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The Honda Civic Type R needs a better touchscreen

TG update 2: the Type R’s primal screen isn’t on speaking terms with smartphones

Why are all words that describe connecting phones to cars horribly clunky? ‘Infotainment’. ‘Connectivity’. ‘In-Car Entertainment – ICE for short’. Thanks to smartphones, knowing a thing or two about tech isn’t nerdy anymore. But all the words that describe hooking an iPhone up to a car are atrocious. Can we please organise a rebrand?

If Apple CarPlay was the answer to all car-meets-phone woes, the job would be done. It isn’t. Often, it’s a pain in the neck. This isn’t that rant though – Apple’s refusal to integrate Google Maps to its in-car readouts, or Waze, or the incompetent impatience of Siri, is another teeth-grinder for another day.

Thing is, Apple CarPlay is preferable to the Civic Type R’s built-in ‘Honda Connect’. The native system that lives within the 7.0-inch touchscreen is pretty much unchanged from the last Civic, and boy did it feel dated there. 

Our Type R GT has Garmin sat-nav, which looks properly Fisher-Price, but given how off-the-pace the rest of the interface is, it’s probably for the best that Honda didn’t cook up its own nav. I can just use Waze and Google Maps… so long as I’m happy to look at my phone’s screen.

Problem here is I want to avoid the ugly, laggy Honda interface and use Apple CarPlay most of the time. For music, phonecalls and texts, it’s pretty useful. However, Apple requires me to use an old-fashioned cable to connect phone to car. CarPlay over Bluetooth ain’t possible. This is unfortunate because the wireless charging pad that Honda’s pretty much built the Civic’s entire dashboard around – and my iPhone 8 is compatible with – has to sit there switched off, redundant. Bit of a waste? Perhaps not. But not Honda’s fault, really. I’ll come back to that.

Anyway. USB into car, lightning cable into iPhone, and Robert’s your mother’s brother. Hey presto! 

Er, presto. Come on… Nope. Nothing. ‘No Device Connected’ protests the merrily beeping touchscreen. As a rough, kind estimate, I’d say fifty per cent of times I hook up my phone in anticipation, it doesn’t register with the car. And the only cure isn’t to unplug the phone and try again. It’s to switch off the engine, open and shut the door, and fully reset the car. Tolerable, if I’m just leaving home. Not ideal if I’m on a motorway between services and have just decided to hook up my device. It’s exactly as infuriating as it sounds.

Maybe this particular Type R is a dud? Nope. I’ve driven three other FK8s before life with this one, and all of them had flakey screens. Plus, we’ve not long finished six months running a regular Honda Civic 1.5 VTEC hatch, and its long-term keeper – an Android user, for Smartphone Wars balance – found his Civic’s touchscreen head-bangingly useless. Not ideal when the heater-climate controls are also now part-stored in the screen, because hey, minimalist buttons for the win…

Infomediatainmentplay is (a) crucial to making a car useful in 2018, and (b) not the preserve of premium carmakers. I’ve been driving a Hyundai i30N recently. Great system. The native touchscreen is brilliantly intuitive, and the CarPlay integration seamless. Jaguar Land Rover is still leagues behind what BMW, Audi and Mercedes can manage, but Mazda’s latest in-car systems are a doddle. Lexus can’t do infotainment for toffee. It’s not a case of ‘only pricey cars get this stuff right’. And at the level Honda’s Type R is competing at – for £33,525 – with Cupra Leons and VW Golf Rs and Audi S3s, it’s got to be way, way better than this. 

I drove an NSX not long ago. For raw speed, it’s a spectacular device. If you’re pootling, you might fancy a podcast. And Honda pollutes its spectacularly fast and technical supercar’s cabin with the same touchscreen. I think we’ve found job number one for the Civic’s facelift. Honestly, keep the wings and the skirts and the array of fake carbon fibre trim. Even the fake carbon numberplate, really. Just plug in a new touchscreen, on the double, please. When the rest of the cabin is so much better than the last car (lower driving position, great instruments, more storage), and the latest Type R is such a stunning drivers’ car, it doesn’t deserve this Achilles heel.

Oh, and wireless charging? Well, if my phone’s joined up to the Bluetooth, I can toss my phone face-up into the charging pad and juice it on the fly. Very slowly, though. And it gets unnervingly warm. Plus, the iPhone’s handy raise-to-wake function means every time acceleration, cornering or braking stimulates the accelerometer, the screen illuminates. In the Type R, that happens quite a lot.

Especially when you’re chasing one of the best fast Japanese cars in history…

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