The Honda Civic Type R has extremely comfortable seats. That may seem like a weird way to start a review on the latest hyper hatch but hear me out. A hot hatch has always been a mix of driving thrills and everyday use, but in the race to build the next best performance hatch the recent emphasis has been on the performance bit and not the hatchback bit. Cars like the Ford Focus RS clamp you tight behind the wheel, which is good, but it’s a bitch to get in and out of the car and you tend to get fidgety after an hour or so driving. The trade-off is of course that the actual driving experience is akin to being in charge out a barely controlled psychotic rabbit.
Insane cars like the Focus RS are fun for a bit, but the Civic Type R is a car you can live with, as long as you don’t look at the outside of the car. The Type R looks like the car has been driven backwards through an aftermarket car accessory shop. It’s the exact image in your head when someone says the words ‘rice racer’. And that’s a shame, because every bit of the body kit is there for an aerodynamic purpose. Unlike many exterior additions to cars these days the kit on the Type R guides the slipstream over and around the car, and creates actual downforce at speed, not just parasitic drag.
The interior is almost as visually extravagant, but in this case it’s not quite as functional. The buttons on the steering wheel have hard edges to them and the infotainment screen is difficult to navigate around. The ergonomics are spot on though, which goes back to the appeal of this as an everyday car as well as a 228kW hatchback.
And boy is this one hell of a hatchback. Honda could have gone the four-wheel-drive route as have most of the competition, but that wouldn’t hark to the original idea of a hot hatch and pretty much a spit in the eye to Type R history. Instead, the latest Type R remains front wheel drive and to ensure torque steer is kept under control Honda has engineered a front suspension with a remote pivot point that works so well that this is the best driving front wheel drive car on the planet.
There’s no torque steer. None, not even a whisper. Even the all-wheel-drive Focus RS will torque steer on anything other than a glass smooth surface. There’s no problem putting the power down in the Type R and thanks to the sweet shifting six-speed manual its indecently easy to keep the performance somewhere up in the stratosphere.
The Type R has adaptive engine, steering and suspension settings, but you would only use the default Comfort setting for the good ride quality – the engine feels suffocated and responsive is dull. Move up to the Sport setting and the ride and performance get noticeably sharper. Shift right up to ‘R’ mode and everything goes rather nuts. The ride is ultra-stiff, and both steering and throttle response are as sharp as the stereotypical Japanese Katana.
Yes, the Type R is not the quickest hyper hatch on the market, but it is by far the purest distillation of what a hot hatch should be. That’s why things like this should be celebrated in a world of otherwise bland SUVs. The Type R stands out – sometimes for the wrong reasons – but it does stand out.