It pains me to say it, but up until recently, I just wasn’t getting on with our Honda Civic Type R all that well. I love the performance, its scarcely believable cornering ability and the - potentially soon-to-be-lost - bonkers looks, but it’s not the easiest hot hatch to live with.
So, when about to embark upon a 2000 mile road trip through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Slovenia a couple of weeks ago, I feared the final nail in the coffin for my tumultuous Civic relationship was about to be unceremoniously smashed in. Why? Because it’s really not a natural road trip companion. The ride is firm even when the ultra-stiff +R mode is turned off. It’s quite lumpy at low revs, meaning trundling through traffic isn’t a very pleasant experience. Finally, there’s the triple whammy of noise you have to face at motorway speeds: the weird high pitched whine (still no idea what that is), the roar from the tyres, and the boom from the quad exhaust out back. Like I said, not the easiest hot hatch to live with.
I was sure that after I’d dispatched all 2000 miles of the trip, I’d have nothing left but pure animosity toward the Honda. As it turned out however, the opposite happened: I’ve come away with more love for this bewinged, bright red nutter than ever before.
I must stress, there are hot hatchbacks that are far better at the whole GT thing - a VW Golf R for instance would be ideal for a journey like this. But for the reasons I’m about to explain, the Type R is far better at long distances than you might expect, and in some areas, it has a leg up over its more cosseting rivals.
I simply cannot stress how important this point is, particularly for me. There’s something not quite right with my spine, so pretty much any time I drive a car for about three hours or more, I get out and make a sort of “ahhhh, ohhh, gaahhh” noise when I extricate myself from the driver’s seat. The Type R is a massive exception to this uncomfortable rule, because the bucket seats in the front are fantastic. Sure, they aren’t the easiest to get in and out of, but once your butt’s secure, they hold you just right. And no, I don’t care if that last bit sounds like it’s lifted from a cheesy romance novel.
The most driving I did in one day was 11 hours, and my back felt fine. On one day I even did a five hour, non-stop stint, and again, my back was fine. When the Type R goes back to Honda, these chairs will be one of the things I miss most.
For most people, a 10 day trip abroad requires a hefty amount of luggage. Factor in a 17-month-old child, and you need to double it. And then some. I’m talking travel cots, nappies, ludicrously expensive toddler snack things - it’s preposterous. In the Civic however, it’s not an issue, with a 498 litre boot to play with. There’s even a load of space under the rear seats, something of a rarity in modern cars.
OK, so this is a bit of a cop out, and of no use to you if you’re partaking in a long journey in the United Kingdom, but on the largely smoother roads of continental Europe - particularly Germany - the Type R’s firm ride isn’t as much of a problem. It was fairly punishing on a few stretches of intensive road works plus a Slovenian mountain pass with a moon-inspired surface, but other than that, I didn’t find myself cursing the Type R’s stiff setup all that much.
There’s no escaping it: the noise the Type R makes at motorway speeds is thoroughly annoying. But, you do get used to it fairly quickly, and it’s not something I found wearing over time.
Most modern hot hatchbacks are all out of ideas at around 155mph. But the Civic? It’s official Vmax is 167mph, and thanks to a little speedo over-reading, I got ‘ours’ up to a thoroughly satisfying 170mph indicated (167.3mph on GPS, in case you were wondering). But it’s not just the number that’s impressive: it’s how it feels at that speed. The last time I got a car up to these kinds of speeds was with a BMW M2 earlier this year, and at around 155mph and up you really start to feel the lift. But that’s not something you get in the Civic.
Thanks to the big wing at the rear pushing the car into the tarmac and the cut-outs in the front arches that reduce turbulence around the wheels at the flat underfloor, it feels amazingly stable at high speeds. You can actually feel the downforce, and as it’s the only car in its class producing negative lift; that’s not something you get in any of the Type R’s hot hatch contemporaries.
Had I driven all the way down to Slovenia in a Seat Leon Cupra, I doubt anyone would have batted an eye. But as I’ve explained before, the Type R - with its angry front splitter, massive rear wing and general attitude, there’s no mistaking it for anything other than a hardcore performance hatch. What’s more, it seems they’re still a rarely seen car elsewhere in Europe. As a result, people get excited by the thing.
While taking some pictures of the car by beautiful Lake Bled, I had loads of people shout ‘nice car’ and give me the thumbs up. People came to chat to me and take photos when stopping for fuel. Wherever I drove people stopped and stared. One guy in Ljubljana - the Slovenian capital - even pumped his fist in the air with a gleeful look on his face as I drove past.
As soon as I started telling people the Type R was the chosen steed for my big road trip, I was told that I was mad. Or stupid. Or maybe a little masochistic. With that in mind, once I’d gotten the most hardcore mass produced hot hatch all the way down to Slovenia, it gave me a much greater feeling of satisfaction than if I’d taken something a little more forgiving.
Every time I saw the thing parked up outside our holiday apartment - looking like a lightly distilled BTCC racing car - it made me smile. It’d chewed through seven countries and 1000 miles to get there, and would happily do the same again without skipping a beat.