The battle for supremacy in the hot hatch market is raging right now – and into the mix comes Honda with its fourth iteration of its long-running Type R franchise. The outgoing model was hugely fast, and somewhat compromised, ceding class honours to the four-wheel drive Ford Focus RS. The 2017 Type R promises to lose none of the old car’s speed, but gain in usability.
In the lead-up to the launch, Honda gave us a brief drive of the 2017 Type R at its Tochigi test track in Japan.
At this stage of the game, Honda isn’t telling us the power, torque or performance figures, which made our drive interesting – but given that the 10th-generation Civic is lighter and stiffer than its predecessor, the need for additional power isn’t as great as it might be.
So, what do we know about the 2017 Honda Civic Type R?
Visually, the Type R follows the same pattern as before, so it gains an aggressive bodykit and a huge rear spoiler on stilts. A new addition is the fitment of a trio of fat exhaust pipes beneath the rear diffuser – eyecatching, if nothing else.
Inside the changes for the Type R are inline with the previous model. So, it gets Type R-embossed bucket seats, trimmed in alcantara, and red stitching. As per the standard Civic, you sit lower than before. Honda clearly knows its buyer demographic.
Additional aero enhancements come in the form of a set of tailgate winglets, front under-bumper splitter and side skirts. It rides lower on its lightweight wheels – enough to give the Type R huge presence that’s missing from the slightly gawky donor car.
That car had 316bhp for a sub 6.0-second 0-60mph time – expect the new car to beat that, if only for Honda’s bragging rights in the hot hatch market. We’ll be filled in with those details on 12 June, so stay tuned.
That’s fine, but what’s the 2017 Civic Type R like to drive?
It’s the first Honda that the company talks about being a by-product of its ‘Dynamic Concept’ philosophy. From the driver’s seat it’s immediately apparent that mechanical refinement has moved up a notch from the previous model. Even at idle, you get the sense the drivetrain is more insulated than before.
The car has a comfort drive mode, and we drove in this set-up and also in Sport. First impressions are that it feels just like a Civic Type R should. So, it has a short, snappy gearchange, intimately accessed through its titanium selector.
It’s a highly mechanical set-up, and a delight to shift – compare that with the longer throw of the Focus RS or the obstinacy of the Peugeot 308 GTI, and it’s clear Honda is onto a winner. Especially in an era that’s beginning to be dominated by paddle-shifting dual-clutch transmission systems, we heartily agree with this back to basics feel.
In low speed corners, turn-in and stability are impressive. The new steering set-up has more feel and weight than before, and is certainly has quicker gearing, so it’s agile and responsive. It doesn’t have the diff-driven on the nose feeling of a Peugeot 308 GTI, but it’s certainly ahead of the quick front-wheel Volkswagen Group rivals for instance.
At higher speed, there’s a benefit to the switch back to an independent rear suspension set-up. The rear end feels light, and is certainly playful in quicker corners – but despite taking liberties with the throttle and brakes, it never felt close to biting back.
This bodes well for the Civic’s ability to be driven hard and with confidence on typically lumpy British back roads. It’s going to be at the head of the front-wheel drive pack – we’ll see where it stands against the four-wheel drive Ford Focus RS. Hopefully, it’ll be more compliant.
What’ll she do, though, mister?
Performance is where you would expect it to be. Acceleration is decisive – we don’t know the figures yet, but 0-60mph is likely to drop to below 5.8 seconds, and if this sleeker car doesn’t beat the old Type R’s 167mph, we’d be very surprised.
As before, the addition of the turbo has not robbed the Civic Type R of its animal feel. It pulls hard from 3000rpm through to 7000rpm, but there’s a delightful spread of torque that means most drivers will enjoy devastating pace without ever leaving third and fourth gears. Did the turbo muffle its delightful engine note? Not in the slightest.
Has Honda built the best Civic Type R yet? From our brief track impressions it would certainly appear to be the case. The performance is as vivid as ever, but with a dose of more grown up dynamics than before. Whether rounding off the rough edges reduces the overall appeal of the Type R’s rawness remains to be seen on a more definitive drive on the road.
As ever, Honda should be applauded for building an uncompromising hot hatch that’s true to the company’s engineering-led DNA. But whether that’s enough to see off the mighty Ford Focus RS in a head-to-head battle will have to wait until we drive one on European roads. Luckily you only have to wait until 12 June for that.