In a previous incarnation I made a lot of fuss about being a responsible grown up and deciding that life was best enjoyed at a more sedate pace, allowing the world around to rush and fuss without getting caught up in it yourself. However, I have since had to admit this may not actually be the case.
I may be nudging my 40th year on this planet but in all those decades I’ve never had the opportunity to experience the highs and potential lows of running a hot hatch as a daily driver. The first car I bought with my own money was a Fiat Cinquecento Sporting, and keen though it was an output of 53bhp could never really be called hot.
But the Honda Civic Type-R now sitting on my driveway could never be described as anything other than scorching hot. It’s worth remembering that not so long ago hot hatches turned seriously weedy; crippled by insurance premiums and joyriders having too much fun they became modest in their power outputs and almost apologetic in their appearance. The Type-R shows exactly how far we’ve come since those dark days.
In fact the super-hatch is now a thing, to distinguish between those cars that make do with ‘just’ 250bhp or so. Unlike key rivals in the 300-plus club the Civic Type-R does without four-wheel-drive, and instead relies upon a mechanical limited-slip differential and electronic control to keep the wheels feeding power to the Tarmac.
That power comes from the first high-performance Honda VTEC Turbo engine, which can still rev past 7,000rpm but now has lots of torque to go with it. A top speed of 167mph is completely bonkers (faster than a Lamborghini Countach 5000 S) and 0-62mph is despatched in 5.7 seconds, which is enough to worry significantly more expensive cars. It’s also currently the lap record holder at the Nurburgring Nordschleife for a front-wheel-drive production car, so you’d have to say its performance credentials are solid.
It also looks the part. Every box on the ‘hot hatch visual requirements’ list has been ticked, with a big fat red marker pen. Huge rear wing, pumped-up arches, tyres that are so low profile they look like they’ve been drawn on to the huge alloy wheels – it’s all here. Whether that appeals to you or not is entirely different, but there’s no denying it catches the eye.
But – and it is a sizeable ‘but’– what will it be like to live with? As the meme goes, can it do it on a wet Monday night in Fife? It’s all very well being able to lap the ’Ring in under eight minutes but if it takes ten minutes to get it off your driveway of a morning then it’s no hot hatch. Because the great appeal of a hot hatch has always been that they are based on humble cars, just after a serious makeover, and despite the speed and performance they still need to be able to do the boring stuff; otherwise they make no more sense than a svelte coupe.
So that’s the size of the task that the Civic Type-R has to deal with. Yes it will get exercised as a good hot hatch should and tested on some challenging B-roads. It will have its acceleration timer utilised to see if it can match the claimed 5.7 seconds, and it may even pay a visit to a German autobahn to see if we can hit the reputed 167mph. But it will also be used for commuting, the school run, shopping, holidays, be driven in the inevitable torrential rain and the snow (should we get any) with no sympathy given. We’ll even see if it can match or beat the claimed fuel consumption of 38.7mpg, because some people will drive it that way. The Civic Type-R could be the ultimate hot hatch, but only if it can pass the ultimate test; life.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol producing 306bhp and 295lb/ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 167mph, 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds
Economy: 38.7mpg combined
Emissions: 170g/km of CO2