A clue to how good the new Type R promises to be lies in the surprisingly passionate rhetoric Honda has thrown at the standard 2017 Civic. It has, they claim, undergone “dynamic rejuvenation”. They want it to be a proper driver’s car, targeting those elusive younger buyers whose patronage would banish Honda’s hard-to-shake “blue rinse” demographic.
So, they’ve engineered the platform from scratch, subverting traditional construction protocol to produce a lightweight, rigid bodyshell (twice as stiff as before!), and benchmarked premium hatchback rivals to achieve challenging levels of ride, handling, steering and NVH.
The car has a 10mm lower centre of gravity and a lower, sportier driving position, and the introduction of a game-changing multi-link rear suspension is intended to improve handling and ride comfort at the same time.
The Mk10 Civic is longer, wider and lower than before, and even in cooking spec doesn’t scrimp on body creases, bloated arches and air intakes. “It’s a car for all people, a car for the world,” Honda trumpets. Possibly not for granny though.
And as its flared wheelarches show, the front track has to be wider still, to cope with the Type R’s power. Vents behind the front wheel draw away hot air: the Brembo brakes – with at least four-piston calipers and massive drilled and ventilated discs – will take some cooling. The revised bodywork is all shaped by function, in the pursuit of dynamic performance, promises Tsutamori-san. And this generation Type R has a bonnet scoop, presumably to keep the intercooler operating coolly. That’s right, the new hyper hatch will continue to use forced induction.
Indeed all the petrol Civics – 127bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder and 179bhp 1.5-litre four – employ a turbocharger and VTEC variable valve timing and lift, and the flagship hatch won’t be any different. “For the Type R, it will be a 2.0-litre turbo, the current one,” confirms Mitsuru Kariya. Eminently sensible: it would be more profligate than an Elton John party bag for Honda to junk a new, high-performance engine after just a couple of years’ use.
In today’s Type R, the 2.0-litre VTEC unit generates peak power of 306bhp at 6500rpm, with maximum torque of 295lb ft claimed to rush in at 2500rpm. Of course that was double the torque of the FN2 Civic Type R’s naturally aspirated engine, at half the crank speed. But on the road, the FK2 still suffered from a distinct spot of lag before the lunacy launched at around 3000rpm. Could this be filled in by switching from a mono-scroll turbocharger to twin sequential turbos? Kariya-san chuckles at my question, and promisingly responds to his interpreter in detailed-sounding Japanese. Which turns out to be: “All we can say is that we are trying to create a Type R which is easy to drive but still powerful. We need to leave the rest to your imagination.”
Doubtless power will continue to be transmitted by today’s magical six-speed manual gearbox, with its tightly-packed ratios. There’s no indication of a dual-clutch gearbox for the Civic: the announced automated option is a CVT, although engineer Kariya hastily adds that he’s tried to head-off the typical rev-metal thrash by making the cooking engines tractable at low revs. Fair play, but enthusiasts will always want to wind out a Honda engine, despite the latest units having redlines pegged below the 8400rpm nirvana of Type R yesteryear.
Time for the big question: given Ford’s Focus RS has switched to all-wheel drive to deploy its monstrous 345bhp and 347lb ft, aren’t four driven wheels the baseline for a top hatch these days? Audi and Mercedes-AMG would certainly agree, as they battle in a power war in which only breaking the 400bhp barrier will signal victory.
As I mention the RS, Kariya-san chuckles. “It’s quite… it’s quite… extreme,” he responds, choosing his words carefully.
“Too extreme?” I counter. “Yes, a little.”
I propose the all-wheel drive RS example to Honda Europe chief Katsushi Inoue. “There are so many rivals! But the Type R will be competitive. Our hot hatches haven’t been that bad, have they?” he laughs. “We will be up with them on performance.”
So will Honda be delivering Focus RS power levels? “We are focusing on total driveability,” Inoue-san answers. “I’ve driven a prototype of the next Type R. Do we need more power? It’s attractive as a headline for the showroom, but proper drivers like you know it’s about driveability. And we’re proud of how the Type R feels.”
So don’t expect the next Type R to generate too much more power than today’s car, and its grunt is sufficient for a 5.7sec 0-62mph sprint anyhow. All-wheel drive would help it get off the line faster, but engineer Mitsuru Kariya is emphatic about that possibility. “All-wheel drive was never an option and was also not considered within the platform design. Even in the American market, there is no big demand for all-wheel drive.” So it looks like a limited-slip differential will be the device metering out the power up front, helping manage traction.
