The new Civic is exactly what you would expect from Honda. It’s an eminently practical, affordable, 5 door hatchback that seats 4 adults in comfort, has a capacious boot, easily achieves 40mpg+ on the motorway and driven sensibly will be sufficiently frugal around town. It’s well equipped with all the modern safety and comfort features you are likely to want. It’s well built with a really solid feel in the cabin, sturdy controls and some lovely finishing touches. It’s well designed with a good amount of storage, a comfortable driving position and well laid out cabin. Oh, and it also chucks out 306bhp, hits 60mph in around 5.5 seconds and will go on to 167mph….!!!
Those numbers clearly aren’t the vital statistics of an ordinary Civic. This is the latest in an illustrious line to bear the iconic red badge, it’s the brand new Type R and it’s a genuine game-changer. At the recent European launch in Slovakia the newest addition to the R family was unveiled to a not-particularly select group of excitable writers and photographers itching to put it to the test and it universally impressed. Not only does the Type R redefine the boundaries of the hot hatch but it also hints at a redefinition of the brand itself. Honda took inspiration from the Japanese word “Buttigiri” which means “to break on through and leave the rest behind” and that’s exactly what they’ve done. On the road or on the track, everything about the Type R, from the way it looks and drives to the engineering and attention to detail, all of it confirms why Honda is so highly respected. 
I’ll willingly concede that at first glance the Civic Type R is rather ostentatious, as far as car design goes it’s purposeful rather than pretty. The wide body and high rear spoiler give this Civic an infinitely more aggressive stance than it’s predecessor. The last Type R was always a bit chubby but the new one has spent the last few years in the gym and is now toned and muscular. Seen in profile the slightly humped bonnet dropping away to a shark-like nose brought out goosebumps when I first saw it parked on a plinth outside our hotel in Bratislava. The spoiler has been raised to sit above the line of the rear window so visibility is much improved and the wide twin chrome exhausts sit neatly each side of the rear diffuser. It looks fantastic but all this design serves a purpose other than impressing teenage boys. The front and rear splitters combine with the totally flat underfloor and spoiler to create genuine downforce at speed, they aren’t just there for show. It’s a 5 door family hatchback that was developed at Honda’s F1 facility and with the same basic aerodynamic characteristics of a racing car.  
There may be some small pockets of resistance to the latest Type R but I don’t see them lasting too long. The purists may be horrified to hear that the legendary, high revving VTec engine has succumbed to the trend for forced induction but it works. The 2.0 litre power-plant red lines at 7000rpm and will stay there long after you have run out of courage. The variable timing technology remains giving the engine more than enough natural power and torque to fill in the minimal gaps from the turbo-lag so it’s ready to pull away at any speed, in any gear. It’s simply astonishing. If you’re not a purist then be content in the knowledge that the Honda engine packs plenty of grunt and is utterly brilliant.
Honda have indulged in some very clever engineering to make sure the Type R handles properly on the road too. Putting 300bhp through the front wheels sounds like a recipe for monumental understeer and all consuming waywardness but the engineers have earned their money. Clever suspension reduces torque steer which means there’s no sense of any unwanted twitches at all no matter how hard you mash your right foot into the carpet. The suspension and limited slip differential keep the Type R on the straight and narrow, allowing the wheels to maintain grip and reducing understeer. A new adaptive damper system constantly ensures the car stays flat and level throughout cornering, braking and acceleration and it smooths out all but the biggest bumps brilliantly. As you would expect from a serious hot-hatch, the suspension is very firm but those dampers turn it into a regular family car under normal road conditions. The end result is a very smooth ride for 90% of the time but when you push it, no matter how hard you brake or how tight you turn the Type R stays flat and planted on the road. Speaking of brakes, they’re enormous! Supplied by Brembo and with 18inch disks at the front, standing on the brakes on the Type R is a bit like running into a brick wall – the effect is immediate and inclined to bend your face. Not only do they work brilliantly, those huge vented disks nestled inside the 19″ alloys are a sight to behold for anyone with the slightest trace of petrol flowing through their veins. Compared to the front the 16″ disks on the rear look a bit ineffectual but don’t be alarmed by this, the brake balance is perfect. 
