So that’s it. 6263 miles and almost six months after taking the keys, we’ve handed ‘our’ Civic Type R long-term test car back to Honda. Sob.
In that time we’ve driven it in seven different countries, thrashed it on track, and put it up against some stiff opposition. It’s lapped up everything we’ve thrown at it, and given us a few surprises - both good and bad.
Let me talk you through Civic Type R ‘ownership’…
Countless fellow motoring journalists told me I was either stupid or slightly sadistic when I mentioned I was going to take the Type R on a 2000 mile round trip to Slovenia. But actually, despite the droning engine and firm ride, it’s a surprisingly decent road trip companion. And a lot of that is down to the seats, which are superb.
While we never got the chance to take the Type R on a circuit fast enough to make the most of the crazy aero, I did get the car up to a sufficient speed to feel its downforce generating bits and bobs on that aforementioned road trip. Yep, thanks to Germany’s autobahn and its various de-restricted bits we got the Type R up to its v-max, and due to it producing negative lift (the only car in class to do so other than the VW Golf Clubsport S) it was completely drama free.
The Type R is a surprisingly irritating car to live with compared to a lot of other hot hatchbacks. Firstly there’s the car’s general attitude to consider - the ride is choppy, and the boosty 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot is a hard thing to use smoothly when you’re driving normally.
Secondly there are the electronics to think about. The Garmin-based sat nav isn’t the best (why can’t I have ETA and distance remaining displayed at the same time?), and the trip computer is enormously fiddly. It takes about five or six button pushes to do something simple like switch from average MPG to fuel distance remaining, which is both annoying and distracting.
After about 3000 miles, we’d worn the factory-fitted Continental Sport Contact 6s down to just under 4mm, so we decided to switch some stickier, pricier track-focused rubber in the form of a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s.
We were expecting an increase in grip, but I wasn’t prepared for just how ridiculously planted it was after the swap. The only time I ever really experienced understeer was on track; on the road, I just couldn’t unstick the front no matter how stupid I was being. What’s more, the turn-in on the Cup 2s was a little sharper too.
On track they wear like a race tyre, meaning after a day of lapping Curborough Sprint Course in Lichfield, the boots were absolutely caked in marbles, giving us the impression that we’d viciously torn through most of the tread depth. But actually, wear hasn’t been too bad - we gave the car back with 4mm on the fronts and 6mm on the rears after 3000 miles, about the same as the factory Continentals were down to after a similar mileage.
Considering the Sport Contacts had a higher starting depth and weren’t abused for a day on track, that’s not bad going - although it’s worth pointing out a fair chunk of the Michelin’s mileage was clocked on our big road trip and all its soothing motorway stints.
The downsides? Well, the ride did seem to firm up a little further (stiffer sidewalls, perhaps?) and the drop in grip when they’re cold is much more noticeable than with the Contis. Also you have to be very careful in the wet with the throttle unless you want bucket-loads of wheelspin and understeer. Braking in the wet is still strong, through.
In conclusion, if you’re wanting to upgrade your Type R, a set of these boots should be the first thing on your shopping list. Even if you’re not the tuning type, they’re worth considering when your next tyre change is due.
OK, so this is the answer to a question no-one asked, but it’s an intriguing sign of progress that a jumped-up hatchback can beat a super coupe that - when adjusted for inflation - cost about twice the price when it was new. To beat it by 1.5sec is particularly significant - a decent margin for a short track like Curborough, where we held our unconventional showdown.
It’s also worth pointing out that the E36 M3 we used - Alex Kersten’s beloved ‘Colin’ - is not standard: it’s rocking Ceika Performance coilovers and the same Michelin Sport Cup 2 boots as the Type R. Without those, the M3 would have been well and truly trounced.
Oh, and the Type R took a whole day of track day abuse, complaining only via an erroneous tyre pressure warning that flashed up on the way home. But the M3? Watch the video above, and you’ll see that it wasn’t as happy about a day of track action…
Over the whole 6263 mile loan, we averaged 32.1mpg. Not bad considering how it was driven much of the time.
When we were careful, we managed to get over 42mpg on a motorway run, and on the 2000-mile road trip to Slovenia that took in several fast autobahn stints and the odd mountain road I managed 35mpg.
We couldn’t resist playing a game of ‘meet the parents’ with the Type R, which involved borrowing Honda UK’s FN2 Civic Type R heritage car. And wow, have things moved on since that car was built.
Granted, the new FK2 is targeting a different end of the market (the FN2 was more of a Ford Focus ST than Focus RS rival), but even so - it feels too slow, it’s horribly uncomfortable and not as playful as the old EP3 Type R.
Toward the end of our loan, I - admittedly rather late to the party - tried out a Ford Focus RS. Yep, the Honda Civic Type R’s big rival, which for pretty much the same price offers even more power and all-wheel drive. And not just the usual predominantly front-wheel drive affair you’ll usually find at this end of the market - we’re talking proper AWD that actually biases the rear.
I drove to the test location in the Type R and almost immediately switched to the RS, but to my surprise I was a little underwhelmed. Sure, it was awesome to be in a hot hatch and feel the back end stepping out under power, but it just didn’t feel as tight and together as the Honda. The steering’s all weird and springy too - the Civic’s isn’t perfect, but it’s much more consistent.
I’m not making that my ‘official’ verdict - I need some more time with the Ford, and next month we’ll be getting another Civic Type R in to test against a Focus RS for a proper track battle, but I can’t help but think half an hour on twisty roads should have been enough for the Ford to make an impression.
So, the Civic is the hot hatch I’d buy, right? Actually, no, not quite. If you want a properly hardcore hot hatch that’s mesmerising to drive and you’re able put up with a car that’s not the easiest to live with due to everything laid out in point number 3, then I urge you: get the Civic. But for me? I prefer the VW Golf Clubsport S, although due to that being a sold out, two-seater special edition, that leaves the next best thing: the Seat Leon Cupra.
It’s still a hardcore car, is built with much more logical VAG switchgear and electronics, has a nicer, more flexible engine, and is more comfortable. Am I just getting old?*
(*Don’t answer that.)