Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
If its looks haven’t persuaded you, be in no doubt that this is a car seriously intent on the pursuit of speed. Even though the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine isn’t quite a match for the Mercedes A35 AMG's, the Civic Type R feels nothing short of blisteringly rapid when accelerating through the gears and is noticeably faster than rivals such as the Ford Focus ST, Renault Mégane RS and Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The Type R’s engine just loves to rev, zinging around to 7000rpm with a well-oiled smoothness. Plus, there’s plenty of useful grunt available at lower revs (it’ll pull handsomely from 50mph in sixth) and there’s real pleasure to be had from flicking from gear to gear using the super-slick manual gearbox. Incidentally, the slickness of the gearbox is helped by the teardrop-shaped aluminium gear knob; not only does it feel like a quality item in your hand, but its weight has also been calculated to help you make crisp and accurate shifts (or at least that’s what you can tell your mates).
True, if the road is wet and you gun the accelerator away from the traffic lights or out of a tight hairpin, the front-wheel-drive Civic will struggle to put its power down as effectively as the four-wheel-drive A35 AMG does. Nevertheless, its limited-slip differential does an impressive job of distributing power to whichever wheel can cope with it best, dragging you out of turns with impressive speed and stability, especially compared with the softer-edged Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Despite its suggestive triple-exit exhaust, the Civic's exhaust note is a wee bit uncharismatic; the whoosh you hear when you accelerate is slightly reminiscent of a Boeing 747 during take-off and you’re left in no doubt that lots of power is being produced, but the noise doesn’t really tickle the soul.
Instead, the biggest thrills come from the way the Type R tackles corners. It's incredibly well poised, with loads of grip, and the steering is impossible to fault for accuracy. The only slight niggle is the latter is rather heavy when you’ve got the car in Sport or +R mode – not a problem on the track, but it can get a little tiring around town. Ultimately, the weighting in Comfort is better for the road.
Comfort mode also slackens off the suspension, allowing it to smooth out lumps and ruts as effectively as many regular family hatchbacks, while still keeping body lean well controlled. Meanwhile, flicking to Sport makes the car feel even more tied down and doesn’t make the ride horrendously bumpy, although you do feel bigger impacts from undulations.
The most aggressive +R mode is too firm for all but the smoothest roads, making it best left for attacking Silverstone on a track day – something that’s well worth experiencing in such a rewarding and well-balanced car.
At motorway speeds, the Civic feels utterly planted, which suggests that Honda’s claims of genuine downforce are true, and when you need to shed that momentum, the brakes play their part; the middle pedal has a confidence-inspiring firmness to match its effectiveness. Mind you, there are quieter cruisers; the Type R's engine never fully shuts up, whereas the Golf GTI’s is relatively hushed. Wind noise and, in particular, road noise are much more noticeable at high speeds in the Type R, too, compared with the VW. The more comfort-orientated Sport Line may be better in this respect, but we have yet to drive it.
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