The interior is dominated by the matching sports seats but not in a bad way, they attract attention because they look good, which is to be expected considering they were designed exclusively for the Type R. The seats are also very comfortable and the driving position is spot on once you’ve climbed in. I say climbed because the seats have been lowered to improve the driving position, which is great once you’re in but does involve a bit of sliding over the sill and into the seat. The view from the driver’s seat is excellent too. The centre console houses the main 7″ touchscreen that controls the usual comfort and entertainment functions and this sits just above the gearstick in it’s usual position high up near the steering wheel. The instruments are laid out neatly with rev counter looming large between temperature and fuel gauges in the centre of the three dials tucked behind the steering wheel, the speedo and driver information is displayed on a separate screen above. It’s an unashamedly track-orientated layout but by separating the display into two sections Honda have created an interior display that works well in both worlds.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of the Type R gives a somewhat false impression though. Beneath all the red stitching and race engineering lies a practical, 5 door hatchback that easily seats four adults and has a frankly enormous boot. The rear headroom is excellent and despite the large front seats the legroom isn’t too bad either, and the 5 doors mean there’s no climbing around trying to squeeze into the back. The rear seats fold down to increase the boot size and there’s also a handy panel in the floor of the boot you can use to hide things or drop it down to create a extra space. As much as it pains me to say it – mainly because it’s a sign of increasing maturity – the Type R really is a very practical car. 
At this point your patience is probably wearing as thin as the journalists who attended the launch – enough with the spiel, what’s it like to drive? Well if we had to endure an evening of PR blurb before finally getting our hands on the the keys I see no reason why you shouldn’t share the experience. Trust me, it’s worth the wait. 
Opening the curtains of your hotel room to be greeted by the sight of a line of gleaming cars illuminated by the morning sun reflecting off the waters of the Danube is a good a way as any to start the day. After a hearty breakfast and feeling refreshed from a good nights sleep – protected from the inconvenience of a hangover by Honda’s warning from the night before that everyone would be breathalysed before driving – we were handed the keys at 9am on a sunny, Bratislava morning and off we went. The Sat Nav had been programmed with a route designed to demonstrate the Type R’s abilities across the board so all the eager media types had to do was drive.
The roads around the hotel in Bratislava were reminiscent of those in any big city in Europe – bumpy and potholed – so the suspension was immediately put to the test. With the exception of one particularly large pothole that induced a hefty bang, the Honda performed admirably from the start. The pitted surface and numerous tram tracks did their best to disrupt the ride but the adaptive damper system soaked up the punishment so by the time the bumps arrived in the seat of your pants they had been reduced to the equivalent of running over an after dinner mint. Despite the immense lump of horsepower hidden beneath that swooping bonnet the Type R was as pleasant to drive through the morning traffic as any regular car. There was never a sense that the car was fighting against the leash, it waited patiently at the lights and bumbled along quite happily with the rest of the crowd. 
The route soon took us out of the city and onto the motorway. The wide expanse of remarkably empty Tarmac was all the encouragement required to see how the Type R performs at speed. A European motorway, light traffic and 300bhp is always going to be a winning combination so it would be foolish not to take advantage. The smooth power delivery is perfect for long drives, it allows you to cruise along at an undisclosed number of miles an hour knowing that whenever you encounter a slower moving vehicle you’ll be able to pass with ease. Despite the high-revving engine the Type R will cruise at 85mph all but ticking over at around 3000rpm, the on board computer indicating a barely believable fuel economy figure of 41.6mpg. Motorway driving is inevitably tedious at the best of times but at least it provides the chance to assess the car in more depth. At cruising speed there was a hint of wind noise creeping into the cabin and there’s a definite mid-range drone from the exhaust that wouldn’t be described as pleasant. The Honda engineers have deliberately avoided playing with the exhausts to create an artificial sound and on a long drive you might almost wish they had tinkered just a little. In the real world you probably wouldn’t notice these things above the sound of the radio or the kids so it’s easy to tune them out but they are still there – the noises, not the kids. I won’t be held liable if you tune out your offspring in favour of an exhaust hum.
Eventually you are going to have to leave the motorway behind and that’s exactly what we did as we entered Austria. The chosen road was a twisting one, undulating through the hills and curving through forests and it is exactly the sort of road the Type R comes alive on. The massive brakes really come into their own on these testing roads where the bends fly at you in an endless wave. The way the Type R catapults you out of the corners is equally impressive. The combination of turbo and VTec technology mean you can take advantage of the straights confident in the knowledge that when the next bend appears the speed will drop just as quickly. Not that you need to slow down too much. Those clever dampers certainly earn their keep on roads like this, keeping the Type R planted flat and level on the Tarmac as you sweep through the bends. There’s no sense of the car fighting for grip unless you really push it and even then the limited slip diff pulls the nose back in when it does start to slide away. The steering is crisp and precise but if I had one criticism it’s that it would be nice if it had a bit more feedback. I’m not talking big numbers, just an extra few percent at the limit would make all the difference. It’s good, very good in fact, but when you run out of grip the steering wheel feels like it’s a fraction of a second behind the tyres. Or it may just be my distinctly average driving ability, who knows? 
