Volkswagen is planning a squeaky clean future.. luckily Honda still knows how to make them mean
Well, it hardly takes a professor of automotive semiotics to decipher what’s going on here. The signs are clear. There’s something of the night about the Honda. Wearing brushed-black paint, it gesticulates with razor-edged aerodynamic aids and shouts with open-gob air intakes.
The VW’s dazzling pearlescent exterior has the blue-whiteness of a fresh morning, pure as the driven snow. Its drag-reduction surfaces soft and smooth like a bar of soap, its intakes demure. Welcome to the 2016 Paris show’s battle of good versus evil.
Assuming, that is, you think the potential of freedom from emissions and crash-less autonomous driving do represent what’s good. If it represents your actual nightmare of a dystopian future, and your taste runs more to screaming petrol engines and epic hot-hatch speed, then let’s say the Type R is the good guy. Whatever, side by side this pair makes a bracing rebuke to any worries that modern hatches are all the same.
The Civic Type R Prototype is simple in concept, taking the idea of the current Type R track-bullying hatch and sticking it onto the all-new Civic platform. Which is why the Paris show cars bear the “Prototype” suffix – it’s not a production car. Yet. But a year from now it will be.
The new-generation hatch’s basics mean the Type R cab is lower and wider than this year’s, and it has a multi-link rear suspension instead of the present torsion beam. Plus a move from 19-inch to 20-inch wheels. Which three characteristics overwhelmingly point to lower lap times.
And lap times matter to Honda, matter even more to the people who populate the discussion boards around these cars. The current Type R was launched amid Nurburgring-time obsession. It was supposed to be the fastest front-drive hatch there. Then along came a Seat and a Renault and a Golf and whatnot else and the leaderboard got a bit frantic. That’s the trouble with hanging your cred on some easily measured characteristic. When someone else’s car comes along and beats it, you look a bit deflated. Any old how, Honda seems unchastened by the whole experience and once again wants the new Type R to wrench back the ’Ring record.
I couldn’t care at all. I’d rather the company concentrated on building the best possible hot hatch, great in sensations as well as unchallenged in metrics. We’ll see.
There are some things we do know. It uses broadly the same 2.0-litre turbo engine and manual transmission as now. That’s very much a Type R engine, sharing only the block with other Honda stuff.
The crank, pistons, rods, head, turbo, exhaust, injectors and the rest are all specially engineered for 7,000rpm and big, big power. In the current car it makes 310bhp – a lot for a front-driver but not so much against the AWD enemy of the Ford Focus RS. Maybe they’ll tweak it upwards a little, though frankly to make it worthwhile the engineers will have to find more traction.
And they likely will. The bigger tyres on a wider track will help, working with the limited-slip diff. So will better geometry control via the rear multilink axle. That back suspension certainly ought to let them make the ride more supple without harming handling precision. For fast work on bumpy roads, nothing could do the Type R more good. The new R also has a variable-ratio steering rack, which should keep it more stable on the straight-ahead but still quick-reacting when there’s some lock wound on.
And it’ll look just like this. The drag coefficient, its designer tells us, is even lower now, despite having more downforce. So it’s going to be furiously fast on the autobahn. The current one does 168mph, remember – can we imagine they’re aiming at 280kph, which would be a nice round 175mph? The designers have clearly done some hard-line refereeing of the bitter tensions between low drag and high downforce and lots of cooling for brakes and powertrain. Which is why it looks so potty, of course. Everything, they claim, has a true aero function.
And it also has the function – surely not coincidental – of making a visual point. It excites the baser instincts of hormonal hot-hatchery, yes, but it also desperately wants us to connect it with Honda’s high-tech racing efforts.