It was around two years ago that I attended the launch of the much talked about Honda Civic Type R, it was billed to be a front-wheel drive car with handling far superior to many all-wheel drive offerings, not to mention straight line speed that defied physics. The turbocharged hatchback was garish in the looks department and had a price tag that seemed rather ludicrous thanks to an initial list price close on R600 000, but the fact that it was being brought into SA in limited numbers meant that it's desirability was quite high and it didn't take long for the few models to be snapped up by performance enthusiasts. As with anything, time and money can see improvements being made, and in the last while Honda's engineers have been hard at work figuring out how to extract even more from the power on tap and also improve the handling dynamics, resulting in improvements to the 2017/8 model that don't make sense - how do you improve on something that was already brilliant? As hard as it is to believe, the new Honda Civic Type R is a better car in every single way, aesthetics included, although the latter is subjective of course. Some rave about the looks while others are blaming Honda for damaged retinas and a persistent gag reflex. Me? I'm from Kempton Park. This thing has God-like status in my eyes. I'd happily sell everything I own to afford one and then I'd just live in the car. After all, you can sleep in your car but you can't race your house...
There's a million and one technical things that have changed with this new Type R, and most of that information won't help you in your day-to-day missions - it's just too technical for a basic blog. There are, of course, key changes that you need to know though, like it's still considered a hatchback even though the dimensions make it look more sedan-like; it's now 165mm longer and 35mm lower than before. While vents and spoilers abound, the front fenders look a little tamer thanks to losing the vents atop the wheel arch, but the extraction vents at the rear of the fender remain - these reduce air pressure build-up in the wheel arches. The font bumper remains similar with large air dams for engine cooling and the new lower splitter runs the length of it - this is functional and creates an air cushion that boosts downforce over the front axle. There's also the addition of a vent on the bonnet, it's actually rather subtle but it's there for a reason, along with every other part of the exterior design. All of the "offensive" parts are an ingredient of the of the magic recipe that keeps the Type-R planted on the tarmac even when physics says it shouldn't be.
Another ingredient is the suspension which has actually been improved, something I refused to believe until I got behind the wheel of the car. Honda call the suspension sophisticated, I call it supernatural. Up front there's an "advanced, dual-axis front setup specifically designed to address torque steer while enhancing turn-in and steering feel..." and it keeps the nose where you point it, sort of like the 400Nm on tap is insignificant somehow. The rear suspension is a completely new milti-link design, which will have current Type R owners questioning if what they have is good enough (it is). I couldn't tell the difference myself, all I know is that on track I tried to initiate some lift-off oversteer and both Type Rs said no with much authority. I reckon only professional race drivers will be able to tell the differences in handling, but 99% of the people I know would not. As with the previous model, there's a cracking helical limited slip differential that makes sure the power directed to the wheels is always used optimally; wheel spin is eliminated for the most part, as is any sign of torque steer.
The steering has also been improved, which once again boggles the mind. In the media briefing some engineers told me that they've managed to improve on one the best steering systems ever when it comes to feel and feedback, and I just sat there and nodded sagely in agreement, yet 20 minutes later I was on the track and I could actually feel the difference. It's light when needed and heavy when needed, and a personal choice can be made when selecting the different drive modes. So adding the clever suspension to the clever steering on the stiffer chassis makes a world of difference, but it's the Adaptive Damping System that brings it all together. In this version you now have three drive modes: Comfort, Sport and +R, and each one offers up exactly what you'd expect. In Comfort mode the suspension is a lot more pliant and it's a lot more comfortable than you expect, even on the 30 profile tyres that look more like a thick elastic band than a tyre. Driving a Civic Type R to Durban will be a breeze and you'll even make it on a full tank if you behave yourself. Sport is the default mode and as expected is the middle ground, so things are stiffer, tighter and more responsive all round.
+R... well that's like waving a giant red flag in front of a steroid-addicted bull that stepped on Lego. Nudge the mode selection button forward and things switch over to the dark side; the edges of instrument cluster turn to a more sinister shade of red and the white edge of the digital tachometer follows suit and changes to a thick red arc with a redline naring 8000rpm. The best changes are hidden from sight, the real witchcraft happens under the skin. The adaptive suspension stiffens up like it popped a little blue pill, the accelerator turns into more of an on/off switch, the steering becomes a little more weighted and my favourite part - the exhaust gains 2dB. Ok, so that's not really caused by switching to +R though, this is just a bonus from the smaller 3rd exit pipe of the exhaust that has the sole purpose of making more noise when the engine speed rises - and rise it will when you're in +R, you can't help it.
