Long-term test review: Honda Civic Type R GT

13 Jun, 2018 1:15pm Jonathan Burn

Third report: we line up two exclusive supercars to show what great value the Civic Type R hot hatch really is

Verdict

5
This is a high-performance bargain. Honda’s attractive PCP deals mean you can get into a Type R from around £329 per month. You won’t find a more exciting car for less.

Mileage: 8,316
Economy: 33.5mpg

Since the Civic Type R arrived with us back in December, it’s continued to surprise and amaze most of the jumbo-bg office – including myself. It hits the hot-hatch brief squarely on the head, bundling performance, practicality and excitement all into one package.

Yes, that package comes at a price, but it’s far more attainable than you may initially suspect. Our Type R in GT spec costs £33,525, which is a hefty chunk of cash in most people’s eyes. However, Honda’s attractive PCP deals make it a truly affordable performance car.

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Only a handful of Type R buyers will pay the full price up front and drive the car away – the rest take advantage of finance deals. Currently you can get yourself a Type R in GT spec for a very reasonable £355 per month providing you can make a modest deposit of £8,000. But even paying no deposit at all is an option; this increases the monthly cost to a still-reasonable £597.

That’s very much unlike the two other cars you see either side of the Type R in our main image: the Audi R8 V10 Plus and Aston Martin Vantage. Both have price tags that read more like mobile phone numbers (£141,200 and £120,900 respectively) and eye-watering running costs thanks to their huge engines.

So, does the extra cash demanded by the Audi and Aston get you a more exciting car? In some respects, yes; both have far superior engines and can travel at greater speeds. Yet they’re not necessarily superior cars. What makes the Type R so fantastic for me to use every day is its accessible performance. The R8 and Vantage can be terrifyingly fast, and on the road you can only use a fraction of their full potential.

There are fewer restrictions on when and where you can use all of the Honda’s performance. Put simply, you can enjoy more of it more of the time. Isn’t that why people buy performance cars?

Being honed at the Nürburgring, where it currently holds the lap record for a front-wheel-drive production car, also makes the Type R a real weapon over a mixture of roads and surfaces. Whether it’s battling its way through the rutted side streets of London or tackling tight and technical B-roads out in the countryside, the Civic rarely feels out of its comfort zone. You can tell engineers have fine-tuned every last detail in the Honda so that the entire car fizzes with feedback when you drive it. It’s nothing short of sensational.

Of course, our time with the Type R hasn’t been perfect. The brakes have developed an annoying, high-pitched squeal when you come to a stop using light pedal pressure, and the climate control appears to be pumping out air at the same temperature however low you set it. These are hardly deal-breakers, but in endless stop-start London traffic and summer heat, these small problems could become rather irksome.

A constant gripe, however, is the Civic’s infotainment and touchscreen. After five months I’ve finally worked out how to navigate the maze of menus and sub-menus, but the moment you get behind the wheel of a rival – the Hyundai i30 N, for example – you realise how wrong Honda is getting the basics.

It’s not a truly terrible system, rather that its flaws are magnified by how simple and easy the equivalent set-ups in rivals are to operate.

Update: Honda Civic Type R

Our Honda Civic Type R hot hatch is surprisingly practical every day

Mileage: 6,790
Economy: 32.1mpg

Getting my hands on the keys to our Civic Type R is becoming increasingly difficult. It’s a car that has too much power and presence to be left lingering in the car park.

However, every time I manage to pry the keys from a colleague, they always report back with the same mixed verdict: “It’s fantastic, but I couldn’t live with the way it looks.”

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Of course, styling is subjective, but I appear to be one of very few in the jumbo-bg office who has taken to the look of the Type R. I like how brave and bold Honda has been with the design; the Civic is unmistakably Japanese, with razor-sharp lines, blistered arches and lots of intricate details. It’s automotive origami.

Let’s face it, you don’t buy a 316bhp hot hatch to blend in, but from behind the wheel you can forget how dramatic the Type R looks.

