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Old 04-28-2007, 01:00 PM
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Arrow First drive: Honda Civic Type R

First drive: Honda Civic Type R

GLENN BUTLER drives the new Civic hot-hatch to find out if Honda's claims of improved refinement have harmed the Type R badge's reputation for blistering, high-revving performance. ...

Those with fond memories of Honda performance cars will remember the raw, emotional screamers the company unleashed on the world in the late '90s. Blisteringly quick, and brutally uncivilised four-pot performance packages like the Honda Integra Type R and the Civic VTiR.

Those with fond memories of those cars may therefore be a little fearful of the latest performance hatchback from the Japanese car company, especially if we are to believe the pre-launch hype.

Honda Australia says the 2007 Civic Type R it will launch in July is \"more civilised, more practical and more comfortable\" than its previous performance coupes and hatches.

Honda believes \"buyers are starting to turn away from the stripped-out boy-racer style of vehicle\", and instead are looking for a more polished performance package priced around $40,000.

(See related story: Civic Type R cast into Euro hot-hatch territory )

Often times, when a company applies sentiments like \"civilised\" and \"comfortable\" to a cooking model, it means they've had to rein in performance, to soften the edges that gave the car its character, that same character that endeared it to us.

When Honda Australia director Lindsay Smalley told us the British-built Civic Type R, which will go head-to-head with the VW Golf GTi, Mazda 3MPS, Mini Cooper S and other hot hatches, is aimed at buyers \"...looking for a performance car for all occasions\", we feared they'd discarded the uncompromising aggression that was the essence of previous Type Rs.

We worried that the new Type R would belay its razor-sharp back-roads skills for more docile urban manners. We envisaged Honda supplanting the previous highly-strung 1.8-litre engine with a more robust donk that favours low-end pull and forgets high-rpm hijinks.

We imagined a three-door cabin drowning in unwanted equipment and brochure-friendly gizmos. A cabin with soft, slippery leather seats and supercomputers brimming with over-zealous safety features. A cabin that sacrifices a pure driving position to ensure a roomy back row.

We need not have worried.

Honda allowed us the opportunity to drive the Civic Type R three months before its July arrival in Australia. And the setting ?? the tight, twisting, undulating B roads of the Scottish highlands, would test the car's hot hatch mettle to the full.

We'll go into detail about how the Type R performed in a moment, but first The Bottom Line: the Civic Type R is not going to make up the numbers in the hot hatch segment. It has the armoury to fight, to battle for the crown and it's going to bloody a few reputations along the way....


First up, the negatives. This Civic rides very, very firmly on tightly-wound sports suspension. The Type R will not be as easy to live with as, say, a VW Golf GTi. Owners will need forbearance and patience because the ride has very little compliance at all and the Civic's 18-inch Bridgestones roar on coarse bitumen.

And if it's not the tyres bellowing the road's Braille, then it's the new 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine screaming VTEC murder at the top of its alloy lungs. Make no mistake, this four-pot screamer is exactly that.

But in other areas the Type R is surprisingly civilised. The heavily bolstered sports front seats are comfortable on long journeys, and there's enough headspace and legroom in the rear to seat two *****s without compromise.

Cubby holes in the doors and a lidded bin between the front seats swallow all of life's clutter. Boot-space is enough for Drive's two suitcases and two backpacks and still has room for a few bags of shopping. And if that's not enough then the back seats split fold 60/40.

So that's good, but so what? This level of interior comfort and space only puts it on par with rivals like the Ford Focus XR5 and Mazda 3 MPS, and the Civic trails these two in one crucial area where the hot hatch battle can be won or lost: engine performance.

Honda saw fit to endow the Civic Type R with a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine that doesn't move the game on at all, on paper.

Even with Honda's i-VTEC variable valve wizardry onboard, the naturally aspirated engine develops just 148kW of power and an anaemic 193Nm of torque. To put that in perspective it has 22 per cent less power and barely half the torque of the hot hatch engine-output king, the turbocharged 190kW/380Nm Mazda 3 MPS.

But paper figures don't convey the engine's raw enthusiasm or its rev-hungry nature, or indeed the Type R's resulting ability to obliterate every straight and corner between A and B.

The secret is in the seamless teamwork of the Type R's major components. Like a well-trained orchestra all playing from the same music book, the Type R's engine, gearbox, suspension and brakes combine to create an automotive symphony of heavenly proportions.

