List price when new £31,730
Price today £19,000
Available from 2012-2016
One of our favourite hot hatches, and not as expensive to buy used as you might think
Honda Civic Type R
List price when new £29,995
Price today £19,500
Available from 2015-2017
Hooligan looks and serious pace, but is it a better used buy than the BMW?
Price today is based on a 2015 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
Rarely are the colours of cars we test here on What Car? particularly relevant. But it’s certainly the case today. For, were you to park the two cars taking part in this used head-to-head next to each other, facing opposite directions, and view them from overhead, you’d see something approximating a taichi – or yin-yang – symbol.
That’s appropriate because these two sit at opposite ends of the spectrum of hot-hatch-dom. Take the BMW M135i – here lent a sinister air by its black paintwork. Beneath the skin sit a thumping straight-six engine and a slick rear-drive chassis, both of which ooze finesse. It’s a subtle looker, too; you’d have to spot the chunky bumpers and tri-colour badging to know that there’s something about it that elevates it above and beyond a standard 1 Series.
The same can’t, however, be said of the Honda Civic Type-R, whose shouty white paintwork and equally strident set of skirts, vents and wings suggest a vastly different character to the BMW. And so it goes under the skin, too, where there’s a manic 2.0-litre turbo engine driving the front wheels, and a +R mode which tightens and sharpens the car up for use on the track. It is, in short, a banzai scream to the BMW’s menacing whisper. And with both of these cars going for broadly similar prices on the used market, it’s going to be tough to figure out which approach makes for a better used hot hatch. Best get to it, then.
What are they like to drive?
They feel as different on the road as their mechanical differences suggest. The Civic is the more focused car, even without the +R mode, which brings heavier steering, a quicker throttle response and stiffer suspension, activated. The Honda turns in to corners aggressively, stays relatively flat as it does so and its steering gives a decent amount of feedback.
In fact, the Civic’s excellent steering makes it as easy to guide on a motorway as it is to aim with precision at the apex of a corner, although the inevitable shortcomings of such a powerful front-wheel-drive car do come to light when you accelerate really hard, because the steering wheel squirms around in your hands a little.
Does the Honda handle better than the BMW? Well, the M135i feels very relaxed in Comfort mode, which minimises the steering effort needed and makes the car easier to drive smoothly.
However, select Sport or Sport+ and it comes to life. The rear end of this 2015 example feels more planted than earlier, pre-facelift M135is, but the steering can still feel too light through fast corners, and it doesn’t provide quite as much feedback as the Honda’s.
However, the BMW’s rear-wheel drive layout makes it the more entertaining car to drive hard; it ’s light-footed and playful yet seriously capable, whereas the Civic is entertaining in a scrappy way and, steering aside, less involving.
The engine in the M135i is a peach, too. There are no obvious surges in acceleration as the turbocharger starts to do its work, and the BMW is the much quicker car in a straight line. It’ll hit 60mph from a standstill almost a second faster and will sprint from 30-70mph in just 4.5 seconds, whereas the Honda takes 5.3 seconds. Still, the Honda’s engine has its merits. There’s a frantic sense to the way it revs, and the F1-style shift lights start to illuminate as you approach the 7000rpm limiter. Blink and it’ll be time for the next gearshift, which is more satisfying and shorter in its throw than the BMW’s.
The cars’ differing characters continue when it comes to ride comfort. Our test BMW came with adaptive dampers, an optional extra not fitted to all cars, but worth having if you can find it. The variation between suspension settings is subtle, and even in the firmest mode it delivers a remarkably supple ride.
That’s not to say the Civic is as hardcore as its appearance would suggest. The dampers soften bumps effectively and broken surfaces don’t have the Honda fidgeting too much. It feels firm over sharp-edged potholes, but anyone in the market for a hard-nosed hot hatch is unlikely to complain.
So, the BMW is faster, more fun in vigorous use and easier to live with the rest of the time. It’s also more refined. The Civic’s theatrical engine rasp, and the pronounced hiss as you lift off the throttle, are great fun, but at a steady 70mph the engine quickly becomes tiring. By contrast, the BMW emits an encouraging, bassy warble when you want it to, but just a distant hum on the motorway, and there’s significantly less road noise, too.
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