Why you can't buy the new Civic Type R - Even though it's BRILLIANT!
My good friend and colleague Mr. James May is a fan of the Honda Civic Type R. I remember him extolling the virtues of this epic-looking beast in a Grand Tour episode where Clarkson and Hammond were driving insanely expensive modern retro classics from Aston Martin and Jaguar.
Now the other weekend my father-in-law was suggesting I take a closer look at the Civic Type R. He's a Honda fan, he had an old petrol CRV a few years ago. He suggested, if I took my car for a trade-in, and asked for a test-drive then they'd take me seriously. I suspect they would, but I also detect a hint of 'ulterior motives'. It's true - they'd probably be a little more skeptical if he got a part exchange price on his automatic, diesel people carrier, when asking for a test drive.
His particular argument for the Civic Type R was that in many respects it's basically a car that will do pretty much the same as my Focus ST3, plus a bit more.
One area in particular he suggested might be an improvement was that the Civic Type R might not have this annoying noise which the ST3 produces when carrying a passenger, or at least one specific passenger. It transpires that the Civic Type R has adjustable suspension ranging from Comfort to R+. The ST3 has no such thing. This means in theory if I owned the Civic Type R, and I was driving the present Mrs. Stanley somewhere I could switch it to comfort mode and not have to endure a constant stream of complaints about the firm ride. That does appeal. I did wonder if it was true, as when I discussed this with my sister-in-law's fella, he said the Type R is about as comfortable as having your face scraped over tarmac.
In some respects it's a pity I have this long running feud with the BBC which will effectively rule me out permanently from securing a role on Top Gear. This would have been a car I'd been genuinely interested in doing a detailed video review of. Partly because I think it's a car so unique within its class that you'd have a lot to say about it, and partly because they say it's a riot on track.
So what is it REALLY like?
Having done my research, I've discovered the Type R DOES have adjustable suspension, which they say actually, REALLY works. It also has a clever limited slip differential, so it's less likely to torque steer into the kerb every time you put your foot down like the ST3. It's also roomy, light-weight and has great handling. It actually set a new record for front-wheel-drive around the Nurburgring. Performance wise, it has 316 BHP, 60 or so more than my ST3, but less than its direct rivals. It takes 5.8 seconds to go 0-60mph, which is slow for its class, but faster than my ST3 and they say it's so much lighter and better handling that it'll leave the BMW M140i and the Focus RS on a country road anyway.
All in all, the conclusion is that the Honda Civic Type R is a VERY fine car and an excellent hot hatch. I should want one! I should be ringing up for insurance quotes and checking finance deals. However, I'm not.
Well, I'll be honest the thing I struggle with is 'those' looks. Honda assures us that all the curves and sharp angles improve handling by producing downforce. This might be true. However it also makes it look like the sort of thing Vin Diesel should be driving in 'The Fast and the Furious 27: More cars, more races, more crashes!'. It has the sort of appearance that wouldn't look out of place on a poster decorating the wall of a 7 year old. It's more of a 'Hot Wheels' model than a 'Matchbox car'.
I'll be honest there was a time when this look DID appeal to me! It was about twenty odd years ago when I had less pubic hair, but more hair on my head. Sadly at that time I'd have had to sell a kidney to insure something like this, and the excess would've probably been more than the value of the car.
So you kind of think this is a car that doesn't make sense. And you'd be right.
There IS a possible explanation.
The most plausible reason I can think of for Honda releasing a car for adult budgets but tailored to infantile tastes is... That it's Japanese. It's actually quintessentially Japanese.
Here in the UK we have a problem with young people drinking too much alcohol and getting into trouble. They have NO SUCH PROBLEM in Japan. The reason for this is actually quite odd. It transpires that in Japan it's the older generations that are staying out all night partying and getting drunk. This behavior is so prolific over there that Japanese young people now see getting wasted and acting daft as SERIOUSLY uncool. It's the sort of thing their grandad would do, see?
So I wonder - does this apply to cars? Do all these wings and air intakes that scream 'BANZAI!' at you, appeal to the over 60's in Japan? Certainly they could insure the thing and probably afford it too. It could be that in Japan the Civic Type R is seen as heroically uncool for the OPPOSITE reason we're uncomfortable with the looks.
So would I consider one?
I suppose having read all there is to read and procrastinated on it long enough to a conclusion, I'd say... MAYBE. It's a great handling car, it's practical, it's roomy, it's fast. It should probably be fairly reliable too. I'd certainly have a test-drive. However in the end I don't think I could bring myself.
Someone in the village has the old model, and I hate buying cars that make it look like I'm copying someone else, but more than that - I don't think I could live with the looks.
Driving around in the Honda Civic Type R is akin to going to the shops in fetish wear.
Yes, it draws the eye, yes it's exciting to look at... But you would actually want to be in it, out in public? I suspect for most people the answer would be NO! Why? Because it would be a little bit embarrassing. People WOULD look at you, and not just a cursory glance, their eyes would linger. Possibly long enough to constitute a 'stare'. You'd expect people to start making certain judgments about your character, some of which you weren't comfortable with.
Okay, driving a Civic Type R might not infer you're the sort of person who likes to be tied up and spanked. But it probably DOES infer you're the type who likes a bit of the old 'Traffic Lights Grand Prix'. People will expect you to drive like a pillock.
The fact that you're driving one will also inspire others to drive like a pillock around you. I've noticed this with the ST3. You can be pootling along at a steady pace, enjoying a nice relaxing drive, when someone sees you, then contorts their face and drops their foot into the carpet like they're trying to escape the zombie apocalypse! I have no idea why this is, but I know I never experienced this in the Jaguar X-Type 3.0 even though it was more or less as fast as the Focus.
So, the Honda Civic Type R is probably NOT for me. I think next time I'll probably go for something a little more understated such as a Jaguar XJR or a bright yellow Porsche 911 Carrera S!