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Click to view picture gallery“Honda’s all-new Civic
  Type R is a far more
  sophisticated package
  than any previous
  Type R. It still has a
  fantastic free-revving
  engine, only now the
  whole car is even
  better to live with...”

FROM 1 MARCH, the latest generation of Honda Civic Type R models — the R and R GT — hit the streets of Britain.
Nicely in time for the new
'07 registration plate peak sales month.

According to Honda's pre-launch PR material, over 500 units have already been ordered — that's around 10 per cent of Honda's UK annual sales target for the Swindon built 'flier'. Of these initial orders 45 per cent are from previous Type R owners.

The last generation Civic Type R was an out and out 'point and squirt' road racer and 35,000 were sold in its five-year life cycle — far in excess of the 1,500 units a year Honda UK expected to sell. The Type R became a legend in the 'hot hatch' market sector and, at the time,
a benchmark model for other manufacturers to follow.

When the radically styled all-new Honda Civic range of three- and five-door hatchbacks was launched a year ago, the hot question among the media was 'when will the new Type R be along?'. The same happened again more recently when the three door 'Sports' Civic Type S went on sale, with potential customers and the motoring press all eager to see and try the 'Racing' Type R. Such is the reputation of past Honda 'hot hatchbacks'.

Honda is very aware that the 'hot hatch market' has changed considerably over the last few years, with customers now looking for practicality as well as thrills. The market has grown up, and to intro-duce another 'point and squirt', stripped-out lightweight Civic would not have the broad appeal needed for a new Type R to become a real sales and financial success. To appeal to a more sophisticated and well-off buying audience these days, mass produced cars — even
high-performance ones — have to be better equipped, safer and with better handling and more refinement.

Feedback to Honda from Type R enthusiasts showed the desire for a car that was 'better to live with'; 'not so raw, not so point-and-squirt' and 'a car that could be used every day, not just for the occasional thrash'.

Honda's response to this feedback was an engineering brief stating that, for the new Type R, more horsepower was not the answer. The mission statement was how to deliver the power with more refinement as well as providing a better equipped car with improved levels of usability.

Whilst the size of the C-sector in the UK's new car market is falling as customers downsize to the new generation 'superminis', hot hatch sales within the sector are, according to Honda, growing. This week, Honda said they expected to sell between five and six thousand Type Rs per year in the UK. Traditionally the UK is the largest market in Europe for the Type R and because it is produced in Britain more can be built if demand dictates it.

This year Honda expects to sell over 36,000 Civics of all types in the UK. Around one third of those sales will be for the sporty Type S
and Type R three-door models. Since the launch a year ago of the aggressively-styled Civic, the average age of traditional owners
has dropped by 10 years and now stands at 49 years of age. Honda had planned to sell 25,000 new Civics in the first year of UK sales — their actual achievement was 35,000 registrations!

Honda says the profile of the Type R customer is in the 25 to 40 age group with an income of 40K plus, predominately male with a management or professional occupation, double or single income with no children, enjoys driving, is status brand conscious and wants a combination sporting car that offers style, comfort and performance.

Prices for the R and R GT are 17,600 and 18,600, respectively. Honda forecasts that 20 per cent of customers will opt for the Type R, 60 per cent will order the Type R GT while a further 20 per cent will take the GT variant with the extra-cost SatNav and Bluetooth hands-free telephone system that pushes the top price of a fully-spec'd model to 20,375. Optional larger 19-inch alloy wheels, a space saver-spare wheel instead of the standard-fit tyre repair kit, an improved CD changer, iPod adaptor and rear parking sensors will push the final price even higher.

Wearing the renowned 'Red H' badge along with Type R and R GT badging sets this model apart from other sporty looking Civic three-door models. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels complete the understated 'premium' exterior look. The rear spoiler has not changed and still obliterates the driver's rear view out of the car. Not good if it is the
Bill on your tail!

