I may be alone when it comes to this, but I often judge holiday locations by having a proper scour over Google Maps. I look for three things – an athletics track, a historical site for a bit of nerding out and a racing circuit to scratch any automotive itch.
For my first holiday of 2019, I decided to take things back to my homeland and after looking at the map, my eyes were drawn to this:
A quick Google Maps routing session told me that it would take bang on two hours. At 6am and with half-decent weather, I reckoned I could give that estimation a bit of a bashing.
This is the Isle of Arran off the west coast of Scotland and, as you can see, there is a perfect ring road around the entire island. To any keen driver, that can only mean one thing. A lap. I’d be setting DriveTribe’s first lap record. Of an entire Scottish island.
My choice of vehicle? Our long-term Honda Civic Type R test car, potentially the most highly-rated backroad blaster we’ve encountered recently.
Predictably for Scotland and after hauling myself out of bed, I reach my designated startline and the heavens have fully opened.
Thankfully, the Type R is front-wheel-drive, so getting on the throttle pedal shouldn’t have me searching for the nearest highland lavatory.
Lining myself up with the bus stop on the outskirts of Brodick, I flick the stopwatch on, set the revs and launch down the deserted coastal road.
The lap begins with long, tree-lined sweepers that get the car up to temperature. Brodick Castle looms up out of the trees, this probably being the first time it has seen an FK8 fly past its windows.
Suddenly the trees open out to the coast with waves crashing up the rocks and onto the road.
After passing through the first sleepy village, up comes the national speed limit sign and the Civic rips its front tyres for all they’re worth in third gear, reaching 60mph at a rate that seems baffling for a 316bhp motor.
Without warning, we’re plunged into a huge expanse of moorland, with heather and brown ferns dominating the landscape. The road now skirts the side of a glen, giving a great view of the road ahead that allows me to properly put my foot down.
Here's a little clip:
The undulations in the road show one of the Honda’s greatest traits – its damping. In +R mode, the suspension is racecar solid, meaning that over the bumps and yumps, the car cannot seem to get itself back down and hunkered into the road quick enough.
You can commit to corners like no other hot hatch I’ve ever experienced, knowing that any camber or bump won’t disturb your progress.
Arran is known as 'Scotland in miniature', as it seems to cram everything the country has to offer into one little splodge in the Irish Sea. Mountains, lochs, rugged wildlife and the best (and relatively undiscovered) driving roads you could hope for.
The turn-in is not only helped by quick steering but also the Pirelli P-Zero tyres that are now fully warmed up and coping with the classic Scottish conditions extremely well. The steering, the grip – the confidence with which I tackle the east of Arran makes me feel like I’m a Group B rally driver – there’s no way I’d feel this confident in something much more expensive and rear-driven.
The differential in the Type R is ferocious, allowing you to rip out of corners in second gear with serious punch
I reach the northern tip of the island, where Arran takes its next wardrobe change. The steep glen bursts open into a sea loch, at the mouth of which lies the crooked remains of Lochranza Castle.
It’s only once I’ve slowed for the fishing village surrounding the castle that I realise just how intense the first half of the lap has been. When you have all of this amazing road to yourself, you feel like you’ve found the greatest sprint or hillclimb course in the whole country.
The village ends and we're off again before I have the chance to take in the turquoise water of Lochranza
Arran is starting to wake up now and the overtaking abilities of the Civic are put to the test. Apart from the odd gorse bush, you can see hundreds of yards up the road, meaning there’s no drop in speed necessary to dispatch the island postman starting his rounds.
And with each acceleration out of a corner or around an islander, the Type R’s engine shows why it has helped take the Civic to the top of the hot hatch tree. Gone are the days of classic naturally-aspirated VTEC, replaced by some of the most old-school turbocharging I’ve felt in a modern car.
It isn’t the most pleasing engine to listen to, not doing much to hide its four-cylinder crassness. Despite its power then, it won’t replace the old VTEC screamers of days gone by in the soundtrack department.
Thundering out of the village of Thundergay, the descent to the south of Arran begins. And while many cars can get a little tetchy when braking and cornering down a slope, the way the Type R copes with its own weight is impressive.
Even when I’ve misjudged entry to a corner or touch the brake when I really shouldn’t, the chassis and suspension soaks it up without the slightest bit of fuss, keeping your speed as high as possible into and out of the bends.
The power comes in a surgring lump at the top of the revs, forcing you to rev it out and trouble the front tyres, even in third gear
Brodick now looms back into view, the castle sitting atop its mount like a finish-line beacon in Forza.
Keeping to 30mph past the ferry terminal and through the town, it’s a last gasp blast around the corner and a dip of the chest over the bus stop finish line.
My time? A 1:12:51 and an average speed of 46.1mph. Not a single speed limit was harmed, either. Promise.
Arran is a truly spectacular part of the British Isles, offering imposing glens, rugged coastline and some of the greatest driving roads I’ve ever experienced. The Civic Type R happened to be an almost perfect fit, with an engine, differential, suspension and chassis combination that not many cars would be able to match.
Give me a McLaren 720S or a 911 GT3 and I wouldn’t have been as quick or committed as I was in that £33,000 hatchback. A mega car that took care of a mega task.