If you want to get ahead in F1, don’t get a Honda. It’s rejoined the sport this season and is currently powering to its worst-ever year as part of the McLaren team. The drivers count themselves lucky to even finish a race and, when they do, they’re usually at the back.
For now though, the car carrying the weight of Honda’s rich motorsport history is actually a road-going one, the headline-stealing Civic Type R. It’s the fastest car in its sector by some margin, and easily the most powerful front-drive hot hatch on sale. It’s got more power than a Porsche Boxster, dammit.
Bragging rights: it’s the fastest hot hatch ever around Germany’s Nurburgring. 310hp helps it reach 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds, and a Porsche-like 167mph top speed. It’s a Top Trumps star.
Crucially, the spec says 295lb-ft of torque at 2,500rpm. This figure is a measure of the engine’s muscle and how hard you have to work to make it go fast. With the old Type R, you had to work harder to release much less power than this. It didn’t feel up to stop-start driving, which is a problem for city motoring.
The Civic Type R, however, is a transformation. The burbly engine gets the front wheels digging in instantly, always finding the bite to beat rivals. That’s the power of a turbo for you, which is severely lacking on the old car (110hp less powerful than this, note). It still largely feels like a Type R engine that loves to rev – only this time, it’s not an imperative.
The battering you give to most other users on the road is frequently paid back in a hard city ride whose loud smash into the occasional pothole will ensure there’ll be no falling asleep at the wheel. Though it smooths out beyond the city limits, where the trick adaptive dampers finally get working, it’s jittery and kart-like within them.
The handling’s also kart-like, which is a good thing, and it doesn’t have the purity of say, a Renaultsport Megane Trophy, but it certainly has immediacy, attitude and ability. It doesn’t feel as if the front end of the car is trying to rip itself free when you deliver all that grunt and it’s this integrity that, for all its stiff springing, gives the Honda a feeling of sophistication. There’s enough tech without overloading the car.
Visually, it oozes attitude. Its multitude of aero add-ons, gaping air intakes and a distinctive rear wing make it just as likely to turn heads as a supercar. The seats and racy interior are also smart, though it packs in more plastic than your average premium sports-car.
Honda has taken its time getting here. Some of us thought the Civic Type R would never arrive but the wait’s been worth it (you will have to wait, too: prices start from a stiff £29,995 but the order bank is already months long for the hot hatch). Purists should still choose a Renault, but even they wouldn’t be disappointed with this cracking model.
So if you buy one you get ribbed about the Formula 1 failures, don’t get mad, simply take them for a ride. Once they get their breath back, they’ll be a convert. You may not be a champion yet, Honda, but the Civic Type R is.
Richard Aucock works for motoringresearch.com.
THE FACTS: HONDA CIVIC TYPE R
0-62MPH: 5.7 secs
TOP SPEED: 167mph
CO2 G/KM: 170g/km
MPG COMBINED: 38.7mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ★★★☆☆