Over the past four months the car has barely sat still as we’ve clocked up close to 7,000 miles; that’s included a mix of central London driving and frequent trips up the M1 to my home town of Newcastle. And despite its rabid performance, the Type R is currently returning over 32mpg; sure, that’s a little off Honda’s official claims, but it’s mightily impressive for a performance car like this. I do still find myself making frequent trips to the pumps, however, thanks to the rather small 46-litre fuel tank.

Yet even four months in, every time I slip into the deeply bolstered seats I’m still surprised by just how compliant and easy the car is to live with; this is perhaps Honda’s biggest achievement with this latest model.

As a result of that, the performance from the 316bhp 2.0-litre engine feels even more dramatic; it’s simply so unexpected.

First report: Honda Civic Type R

Hot hatch isn’t subtle, but its brash looks and huge pace have us hooked

Mileage: 2,682
Economy: 31.0mpg

We’ve only just waved goodbye to our 1.0-litre Honda Civic SR, which proved itself to be an honest, reliable and refined companion for reviews editor Rich Ingram. But the model we’re most excited about in the range is currently our favourite hot hatch: the Civic Type R.

We know from our road tests that it’s taken on some very talented cars and seen off each one, so what is it really like to live with? To find out, we’re going to be running our reigning class champ on the fleet for the next six months.

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As it’s built here in Britain, I took the opportunity to go to Honda’s factory in Swindon, Wilts, to pick up the keys. Speccing a Type R couldn’t be simpler; there’s only one engine, one gearbox option and some pretty divisive styling whether you like it or not. Our car is finished in Honda’s rather dramatic Rallye Red, which is offset by a striking set of 20-inch black alloy wheels.

Of course, the styling won’t be to all tastes; my parents’ immediate response when I took it back home to Newcastle was: “What in the world is that?” Personally, however, I think the Type R is a welcome antidote to the increasingly modest and conservative styling of many new cars. And all of those spoilers and scoops serve a purpose, too: helping feed air to the engine, cool the brakes and manipulate airflow around the car to create downforce in pursuit of performance.

The only option Honda offers on the Type R is a GT pack. It adds £2,000 to the price – or £20 per month – but brings a whole load of worthwhile equipment. This includes dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, an 11-speaker sound system and wireless charging. There’s also a raft of safety tech such as blind spot and rear cross traffic monitoring. The GT pack is fitted to our car and Honda predicts around 80 per cent of buyers will choose it.

You certainly won’t be wanting for kit inside a GT. Adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth, sat-nav, Apple CarPlay, bucket seats and a reversing camera all come as standard, making the Type R easier to live with.

That’s a target the engineers at Honda have clearly been tasked with, too. Despite the Type R’s monstrous performance, the most striking thing about it on the road is how comfortable and forgiving it is to drive. It’s now based on a lighter and stiffer platform, but Honda has also fitted a multi-link rear suspension set-up and added more sophisticated adaptive dampers. And you can tell; it’s incredibly compliant for such a focused hot hatch.

To live with, initially, it would seem the Type R is completely at odds with how it looks. Despite its racy and brash exterior it is surprisingly comfortable – even around London’s pitted streets in the new ‘comfort’ mode. As before, the gearbox has a beautiful mechanical action and the engine’s glut of performance (316bhp and 400Nm of torque) makes progress effortless and addictive.

There have also been some big improvements in the small things – stuff you notice after weeks of driving. There’s now a rear wiper, which makes driving on the motorway much safer on a rainy winter day, and the steering wheel no longer obstructs the dials.  

Early gripes? Well, like the normal Civic, the new Type R features a second-rate infotainment system, with messy graphics and an unresponsive screen that makes using it frustrating. And another annoyance is not being able to connect to the car’s Bluetooth while you’re moving, even as a passenger.

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three penalty points.

Key specs

  • Model: Honda Civic Type R GT
  • On fleet since: December 2017
  • Price: £33,525
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 316bhp
  • CO2/tax: 176g/km/£140
  • Options: None
  • Insurance*: Group: 40, Quote: £420
  • Mileage/economy: 8,316/33.5mpg
  • Any problems?: Squeaky brakes