2017 Honda Civic Type R review: Fast, but not as furious as before
The new Civic Type R is a more rounded car, but we actually miss the rawness of the old one
What Honda has done makes perfect sense. Take a hot hatch that was established as a bit of a nutter - a Touring Car for the road in its unrelenting firmness and ferocity, and dial it back a bit. Make it softer, give it a Comfort mode, but also make it faster. Give it more advanced suspension. Give it more power. Make it able to lap the 'Ring faster than any other front-wheel drive car.
Here is a recipe for success. And it shows. Drive the new Type R on track, and the limited slip-diff and dual-axis front strut (a more advanced steering arm that designed to reduce torque steer) give it a fiercely grippy front end. Obviously if you dive into a corner with more optimism than sense, you're only going to understeer to glory.
But it's not hard to get the weight balanced right, make the most of the stonking grip, and get the Type R turned in properly, before easing the throttle on and enjoying the savage build of pace you get through the mid-and-upper rev range.
But something is missing. The savage, raw feel of the previous Type R has gone - even in the 'R+' mode. In its place is a car that is, by any measure, better.
We drove the new Type R on track and on road, and perhaps we should lead with the news that it doesn't torque steer very much at all. You'd pretty much expect a car with this much power going through its front tyres to squirrel about madly under full power, but even if you give it everything as you bleed the steering lock off on exiting a corner, it stays doggedly true to your chosen line.
This is a defining characteristic of the Type R. Even pushed hard on track, it is stoically grippy and neutral. There isn't a dramatic amount of steering feel - it'd certainly benefit from more - but it's got a well-sorted response on turn-in and always feels predictable and linear.
This, mated to the towering grip levels, makes this the sort of car that gives you absolute faith that it's going exactly where you want. And it'll be going there quickly, too.
After all, that engine is strong. Properly strong. And it has the vestiges of a naturally-aspirated motor in the way it delivers its power, with the turbo not really delivering its major punch until you're creeping towards 3000rpm and on through the frantic stretch up to the 7000rpm redline. It's an engine that rewards you for keeping it in the high revs. So much so that it's easy to slingshot out of a corner and find yourself a gear higher than you ideally need to be to avoid the flat lower revs.
Still, it's no chore to use the short-throw, six-speed manual gearbox given the positive, light shift, and rev-matching function that negates the need to heel-and-toe (although the pedals are aligned well enough for you to do it yourself if you wish, as we preferred to do in hard use). You're out of luck if you want an auto gearbox - you'll have to look to the VW Golf R for that at this price range.
Another exceptionally well-sorted aspect of the new Type R is the ride comfort. Gone is the brittle, unforgiving ride of its predecessor, and instead you have dampers with a much softer Comfort setting that have enough pliancy to soften most potholes and creases in the road, while still leaving plenty of 'R' attitude in your Civic. Those wanting to do high miles in their hot hatch can now do so in the Honda without needing to have an osteopath on speed dial.
We actually prefer the Type R in Sport mode, though, which is a bit stiffer but also eliminates the whiff of float and pitch to the body control that Comfort brings.
The driver's seat now sits lower in the car, too, which is good news, as the bottom-on-the-floor feel is what you want. The chunky, deep sports seats keep you firmly in place, and while some adjustable lumbar support wouldn't go amiss, they're more than comfortable enough for leggy journeys.
Plus, you get all the kit you could want provided you go for the GT trim, which costs £2000 on top of the basic £30,995 Type R, and adds sat-nav and parking sensors amongst a few other choice extras.
However, you will probably find the Type R a bit wearing on the motorway given that the exhaust note never dies down. There's always a thrumming, deep exhaust dirge in the background, and perhaps more disappointing is that it never really sounds fantastic even when you want it to. Noisy, yes, and exciting in a hollow, insistent sort of way, but there's not much depth of tone to the engine note despite that extravagant triple exhaust.
And here's the issue. Even though Honda has produced a fantastic car. A hot hatch with remarkable pace, grip and usability, and with real wow-factor to it (I'm not going to mention the looks - you can judge those yourselves), and genuine engineering brilliance, I still don't really know why you would buy it over a Ford Focus RS or a VW Golf R.
If anything, the previous generation Civic Type R was more notable because it offered such an edge to it. Such an abundance of visceral character that it was, in essence, a totally different proposition to its peers.
The new one is not. The new Civic Type R is very much born of the same brainstorm as the Ford Focus RS and VW Golf R, and it's trying to do much the same thing. And it does. It is easy to live with, you can rampage around in it at phenomenal speeds very easily, and it's fun and exciting much of the time. But it's not as visceral as the old Type R, and actually it's not as fun as the Ford or the VW because it doesn't have the same mobility to its chassis.
Throw a Golf R or a Focus RS around on track and both will deliver real flair in the way they let the rear axle step out a bit to tighten the line, and make you feel the hero. There's a bit more life to them when you want it.
The Civic doesn't sound as good as either of them, and it doesn't have that edge of liveliness. And, honestly, it's not going to be as pleasant to live with as them, either, given that its dash and touchscreen system are a bit of an ergonomic challenge.
The Honda Civic Type R is an achievement. It's bloody fast - that Nurburgring record certainly proves that. But I very much wanted to love it, and I didn't. I can see why you might, and you shouldn't put money into this class of car without driving it, because the brutal and super-accessible handling style, and flamboyant appearance might be precisely what you're after.
As it stands, the Honda Civic Type R deserves to retain its cult status, but I fear it will also remain a bridesmaid to the other, equally rounded and yet more involving rivals in this mightily competitive class.
2017 Honda Civic Type R
Engine: 1996cc, turbo, 4cyls, petrol
Layout: Front-engined, front-wheel drive
Gearbox: 6spd manual
Power: 316bhp at 6500rpm
Torque: 295lb ft from 2500-4500rpm
Top speed: 169mph
Kerb weight: 1380kg
Economy: 36.7mpg (combined)