Imagine a world where performance cars are
required to use engines of no more than 2 litres. A world where no turbos or
superchargers are allowed.
There, the Civic Type R would be a genuinely
Its 2 litre engine screams to 8000 rpm and
develops 148kW. It’s an engine with wonderful throttle response, a silky smooth
idle and a torque curve that’s as flat as a ruler. The chassis is well behaved –
if rather unresponsive to throttle inputs when the stability control is left
switched on – and the steering razor-sharp.
But in this world, performance cars don’t have to
be 2 litres in capacity – and they don’t have to be naturally aspirated. Look at
the overall picture and the Honda is outclassed by so many cars it’s hard to
Perhaps we’d be more impressed if Honda didn’t try
to make a highlight of the car’s inadequacies. Says Honda:
The Type R is powered by the
naturally-aspirated, high-revving 2.0-litre DOHC i-VTEC engine, mated to a
6-speed manual. It produces 148kW at 7,800rpm. So why didn’t we put a bigger,
more powerful, turbocharged lump in there?
That question is answered in part by the Type R
philosophy, a mantra followed in the approach to developing any new Type R. The
philosophy says that all Type Rs must be pure, balanced and offer a smooth power
delivery. For this reason, all Type R cars are supplied with normally-aspirated
engines. The second part of the answer is just as simple: it’s not all about big
power figures .While mighty kW claims might make the headlines, Honda is more
concerned about creating a performance car with balance. There’s absolutely no
doubt that our engineers could strap a huge blower on to the i-VTEC engine and
get monster results at the flywheel – but it would likely be at the cost of its
smooth power delivery or stable cornering under acceleration.
We’re not ashamed of our ‘lowly’ power claims
compared to the competition. Quite the opposite: we’re proud to stay true to our
engineering beliefs, and proud to stick closely to the Type R
And so on goes the PR hype...
If Honda isn’t ashamed of this car’s performance,
it bloody well should be.
Basically, the Type R makes a lot of noise and
revs to the stars – but it just doesn’t go hard. The Honda claimed 0-100 km/h
time is 6.6 seconds. We’d suggest that in the sort of getaway you might perform
at a set of traffic lights, the real time is closer to 8 seconds. In fact,
launch gently with the air on before mashing your foot to the floor and it’s not
hard to stretch that even further. Basically, that means the local cooking
sedans that leap from the line with torque – Aurion, Falcon, Commodore, 380 -
will easily wipe you to the urban limit if you’re so foolhardy as to line them
And the embarrassment isn’t confined to just
traffic light drags. Up a steep, windy and bumpy country road, a Mitsubishi 380
that we’ve driven was able to set faster times than the Type R screaming at 7000
– 8000 rpm.
And if you think it’s unfair to compare the Type R
to local sedans, try comparing it with its direct competition – Golf GTi, Mazda
3 MPS, Focus XR5 and so on. There the Honda looks simply ridiculous in the
paucity of its performance. At 1345kg it’s in the same weight ballpark as its
opposition but has far less power. For example, the Mazda 3 has a flywheel
figure of 190kW, well in excess of the Honda’s 148kW. But the vital point to
realise is that the peak torque of the Mazda is 97 per cent greater.
That’s right, there’s almost twice the torque – and it occurs at 3000 rpm, not
the Honda’s 5600 rpm. To put this another way, at 80 km/h in fourth gear in the
Honda you have 62kW available at the wheels. In the Mazda you’ve got 115kW available! (See the dyno graph at the end of this story for more.)
And so hell, it’s no surprise that the Mazda 3
goes like a cut snake and the Honda Type R leisurely winds its way to
Forget the hype – in a straight line the Civic
Type R is simply not a fast car. But what of Honda’s point that the power is
able to be developed smoothly, promoting “stable cornering under acceleration”?
