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Honda Civic Type R

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Honda Civic Type R Prototype Driven

Driven January 2014

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If you saw Honda's brilliant Civic Type-R teaser film a few months ago, you'll have gathered at least three important things. Firstly, that after languishing in purgatory for a few years, there's actually going to be a new Civic Type-R. Secondly, that it looks and sounds like a bit of an old-school turbo nutter b*****d. There's whoosh, a race-tuned four-pot screams itself senseless in the way only four cylinders can, and of any hybrid-related smoke and mirrors there is none to be seen. It's the Eighties and Nineties in a blender, with old-fashioned analogue excitement high on the agenda.

There is some transparently 2014 marketing going on, though, which is the third element. Honda's engineers are on red alert until the new Type-R is the fastest hot hatch round the Nürburgring. In fact, they're not going to go home until it turns in a sub-eight-minute lap of the Nordschleife, which will mean shaving at least eight seconds off the lap time of the current record holder, the Megane RenaultSport 265 Trophy. WTCC driver Gabriele Tarquini is apparently getting close to that, which is a hell of an achievement for a 2.0-litre front-drive hatch.

The engine is an all-new direct injection 2.0-litre single turbo four with VTEC and variable timing control producing - and this is the important bit - at least 280bhp. As the finished car is some 18 months away from launch, the exact figure is still up for grabs, but should nudge 300bhp. Let's hand over to project team leader Suechiro Hasshi for enlightenment. "How much power? It's 280bhp. It will be more than 280, actually. People say that this is the limit owing to current suspension technology and the performance. But more is... not impossible."

We're on the banked oval at Honda's Tochigi track for this super-early engineering drive, and we have nothing like the 'Ring's notorious range of corners to play with. But the new Type-R is one of those cars that feels bang on the money the second you put your foot on the clutch pedal, not least because it actually has a clutch pedal, rather than flappy paddles. Its action, and the weight of all the other primary controls, is also satisfyingly abrupt. Type-R fans will be similarly thrilled to see the return of the titanium gearknob, and the seats are brilliantly supportive semi-race jobs. It feels right.

It takes a judicious amount of mechanical empathy to get the Type-R off the line smoothly, another sign that this is a true driver's car. The gearbox is wrist-flicky if not rifle-bolt mechanical, and there's a bit of lag at low revs. But then it wakes up and grabs your attention in a major way. Between 2,000 and 5,000rpm, there's close to 300lb ft of torque, and the red line whooshes into view in an addictively turbo-thrusty fashion, signalled by a green to red strip light in the instrument display. There's also little sign of any torque steer, so whatever they've done to the front suspension is effective. (Hasshi tell us what, though.) It's seriously grunty and punchy.

The Type-R retains the standard car's torsion beam rear - likely to deny it the ultimate poise of the multi-linked Ford Focus ST or VW Golf GTI. That said, the new Civic Tourer gains a three-mode Sachs-developed adaptive damping system, on the rear suspension only, and that plus the promise of a mechanical LSD could transform the Type-R. It feels super-stiff, even on Tochigi's smooth surfaces, so God knows how that'll translate to your typical winter-blasted British B-road. But it has a fabulously pointy front end, turns in brilliantly, and feels properly joined-up. Push the ‘R' button nestling beside the steering column, and you get weightier steering, sharper throttle response, a reduced traction-control threshold, and even less compliance from the dampers. Suddenly, you can see how sub-eight round the 'Ring seems doable.

The Type-R also looks the business: sharky, fighty and downright mean, especially in the development car's matte black finish. Some serious aero work has clearly gone on - work that is ongoing, according to Hasshi-san, in the search for optimum balance and stability. The exact shape and form of the rear wing is still evolving, and while the test car is wearing 235/35 Continental rubber on 19-inch rims, new tyres are being developed for the production car. Here are a few other random bits of intel: a hybrid powertrain was never considered, despite Honda's expertise; the final car will contain some aluminium in an effort to reduce weight, and the Civic Type-R is targeting best-in-class CO2 numbers. "It will become even more aggressive," Hasshi adds with a smile.

Unusually, we're not sure if it really needs to be. We'd focus on softening off some of the edges, while sharpening up the throttle response. Otherwise this weapons-grade Nürburgring destroyer could end up being a bit too much for the B660.

Jason Barlow

Verdict: First impressions of the R are very promising. So long as they don't get too carried away.

Stats:  1998cc, 4cyl turbo, FWD, 300bhp, 300lb ft, 40.0mpg, 170g/km CO2, 0-62 in 5.5secs, 160mph, 1400kg, £28,000 (all figures approx)

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