Honda Civic Type R review (2015-2017) - the hottest front wheel drive hot hatch? - Ride and handling
Honda's new super-hatch outguns rivals on paper, but edgy +R damping means UK drivers can't exploit its most extreme settings
As before, the Type R has the relative handicap of a twist beam rear axle against the more sophisticated multi-link set ups of certain rivals. Then again, that’s not something that has ever held back the Renaultsport Megane.
This time around Honda has adopted both dual axis front strut suspension and adaptive damping to combat the effects of all that horsepower deployed through the front wheels, and hopefully, to make this new car a more sophisticated machine than its predecessor.
Firm, uncompromising damping and fast steering immediately set the tone for a driving experience clearly defined away from that of rivals such as the VW Golf R. The Type R deals with ridges and potholes in a brisk manner, but there’s fine wheel control and it’s rarely uncomfortable. Even on a motorway journey the quality of the damping means big distances can be covered with ease.
The Type R’s steering is very fast immediately off-centre, but it’s well weighted and accurate. You soon learn to slow down your inputs, particularly at high speed, where the Civic requires just a gentle nudge to alter its course. In these moments the car feels superb, with excellent stability and absolute precision. Outright grip levels on bespoke 19-inch Continental tyres are predictably very high, and although there’s a slight shimmy through the wheel under hard acceleration, torque steer is largely kept to a minimum.
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It’s when the unexpected happens that the Type R undermines your confidence. A sudden bump mid-corner when pushing on can upset the rear axle: it never leads to anything dramatic, and there’s the ESP watching over you in any case, but it’s enough to grab your attention. The same goes for the steering assistance, which occasionally feels false over a sudden crest or slick surface.
The +R mode stiffens the suspension by some 30 per cent, while also slackening the ESP program. Unfortunately, it’s far too harsh for most public highways, leading to almost blurred vision on a typically poor B-road. While it may be appropriate for use on a smooth, modern racing circuit, it still seems like a missed opportunity to offer two realistic settings.
Where the +R mode does work, of course, is on circuit and on the evidence of the Civic Type R’s extraordinary 7min 50secs Nurburgring time this is a car that thrives on track. The extra damping stiffness equates to more precision, better agility and tauter control on circuit, while the mildly sharper throttle response is also welcome – although the Type R is still far short of the best in class in this respect.
Thanks to the direct, slack-free steering and the chassis’ flat-bodied stance in corners the Type R responds with much of the immediacy and eagerness of a competition car. It finds very strong grip, too, although in comparison to the Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy and Seat Leon Cupra Ultimate – both of which come fitted with the super sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 trackday tyre – it does lack a little mid-corner bite across the front axle. The brakes return good bite and they resist fade well, but the car does tend to weave around under very heavy braking.
The brakes resist fade well, and the pedal itself feels very good. However the spacing between the brake and throttle pedal is vast. It requires a very deliberate rotation of the ankle to perform a heel and toe downshift. A slightly wider or reshaped throttle pedal could easily solve this.
On track there’s plenty of front end bite, while the brakes cope with the abuse on track. The ABS is also very well judged. As with even the best front-wheel drive cars on track, too aggressive on turn in and the front will push into understeer. There’s enough feedback from the Type-R though, that it’s easy to balance the car right on the limit of its grip. The Civic proves to be a hugely enjoyable car to chase down lap times in. Nailing your line and goading yourself to brake later becomes addictive in this hot Honda.
You could always swap the Civic’s standard Continental SportContact 6 tyres for a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s – so that it runs the same rubber as every other hot hatch that’s held the title of fastest front-wheel drive car around the Nurburgring recently. If you do this, expect some of the Civic’s day-to-day civility to be lost. The ride isn’t improved and the Civic be more likely to seek out cambers and imperfections in the road. These small costs are the price you have to pay for such incredible grip and frankly obscene cornering speeds. Any delicacy the Type R may have possessed has been replaced by brutal performance.
Amazingly, despite still having such an unforgiving ride, the R mode is more useable on the road. The more extreme and ruthless attitude that the new tyres have given the Civic helps you make the most of the sharper throttle response and stiffer dampers. You do, still, find roads that are too bumpy for the R mode, but you become less keen to switch it off.
We haven’t taken the Type R on circuit, yet. We expect to see the Civic getting closer to the times we set with the SEAT Leon Cupra Sub8 Ultimate and the Renault Sport Megane Trophy R.
The Civic has been designed to succeed on track. But its blistering Nurburgring time of 7min 50.6sec, is no longer the quickest of any front wheel drive car. The 306 bhp VW Golf GTI Clubsport S now hold that title after it completed a lap of the Nordschleife in just 7min 49.21sec.