Driving a car hard and fast — in a controlled environment — can be cathartic. Winding up the tachometer, rowing that gearbox and kissing those apexes is a dance that every motoring enthusiast relishes.
The Honda Civic Type R proved to be an exciting tango partner on several occasions in 2016. We drove it at the launch on Killarney raceway in the Western Cape and subsequently we took it out during a comparison test for sister title Sunday Times Motoring at the Midvaal circuit in Gauteng.
It set the fastest lap time too, a testament to the focus of its engineers on developing an authentic track warrior.
So in December last year Honda offered to loan me a Civic Type-R over the festive season.
The idea behind this kind of thing is to conduct a real-world assessment of abilities. Can it carry an inflatable pool toy shaped like a dolphin? How many packets of coal can it transport? And could I make it to the coast on a single tank?
Pertinent tests indeed. If you do make it to the coast on a single tank, you will probably end up spending your fuel savings on a visit to the chiropractor. The ride has a cement-like quality, much like the heart of my first girlfriend.
Road noise can be enervating too. But on that perfect stretch of twisty tarmac, these gripes are meaningless: the feeling induced by the Type R is simply festive.
It devours corners with point-and-squirt accuracy. This is thanks, in part, to the existence of a proper mechanical limited-slip differential that helps apply that 228kW and 400Nm down effectively. Its six-speed manual gearbox has to be one of the slickest in the business. Actually, it is one of the only left in the business — given the ubiquity of dual-clutch systems.
The Type R reminded me of the previous-generation Subaru WRX, for its raw, uncompromising attitude to being a performance car.
Does it sound as charismatic as its peers in the segment? The lack of “vrrr” and “pha” might be disappointing to some. But the whoosh made by the turbocharger expelling excess pressure is pretty good at alarming passers-by in an underground parking lot.
And whatever volume the engine lacks is compensated for by the loudness of the aesthetics. Admittedly, it borders on the garish. But the Honda’s ability to seize attention with its massive wing, bodywork ducts and protruding splitters is something to behold. Rarity is another thing to consider: the popular competitors choke our roads and people are genuinely pleased to see a Type R in the metal.
Drivers should feel equally pleased to see the world from inside the cabin. Like the exterior, things are lively inside the fast Civic. Red accents abound and everything is screwed together rather tightly. The only irritation is a dated digital interface that feels as if it were taken from a decade ago.
What about the practicalities? Grandma hated having to squeeze in and out of those supportive, but narrow front buckets.
But the Type R seems successful in retaining the virtues of a regular Civic elsewhere. The boot, for example, remains commodious. With the seats folded flat it managed to swallow a host of items, including the aforementioned pool animal, as well as a record player, ceiling fan and, of course, a turkey.
But we should address the elephant in the room. Technically, this is an old car. Late last year Honda revealed the iteration of the Type R based on the latest-generation Civic which was launched here in August 2016. But given how long it took this example to arrive on our shores, it is likely to be some time before version 2.0 lands.
Still, performance Honda fans seem to be a loyal bunch. The Civic Type R might not have the mainstream appeal, refinement or allrounder status of a Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport. But it is certainly more engaging to drive. And if that is at the top of your priority list, it really is your only choice at the moment. – Brenwin Naidu
Fast Facts: Honda Civic Type-R
Engine: 1996 four-cylinder turbo
Power: 228kW at 6500rpm
Torque: 440Nm at 5600rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
0-100km/h: 5.7-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 270km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 10.1l/100km (achieved)
Price: From R600 900