Yes, well, maybe. In fact, the Honda is set up so stiffly that at times the
suspension and stability control can felt to be working against the engine, not
with it. A smooth, constant radius corner taken faster and faster will cause the
inside front wheel to be unloaded, with the stability control then shutting down
power. It’s not intrusive in its action – but again you’re simply not going all
that quickly. Back off sharply to try to get the tail moving and nothing much
happens – again the stability control is in there. On bumpy roads the car
rapidly gets out of its depth – and lots of country Australian roads are bumpy...
well, bumpy to the Type R anyway.
In fact, to make the Type R feel worthwhile, you
need to get onto smooth roads, switch off the stability control and keep the
revs above the VTEC changeover point of 5400 rpm. It’s only then that the car
starts to work: throttle and steering and handling coming together in a way
completely unachievable on poorer surfaces or at lower revs or with the
electronics still in the handling action. In those conditions – and only in
those conditions – the Type R is impressive. And, really, we’d suggest that the
number of people who will drive like this on public roads is so close to zero it
In normal driving, the Type R is a very stiffly
sprung, very highly revving car of average performance.
(Incidentally, on initial acquaintance, the Type R
can feel quick. At full throttle there’re hugely loud induction and exhaust
roars, and the speedo is optimistic - 7 per cent in the case of the test car. So
beware the short dealer test drive!)
The engine may be way down in performance over its
turbo competition, but by the same token, the engineers should be quite proud of
their achievement. Feeling quite unburstable, the variable valve lift and
variable valve timing gives the engine the tractability to potter around,
short-changing at 2000 rpm, or, at the twitch of the ankle, scream right around
to the redline. Honda says that at 2500 rpm there’s 90 per cent of peak torque
available. (But even the peak torque isn’t much, is it? But we won’t go there
Fuel requirement is 95 RON and economy 9.3
litres/100km in the combined government test – we got close to that in our
The gearbox and clutch are user-friendly – light
and precise. Final drive ratio is a mind-boggling 5.062:1 (there, starting to
get a feel for the revs yet?!) and the engine is turning busily at all highway
speeds. The steering is excellent. It is an electric power-assist system but
avoids the dead feeling that using an electric motor sometimes has. Just 2.29
turns will take you from lock to lock. But while fast, the steering avoids the
nervousness around centre that you might have expected. There’s also a lack of
kickback, even when cornering hard over patched bitumen.
Honda suggests that it got a bunch of UK Honda
enthusiasts in and looked at their modified Civics to see what they should do
with the this Type R. And obviously they listened – there’s a red engine ’start’
button, VTEC indication light, multi-stage shift light, a huge central analog
tachometer and a multitude of digital displays. We think the ‘floating’ LED
displays in the centre of the tacho work well but if you’re not into boy racer
decorations, the overall effect can be a bit over the top. The same market
research was obviously applied to the exterior – we won’t describe each blingy
bit that you can see for yourself in the pics. In the metal, we think that from
some angles (eg front three-quarters) the car looks fabulous; equally, from
other angles (like the rear) it looks pretty weird. From a safety perspective
the tail-lights work quite poorly– they’re hard to see.
Interior space is surprisingly good – the boot is
huge and the rear seat accommodating. Equipment level is fine – there are six
airbags, dual climate control, bear-hugging seats and rain-sensing wipers.
However, the MP3-compatible CD is a single unit. The hatch is oddly hard to
close – many times, two attempts are needed.
So how do we summarise the Type R? If you’re one
of the tiny number of people who has forty grand to spare and wants to turn off
the stability control and then drive really hard on smooth roads in a high
revving naturally aspirated car – perhaps with a track day a month thrown in –
then the Type R is it. In fact, there isn’t really any competition for that sort
of car in this price range.
But if you want a car that handles well, goes
strongly, is comfortable and effective, forget the Type R – there’re now just
too many cars that do so much more.
put the Honda on ChipTorque’s chassis dyno - the red lines show the Type R’s
measured power and torque outputs.
we got the guys to overlay a standard Mazda 3 MPS they’d previously run-up,
shown by the blue lines.
power and torque differences between the two cars is simply phenomenal...
dyno runs courtesy of ChipTorque.
Civic Type R was made available for this story by Honda.