+R is for weekend track days, or midweek track sessions if you're lucky enough to have a job like mine. Actually the track is really the only place you can properly (and legally) exploit the Civic Type R. Added to all the above changes, Honda's Vehicle Stability Assist system loosens the reins on the yaw and slip rate so that you can get a little more silly before it intervenes to save your ass. For the brave, +R mode also allows you to switch the system off completely, along with the traction control. I'd honestly only do this for a lap or two to feel the Type R in hooligan mode, but then I'd let +R mode do it's thing because that little ECU can think a lot faster than I can ever hope to. That and the fact that replacement tyres will likely need to be financed from your bond - a set of 245/30 R20 premium brand tyres will be around R20k, and this is one thing you cannot skimp on because good rubber is also part of the Type R's insane traction.
So then, how does the 2017/8 Honda Civic Type-R actually drive? Well I drove it along some of KZN's sweeping highways en route from King Shaka to Dezzi Raceway and I'm happy to repot that the car is more than competent as a daily driver. Comfort mode offers up a great drive and as said, it even manages to mask any bumps that may arise from the ridiculously low profile tyres. The steering is light and smooth, things are quiet-ish enough that the on-board entertainment need only be at normal volume to drown out the engine and it makes the car a rather pleasant place to be. The default Sport mode is pretty much the same in terms of drive comfort, it's sort of a combination of the two drive modes offered in the previous Type R and is more than good enough for acting like a chop on the road while keeping you sort of safe. While this isn't the kind of car that will end up with owners that care about fuel consumption, the Type R actually returns very reasonable figures in the region of 8.6 l/100km, if you can manage to stay on the good side of the law. But it's +R that you really want to know about, and that was saved for Dezzi Raceway when I was allowed some hot laps in the car under the watchful eye of instructor and all-round nice guy Reghard Roets. Now look, I don't profess to be a great driver by any stretch of the imagination, but I have had my fair share of track driving over the years in some wicked cars and I used all of that experience combined with Reghard's instruction on this day and the result was the fastest and smoothest session I've ever had on track (with me at the wheel).
Dezzi Raceway is a mindf#*k of note with the corkscrew and rises and falls, it's super technical but once you're in a flow it's simply beautiful. The Type R did exactly as instructed at every corner, when I wanted brakes, they were there in full force with zero fade, when I wanted speed I had it, when I wanted a sharp turn-in it obliged and when I wanted to tackle a sweep at pace it stayed in the I wanted. I tried to induce lift-off oversteer but the car just gripped. I tried to induce understeer and as it felt like the nose might push out, the electronics and the limited slip diff turned my silly inputs into a neat, fast turn. It's not easy to put into words, I have so much to say but it will sound like the ramblings of a madman or a Honda fanatic whose favourite brand can do no wrong - but the car really is that damn good. Acceleration is brutal for a front-wheel drive car with a 0-100km/h dash coming in at a claimed 5.7-seconds and after some vicious cog-swapping in the close-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox it will run up a top speed of 272km/h. It's hard to believe that a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine is responsible for this kind of performance but that Earth Dreams Technology is absolutely brilliant. Don't take my word for it though, the engine has already been awarded the 2018 Wards Best Engine award. It's rated at 228kW with 400Nm and that equates to 168kW/ton.
The interior is worthy of a mention - it's just as loud as the exterior. There's carbon look trim splashed around along with red trim and inserts to keep the race theme going. There's a brilliant infotainment system that's intuitive to use and offers up every feature a modern tech junkie would want (Apple CarPlay / AndroidAuto are also available). The instrument cluster can display an array of different screens relating to what the car is busy doing in real time, mine would stay on one of the performance screens though, maybe the boost readout. The seats are adjustable race-spec pieces with high bolsters to keep you firmly in place when the G-forces get a little pushy (and they will) and they also feature the obligatory Type R logo embroidered on. The shifter is the signature round brushed aluminium piece with red lettering and the pedals are in the usual sportscar drilled aluminium with rubber studs guise. All Type-Rs have a tag just below the shifter showing which production number Type R you're sitting in. There may or may not be a rear seat, I won't kid you, I never even looked at it. I never plan on being in the back seat of one and even if I did decide to try it I know I'll fit comfortably because I'm compact like that. There's also a boot that I never looked at, well I did put my camera bag in it but I didn't really take notice because reasons. This is a car that you either love or hate, and if you managed to read this far, you know where I stand...
There's not much else to say about the new Honda Civic Type R. It's garish, in your face, over the top, ridiculously fast, awesomely cool, absolutely bonkers and it makes me want to do something completely illegal to raise R627 900 (includes a 5-year/200 000km warranty; 5-year/90 000km service plan & 3-year AA Roadside Assistance). You can have the new Honda Civic Type R in Championship White, Crystal Black Pearl, Polished Metal Metallic, Rallye Red, Brilliant Sporty Blue Metallic, and the new Sonic Grey Pearl.