Honda Civic Type-R: driving Zen
In a world where over-specification is the name of the game and numbers are king, where mega-HP, over-tired (meaning, super-wide tires), massive aerodynamics, and electronic-this-and-that seem to be the norm, one car truly rises above them all: Honda’s all-new Civic Type-R.
The modestly-sized 5-door hatchback won’t win the ladies over, thanks largely to its boy-racer, tuner-car looks. But the Type-R has so far been the most mind-blowing car I’ve driven in 2018.
In a roster that includes a Ferrari F488 GTB, a Porsche 911 GT3, 911 Turbo and Cayman, that’s saying a whole lot.
The fifth generation Honda Civic Type-R, internally known as FK8, is the first true global Type-R model, available in both LHD and RHD markets.
A prototype lapped the famed Nordschleife (northern loop of the Nurburgring track in Germany) in 7:43.8, making it at that time the fastest front-wheel drive car at the infamous Green Hell, 7 seconds faster than its predecessor, the FK2 Civic Type-R.
When Honda Cars Philippines (HCP) opened its order books, its initial 100 units was filled up in 24 hours, making it one of the most successful models in HCP’s history.
Demand is still high, prompting Honda to bring in an additional 100 or so units due before the end of the year.
This modern, new-age Civic Type-R is equipped with a myriad of electronics and the latest safety equipment to ensure that the Type-R is a perfectly useable car in everyday conditions.
The body has received five stars at the Euro NCAP crash assessment program. And the engine meets Euro VII emission standards.
Despite its street-fighter looks, it’s well-behaved, civilized, and socially responsible—until the hammer drops.
This everyday useability is in stark contrast to its boy-racer bodykit that harks back to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions, Subaru STIs, and other wild-looking tuner car specials in Japan’s 1990 golden age of car tuning.
There’s a massive rear wing, equally long and protruding front fascia, widebody front fenders that peek out by almost 2 inches, and pulled rear fenders to house the massive 20- x 8.5-inch wheels.
Past the exterior’s faux carbon and red accents, open the door, and you see a high-quality, well-designed and engineered, and very ergonomic interior lifted out from the regular Civic production line, but spruced up just enough.
Seated on the hugely supportive but surprisingly comfortable winged-back bucket seats, feel that reassuring thud when you close the door.
All Honda Civic Type-R’s are made in Honda’s Swindon factory in the UK before being exported worldwide.
Interestingly, the K20C1 engine, which features turbocharging and direct injection, is manufactured at Honda’s Anna facility in Ohio, before being shipped to the UK.
The three-exit exhaust is a talking point, but Honda’s engineers figured out a way to reduce exhaust drone from this on the highway when cruising.
Dip the clutch pedal, start the engine, and the K20 feels muted. Par for the course, as even the Ferrari F488’s twin-turbo V8 is quiet at idle. But that’s a very modest trade-off for what’s to come.
Move off, and the Schumacher-esque front chin will be plowing snow when in colder climates, thanks to its length.
Surprisingly, though, it clears almost all the bumps and humps on the road, even the ramps on parking buildings.
And the clutch? It’s just like the Toyota 86: firm and springy, which encourages fast-shifting, but is surprisingly easy to use. I endured three hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Edsa, and I have no complaints.
Compared to a Subaru STI’s clutch, this is definitely much more civilized.
With the drive and suspension mode set in comfort, the Civic Type-R feels much like a European compact sports sedan: firm but compliant, composed yet comfortable.
Going up to Tagaytay via Silang’s winding, bumpy broken tarmac and concrete provincial highway from Carmona, my fats didn’t melt from all the jiggling.
On Aguinaldo Highway, the Civic just flies, gobbling up straights with gusto. The Brembo-equipped front brakes have massive stopping power, are firm, well-modulated and deliver fade-free performance.
The 6-speed’s gearshift is one of the greatest ever made, right up there with a Porsche, Miata, and Honda S2000: precise, intuitive, and with the right amount of ratchety, slightly snatchy, mechanical, and ultimately satisfying feel as the lever finds its home.
The electrically-assisted power steering is light, but has oodles of feel, is very progressive, and filters out just enough NVH from the road so you know every single thing happening underneath the four massive 245/30R20 Continental Extreme Sport tires without overwhelming your senses.
For such wide and large tires, you’d think steering kickback and torque-steer is equally immense. Surprisingly, it is minimal, almost imperceptible even on the tightest and bumpiest of corners.
The beauty of the Civic Type-R is that it feels just perfectly right: when I overtake, there’s just enough power to deploy full throttle without having to worry about feathering the throttle.
If the road is slippery, the electronic traction and stability aids cut in just enough to limit wheelspin, and keep you straight.
The mid-range is what’s truly impressive, with brawn to pass slower cars with ease. It’s a shame the redline isn’t a stratospheric 8,000 rpm or higher, but a more modest 7,000 rpm.
Changing gears from redline, the K20C1 stays within the thick of its power band that it feels manic, but not out-of-control crazy.
It feels every bit as useable and exploitable as a regular 1.5 Turbo Civic RS, but with only much more power and performance potential.
You can literally keep it at 100 percent until your fuel runs out, or you simply pass out from euphoria, drunk from intense, intoxicating sheer driving pleasure.
Many would compare the Civic Type-R to Subaru’s STI and the Golf GTI. But the Civic is very limited, costs more (rightfully so), and offers much more charm, panache and character.
I actually drove the Type-R on track a few months earlier, and driving it on the road simply validated what I already knew: in R-mode, the Civic is truly devastatingly sharp, precise, tidy, and very accurate.
The playful and frisky Subaru STI lacks this precision, while the Golf GTI feels slow and numb in comparison.
On track, in R-mode, the Civic hardwires itself into your brain, your senses, your being. And the cherry on the icing? You can use it everyday.
How does 8.7 km/liter in the city, and about 14 km/liter on the highway sound like?
I want one. I seriously, really want one. Just the thought of driving it again gets my palms sweaty, my mouth salivating, and my senses tingling. Never felt like that before with any test unit that’s come my way.
The hype is real. This is true driving zen.