Fleet News

Honda Civic Type-R

Honda

Review

USER-choosers with a £16,000 budget could well be going faster in the future if Honda has its way.

Its new Civic Type-R makes an impressive hot-hatch case for itself and the firm believes that company money will be paying for a third of all cars sold.

At the price there is little to match the Type-R in terms of size and performance and Honda's aim to sell 1,500 units a year seems a little conservative. At £15,995, the Type-R undercuts some illustrious rivals, while beating them out on the road as well, which more than likely is going to be the main reason why buyers will go for it.

Tax-wise, the Type-R is good for a car that barrels along with nearly 200bhp (212g/km of CO2, taxed on 24% of list price from next year, so 22% taxpayers will pay £845 per year and 40% taxpayers £1,535). It is coupled with a cheap front-end price that makes for thrilling motoring at a cost that will make fleet drivers and managers take notice.

To get a Volkswagen Golf that will almost keep up means plumping for the 204bhp V6 4Motion at £19,450, but expect a hefty hit in the pocket for staff when the tax man does his sums (264g/km of CO2 incurs 34% BIK tax - 22% taxpayer £1,455; 40% £2,645).

However, solid residual values see the VW worth 43% of its value after three-years/ 60,000-miles, whereas CAP Network predicts the Civic will be worth £6,050, or 38%.

Buyers fancying the Italian designer chic of an Alfa Romeo 147 Lusso 2.0 will find less room and less horsepower at 150bhp, but the advantage of a gorgeous interior which the Honda cannot match. If similarly specced to the Type-R, the 147 will cost £17,240 on-the-road, making it more expensive to run (211g/km of CO2 incurs 24% tax - 22% £910; 40% £1,655), but for the user-chooser looking to make a statement, would that extra few pounds swing them towards the Civic?

The one noticeable omission from the standard equipment list of the Type-R is air conditioning, which is now almost ubiquitous in cars of this value. Honda claims it did not want to penalise those who didn't want the £900 unit - very galant.

But in reality, keeping the price at below £16,000 makes the Civic a real draw, and by the time drivers have cocked an ear at the shriek of the i-VTEC engine, they will be sold anyway, cold air or not.

The i-VTEC engine screams like a child that has lost its comfort blanket in a fashionably Formula 1 style, but thanks to 'intelligent' combustion control and a six-speed gearbox, it does not need to be redlined as often as older VTEC models did to get the most out of it.

More than 90% of its torque - 140lb-ft - is available at 3,000rpm, rather than at racing car levels, and it is noticeable how the Type-R gives a constant irresistible shove in the back through each gear.

Honda quotes combined economy of 31.7mpg, which is fine for a car with this speed. In fact, all the figures stack up similarly in pace, power and fuel economy to our long-term Astra Coupe Turbo, which has been making a few friends at our offices.

Outwardly, the Type-R looks mean, which is quite a feat. The more sober versions are slab-sided and MPV-like, and I thought that hotting up the Civic might be like putting Dawn French in hot pants and a nose ring.

But it works well in the eye-catching black all cars were finished in at launch, reminding me of a US 'flying wedge' stealth fighter. It also comes in silver and red, which may not be so flattering.

The racing bucket seats trimmed with Alcantara and a flash Type-R logo hold you well and the driver feels more connected to the car than in the normal, spacious MPV-ish Civic.

With an excellent leather sports steering wheel, aluminium gearknob and well-positioned pedals, Honda has ensured that all physical driver connections feel sporty and right.

The huge headroom and voluminous interior space could have counted against the Civic in the hot hatch battle if the firm had not got the ergonomics sorted.

One aspect of the interior that could be better is the cheap plastic used on the door bins and some of the dashboard. Honda cars always seem to suffer from this.

At well over six feet tall, I do not often feel comfortable in the back of cars unless they have four doors, a three-pointed star on the bonnet and a driver called Jeeves, but there is a loads of room in the Civic for heads and legs, and the ride is good for a hot hatch. That is despite being chauffeured round the Isle of Man TT course, where the car was launched, by a TT motorcycle racer keen to explore the car's limits.

There is one abiding impression of the Civic Type-R: the noise. On a closed section of the Isle of Man mountain course where the car was launched, the four-cylinder i-VTEC howled its way through every gear.

Steering, often maligned in Japanese cars, is still a little too light, but not too much, as Honda has programmed it to be heavier than shopping-and-school-run Civics.

The disc brakes, ventilated at the front, coped well with some consistently heavy stopping without fading and for such a high-sided car, the Type-R shows little roll thanks to uprated anti-roll bars, firmer dampers and springs, and it rides comfortably, even across bumpy country roads.

The Type-R has plenty of grip. Compared to our long-term Astra Coupe Turbo, the Civic keeps its front wheels planted, and if adhesion starts to give way while cornering, it tends to understeer gently and gradually. If a driver puts this car into a bush in the dry, he or she has been going far too fast.

The gearstick, mounted on the dashboard, is ugly but effective and slots neatly through its six cogs. Like the rest of the car, it is set up to go fast without fuss.

Cracking performance, meticulous engineering and a noise that would wake the dead, loads of space, all at a price that makes its rivals squirm. This is the hot hatch to beat.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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