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Honda Civic Type R review: A wing and a player
I KNOW what you're thinking. If a fella came to pick up your daughter for a date in a car that looked like the Honda Civic Type R, you would greet him at the front door with your favourite 7 iron. But we were all that fella once, weren't we? And where's your sense of fun, anyway? Given the Honda's outrageous appearance, though, what might be called for here is more a sense of humour.
Yet, though the Civic looks like it suffers from a bad case of aerodynamic priapism, its collection of wild protuberances is purely functional.
There are wings all over the body (some of which have their own little wings) because this Civic has a ridiculous top speed of 272km/h, and the wind does funny things to a car at that speed, like try to lift it into the sky.
Instead, the aerofoils that festoon the Civic Type R generate negative lift, meaning the faster you go, the more it's pressed down to the road by air, and the more stable it becomes. Honda says none of the car's rivals have bodies that can create downforce (although to be fair, none of them also look like a hatchback crossed with a robot dragonfly).
The bonnet scoop is more for go than show, too. This happens to be the world's most powerful front wheel-drive car, and its 2.0-litre turbo engine needs all the cool air it can get.
When you dump the clutch in first gear, it takes off like you hope that young fella will take off when he sees you and your 7 iron. 100km/h is reached in a frenzied 5.7 seconds, and yes, the Civic Type R only comes with a clutch and three pedals, so you'll have to recalibrate the muscles in your hands and legs that you once used so skilfully to pull off every manual gearchange.
"Type R" is the label that Honda affixes to its fastest cars, and it used to denote a relatively straightforward approach to speed: add horsepower (usually from a high-revving engine) and take out weight, mostly by removing sound insulation and using thinner glass, which would let you hear more of the high-revving engine's sing-song voice.
The "R" stands for "racing", although in past cars it seemed to mean "raw" instead.
But the new Civic Type R is built to a different recipe, and instead of subtracting weight it adds sophistication.
It has three exhaust pipes, for example, but one of them actually sucks air in at certain engine revs, to give the exhaust a less boomy sound.
It comes with Comfort, Sport and +R driving modes, which let you tailor the car's settings to the driving situation: Comfort for when you suddenly remember that errand your wife told you to run, +R for when you're chasing the perfect laptime at Sepang, and everything in between.
This is a car with broad talents to match its broad fenders, however. Even in the softest setting it's remarkably composed on the sweaty side of 200km/h, and in the +R mode it's firm but still comfy enough to keep your hairpiece in place.
That composure extends to the most extreme situation: namely, when you're driving someone else's car on a racing track.
At the Lausitzring, a high-speed circuit in the former East Germany, Honda gave us seven laps in the Civic Type R, and every one was a hoot.
The Civic's grip on tarmac rivals your kids' hold on their smartphones, and even though the engine sends 320 horsepower only to the front wheels, hard acceleration doesn't make you fishtail out of corners in a palsy of torque-steer. Nor does it smoke its front tyres, surprisingly. There's just so much mechanical grip, which a Honda engineer explained is down to a tricky dual-axis front strut suspension system, and other things I didn't understand.
It even comes with a rev-matching system to help smoothen gearchanges, but I found it far more engaging to blip the engine revs myself with the heel-toe technique I learnt in the 90s. Time your gearchanges just so, use the scalpel-sharp steering to dive into a corner, blast out again and feel that mighty engine do its thing… the Civic makes everything joyful about driving feel joyful again.
It costs S$188,999 with Certificate Of Entitlement, which might sound like a lot to pay for a Japanese hatchback with only four seats. But this is a car that holds curves better than anything from Victoria's Secret, and one that's more playful than anything you could buy from Germany at the same price. Above all, it's so much fun that driving it makes you feel 20 years younger. What better way is there for a fella to spend his money?
Honda Civic Type R
Engine 1,996cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 320hp at 6,500rpm
Torque 400Nm at 2,500-4,500rpm
Gearbox 6-speed manual
Top speed 272km/h
0-100km/h 5.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.7L/100km
Price S$188,999 (with COE)
Agent: Kah Motor