Good things come to those who wait – but not just yet
Engine: 2.0 litres, four cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 300bhp @ 6500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 5.8sec (est)
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: n/a mpg
CO2: n/a g/km
Far away across the Asian continent, a beast is stirring. Honda has searched its soul, beaten its brow, wailed and gnashed its teeth with the best of them and has at last concluded that building interesting fast cars wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
There was a time when it seemed almost a blasphemy. I remember writing about the sorrow I felt about Honda’s decision to axe and (at the time) not replace its NSX supercar, get out of F1 and can both its Type-R performance sub-brand and S2000 sports car. And I remember better still those who were kind enough to take the time to write in and tell me how heartless and out of touch I was. The world was in recession, Honda had been hit hardest by the Japanese tsunami and there I was complaining that it had lost interest in fripperies like sports and racing cars.
Maybe my timing was poor but so, too, was Honda’s: certainly in Europe, the self-imposed exile of this most engineering-led of Japanese car companies has done its image no favours at all. Its current line up of Jazz, Civic, CR-V and Accord is as bland as I can remember from the company that was and remains the first and only Japanese manufacturer to win in F1.
But Honda has a plea for those of us who understand how deep its passion for great drivers’ cars lies: sit out 2014, because come 2015, less than one year from now, we’re going to be in for a treat. In F1 a Honda engine will be back powering a McLaren and, as anyone who remembers 1988 and the MP4/4 will tell you, over a season there’s never been a more successful combination in F1. The new NSX will be launched and it appears to carry at least the potential to redefine the supercar, as did its predecessor a quarter of a century earlier. And probably most relevantly to you and me, there will also be a new Civic Type-R.
Britain loves the Civic Type-R and it always has: more have been sold here than anywhere else in the world. The new car looks outwardly similar to the last, albeit far lower, with steroidal body addenda. But while the last car made do with a normally aspirated 2-litre engine producing 197bhp, that would never do today. The power race has hotted up to such an extent that Honda openly admits to 280bhp for its turbo 2-litre in the new car and privately concedes the number is actually 300bhp and climbing.
A few years ago that kind of power would have torn the front wheels off a hatchback like this, but today the car accelerates smoothly out onto Honda’s Tochigi test track, albeit spinning its wheels all the way through first and second gear. It feels monstrously powerful for a small family hatchback. Interestingly in these days of increasing reliance on paddle power, the Civic changes gear by hand alone.
I’d like to relate the intricacies of its handling, but I can’t: I was only allowed on the big track where a natural average lap speed for a car like this is about 130mph. What I can tell you is that it turns into steep banking at 120mph or so with total conviction and total stability all the way to the exit.
I was impressed by the Civic but, more relevantly, encouraged too. As it stands I’d rate it a match for what will be its big rival: the Ford Focus ST. But with a year’s development still to go before market introduction, I think there’s a good chance it will evolve into something truly great and once more worthy of the great name of Honda.