Also working to keep the tyres in contact with the tarmac will be a host of aerodynamic aids. The outrageous pram handle rear wing is retained, and Honda has strived to make the underbody as flat as possible on the regular cars, let alone the Type R, to generate downforce. Principal designer Tsutamori confirms the aero kit’s focus is to boost cornering speed, at the expense of terminal velocity. “We’ve paid more attention to downforce, reducing lift, than to the coefficient of drag.” The three central exhausts – reminiscent of the triple bores at the back of the Ferrari F40 and 458 – reduce back pressure, boost flow and sound as thunderous as a four-cylinder turbo can. The 2.0-litre engine is shipped from the States to the Civic production facility in Swindon, where the hot hatch will go down the same line as its hatch, saloon and coupe siblings.
While the concept’s carbonfrbre exterior is just a wrap, expect composite inserts to make an appearance inside, though the cockpit remains under wraps for now. The driver’s seat in today’s Type R is more high chair than lowered bucket, but the new-generation Civic will makes amends. You can crank it lower than Chris Froome’s resting heart rate, looking out over the dropped dashboard and wings pinched upwards to help you place the car precisely on the road. The Civic’s fuel tank used to be under the front seat, so that the rear seat squabs could fold up giving you extra stowage: the driving position might have been useless, but it was the only hot hatch in which you could carry an upright pot plant around the Nurburgring. For one corner anyway. Regardless, relocating the tank to under the rear seats creates a virtuous circle, topped off by the roofline sitting 20mm lower.
Some of the old Civic’s other cockpit quirks have been ironed out. The dislocated digital speedo has been repatriated in a TFT instrument panel, where you can scroll through functions using wheel-mounted controls. There’s also a central touchscreen, a sliding armrest and cupholders atop generous hidden stowage, and a wireless mobile charging cubbyhole. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
Show me the speed
New TFT instruments replace previous analogue clocks. Type R repatriates digital speedo from its exile in old car’s ‘floating’ upper binnacle, and plonks it back in the driver’s face. Type R steering wheel destined for lurid two-tone leather.
Hie hero returns
Gearshift has been slowly making its way down the centre stack since the last-but-one Civic had it placed so high Matt Neal would think it natural, and has now arrived to a hero’s welcome back in the traditional spot. While it was away, the handbrake has become electronic.
Central colour touchscreen features new-age ‘Honda Connect’ infotainment, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Phone, maps, messages, music – there’s not much you can’t do through here, including checking your reversing camera (which you’ll need with Type R’s be-winged tail).
Low-slung in suede
Standard Civic seats do the job but Type R will get suede buckets, the bottoms of which will sit 35mm closer to the road than previously. One-piece, soft-touch instrument panel will have moulded stitching, for that “a bit like an Audi” premium feel.
To further hamper the weight distribution for a ’Ring attack, you could stick a beer fridge in a 478-litre boot claimed to be biggest in class. And while this might be an odd feature to flag up on a ballistic hot hatch, the boot’s parcel shelf is a stroke of genius: it’s turned through 90 degrees and side-mounted, so it’s half the usual size and can be easily removed and stowed elsewhere.
But enough of such practicalities – the 2017 Type R is all about excitement, thrills, and attracting new blood. “With the tenth generation, we want to get hold of younger customers again,” says Europe chief Inoue-san. “Generally, car buyers are getting older globally. The sporty look will hit young people.” Civic sales have been dwindling in the UK – from 44,681 in 2007 to 16,266 last year – with the Type R accounting for about 1500 units a year. Honda admits it dropped the ball with generation nine Civic, but it’s bullish that Kariya’s r&d team have turned it around.
One indicator will be if peak Civic can establish itself with another blistering performance statement at the Nurburgring. The FK2 Type R posted 7 min 50.63sec, before current champ, the Golf Clubsport S, went 1.42sec faster this summer. “Oh yeah!” enthuses Inoue-san, before checking himself. “I can’t tell you about it. The current Type R got the fastest lap record, but now it’s the Golf. I’m not happy about that, I’m not happy with second position. That’s all I can say.”
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