The engine loves to rev, and rev, and rev. It hits confidently from as little as 2500rpm but if you want real power, get it spinning beyond 5400rpm. That's where the duality of Honda's i-VTEC variable valve timing system opens the taps in the name of performance, fuel economy be damned. (Though in truth, even our most ferocious sustained beating only managed to elevate fuel consumption to 15 litres/100km.)...


And the engine's sound is incredible. Strident, mechanical, maniacal. Some may prefer the rumbling grumble of a meaty V8, but I reckon a perfectly tuned four-pot can be just as enthralling.

Honda's given the Type R a short-throw six-speed manual transmission with tightly packed ratios to keep the 2.0-litre engine singing in the power zone. Honda claims the Civic Type R can accelerate from rest to 100km/h in 6.6 seconds, putting it on par with the Golf GTi.

The Civic's electronic stability control has been tuned specifically for this Type R application. It allows more slip and more wheelspin before intervening. Hmm, intervene is not the right word, because there's nothing intrusive or suffocating about the way it delicately brakes spinning wheels to restore grip. Rather, it tempers the engine's enthusiasm deftly.

There's no limited slip differential in the front axle to reduce wheelspin, and there doesn't need to be. The stability control is good enough to make any suggested gains in traction and, ultimately, performance that an LSD would bring an argument of hundredths.

We drove the Type R in the worst of conditions and the best of conditions. Yep, a typical Scottish Spring day. Fog followed by drenching rain followed by bright sunshine followed by rain, etc etc...

The Type R's 18-inch Bridgestone Potenzas on these wet / damp / dry Scottish B roads deliver loads of grip and work in beautifully with the benign, malleable chassis. The Type R manages the seemingly opposed characteristics of feeling planted and stable on undulating straights, yet is nimble and quick to respond on change of direction.

Honda fitted an electrically assisted steering system into the Type R, which reduces fuel consumption marginally over a typical hydraulic system. Some consider electric systems to have inferior feel and feedback for a sports-car application. The Type R begs to differ, and we have no complaints about the behaviour of its tiller.

Nor the Type R's performance brakes that lurk beyond a very firm brake pedal and pull the 1345kg hatchback up strongly and confidently even after repeated poundings.

One area of concern, however, is the large A-pillar on either side of the windscreen. It can be difficult to see around in some corners, which is particularly disconcerting on tight, twisting roads where a driver is likely to be exploring the Type R's performance envelope.

That's one of the few holes in the Civic Type R's performance portfolio. Likewise the 3-dr hatch wants for little on the equipment sheets despite its lithe kerb weight and uncluttered cabin....


The Civic Type R's standard kit includes dual-zone climate control, eight-speaker CD stereo, full trip computer, cruise control, remote central locking, rain sensing wipers and automatic headlights.

True to its focus as a performance hatchback, the Type R ensures a good driving position with tilt and reach adjustability on the steering column and a height-adjustable driver's seat. A lever on the side flips the seatback forward and slides the base to allow generous access to the rear ?? for a three-door ?? but has no memory function for repositioning it after access.

Safety equipment levels are on par with the opposition. The Civic Type R comes with dual front and side airbags and curtain airbags for all rows. In terms of active safety, it includes the aforementioned VSA electronic stability control, and antilock brakes with the ability to maximise the effort of individual wheels depending on grip levels.

It remains to be seen whether the Civic Type R will be such a convincing hot hatchback on Australia's unique road types and surfaces, but there's no reason to doubt its potential.

The $40k hot hatch battle is going to get even hotter.

Visit drive.com.au for more news and features on the Honda Civic Type R....

1177459942136-theage.com.au http://www.theage.com.au/news/news/first-drive-honda-civic-type-r/2007/04/27/1177459942136.html theage.com.au drive.com.au 2007-04-27 First drive: Honda Civic Type R Glenn Butler GLENN BUTLER drives the new Civic hot-hatch to find out if Honda's claims of improved refinement have harmed the Type R badge's reputation for blistering, high-revving performance. DriveHome News http://www.theage.com.au/ffximage/2007/04/27/27Civic_m.jpg 470 281 http://www.theage.com.au/ffximage/2007/04/27/27civic_age.jpg 50 50

Honda Civic Type R Honda Civic Type R

Source: [url=http://www.theage.com.au/news/news/first-drive-honda-civic-type-r/2007/04/27/1177459942136.html]The Age[/url]
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