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Honda Civic Type R and 3-door 2002 Road Test

Fri, 06 Sep 2002

The 2002 Honda Civic Type R is a completely different car from the Civic 5-door.

I tested the new, British-built Honda Civic 5-door model last November, praising its useful, clever, practical MPV-like interior. It has an excellent NCAP 4-Star crash safety score and offers the best pedestrian safety of any car yet tested. It's been a roaring success, second only in the UK sales figures to the Ford Focus. And, of course, this is not only good for Honda, it's good for Britain.

But the 5-door Civic is a wholly practical, sensible car, ideal for families and in particular for mums with young children. Its transmission-tunnel-free flat floor gives easy access to the back seats or the nearside kerb. To appeal to younger 'Dual Income No Kids' customers, Honda needed something more sporty.

So the company cut nearly six inches out of the Civic's length and two inches from its height and came up with a really attractive, different-looking 3-door hatchback. Some of the practicality of the 5-door vanished with the appearance of a console extending from the bulkhead to the back of the front seats, so no more easily sliding across to get out of the passenger door or nipping between the seats to the back to attend to the little darlings. This is a car for couples who aren't even married yet, let alone proud parents. The console isn't altogether pointless, however. It has a useful lidded gubbins compartment which contains a sliding second pair of drink-can holders (the main one pops out of the dash by the driver's right hand).

The suspension is stiffer than the 5-door's, with firmer dampers which give the car a sportier feel. Engines are the same 90bhp 1.4 and 110bhp 1.6 and, in the 3-door body, the 1.4 has the temporary benefit of a 150g/km C02 output which qualifies for the lowest VED band of £100. Gearing is an unfashionably low 20.5mph per 1,000 rpm in 5th, to give better throttle response, yet fuel economy is a good 40–45mpg. But the best news is the price. The 3-door Honda Civics are a full £1,000 cheaper than the 5-door models, starting at a very sensible £10,795, including air-conditioning, and rising to a maximum £13,895 for the air-conditioned 1.6SE automatic. The only criticisms I could find were a slightly overdamped ride on poor road surfaces; and, though the car handles and grips very well, when the front end finally loses adhesion it lets go a bit suddenly.

Not so the range topper: the Honda Civic Type R. The obvious way to give the Civic range a sporty, trendy appeal was to come up with a hot version. Where VW has its GTi, where Renault has its ClioSport, where SEAT has its Cupra, Honda has its Type R. First the Integra Type R. Then the Accord Type R. Now the 200bhp chain-cam six-speed Civic Type R. That's a full 20bhp more than the SEAT Leon 20VT without the benefit of a turbo, 28bhp more than the ClioSport 172, and a massive 50bhp more than the current VW Golf GTi 1.8T.

To bring the Type R in under £16,000, drivers are asked to make a small sacrifice. Air-conditioning is an £800 extra. But everything else is just right.

Big, hip-hugging rally-type seats; 6-speed box with a snicky, short-throw gearlever up there where you want it next to your left hand; big, ventilated disc brakes with ABS and EBD; 205/45 R17 tyres; and no nancy boy electronic traction control system to get in the way and spoil the fun.

I was lucky enough to get to drive the car on closed roads with no upper speed limit. Handling is very good indeed, if not quite as sharp as the old Peugeot 306 GTi-6 or the SEAT Leon 20VT. The normal limit is set by understeer rather than oversteer, but with the Type R it is progressive and exploitable. And the engine gives its best between 6,000 and 7,400 rpm where peak power is developed (although the rev counter reads to 9,000, the rev limiter cuts in at about 7,800).

Obviously, whacking the car across closed, unrestricted roads in complete safety was sheer joy. But the car's overtaking ability is so phenomenal it is also very good at making progress in normal UK driving conditions. The low gearing of about 21mph per 1,000rpm in 6th coupled with VTEC flexibility allows you to trickle along at 50mph in 6th, or more sensibly in 5th. Then, when you need the grunt to overtake safely, all you have to do is pick the right gear and you're away. Even 4th is good for a maximum of 100mph. But the thing is, unless you wring its neck, the car is as mild mannered and docile as an old lap cat. It doesn't cry out at you to be driven fast, so you don't have to. And, to help you ensure your licence remains unsullied by nasty, officious scribbles, Honda is offering a free 'Motor Appreciation Course' with every car sold.

This takes the form of a drive accompanied by a Police Advanced Class 1 Instructor. First he (or she) runs you through a list of sensible pre-travel checks, then discusses your specific requirements with you. Then you go for a drive, after which the Instructor provides advice and guidance on overcoming any shortcomings he has noticed in your concentration, observation, hazard perception, anticipation, planning skills, positioning, cornering, overtaking and use of speed. After that, your instructor then takes you for a drive to show you how he practises what he preaches.

These 8-hour courses are also available commercially, at prices from £225. For more information, e-mail: robbie.jones@honda-eu.com

(Test of 2007 Honda Civic Type R at www.honestjohn.co.uk/road_tests/index.htm?id=261)

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