Cape Town - 2016 will see several hot hatches headed for South Africa. The first to arrive is Honda’s Type R: a hardcore, track-tuned five-door hot hatch.
The new Civic Type R, brace yourself, is now turbocharged…though thankfully retains its manual gearbox.
Wheels24’s Sean Parker drove what Honda claims is its most powerful front-wheel-drive hatchback yet at Killarney race track and on some of Cape Town’s best roads.
Is there still a market in Mzansi for badass hot hatches?
The fourth-generation Civic Type R, uses a 2.0-litre VTEC turbo engine (yes, you read that correctly), with 228kW/400Nm. Add a limited slip differential to aid traction and the shortest shift-stroke in its class (40mm) and it certainly looks like a good track recipe, at least on paper.
We know that turbocharged engines suffer from lag and Honda’s attempt to mitigate this is by using its famed VTEC (variable valve timing and lift electronic control) lower down the rev change to give you momentum before the single-scroll unit kicks in.
Unfortunately, it’s not full-proof as the Type R feels lethargic below 3000rpm at low-engine speed. Once the turbo kicks in however, the boost is intoxicating. And boy it pulls hard! A 0-100km/h sprint is a claimed 5.7 seconds. Top speed is quoted at 270km/h.
The Type R tips the scales at 1378kg which gives it a power-to-weight ratio of 165kW per tonne.
Side note: A pre-production Civic Type R achieved a lap time of 7min50.63 sec around the legendary 20.8km Nurburgring circuit. It’s the fastest front-wheel drive performance hatchback to lap the ‘Ring.
Watch: Civic Type R in 360O
Does it feel special?
It loses out on noise and drama compared to the previous generation but I’m happy with the added power and litheness of the new car. If you expected the screaming VTEC engine note, then you'll be disappointed. But it is something you could live with. I just don’t think the engine feels as special as it could have.
How do you light the afterburners on an already hot hatch? By adding an R-button of course. Honda ups the ante with its latest Type R with the addition of a R-button, located top right of the steering wheel.
What does it do? Well it’s akin to transforming into UFC champion Connor McGregor - the engine response is increased, the steering improves and it’s clever adaptive dampers are stiffened by 30% to reduce body roll and pitch.
Let’s get under the skin
My first interaction with the Type R was at Killarney race track and the first thing I noticed was how cocooned I felt in the cabin, it felt like pure motorsport.
Form-hugging seats, despite having the seat on its lowest-setting, my 1.9m frame felt extremely comfortable. The two-tier dash doesn't look out of place and a nice touch is a plaque distinguishing the model number.
The sweet, six-speed manual shifter, complete with a silver-coloured knob, falls perfectly into place and the lowest seat-setting (30mm lower than a normal Civic) is bang on.
The transmission’s shift/stroke is the same as the firm's iconic S2000 roadster and has one sweetest shifts in its class. Exiting the pits and heading along the main straight, the urge from the engine to put your foot down is strong and reaching more than 100km/h in seconds.
The tight, tricky course showed off the Type R’s good turn-in aided by the advanced suspension system, which uses a dual-axis strut front, helping to reduce torque steer.
On my next lap out I used the '+ R' button and immediately the car felt more composed, lithe and engaging. The power out of corners was thrilling and the cabin took on a different persona as the ‘whoosh’ of the waste gate can be heard.
Track time with the Type R highlighted its strengths and with the adaptive damper system working well to monitor wheel speed, ride height (on all four wheels), steering angle, G-sensor.
Watch: Honda Civic Type R around Killarney
On the road
The Type R rides on 19” 235/35 Continental SportContact 6 tyres and while it is uncomfortable over bumps and pock-marked roads, its clever dampers attempt to smooth out the ride. It evokes a motorsport feel on the road and I think that’s exactly what this car is about - it’s focused, loud, engaging and makes one feel special.
I felt relaxed and refreshed after more than 200km around Malmesbury, Philadelphia, Durbanville and Stellenbosch and back to Killarney.
The perfect steering wheel, well-placed pedals, aluminium gear-lever creates an experience that’s all about speed on the tar and road-hugging around corners. It felt supremely capable hitting the limiter as we bounced along the clear roads, with the damping system and LSD there for safety sake.
Hill start assist
Front and rear parking sensors
Rear view camera
LED headlights (with an auto setting)
Rain sensing wipers
The interior shouts motorsport, with gorgeous bucket seats, a red and black steering wheel and a cool ‘I-MID’ pack exclusive to the Type R, which includes info read outs for:
G-force and brake pressure/ and accelerator
Turbo pressure, water temperature, oil pressure, oil temperature
Lap timer (save up to 99)
Price - R586 400
When the Volkswagen Golf R’s sticker price pushed the R500 000 mark, the public gasped in shock - how can a hot hatch be that expensive in SA?
Well that was a few years ago, and Honda, like many automakers in 2016, are battling currency fluctuations due to the poor Rand.
I think the automaker’s done well to price the Type R competitively at R586 400 (there are no optional extras). It’s sold with a five-year or 90 000km service plan and Honda’s new five-year or 200 000km warranty.
Honda can be praised for its new Type R – it may have taken years to develop but the automaker has a produced a car that’s capable of whipping the rest of the field around the Nurburgring.
Yes, it suffers from turbo lag but when it comes to ride, acceleration and handling, well the Type R’s driving experience is unmatched. Its raw appeal, outrageous looks and coolness will certainly have fans of the brand signing up for one.
Whether pseudo-hot hatch drivers will want more of an emotive experience remains to be seen.
Ford Focus RS - 257kW/475Nm (due in July)
Renault Megane 275 - 205kW/360Nm
Volkswagen Golf R - 206kW/380Nm