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Honda Civic Type R

Click to view picture gallery“Cards on the table Im a huge fan
  of Honda
s Red H badge; this is the
  signifier that it
s one of  Hondas high-
  performance Type R models...


THE MOMENT I DROVE MY FIRST EVER Type R (an Integra) back in 1999, I was instantly besotted with its intoxicatingly rev-happy VTEC powerplant and ultra-sharp front-wheel drive handling..."

Since that day I've driven dozens of Type Rs, and every one has always been utterly unlike any other car. But it's been fully five years since there was an 'R' in Honda's line-up. That's precisely because of the rev-happy nature of those engines they simply haven't been able to keep up with modern emissions standards.

Everyone else now uses a turbocharger to combine big power with low CO2 outputs, a route that Honda has point blank always refused to follow. Until now, that is…

Despite Honda saying it would 'never' use a turbo on its petrol engines, the all-new Civic Type R has… Yup, a turbocharger. There was no question that the new Type R needed one.

“Despite Honda saying
it would ‘never’ use a
turbo on its petrol
engines, the all-new
Type R has… Yup, a turbocharger — and it totally trumps the opposition, boasting an output of 306bhp...
It's not only for Euro 6 emissions reasons, either. The old CTR was totally crucified in the performance stakes by its lack of a turbo while rivals rocketed away to 250bhp and beyond, the old Civic was forced to remain below 200bhp.

In typical Honda fashion they've taken turbo technology something new for the company, in petrol engines at least and instantly made it a class-leader. In fact the CTR (Civic Type R) totally trumps the opposition, boasting an output of 306bhp.

That's the highest amount of power ever put through the front wheels of any production car. And it's enough for a 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds, which is sensationally good for a front-wheel drive car that's not especially light (1,382kg).

Here's the big question that Type R fans will be desperate to know the answer to, though: does this engine still have the famous Honda VTEC 'rush', where the engine switches character and snaps into hyperactive mode at high revs? Actually, no: VTEC is still there, but you'd really hardly notice.

In contrast to the power rush you used to get when reaching the upper rev range, in the new car the increase in valve lift is delivered at low revs. That's because the turbo delivers most of its punch at high revs, where the valve lift is lower and the timing overlap greater.

So no sudden rush of power; it's far more sedate and seamless now. And the redline of 7,000rpm high for a turbo engine is actually very low by Honda's VTEC standards.

The turbo itself is pretty small, and has an electric rather than a mechanical wastegate, so inertia and lag are very slight. The new CTR is much more comfortable cruising at low revs, and stamping the accelerator produces a near-instant rush of torque. That said, there is, however, a slight delay for the full flow to come forwards and this lack of instant throttle response may be the one thing that Honda fans will rue. As for the sound quality, it's hardly searingly sharp; more boomy and loud.

However, the way the power arrives makes it far more usable, in sharp contrast to the oh-so-peaky delivery of Type RS of old. It's most obvious on the track. (Honda let me loose on the Slovakia Ring, on which the Civic is no stranger: it's been performing in WTCC here since 2013).

“With so much power
going through the front wheels, is the handling a
complete handful?
Not at all.
In fact, what Honda has done is nothing short
of sensational...
In low-speed corners, where before you'd need to change down to second gear to get yourself into the engine's sweet zone, you can now leave the CTR in third gear at 3,000rpm and just let the wave of torque carry you away.

Not that changing gear is a chore far from it. Shifting the six-speed manual gearbox is, as you'd expect in a Type R, a delight. It's light in action, mechanical in feel and has an ultra-quick throw (for the record, just 40mm).

So with so much power going through the front wheels, is the handling a complete handful? Not at all. In fact, what Honda has done is nothing short of sensational. It's taken a leaf out of the Ford Focus RS book by using a 'Dual Axis Strut' up front very similar to Ford's Revo Knuckle. Using this system reduces torque steer by a claimed 55%. It's not completely gone; you can feel a slight tug on light lock on full throttle but it's very far from being a handful.

There's also a limited-slip diff that reputedly reduces the Type R's Nürburgring lap time by five seconds. And what is that time? Well, the Type R lapped the Nordschleife in just 7 min 50.63 seconds currently the record for a front-drive road car.

Placing the car exactly where you want it to be on bumpy roads is sometimes a little tricky because of the very direct steering and the firm suspension settings. But there's no doubting the sheer grip of its 235/35 19-inch Continentals (specially developed for this car, using a new compound). On the evidence of our test, though, wear seems quite high.

Stability is definitely helped at high speed by the plethora of aero parts on this car. Hidden away underneath is a virtually completely flat floor. Very much on show above-ground is a whole host of aero wings and ducts, such as the massive rear spoiler and sculpted front wheelarches. All looking very dramatic.

There's one area where stability isn't 100%, and that's the braking. When hoofing the middle pedal very hard on the track, the car doesn't feel entirely settled; even running in a dead straight line, the rear end feels light and twitchy. However, there's no denying the extreme efficiency of the brakes in hauling the Civic up in very short shrift.

“The market for powerful
hot hatches is
returning to health after
a big dip following the
2008 banking crash.
There’s no doubt that the
Civic Type R will be a
big player in this market,
but for now Honda is
restricting UK sales
to just 1,500 a year so it
will remain exclusive...
In the arena the Type R is muscling into, the market for powerful hot hatches is returning to health after a big dip following the 2008 banking crash. There's no doubt that the Civic Type R will be a big player in this market, but for now Honda is restricting UK sales to just 1,500 a year, so it will remain exclusive.

The 168mph CTR's main rival is the Renault Mégane Trophy and, to a lesser extent, the Vauxhall Astra VXR; and very definitely the forthcoming Ford Focus RS. But the elephant in the room has to be the VW Golf R, which Honda doesn't count as a rival because it's got four-wheel drive. But the Golf R has the same power output, costs the same, and yet is much quicker off the line: 0-62mph takes just 4.9 seconds.

The CTR's price (£29,995) is pretty academic, as 85% of buyers will use finance. To wit, Honda is offering a PCP of just £299 per month, albeit after you've handed over a hefty 30% deposit.

About half of all buyers will opt for the £2,300 GT pack, which adds extra safety warning systems, dual-zone climate control, auto wipes and lights, parking sensors and SatNav. You can choose between five colours, by the way: white, red, blue, black and grey.

So is the Type R good enough to triumph in the hot hatch battle? It's certainly bustled in right at the very top of the game. Perhaps hardened worshippers at the temple of VTEC may regret the presence of a turbocharger, but for mainstream hot hatch buyers, the Type R is absolutely right on the money.
Chris Rees

Honda Civic Type R | £29,995
Maximum speed: 168mph | 0-62mph: 5.7 seconds | Test Average: 38.7mpg
Power: 305bhp | Torque: 295lb ft | CO2 170g/km