Honda has taken ages launching the new Civic Type R. Years, in fact. Some never expected it to ever arrive but now it’s finally here, going on sale in Europe this summer with a set of stats that knock every rival into shape.
It’s the fastest, quickest-accelerating, most powerful hot hatch in the sector. It’s certainly the most outlandish-looking. And, with prices starting from £29,995, it’s certainly one of the most expensive too.
Honda Type R: a history in pictures
But chasing headlines is one thing. Delivering on the road and on the track is another. Honda, though, has delivered, and then some. Here are seven ways in which it’s rewritten the hot hatch rulebook.
1: It looks quite amazing
There’s not a hot hatch on the market that looks as exciting as the Civic Type R. With its flared arches, multi-vented front wings, wrap-around front splitter, huge 19-inch alloys and, of course, god’s own rear spoiler, nobody could possibly confuse it for anything else. It’s wow factor overload.
The rear wing is so big, it casts shadows on the ground and pokes out both sides of car into the view of the door mirrors. It’s not just ‘big’, either, but complex in shape and sculpture: Honda’s WTCC racing team has designed it to produce downforce at speed.
You can get it in classic Type R Championship White, but we preferred the launch red alternative, which looked even more bespoke, purposeful and race-ready. Here is your hot hatch equivalent of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
2: It combines space and practicality with a monster set of seats
First thing we noticed inside the Civic Type R was the colossal 498-litre boot. It’s as unexpectedly deep as, well, a 911’s front trunk is (mounting the fuel tank in the centre’s how they’ve done it).
Then we opened the rear doors (it’s five-door only) and clocked the unexpectedly spacious rear, with loads of legroom despite the chunky high-backed front seats. It’s probably the most practical, family-friendly hot hatch out there.
And then into the front, to be presented with a simply brilliant set of front bucket seats. They sit you 20mm lower than a standard Civic (a bit lower would be nicer still) and are so deeply and firmly bolstered, it hurts you to get in and out of them if you drop in like a normal car.
Instead, you need to get in and out like a racing driver. Which is rather fitting, really.
3: It’s got serious attitude
Pressing the starter button fires Honda’s first-ever turbo VTEC engine into a rumbly, focused tickover. It’s ‘there’, alright. The first time into first will have you double-shifting to check it’s actually selected – that’s how short-shift the ultra-snappy gearbox is.
Right away, it shows its attitude. In town, the ride can be painfully firm as the bespoke Continental tyres clatter into potholes and over expansion joints. Both engine and exhausts are prominent, and the gradual explode as turbo boost builds with higher revs is grin-inducingly lively.
With its black cabin, central rev counter, small flat-bottom steering wheel, taut seats, surface aggression, quick-witted steering and fast-reacting front end, the Civic Type R had attitude, alright. As speeds build, you discover it’s of the serious and skilled sort.
4: It’s an explosive performer
VTEC AND a turbo? 310hp, 295lb ft of torque, 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and a 167mph top speed? Guess what – it’s fast. It’s not the manic sort of speed that you got in the old Type R, where all the go was delivered at howling revs just shy of the redline.
No, this is the explosive sort of performance: way more speed than you expect is served up way more quickly than you think. It’s more subtle than non-turbo Type Rs but, at the same time, more purposeful, giving more bang for buck.
It isn’t like some other turbos, where you get loads of easy-going shove at low revs. There can be a bit of lag in the mid-range and you’ll still have to use the ultra-fast gearshift more than you do in a SEAT Leon Cupra. Sure, it’s not as flat as the older Type Rs at walking revs – but boy, does it share their love of revs.
You still naturally howl it past the 4,000rpm boom patch and keep it in the loud, aggressive-sounding 5,000-7,000rpm zone, because this is where it relishes being. Here, it’s positive, double-take fast, thrilling and spoiled only by the sudden onset of the rev limiter at the 7k redline.
Throw it into another gear at rifle-bolt speed and let the perfectly-spaced gear ratios take you straight back into the engine’s sweet spot. And chase after that Porsche Cayman you’re keeping honest.
5: Would you believe, it can handle all its power?
