Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
Historical precedent is a tricky thing: when you're launching a car with a beloved badge, you've got to be ever so careful to get it right, as there are all manner of purists who'll turn their noses up at any perceived slight. It was interesting, then, that Honda chose to exhume the fabled Type R badge from its temporary hiatus with the promise of forced induction. A turbo, on a VTEC engine? Anathema, no?
Well, no, actually. Not anathema. Awesome, that's the word you're scrabbling around for. One quick stint behind the wheel should be all it takes to convert the naysayers. And trust me, after a few long stints, I can assure you that there really isn't anything to worry about.
Indeed, we should be rejoicing, for the latest Civic Type R is a thing of splendour and majesty. Yes, it's better than the Renaultsport Megane, its keenest rival on paper, and I don't say that lightly. And after a lengthy throttling through the twisting roads of Slovakia and Austria, allow me to furnish you with three lessons that I learned from one particular mile-long complex of hairpins:
1) That engine is astounding. Anyone who was worried that strapping a turbo onto a VTEC would kill its trademark willingness to rev out has nothing to fear here. Sure, the redline is a little down on its predecessors at 7000rpm, but the needle just loves being up there. The turbo suffers from very little lag, and what micron of spool-time there is is immaterial, as the motor has enough low-down torque to pull you through. The VTEC is variable too, and can come in very low down... this is, in essence, a damned screamer of an engine, offering significant and hilarious grunt at any time, in any gear. The thing really does shift, and pointing-and-squirting between those hairpins created some improbable scenery-blurring on the straight bits. The corners were despatched pretty swiftly too...
2) The suspension is also astounding. The magnetorheological dampers are always one step ahead of you, and the way it shuffles the load around the car's four corners frankly beggars belief - it allows a little playfulness of the tail if you want to slide it about a bit, but it's always in the knowledge that the car wants to sit flat, and that's just what it intends to do. I drove those corners over and over again, a photographer waiting in the bushes to catch aggressively leaning cornering shots (you can see his results in our forthcoming PetrolBlog feature), but the Type R just corners perfectly flat. It's surreal. That godlike suspension, acting with the WTCC-developed aero addenda that creates real negative lift, keeps everything planted in a manner that scrambles your stupid preconceptions masterfully.
3) Completing the 'that's astounding' triumverate, the brakes. Oh my word, the brakes. They're just supernaturally good. Honda haven't messed around here - the four-pot Brembo calipers work with 350mm discs up front, hauling the thing up with the sort of G-force shock that could easily rip your liver from its moorings. On these hairpins, that translated into an effective counterpoint to the surprisingly high speed the Earth Dreams motor was serving up; the brakes just took it all away again, immediately, without drama. And yes, after half an hour or so of relentless punishment up and down those curves, trying to find which part of the car would give up the ghost first (nothing did), the brakes were stinking a bit... but they never faded at all. Not once.
I mentioned this to a race instructor later on as we prepared to unleash the Type R on the mighty Slovakia Ring. "Yes," he said, "we've found that with the demo cars here too. Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden have been giving these cars hell here for days, and it's a punishing circuit, but the brakes just will not fade. They're incredible. And I'm not from Honda, so I don't have to say that."
There are many, many amazing things that the new Civic Type R can do, but let's take these three lessons as a keen base point. Add into this the fact that it's got a big boot, ISOFIX, and can do 40mpg+, and you've got a true embodiment of the classic hot hatch ethos - a practical car, made fast. But in 2015, for Honda, this translates into supercar-bothering pace on winding B-roads. It's one of the most incredible cars I've ever driven. And the most incredible thing of all is that, well, I can't find anything wrong with it. Not a single thing. So don't worry about the future of the Type R name - Honda have it all in hand.