Hitting the R spot with the all-new Honda Civic Type R
Eight days after setting a new world record at Nürburgring, the new Honda Civic Type R was launched on local asphalt.
When it came to learning to drive, I arrived later than most to the party.
Right into my late twenties, I was anxiety-ridden at the very thought of holding a steering wheel, never mind ever owning a car. Instead, I smoked weed, consumed whisky, and, rather than coming to grips with kilowatts and torque, I fell into the clutches of hardcore Class A drugs. My main goal in life was scoring my fix.
In the year I got clean, in other words, the year I became an adult, I soon realised that I needed a car. So I gathered my hard-earned waitressing tips – I was basically unemployable – and saved up to buy an olive green Honda Ballade. You remember the one with those winking-eye front lights? I taught myself to drive in a parking lot.
After my ride got stolen, I bought another Ballade – a later model moon-blue sedan – and so my love for the Japanese brand was entrenched.
If you’d told me back then that I’d one day be a motoring journo, test-driving and reviewing hundreds of new cars, I’d have said, “You’re smoking rocks” – something I’d only recently given up. But sometimes that’s how life unfolds.
So whenever I’m invited to a Honda launch, I get a flashback of learner licence memories and an extra flutter to the heart. But last week, as I got behind the wheel of the all-new Honda Civic Type R hot hatch racer, it was more like a thunderous bolt surged through my body.
Anyone who knows anything about cars and speed will probably be aware that Honda’s Type R badge is synonymous with racing. Since 1964, when the brand first entered the world of Formula One, it’s been reserved for Honda’s hottest performance models. Just a year later, in 1965, the Type R RA272 won the Formula One Mexican Grand Prix – and so the crimson logo badge was born.
It’s been seen on the Integras and the NSX – even the odd Accord has been honoured with it. And then, of course, there’s the legendary Civic Type R which has a 30-year race history.
In 1997, the first generation Civic Type R, called the EK9, was introduced. Over the next three decades – because of its legendary status as a front-wheel, manual-gear racer – it sold up a storm globally.
In 2015, a turbocharged engine was introduced into the fourth generation FK2. And now, all hail the sixth generation Civic Type R, FL5. Not only has it won numerous awards since its global launch last year, including Top Gear’s 2022 Car of the Year, Honda’s new ruffian managed to post a record-breaking time at Nürburgring a few weeks ago to be crowned the fastest front-wheel, front-engine production car in the world right now – a mantle that Renault’s Mégane RS Trophy-R has claimed since 2019.
When it comes to its competition, while some might think Golf R, and even BMW M3, the Civic Type R is pretty peerless, although there’s always the Hyundai i30N and the Subaru WRX, but then again, that one is an all-wheel drive.
The big news is that the new Civic is more powerful, more tech-savvy, much safer, and much louder than ever before.
It’s underpinned by a 4-cylinder 2.0 litre VTEC turbocharged engine. (By the way, VTEC stands for Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control, a system that changes the timing of the valves to boost performance.) Output, torque, power and overall response have all been improved by a redesigned turbocharger, increased air intake flow rate and a new, more efficient exhaust system.
The new turbo engine, up by 7Kw and 20 Nm compared with the old one, now produces 235kW at 6,500 r/min and 420 Nm of peak torque between 2,600 r/min and 4,000 r/min.
While past generations have definitely been more affordable, this one – with its steep price tag – is definitely going to land in the hands of the moneyed purists. (Honda SA has just 60 available, and half have already been accounted for.)
On launch, we got to take the record-breaking babe on a number of twisty scenic passes – putting its chassis, power, steering and short-shift 6-speed manual gearbox to the test. Finally, we landed up doing hot laps on Anton Rupert’s private track in Franschhoek.
I could wax lyrical about its ferocious grille, its more efficient intercooler, its redesigned fender, improved torsional rigidity, new chassis tech and triple tailpipe exhaust, but I’d really like to talk about its seats. Deep red in colour, they’re heavily bolstered with super-soft suede upholstery that literally hugs you as you drive.
I might just have found my most favourite driver’s seat ever, and in my 12-year motoring career, I promise you, my derrière has felt plenty.
While the Civic Type R is a car that’s designed for pure driver’s pleasure, it’s also a damn comfortable one to kick back and cruise in. There are four drive modes: Comfort, Sport, R+, and Individual, which alter the characteristics of the engine, steering, suspension and even the engine sound.
What I really love is that Honda has stuck to its guns, and since the racer Civic’s inception, the company has kept to its Type R manual, front-wheel drive winning legacy.
After a few rounds on the track in this Japanese masterpiece, heart pumping, eyes shining, palms sweating, as I went for one last round, I shouted out to no one in particular, “It’s better than sex!”
And that’s when my foot did its own thing and the active exhaust valve opened to emit a roar that hit just the right spot.
Honda Civic Type R – R979,000 DM