- Honda Civic Type R – 1:26.2
- Ford Focus RS – 1:26.9
- SEAT Leon SC Cupra 300 – 1:27.8
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Can our contenders cut the mustard on a trackday? Hot laps at Bedford Autodrome will reveal all.
First on the circuit is the Focus. It’s a punchy thing with impressive traction out of the hairpin and it’s keen to flick left-right-left through the Club Chicane. The surprise is that in corners with enough room for a sustained throttle, it power oversteers. Pulling through the second part of New Pif-Paf especially, the tail edges gently wide, kissing the kerbing on the outside and firing the Focus neatly out on a trajectory for the next clipping point. It’s an unusual sensation in a fast hatch and gives the RS a different demeanour to the other pair here.
Through the faster turns that complete the lap it can be guided in on exactly the chosen line, but if you’re abrupt with your input it can snap into oversteer. It’s also oddly reluctant to turn into the medium-speed corners, lacking the bite to change direction, as if its mass is running away with it, and the brakes start to feel the pressure at the end of the third flyer, but overall it’s a good performance that sets the benchmark at 1:26.9.
You sit much lower in the Civic, the shift is snappier (but throttle pick-up a little less instant) and the brakes bite right from the top of the pedal, inspiring confidence. The handling and traction don’t disappoint, either, the car changing direction with alacrity and pulling solidly out of the tightest turns.
As with the Focus, it’s possible to overload the front end with an ambitious entry speed or by being too early on the throttle, but the Civic feels like a more precise tool, telegraphing the level of grip through the steering with more detail. It’s easier to drive up to the limit, hit apexes more consistently and get into a satisfying flow with the car. While the Focus feels like a heavy car with some clever tricks up its sleeve, the Civic feels like a lighter car honed for the track. It’s shorter geared, so requires more gearshifts, but it comes as no surprise that it’s faster, nailing a 1:26.2 lap.
Right from the off, the Leon feels out of its depth. Pitch and roll are so pronounced compared with the others that you wonder if it really is in its Cupra setting. The growly engine certainly delivers but the differences between the Sub8 chassis, which we have praised in the past, and this standard one are stark.
The pitching and rolling seem to compromise grip, while the anti-lock activates at a much lower threshold than in the other cars here and there’s much more tyre squeal in the corners. While the Honda feels like a car that was designed for track use, the SEAT feels like it skipped that part of its development. Its fastest lap of 1.27.8 flatters the car; on the second lap the tyres felt overheated and grip was falling away so rapidly that there was no point in attempting a third.