As readers of Fitzroy Motor will be aware, the evocative phrase “Race Car For The Road” is a particular favourite of auto manufacturer marketing departments. And no class of consumer vehicle sees as much warfare over the right to be the definitive example of that as hot hatchbacks. An archetypal hot hatch is the ultimate everyday performance car, able to handle Silverstone’s Copse as well as Folkestone’s shops. And while auto mags never tire of declaring a new king of hot hatches, there’s one car which has always had a rightful, not to mention unnervingly consistent, claim to the throne: the Civic Type R.
Standing inside the press tent of the review event, I was surprised to see the scrum amongst men of a respectable age to get behind the wheel of a car clearly styled for boy racers. As was pointed out at launch, the Civic Type R is, to use the industry parlance, proper lary. In white it’s palatable; however the GT version I tested in gunship grey with black trim looks like the frenetic underblanket doodlings of a schoolboy, or the last will and testament of a vindictive games console designer. Honda may as well supply you with a tight spandex costume and a button which transforms the Type R into a stompy crime-fighting robot. It has an absurd wing, an aggressively pinched nose, and sills upon swooshes upon slashes. Oh, grow up, you tut as you squeeze yourself in – with a grin.
On the road, I could see immediately why the bootcut jean and floral shirt brigade flock to this car. It’s unapologetically focussed on the driving experience, to the exclusion of almost everything else except the basic practicality which redeems the hot hatch. We’ll get that out of the way first – three passengers, loads of luggage space, five doors, good stuff. Then the better stuff. The Type R’s gearbox feels notchy, close-set and precise, and you can dance across the well-spaced pedals with ease. The bucket seats are a properly bolstered affair, and the car manages to convey a kind of keen excitement with every surge of power you wring from the 316 bhp, 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s unashamed old-school fun in modern garb.
The Type R holds the road extremely well at speed, feeling solid and secure, with well-modulated steering and suspension feel in all of its driving modes (although I spent most of my time in Sport rather than the track-focussed R+, which is just too stiff and angular for regular use). Fancy new multi-link rear suspension and a lower centre of gravity compared to the last iteration combine to give you the confidence to throw the car down B-roads with abandon and with a pleasing amount of tyre squeal. The car even has some legitimate racing street-cred; it was at one point the fastest front-wheel production car around the Nordschliefe. It feels like it too.
What was that about compromises? Well, just like the exterior design, opinions will differ about the interior. It’s like sitting inside a Sega Megadrive. Everything is a bit spiky and mildly low budget – although if you’re buying a Type R then I suspect you’d feel mugged off with something fancier. I didn’t bother testing the radio or trying to work with the rather creaky navigation system. Why? Those are just not elements in this car which the potential buyer will prioritise. I’m a power ranger – so just give me that turbo goodness in the power band, with a kick of VTEC variable valve timing.
Yes, it’s a little racer for the road, this one. And it lives up to the hype. But don’t forget that under all that attitude is a calculated piece of very fine Japanese engineering. That’s what I find most amusing about the Type R – it’s the hooligan which has done its homework.