Inside the Type R the standard sporty theme is enhanced with an aluminium footrest, drilled aluminium sports pedals, Type R sill plates, alloy gear knob with red stitched leather boot, leather multi-function steering wheel and sports seats. The car has vehicle stability assist, dual front and side airbags and a CAT 1 alarm system.

Added specification for the Type R GT includes dual curtain airbags, cruise control, power/folding door mirrors, automatic headlights, front fog lights, dual-zone climate control and rain-sensing wipers. Both models have a facia which house a mass of controls — all well placed, but you do need time to get used to their positioning and complexity. All the other usual Civic three-door views apply: cramped rear seats and poor rear and rear/side visibility. There is a good-sized boot and split folding rear seats so it is a versatile vehicle and, generally, it feels well-built and serviceable although not of premium quality.

The heart of this car is its engine and transmission. This latest front-wheel drive Civic Type R is now up against even more opposition — the market has moved on and today the Ford Focus ST2, Vauxhall Astra VXR and Volkswagen Golf GTi plus others all offer as much, if not more, in the way of power.

They all certainly offer more in the way of engine torque than the
Type R, which musters a lowly 142lb ft at 5,600rpm. True, Honda has widened the torque band and 90 per cent of the 'grunt' is available from around 2,500rpm. But it is still only 142lb ft when most of the competitors offer well over 200lb ft. The Type R's 2.0-litre, naturally-aspirated petrol DOHC engine with i-VTEC variable valve timing churns out 198bhp at 7,800rpm.

The engine is still a gem: free and high-revving to over 8,000rpm; willing and eager with a terrific howl under acceleration. But to get the best out of it you need to keep the engine revving, with liberal use of the six-speed manual transmission. For the record, the new car covers the 0-62mph sprint in 6.6 seconds. It also runs to 146mph and over the course of my road test it returned 31.9mpg.

Thankfully the six-speed close ratio gearbox comes with a precise, silky-smooth change action. However without enough torque the brilliant engine struggles with the increased weight of the new generation Civic — all weight added by the improvements in vehicle refinement, specification and safety requirements. Ironically, exactly the features previous Civic Type R owners asked for.

It is more refined and more responsive and at slower speeds and in heavy traffic — the conditions we encounter more and more with today's motoring — the new Type R scores heavily over its pre-decessor. On the motorway or on a long journey I would assume that the Type R might be tiring to drive or travel in because of noise intrusion and the very firm suspension.

The steering is a big improvement over the old car and, indeed, over the other new Civic models. While it does not offer loads of 'feel' it is accurate, quick in response and predictable. The braking is excellent, too, with good 'feedback' through the pedal. The handling is pre-dictable with plenty of grip, but poorer road surfaces unsettle the handling and do nothing to help the very firm ride. The rear torsion beam axle is not as sophisticated or as efficient as a more costly independent rear system and lets the car down for overall balanced handling control.

There is no doubt that this generation of Honda Civic Type R is, as an overall package, much better to live with. It has come of age, is more sophisticated and offers more creature comforts. Honda should be pleased because these characteristics will be appreciated by a wider buying audience.

Overall this latest Type R is a more sophisticated package than any previous Type R model, has a fantastic free-revving engine, slick trans-mission and is well priced over rivals. Some potential buyers will not be so happy with the lack of engine torque and the subsequent need for lots of gear changing. The torsion beam rear suspension is not sophist-icated enough to cope with the extra performance, and the rear spoiler and rear/side body shape limits visibility.

As a 'Racing' Type R it misses out on responsiveness again due to the low level of torque. Honda could lose one or two boy (or girl!) racers hooked on the old 'point and squirt' habits. But for the majority of
'hot-hatch' drivers, the new Type R is now suitably in line with real-life motoring requirements. And that's got to be a good thing. — DM

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Honda Civic Type R GT | 18,600
Maximum speed: 146mph | 0-62mph: 6.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 31.9mpg | Power: 198bhp | Torque: 142lb ft

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