25 April 2017
Honda's bid to stem the tide of falling sales has culminated in the bonkers-but-brilliant Civic Type R. With wings, gills, intakes and exhausts everywhere you look, this 310hp monster can certainly talk the talk, but don't for a moment imagine that it can't walk the walk. It has its foibles, of course, but it’s blessed with addictive performance and pin-sharp handling.
As usual, the Type R is powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine, but for the first time in its history, Honda has given it a turbocharger. The resultant 310hp is fed to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox (no, you can't have an automatic, you philistine) and permits a 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds.
That sounds fabulous - and the noise from the four howitzers at the back isn't bad either - but we should inject a note of caution.
For starters, doing 0-62mph in less than six seconds is pretty brutal; there's no finesse to the Type R's delivery, and the steering wheel squirms in your hands as the engine's torque tries to twist the front wheels out of line.
Worse still, while the Honda's performance sees it overtake the Seat Leon Cupra as the fastest hot hatch about, your bar-room bragging rights will soon be decimated by the arrival of the new Ford Focus RS.
Don't think you'll be able to save your blushes by turning the conversation to fuel economy either, because the Type R has a serious drinking problem.
Honda claims 39mpg, but if you drive like your hair’s on fire (and let's face it, you will or you wouldn't have bought a Type R), your beer money will soon be in the back pockets of Shell and Esso, rather than Sharp's and Erdinger.
Despite leaving the front wheels to deal with an inordinate amount of power, the Civic Type R handles incredibly well. With + R mode engaged, the turn-in is razor sharp, while body roll is non-existent and, unlike the standard Civic, the steering wheel has a pleasing weight and feel to it.
There is one rather large fly in the ointment though. Driving it on a track may very well be brilliant, but on a road it’s hideously uncomfortable.
Hit the + R button and it gets even worse. You'll be thrown around like a ragdoll in your padding-free bucket seat until you're battered, bruised and exhausted.
This isn't journalists' hyperbole here; of course no hot hatch is comfortable - the Focus ST is firm in the extreme and the Leon Cupra feels pretty stiff - but the Type R's ride is absolutely unacceptable. Drive it for more than an hour and it'll drive you nuts.
That said, handling is likely to carry much more weight with potential buyers, hence the four-star rating.
Honda's reputation for reliability is legendary, so we can't see any problems on the horizon for Type R owners, but the fast Civic doesn't always inspire confidence.
That enormous rear wing, for instance, flexes in the wind and don't even think about taking it through an automatic car wash; it'll be ripped from its mountings instantly.
The cabin isn't perfect either. The seats are beautifully constructed, even if they are uncomfortable, but some of the plastics fall short of the standards set by the Leon Cupra, Golf R and even Ford’s Focus ST.
Safety is hardly likely to be a key factor in choosing a car such as this, but the Type R gets all the accoutrements you’d expect from a Civic, including Isofix child seat mounting points. It even has automatic emergency braking.
Security might be more of an issue though, because cars like the Type R are often a magnet for thieves. Still, the Type R gets a fairly sophisticated alarm system with ultrasonic detection, an alarm and an immobilizer. We’d recommend fitting a tracking device though.
The Type R is astonishingly roomy, with an enormous 498-litre boot capable of swallowing all sorts of family detritus and a cabin that seats five without any trouble. The seats may not be that comfortable, but at least there’s enough wiggle room.
Type R prices start from £29,995, which is around £2,500 more than a five-door Golf GTI. The Golf will undoubtedly be the better everyday car, but it has 90 fewer horses under the bonnet and it’s almost a second slower to 62mph, so bragging rights belong to the Civic.
You do get plenty of toys for your money though. As standard, the Civic gets a 7in touchscreen, a reversing camera, keyless go and climate control, as well as imposing 19in black alloys which barely hide red Brembo brake calipers.
If you’ve got another £3,300 to spend, however, you can go for the GT version, which adds toys like parking sensors, satellite navigation, two-zone climate control and automatic wipers.
Whichever way you cut it, £32,000 is not a lot for a five-door five-seater that’s as fast and well equipped as a Porsche Cayman.
The only limiting factor to this car, therefore, is whether you can cope with that solid ride. If you can, the Type R is absolutely fantastic.
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