Maverick Life, Motoring

Honda Civic Type R: Wolf in wolf’s clothing

Honda Civic Type R: Wolf in wolf’s clothing

Forget about maintaining a low profile in the latest Honda’s latest Civic Type R. With all those wings and spoilers, Honda’s hottest hatch looks more racing machine than road car. But for once, those add-ons aren’t just for show – they’re key to a hugely accomplished performance package. By DEON SCHOEMAN.

It would be tempting to dismiss the latest Honda Civic Type R as just another over-the-top superhatch. At first glance, it looks like one of those Tupperware-infected after-market specials that started life as something plain and simple, and ended up overdosing on automotive steroids.

But to judge this Honda so superficially would be doing the latest bearer of the iconic Type R badge a gross injustice. For once, every wing, spoiler, scoop, splitter and flare has been added not for show, but to further the cause of pure, undiluted performance.

Yes, the result is aesthetically outrageous: a huge, curved rear wing that looks like it’s been poached from a fighter plane; an aggressive, carbon fibre-finished front spoiler low enough to hoover the tarmac; and a series of wind-cheating aids – vortex generators, tabs, slats, strakes – that channel the slipstream over, under and around the car.

The result is a shape that not only looks aggressive, but achieves meaningful, stability-enhancing aerodynamics. It’s a case of form dictated by function, garnished by sleek colour-coding, bulging wheel arches for the big, black alloy wheels – and lots carbon fibre trim.

It’s hard to believe that the Type R is closely based on Honda’s latest Civic family hatchback. It looks too fast, too angry, too athletic.

And yet, it remains very much a four-door hatchback, with all the practical advantages that configuration promises: easy access to an unexpectedly roomy cabin for front and rear occupants; and a large tailgate that opens down to bumper level, revealing a sizeable 414-litre boot.

The interior continues the Type R’s extrovert theme. Sport seats with exaggerated bolsters, red-and-black Alcantara upholstery with contrasting stitching, alloy inlays and crimson trim strips create a, well, rather racy ambience.

The aluminium gear shift lever knob confirms that the Civic Type R eschews the all-too-user-friendly dual-clutch transmissions so often preferred by today’s performance machines, opting for a slick, short-throw manual gearbox instead. Old school? Yes, delightfully so!

But there’s plenty of tech, too. The thick-rimmed steering wheel frames a generous TFT display with virtual instruments and a scrollable information display. There’s also a full-colour touch screen in the centre console that offers intuitive control of the Honda’s infotainment system – including sound, climate, connectivity, Bluetooth and satnav.

It might sound garish and gimmicky, but in reality, the Type R cockpit is a driver-focussed place, with a control set that allows intuitive access to an extensive features list. And there’s a welcome robustness to the execution, too.

The Type R’s underpinnings confirm its superhatch status. The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo engine has essentially been carried over from the previous Type R, but there’s nothing wrong with its 228kW of max muscle, and 450Nm of shove.

It’s not in the league of the drivetrains deployed by the likes of Audi’s RS3 Sportback (293kW) and the Mercedes-AMG A45 (280kW). But then, those behemoths are costlier, and benefit from the grip of all-wheel drive, while the Type R makes do with front-wheel drive only.

Indeed, the Type R is the most powerful contender in the front-wheel drive superhatch club, and harnessing all those horses is quite a feat. You’d expect masses of torque steer under acceleration and a tendency towards terminal understeer in corners – but as it turns out, the Honda is a brilliant handler.

I can’t think of another front-wheel drive muscle car that turns in under power with such crisp assurance as the Type R. The combination of a trick dual-axis front suspension, a helical limited-slip differential and a precisely calibrated electric power steering system makes for tidy, confidence-inspiring handling, even when tackling mountain pass corners with intent.

But there’s more to the Type R’s assertive demeanour and exceptional traction. The adaptive suspension keeps the rubber on the road, even on undulating surfaces, while an intelligent electronic stability control system adds a further helping hand.

There are three driving modes, with Comfort offering a softer, smoother, less frenzied drive. Sport is the default, and brings a tauter, more responsive, and more exciting driving experience. The +R setting takes that experience a step further, but still doesn’t turn the Type R into a hooligan machine.

The new Civic Type R is fast – and not just fast in a straight line. It’s rapid regardless of conditions, and a lot more comfortable than you’d expect. That adaptive damping mentioned earlier is as much about soaking up dips and bumps as it is about containing body roll, and it allows a ride that’s firm without becoming jarring.

Yes, the Honda is at its most fluid, most composed when driven on smooth roads with vigour, but it never feels out of sorts when faced with the stop-start of a peak-hour commute. It’s tractable enough not to champ at the bit in urban traffic, but responds with glee when space and conditions allow a quick burst of throttle.

That gearbox is a joy to use, snicking through the gates with the precision of a Swiss watch, while the electronics even blip the throttle on downshifts. Personally, I prefer heeling-and-toeing myself, but the effect is the same: seamless, rapid-fire cog swaps.

Type R traditionalists might rue the demise of the high-revving, normally aspirated screamers that used to power older-generation bearers of the badge. But the turbo engine still spins with a free intensity, while adding real, in-the-gut response at low speeds. There’s every reason to use the gearbox to the full, even if lag is effectively absent.

The sound from a trio of exhausts (yes, three: two gutter-sized pipes partnering a slightly smaller centre tube) is hoarse and resonant without becoming too intrusive. That unusual exhaust layout is meant to benefit the sonic character, while achieving efficient flow rates, too.

Bury the alloy accelerator pedal against the firewall, and the Civic Type R shows loads of get up and go. There’s no launch control, but the balance between clutch and throttle is so easily modulated, and the feedback so emphatic, that getting off the mark cleanly is hardly a challenge.

Honda’s claim of a sub-6sec zero-to-100km/h dash is easily vindicated in practice, while there’s no reason to doubt the 270km/h-plus top speed – although, quite frankly, it’s a purely academic figure, even in the context of a race track, and especially on public roads.

More important, the Type R is immensely satisfying to drive: all day, every day. It’s a talented track machine (it posted a front-wheel drive lap record at the notorious Nürburgring circuit), but it’s equally enthralling on twisty country roads, or through challenging mountain passes.

For all its extrovert bravado, this Honda never feels uncompromising when confronted with real-world driving conditions. In the superhatch world, no other two-wheel drive contender gets that balance so right – while also adding comfort and utility to the formula.

Which leaves those fast-and-furious aesthetics, and a price tag south of R600k, as the only real downsides of an otherwise utterly convincing performance hatch package.

For similar money, you can buy a heavier, less muscular VW Golf R with all-wheel drive and a more understated, even upmarket presence. But will it be as entertaining? I don’t think so. DM


A dyed-in-the-wool driving machine with all-rounder sensibilities


That shout-out-loud styling attracts wannabe racers at every traffic light


Honda Civic Type R
Engine In-line four cylinder, 1,996cc, turbo
Power 228kW @ 6,500rpm
Torque 400Nm @ 2,500 – 4,500rpm
Power-to-weight ratio 168.1 kW/ton
Gearbox Six-speed manual, FWD
Wheels/tyres 20-inch alloy, 245/30 R20 tyres
0-100 km/h 5.8sec
Top speed 272km/h
Fuel tank capacity 47 litres
Fuel consumption (claimed/tested) 8.4 / 10.7 litres/100km
Operating range (claimed/tested) 560 / 440km
CO2 emissions 200 g/km
Retail price/as tested R627,900

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