The world’s fastest front-wheel-drive car is a blast to drive
The Civic Type R is appallingly ugly, looking as it does like a normal Civic that’s been crashed at high speed into an unusually low-brow aftermarket auto accessory shop. But all that clutter you can see on the car – and plenty more beneath you cannot – is there for a reason. The same reason the power output of its 2-litre four-cylinder engine has been raised from 306 to 316bhp and its chassis completely revised: this is the fastest front-wheel-drive car in the world, and it has an insane 7min 44sec Nürburgring front-drive lap record to prove it.
So what? Well, the truth is the car could be much quicker still. Honda could have done as others have done and created a super-light two-seat version – essentially a headline-grabbing Nürburgring special – but it decided not to. And it could have fitted an instant shifting double-clutch gearbox and gone far faster still. But no, like the last Type R, Honda wanted to keep this one both pure and practical. So a manual five-seater it remains. It is also laden with equipment, including a frankly unfathomable information and navigation system.
What’s different is the way it drives. The last Type R was fun in a slightly masochistic way. It was quick but brutal, requiring a firm hand and secure dental work. This one is not like that. Far and away the most important change is not that downforce-promoting bodywork, its extended wheelbase or extra power, but replacement of the old car’s torsion beam rear axle with a fully independent multi-link arrangement.
The effect is transformative: even in the firmest of its three driver-selectable modes I’d say the ride quality was better than that of the old Type R – and in ‘Comfort’ it’s nearly as good as a Golf. While this brings benefits on long boring journeys, the fun it brings to demanding back roads counts for rather more. This Civic handles superbly, indeed bizarrely well for one that is putting so much torque through its front wheels alone. Soon it is the car’s composure in corners that earns your attention even more than the bewildering speed at which it is travelling. It feels safe yet involving, entertaining yet usable. By comparison, a Ford Focus RS feels leaden.
It’s so good it can make you forget the terrible interior design and then some seriously cheap-looking cabin materials, at least while the good roads roll. Even after that, the car is sufficiently quiet and comfortable to make plausible daily transport so long as you can put up with the gurning from passers-by.
The Civic Type R is a strong contender for the most improved car I’ve tried this year and, while I’d still rather live with a Golf R as a device to just to get in and drive, in its class I’d rate the Honda as the best of the lot.
Honda Civic Type R
Price £30,995 Engine 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged Power[email protected] Torque 295lb [email protected] Weight 1380kgPower to weight 229bhp per tonne Transmission six-speed manual, front-wheel drive 0-62mph 5.8sec Top speed 169mphEconomy 36.7mpg CO2 176g/km