The fact remains that the car that was so placid in traffic is now encouraging you to overtake at the slightest opportunity and the Type R is so confident you’ll find yourself joining in. Keep the rev counter above 5000rpm and no matter how small the gap you’ll be past and back on the brakes for the next bend with plenty of road to spare. Oh, and that drone from the exhaust has been replaced with an unholy wail that reverberates off the scenery and threatens to mesmerise you. A fitting soundtrack. At one point, passing slowly through a small Austrian village a minor convoy had developed, three Type R’s in formation with a young chap in a Renault Twingo who’d squeezed himself into second place. As we left the village and the tempo rose he was making a commendable effort to stay on the tail of the Honda in front of him and he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the drive. So heaven knows what he thought when within the space of 10 seconds he was passed by not one, but two more identical cars and 30 seconds after that all three had disappeared in front of his eyes. I guarantee if I’d been in his shoes that moment would have made me smile. 
But this is a Type R so inevitably it’s going to find itself at a track day somewhere. On this occasion it just happened to be the SlovakiaRing which is a very testing track with some long, tight corners and even longer straights. Under these circumstances the Type R wouldn’t be the first hot hatch to promise much but not quite hit the heights on the track so Honda have gone all James Bond and fitted a little red button. When you first pull out of the pit lane and head down to the first corner the Type R feels the same as it does on the road. It gets round without any fuss and then you can start to build the speed up. Without the restrictions of normal road use you can really start to explore the limits of the Type R. Take away the smell of petrol, the banners and the sarcastic banter from the small cluster of journalists looking on from the grandstand and the only real difference between the road and the track is that here the limits are defined by the laws of physics rather than the laws of the local constabulary. Even on the edge the Type R grips and goes brilliantly. Yes, there is a touch more understeer when you are hammering around a track but it’s still controllable and it only ever threatens to push you off line rather than off the track. As you get to know the track and push harder it becomes apparent that the Type R feels too much like a road car on the track, it’s not really special enough. It’s good but it really needs to be better.
This where the little red button comes in. It’s located just to the side of the steering wheel, it’s marked “+R” and it does magic. When you press it an unobtrusive +R symbol appears on the display and the dials put on the red halo Honda borrowed from Beelzebub himself. It does much more than illuminate the interior in a soft red glow though. Engine response is sharpened up, the steering input is heightened, the damper system is increased by 30%, the whole setup gets the Spinal Tap treatment and everything is dialled up to 11. Honda have taken a family hatchback and used it to hammer the laws of physics into submission. The only way I can conceive that a front wheel drive car should be able to handle this much power is if the maker has done a deal with the devil. Where the understeer previously pushed the nose out of line it now grips with the force of a terrified toddler clinging on to it’s Mother’s hand. When you plant your right foot on the exit of the corners it surges forward with an immediacy usually reserved for the sort of people who camp outside shops in preparation for the sales. Did I say the Type R needs to be better? It is now. If you need further evidence consider the fact that at 7min 50secs this is the fastest front wheel drive hatchback to ever lap the Nurburgring. 
It can be difficult to separate yourself from the PR effect of a car launch and concentrate on the product. It’s tempting to look kindly on the company that has invited you to fly off somewhere nice, stay in a 5 star hotel to eat and drink at their expense, and drive around in their brand new car. It would be easy to write a fluff piece about how wonderful the car is to ensure you get invited back but I promise the new Type R really is as good as I’ve made it out to be. If you don’t believe me then give your local Honda dealer a call and book a test drive. Put it this way, the general consensus among the group of writers who attended the launch was that we couldn’t really find anything wrong with it. Nothing at all. The only problem will be deciding what colour to choose. The facts speak for themselves. It’s very fast, it handles brilliantly, it’s comfortable, it’s practical, it’s economical and very reasonably priced. There’s an excellent chance that this latest Type R may be about to shed its’ boy racer image and grow up a little. It’s still an absolute hoot to drive but all that 5 door practicality makes this is a Type R for adults. 
There’s equally good news on the price front too. The new model comes in two guises, standard and GT specification, the only difference being that the GT has satnav, parking sensors, auto lights and wipers and a few other additional driver safety systems. Other than that the two are identical in every way and the price difference between them is only £2,300 so you may as well go for the higher spec. Honda have priced the standard Type R at £29,995, the GT comes in at £32,295, which all translates to a lot of car for a very reasonable chunk of money. The most popular way of buying a new car now is some kind of personal contract agreement and according to Honda that means that after the deposit you can drive away a brand new Type R for around £300 per month. I’m sorry but anyone who has £300 a month to spend on a car and doesn’t at least consider buying one of these needs to seek professional help. 
Honda have developed a solid reputation for building good cars over the years, but that reputation is somewhat misleading. The new Civic Type R demonstrates that they are equally capable of building great ones.