The new Honda Civic Type R is a racy hatchback for boyracers who refuse to grow up and slow down.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The new Honda Civic Type R is a racy hatchback for boyracers who refuse to grow up and slow down.

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YUJI Matsumochi concluded his product presentation by saying, “You will come out of the car with a very, very big smile”. 

The 41-year-old Japanese is the assistant project leader for the powerful powertrain of the new Civic Type R (CTR for short).  

He was right. After my action-packed test drive of the Honda hot hatch on Germany’s autobahns and EuroSpeedway racetrack, I wasn’t the only one with a smile. My inner ah beng was smiling, too. 

Both my inner and outer ah bengs were already grinning when we saw the vehicle in the metal for the first time, because it looks delightfully beng. That’s a compliment, by the way, from this self-professed PMAB (postmodern ah beng). 

The shapely five-door hatchback is bristling with splitters, slats and air ducts, and brandishing a dramatic rear wing. Equally eye-catching is the set of three exhaust tailpipes, protruding from under the rear bumper (see box story on pg 80, Banzai Bazookas). 

Completing the “Far East and furious” get-up are 20-inch black alloy wheels and flashes of red from the rims, brake callipers, badges and bodywork accents. 

Pick the bright red paintwork at your peril, because it makes the manga rocketship even more of a magnet for traffic police. 

The Type R’s relentless redness continues inside the five-door cabin. The colour adorns the seats, seatbelts, steering wheel, dashboard, door cards and gearlever. Even the floor mats have red trimmings. Should I be wearing red sneakers in here? 

The final, and most critical, touch of red in the CTR’s cockpit is the redline – “7”, on a rev- counter scale that stops at “8”. 

Having driven old Honda Type Rs which revved sweetly to 9000rpm in standard specification, I was unimpressed by the new tachometer’s 7000rpm marking – until I drove the newcomer, fast. 

The tacho needle doesn’t just spin round to the red zone – it sprints there, as instructed by the electronic throttle and the driver’s right foot on the accelerator. 

The rev limiter cuts in abruptly right above 7000rpm to prevent over-revving by beng boyracers going into overdrive (unofficially represented by me). 

The rev limiter also limits the revs in 1st gear to 3500rpm, possibly as a form of launch control (in the absence of self-control). 

There are three pedals in the footwell and a 6-speed manual gearbox in the centre console. 

The titanium gearknob is a terrific piece of automotive art, and the throws of the gearbox are wonderfully short. But the engagement of gears in their gates could be snappier still. 

This hardcore hatchback doesn’t offer an automatic transmission option. What it offers instead is a rev-matching function, which blips the engine during downshifts (while braking) to smoothen the gearchanges, like heel-and-toe footwork would. 

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The clever feature works great, providing a well-judged burst of engine revs every time, but it could be more generous with those revs when the driver is shifting quickly from 3rd gear to 2nd. 

If the driver prefers to do the rev-matching himself, which is made easier by the underfoot position/orientation of the brake and throttle pedals, he can switch off the function. 

But to do so, he needs to stop the Honda, engage the parking brake and go through a few sub-menus in the infotainment system. 

The best entertainment, of course, is provided by the excellent engine. The 2-litre 4-cylinder unit has been turbocharged to produce 320bhp of power and 400Nm of torque – this output is almost double what the current 1.5-litre turbo Civic produces. 

Unlike classic, naturally aspirated Civic Type Rs (1997 and 2007 models), the new model doesn’t give the driver a VTEC “second wind” when the engine’s revolutions per minute get high enough. 

Instead, it’s gale-force torque all the way to the rev limiter in every one of the six gears, with persistently strong power that hurls the Honda to serious speeds. 

The persistence and strength of the turbocharged motor, whose turbo lag is either negligible or not discernible, seem to reach their peak between 3000rpm and 6000rpm.  

Zero to 100km/h is just a jog for this pocket rocket, and 100km/h to 180km/h is an easy dash. 

Continuing to 200km/h… 220km/h… 240km/h is less easy, and the vented bonnet appears to quiver at those high speeds, but the engine’s enthusiasm doesn’t falter and the vehicle doesn’t waver. 

The car remains rock- steady when cutting its speed sharply in hurried chunks from 150km/h, 180km/h, 200km/h, 210km/h or more. Those Brembo brakes, with their front discs and callipers cooled by ducts in the front bumper intakes, do their job so well, over and over again. 

On an unrestricted stretch of German autobahn, I saw 250km/h on the speedometer, and the top gear still had another 1000rpm to go.

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The Type R-rated performance experience for the driver, however, is less enjoyable for the passengers on the backseat, where the obvious noisiness and inherent bumpiness increase as rapidly as the car’s velocity. Cruising at 180-200km/h feels more like mild bruising of the ears and bum for the two backseat occupants, who don’t get a centre armrest that could ease the minor pain. Travelling fast in this fast car is fun for the traveller behind the wheel, but less so for the others on board. 

This fast hatch is a fast handler, too, with help from a helical LSD (limited-slip differential) and a system called AHA (Agile Handling Assist). 

The rubber footwear plays a part, too. According to Yuji Matsumochi, the 245/30 R20 Continental SportContact 6 tyres have a profile and inner layer which have been uniquely and specifically developed for the new CTR’s suspension geometry. 

AHA is Honda’s torque vectoring system that uses the brakes to make cornering sharper, but the AHA in the new CTR takes it a step further by also operating when the car is accelerating out of a corner. 

The AHA, tyres, LSD, chassis and suspension work in concert with one another and the driver to deliver fantastic dynamics, especially in the CTR’s sportiest driving mode called +R. 

The default mode upon start- up is Sport, and there’s a third mode, Comfort, which provides the most comfortable ride, or perhaps the least uncomfortable. 

A rocker switch behind the gearlever sets the mode, which tweaks the three- chamber adaptive damping force, ECU mapping, throttle response and the dual-pinion, variable-ratio steering’s level of electric power assistance. The +R mode turns the CTR into a part-time track machine with even tighter grip on the tarmac, even quicker responses and ridiculously heavy, nearly kart-like steering. 

The track-attack persona in +R mode is emphasised by the intense red theme of the instrument gauges’ illumination. 

There’s also an in-dash lap timer which, Yuji Matsumochi described in jest, “can time your lap from your home to your working place or wherever.” 

I prefer the CTR’s Sport mode for private track and public road alike, because the suspension is less skittish over kerbs on the circuit and more forgiving of rough patches, without forgoing grippiness or stability, and the steering doesn’t require too much exertion.  

On a racetrack, the car is thrilling but tiring. Back on public roads, the car is still pretty taxing because of the stiff ride, all the noise, and the endless encouragement to go faster like a boyracer would. 

True Type R, then.