‘It looks like a racing car.” So declared my neighbours’ four-year-old when he spotted our Civic Type R test car, and he wasn’t wrong. Honda have declared the Type R a “race car for the road” and everything about it seems designed to stay true to that mantra.
From all angles the Civic screams about its performance chops. Most eye-catching is the enormous wing slung out the back but everywhere you look there’s some piece of aerodynamic addendum.
The front is a riot of sharp slanting lines diving around the deep intake. The massively swollen wings cut a peculiar line, curving up from the front to then dive almost vertically down, and concealing plastic venting of dubious practicality. At the rear are two tiny plastic ledges which particularly annoyed me. I’m sure they probably serve some aerodynamic purpose but they look like they’ve been stuck on at random.
Overall, it looks like it’s trying a bit too hard, especially faced with the subtlety of rivals such as the Golf R and Leon Cupra. Still, it’s bound to appeal to buyers who want to shout about their car’s ability rather than hide its light under a bushel and it hasn’t been done half-heartedly.
So, I’m not a huge fan of the looks but get past that and the equally over-the-top interior and there’s a lot to like about this car.
Some of the secondary features of the cabin are a bit of a muddle but the bit that really matters – the driving position – is superb. The deep bucket seats hug you securely and the steering wheel and gearstick are aligned perfectly so your hand falls naturally from the wheel to the stubby alloy gearknob. As soon as you slip behind the wheel you feel fully engaged with the car.
The pedal weight and feel are excellent and work perfectly with the gearbox, which is a thing of beauty. The six-speed manual is short, sharp and precise. It matches the nature of the car perfectly and is an excellent response to the dual-clutch semi-auto systems seen in many rivals.
Connected to this wonderful set up is, of course, the engine. This is the first turbo petrol unit Honda have produced and it raised the ire of many Type R purists who reckon it should be N/A or no way. Whatever their views, emissions and economy pressures have seen Honda produce an all-new 2.0-litre turbocharged VTEC lump.
Producing 306bhp and 295lb/ft, it’s the most powerful and fastest Civic Type R Honda has ever built. Zero to 62mph is gone in 5.7 seconds and, if you can find somewhere to do it, the Civic will hit 167mph. On paper it sounds impressive and on the road it’s even better. There’s a bit of lag at low revs, but once you get above 3,000rpm it flies. There is ferocious urge in every gear right up to the 7,000rpm red line and it begs you to exploit every drop of its power.
Bearing in mind that all that power is going to just the front wheels, the way the Civic behaves on the road is fantastic. Honda’s engineers spent a long time stiffening the Type R’s chassis and body over the standard model and it makes for a car that feels supremely planted on the road, no matter how hard you push it. The steering is beautifully weighted, quick and accurate. There are adaptive dampers, a raft of clever electronics and limited slip differential to help muster all that power in twisty sections of road and, combined, these make for phenomenal confidence-inspiring grip.
The Civic also features R+ mode, which alters the throttle response, steering and suspension settings for an even racier feel. The sharper throttle map and steering are welcome but the suspension becomes just too firm and fidgety, robbing the car of some of its suppleness over our lumpy, pock-marked A and B roads.
On a more boring note, despite the over-the-top looks and performance this is still a very practical five-door hatch. There’s a good amount of space for rear passengers and the boot is among the largest in its class. It also has a reasonable amount of equipment, although you have to cough up the extra £2,200 for the GT spec if you want luxuries such as sat nav, auto lights and wipers, parking sensors and the Driver Assistance safety system.
All-in-all the Civic Type R has an awful lot to recommend it. Yes, the engine drones irritatingly when you’re not pushing on and it looks like it’s been crashed into a branch of Halfords but if you can live with the noise and the styling then you can have a useful family hatchback and a massively engaging and thrilling sports car in one package.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol producing 306bhp, 295lb/ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 167mph, 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds