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Honda Civic Type R 2007 Road Test

Tue, 30 Jan 2007

 Not many hot hatchbacks have been awaited as eagerly as the 2007 Honda Civic Type-R.

The old Civic Type-R had close to cult status. 35,000 were sold worldwide. And punters are passionate. You could make disparaging remarks about a chap’s nearest and dearest, but criticise his Type-R and he’d eat your liver with a nice Chianti. Such deification led to deep anxiety that the new Type-R would somehow fail to live up to the old one.

No chance of that. Honda itself is an enthusiastic company, so listens to Honda enthusiasts. And there were, dare I mention, some criticisms of the old car Honda felt it needed to address.

Too raw was one. The power came in too late. The engine wasn’t flexible enough. The steering didn’t have enough feel. And the ride was between a rock and a hard place.

Then, of course, there’s Honda’s brave new bodyshape. No other car in the world looks remotely like it. But how would it take to the Type R treatment?

The body alone a very good reason for buying the new car. It makes everything else look previous century. Besides that, it’s very practical. No hatchback the same size has the same luggage capacity, and certainly no hot hatch has.

But that’s not what you want to hear. What you want is the aural pleasure of Honda’s 201PS, chain-cam, non-turbo I-VTEC engine reaching 7,950rpm.

And they’ve been very cleaver with that. Now the valve timing changes at the point of peak torque: 5,600rpm. Then a light on the dashboard helpfully tells you that power is rising sharply from around 130PS to the full 201 at 7,800rpm, no less. Push past that and another red light comes on to tell you you’re reaching the limiter.

So it’s already a bit like a Touring Car racer. The red button starter comes from the standard Civic, but was itself the idea of old shape Type R enthusiasts who bought the red starter buttons designed for Honda S2000s and fitted them into their cigar lighter apertures. The red and black Alcantara trimmed bucket seats are like racing seats, but comfortable. The gearlever is just as close to your left hand, like a Touring Cars and the tight gate means quick changes.

But the vital question you want answering is how’s the handling?

Put it this way, on the day I got to drive the new Type R it snowed. And though the snow thawed through the morning there was always a chance of hitting a patch of slush on your exit from a corner. The steering felt sharper and more informative than I remember it on the old Type R, though. And by the afternoon, copious amounts of salt and sunshine had done their work so we were allowed to drive up the Earl of March’s driveway.

That’s the driveway used for the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and the first time I’d been up it.

After a sighting run I got two drives as quick as I had the bottle for. And discovered the combination of steering and throttle feel is very good indeed. The first two corners are third gear and just got better and better. Less good, the unsighted jink left from the main straight to a narrow bit. Then hook right and left round the flint wall. Then boot it but watch the next right-hander because that’s very tricky to take flat. Then as quick as you can to the finish line.

My co-driver learned from my mistakes and proved a much better driver than me, managing a near perfect second run, and hitting 90 twice, which is fairly quick for a gentleman’s driveway. And the point was made that the steering, power delivery and handling all come together very well indeed. Better, I think, than the old car, especially in terms of steering feel.

Out on the open road the ride is stiff but not unacceptably so. However, Honda has lowered the final drive ratio slightly, and that means you only get around 20mph per 1,000rpm in 6th. So though the engine is very smooth, don’t expect a relaxed high-speed cruise. This is not the sort of car to brave the wrath of the gendamarie and attempt to race to the South of France at 100mph. On the other hand you could see it as a sort of licence protection policy, constantly reminding you that 4,000rpm plus means 3 points if a copper with an LT1 pinpoints you on the motorway.

The price is a nice surprise. Just £17,600 for the standard car we drove. And only £1,000 more for the GT version that comes with extra goodies worth a lot more than £1,000.

I can’t recommend the lightweight spare wheel. Honda has gone overboard with its weight-saving, and chucked the spare wheel overboard. All you get is a repair kit that’s as much use on a shredded tyre as a tube of Superglue. You can pay extra for a space-saver. But there’s so much room in the boot you might as well buy an extra wheel and tyre. And a wheel brace. And a jack.

That’s a minor niggle, though.

The new Honda Civic Type R started with a much more exciting car than the old Civic. And finished with a better Type R.

Get your order in.

(Test of original Civic Type R at www.honestjohn.co.uk/road_tests/index.htm?id=29)

Video clip from this test at www.youtube.com/watch?v=K38sw0cJd2I

(Thanks to Steve Belasco for the clip.)

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