ALL that power through just TWO front wheels? Is Honda serious? At the first bootful, you expect either the front tyres to light up, the traction control to go into overload or the front end to torque steer plain off the road – or a fantastic combination of all three – so it’s little short of amazing to discover it does none of this.
Instead, the front wheels bite and cleanly let the fiery engine’s full whack take effect. Just the odd tweak of the steering wheel and tiniest bit of front end sniff let you in on just how jolly hard the helical limited-slip differential and its associated components are working.
It’s not through accident, this rewriting of the front-wheel drive rulebook. Honda’s developed double-axis front suspension to minimise the lever effects of torque steer. Tirelessly developed the Continental tyres’ characteristics. Even engineered two grades of material elasticity for left and right driveshafts so that they bend at the same rate despite being different lengths.
6: It’s hardcore without being hard-edged
As you’ve perhaps guessed, the Civic Type R hasn’t gone soft. The engine is loud, exhausts snort, the ride can bite, the seats can bite and you’ll easily make mincemeat of almost every other hot hatch you’ll encounter.
But it’s not too much. At speed, it cruises with surprisingly little wind or tyre noise (only the engine remains prominent, and we quite like that). The high-speed ride quality is unbelievably fluid, supple and controlled – adaptive dampers are standard and they give controlled cushioning some big wheel’d rivals can only dream of.
The extra torque over a non-turbo VTEC makes everyday driving a whole lot easier too, particularly when the pedals and gearshift operate with this much racecar precision.
That’s the difference between this car and the old Civic Type R. That was hard-edged and, at times, too much. This one has all the attitude but only rarely crosses the line into truly uncomfortable aggression.
Even when you purposefully ask for more attitude and press the ‘R+’ button on the dash – dials go red, dampers go 30% stiffer, steering goes heavier, engine response goes faster – does it stay sane. It’s a sport mode that actually works rather than just making things a bit more frenetic.
The Renaultsport Megane Trophy-R probably still edges it for on-centre steering feel and sharpness. Its more uncompromising chassis setup means the right-roads interaction might shade the Civic Type R. But it’s the more intense, more full-on experience of the two as a result. That the Civic gives all the hardcore thrills it does without doubling the Megane’s more hard-edged nature is quite something.
7: It’s temptingly affordable
£30,000 is a lot for a hot hatch, at first glance. But it’s not so much for a 310hp hot hatch, and it’s a full £8,000 cheaper than the Renaultsport Megane Trophy-R whose Nurburgring lap record Honda earlier this year announced it had stolen.
There’s a Type R GT too, adding more luxuries, sat nav and a better stereo for a £2,300 lift: spot these cars on the road from their red stripe detail in the front and rear bumpers.
It does 38.7mpg and emits 170g/km CO2, so will go further on a gallon and cost less to tax than the old Type R, and Honda will even sell you five years’ servicing for a mere £500. Remarkable.
Best of all, you can buy it for £300 a month. OK, you need a 30% deposit, but it’s still one of the best hot hatches you can buy for a mere £10 a day. £10 a month more will get you into the GT too, adds Honda.
VERDICT: 2015 Honda Civic Type R
The 2015 Honda Civic is a searing hot hatch that brings proper attitude and double-take performance to the sector. As rivals become more urbane, it’s a welcome blast of Type R past, one that’s been made more contemporary thanks to turbo tech, smart differentials and suspension setup, clever dampers and other surprisingly exotic technologies for a £30k car.
It shouldn’t work: Type R enthusiasts should hate it as it’s a turbo Type R, but they’ll love it as it’s still a revvy VTEC at heart. And purists should hate it because it goes against everything we’re told about how much power you can put through two front wheels, and makes it work with hungry, sharp-tooth’d bite.
It’s a welcome addition to the blossoming hot hatch sector, and a welcome return to form for Honda and Type R. Right now, as the Renaultsport Megane ages, the Golf GTI awaits more power and we await the Ford Focus RS, it might just be the best big-bang hot hatch out there.
STATISTICS: 2015 Honda Civic Type R
Power: 310hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 295lb ft at 2,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Top speed: 167mph
Combined fuel economy: 38.7mpg
RIVALS: 2015 Honda Civic Type R
Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV
Ford Focus RS
Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R
SEAT Leon Cupra
Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance Pack
Buy a used Honda Civic Type R on Auto Trader