ergonomic and technological upgrades as the standard Civic
- Design > Unlikely to be lost in a car park, the Civic Type R is one of those mad designs that either will or won’t work for you
Prices, specs and rivals
Starting at £31,550 for the well-equipped entry-level model, all the Type R’s performance paraphernalia comes standard including 20-inch wheels, Alcantara bucket seats, LED headlights and that arresting body kit.
Drop another £2000 on the GT pack and you’ll get dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, satnav and blind spot monitoring – desirable, but not essential additions in other words. As with many Japanese cars, the options list is short, with only various exterior carbonfibre components threatening to rid you of yet more hard-earned cash at the dealer.
Closing in on £34k might sound like a lot of money, and indeed it’s priced higher than cars such as the i30 N Performance and Golf GTI, but the Honda is a far more complete and capable performance car, with far more speed and sophistication where it counts.
The Renault Mégane RS Trophy is currently the most closely matched in terms of power, performance and capability. At £31,835 (a regular Renault Sport Mégane is available from £27,835), it’s priced at the same point as the standard Civic, but fit essential options such as the Recaro buckets and a reversing camera, and it quickly exceeds the GT in terms of pricing. Its 297bhp power figure is also down on the Civic, and it lacks adaptive dampers to quell the Renault’s incredibly firm ride.
The Volkswagen Golf R is a more polished and introverted hot hatch, but don’t mistake those dowdy looks for a lack of potency, despite WLTP emissions regulations forcing both a power drop from 306bhp to 296bhp and the discontinuation of the manual gearbox option. At £36,150 in five-door form it's quite a bit more to buy, although the VW’s options list can quickly raise that number. The VW group’s other offerings, in the form of the SEAT Leon Cupra and Audi S3 Sportback, could also be considered at £29,785 and £37,020 respectively.