Review - Honda Civic Type-R GT

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This seems a strange undertaking, a review of a car that still feels recent and new but has had its successor unveiled to the world under the thinnest of "Concept" veils. Nevertheless, I found myself the proud guardian of £32,300 worth of Honda Civic Type-R GT for a week.

The Car

We all know what a Civic Type-R is. The steroidally-enhanced bodybuilder of Honda's compact hatchback, it first appeared as a Civic trim level in 1997 on the 6th generation "EK3" for the Japanese market and was first introduced to the UK with the 7th generation Civic / 2nd generation Civic Type-R "EP3" model.
The car driven here is a Swindon-built 9th/4th generation "FK2" and has a two litre; four-cylinder; turbocharged engine putting out 310PS. Surprisingly, Honda builds the motor in Ohio before exporting it to the UK for installation in the Civic and sales worldwide.

The Looks

It's impossible to mistake the Type-R model for any of its lesser brethren. The five-door hatchback body has grown race-inspired arch extensions, wings, skirts and splitters as well as a scattering of inlets and outlets for airflow management. To those of us who appreciate these things, it is overflowing with purpose and intent. To those who don't, it is the very epitome of "boy racer". Comments from passers-by varied from "Nice car, I love these Type-Rs" to a tirade from the passenger seat of a knackered Ford Fiesta about being an irresponsible boy racer. I'm 38, so I think I should perhaps have been flattered.
I think the Milano Red of the press car I borrowed looks the part - thick and dark like blood it was closer to the tone of a racing Alfa Romeo than the brashness of an 80s Porsche - and made it stand out against every environment in which I photographed it. As a bonus, it's the only hue that avoids the £550 "colour tax" that the blue, grey, black and, of course, Championship White attract. Stick to the factory choices, and you can't order an unsuitable colour for this car.

The Inside

Starting from the rear, the boot space and back seats of the Type-R are just the same as any "normal" Civic, and Andrew covered that in his review of the 1.8i Sport earlier in the year, so I'm not going to elaborate here. Up front, however, it's somewhat different as a pair of heavily bolstered, red and black race-style chairs dominate and are the first thing that anyone comments on when they get in. Mounted as close as possible to the centre line of the car, they're the first thing people comment on when they climb in. The typical entry procedure is that people step over the outer bolster, wiggle a bit and exclaim "Oh! These are nice...". I'm not sure how you'd get on if you're the chunky side, but for most of us they hold hips and ribs in place just fine - useful given the cornering forces that can be generating. Sadly, I found that the headrest area didn't support my head and was clearly designed too much like a real racing seat. It's great when you're wearing a helmet (Yes, I tried. No, there aren't any pictures) but not every day's a track day. 

The Controls

The dashboard is pure Civic, which for the last two generations has meant it's a two-level affair with the rev-counter and auxiliary gauges visible through the steering wheel and the speedometer far away at the base of the windscreen. In the Type-R, it's joined by a set of graduated shift lights and a gear indicator. If that sounds complex, rest assured that it works.

As far as touch-points are concerned, the previously mentioned Type-R steering wheel and gear knob are spot-on, with the remaining controls shared with the rest of the Civic range. The only frustrating control was the one for switching between the pages of gauges on the upper screen. In a week and many hundreds of miles, I never managed to work out exactly how to swap from G-force, brake force and throttle position and the, more useful to me, boost gauge and temperatures screen.

Worthy of a mention are the theatrics when you start the Type-R. The digital speedo counts down from 888; the shift lights animate, the rev counter, fuel gauge and water temperature gauges arc through their range and return to rest in a balletic ignition sequence that feels special every time. There is one last Type-R-specific control which has an animation, but we'll cover that shortly.

The Drive

Let's start with straight-out performance. Zero to 62 in 5.7 seconds, a 1/4 mile time of 14.1 seconds at 105.6mph and a top speed of 167mph there is no shortage of available performance.
To transmit all of this to the road via the front wheels alone, the Type-R has a limited slip diff and all the usual slathering of traction and stability aids. It's when we start to apply this to real life driving that it becomes interesting. You won't always win the traffic light drag race as you need to be careful transferring its power to the tarmac in the damp and overtaking manoeuvres are akin to entering warp speed. The world seems to blur, and you're entirely reliant on the shift lights as you're simply too terrified to glance at the rev counter. The engine has both VTEC and a turbo, meaning that the rev counter has three distinct zones. Idle to 2,500rpm is a bit "meh". At 2,500rpm the turbo joins the fun and your reaction changes to "ooh!" and then the VTEC shift at just over 4,000rpm turns that into "FFFFuuuuu....." before you grab the next gear.

If you've already read up on the Type-R, you'll be aware of how it handles. There are massive amounts of grip from the 235mm-wide tyres and the limited slip diff; body roll is nonexistent, and the steering communicates everything that's happening on the road surface. On the smooth, sweeping Welsh roads I made an early morning beeline for to give it "a proper outing" it was wonderful. 

Where it was less wonderful was any time you had to cross broken British tarmac or, may-your-deity-of-choice-help-you, enter a town. The trade off for that roll free handling is that ride comfort is nearly nonexistent and that every pothole and surface break will be transferred straight to your spine. I took it on what would normally be a pleasant, but heavily-traffic'd 90-mile round trip from home to Oxford (Motto: "F**k Off If You're Driving") and returned home feeling like I'd been fed through a mincer. I was quite unimpressed, but further investigation proved what I'd already suspected from the number of race circuits in the history of its satnav - "my" Type-R was at the end of a hard life on the Honda Press Fleet, and it's vibrating transmission may not have been in its prime.

I mentioned there was one further Type-R specific button and that is the "+R" button. The dash turns red, there's a little animation on the upper screen and throttle, steering and dampers sharpen. I pressed it a couple of times in different circumstances and can confirm that it does mage a difference to how the car feels. Sadly, on British roads, it simply makes the car twitchy and uncomfortable, but I'm sure that on a smooth track it would be fantastic.

The Technology

The GT-specification Type-R I had doesn't lack for driver and safety aids. There are systems to stop you veering out of your lane, to stop you crashing into a vehicle in front, to stop to sliding off into a ditch and to stop you lighting up your front wheels like a chav in a car park and they seem to work as advertised, which is good.

The systems that don't seem to work as well are the ones that seem designed for lesser models, and that can't cope with the sheer Type-R-ness. For example, the satnav is easy to program and clear in its instructions, but the incremental zoom can't handle the rates at which the Type-R can accelerate and brake. This indecision means that sequences of tight bends result in an almost fit-inducing flashing from the navigation screen as it decides which way you're facing and what zoom level is best for your speed. Similarly, I found it alarmingly easy to out-drive the headlamps on favourite roads.

The Conclusion

I was hugely excited by the prospect of the Type-R, and I fully expected not to want to surrender it at the end of its week with me, but instead I found it immensely frustrating.

I loved it when it was in the right place. It was fabulous blatting across Wales towards the Evo Triangle on a Saturday morning, but I found it insufferable in the type of driving I do 85% of the time. Sadly, to most of us, £32k is a lot of money for a car that can only shine 15% of the time.
If most of your driving is fast and cross-country then the Civic Type-R GT should be on your shortlist, if that sort of driving is only occasional then maybe a Golf R or Leon Cupra FR might be more suitable.