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Wednesday 11th January 2012


TELL ME I'M WRONG: HONDA CIVIC TYPE R (EP3)

Chris Harris has a problem with the breadvan Type R - can you persuade him otherwise?


It will not come as a surprise to learn I do not like every car I drive. I am not alone in this - we all experience the same sense of disappointment when something doesn’t meet our expectations. Or if it’s just pants. Nor am I the only person to find some machines that I have never driven so unappealing that the incentive to do so is virtually non-existent.

Sometimes these dislikes, be they rational or irrational, are perfectly understandable because the car in question – the Austin Allegro for example – has proved itself to be a shambles. But others are less obvious. Sometimes they’re best-sellers, winning every magazine grouptest or, gasp, national treasures.

That’s right, I still don’t get the MX-5. But after a little outburst I made about it a year ago, and because of the subsequent responses, I now have a much, much better idea of what other people see in them. Well, nicely modified, earlier MX-5s. (Nice recovery – Ed) Was it worth the threats of violence to glean a better understanding of Mazda’s best-seller? Probably not, but it got me thinking on the theme. If I outline what it is I find exasperating, disappointing and irritating about a particular car, can people tell me what it is I’m missing? I don’t want a fight, I’m not trolling, I just want to be educated.

Can you persuade me?

All the ingredients for greatness ... but
All the ingredients for greatness ... but
Honda Civic Type-R (EP3)
How can a car which had (and in some respects still has) the definitive hot-hatch powertrain be not-quite-right? No idea. Maybe it’s just me.

I remember driving a late pre-production version of the Civic Type R which was delivered to the Autocar office. The engine was insane – easily the most impressive four-cylinder normally-aspirated production engine at the time, alongside Honda’s other high-revving motor in the S2000.

Why did I struggle with it and all the full production test cars I drove? It was like an effusive, bubbly, fun child – brilliant when you were in the mood, but a freakin’ pain when you weren’t and incapable of doing anything other than play the madman. From memory the VTEC power-burst arrived at around 5,500rpm, but it was as if the whole car’s DNA had been configured around this point, that it didn’t want to work below it, in the dull zone.

Manic engine dominates the Type R
Manic engine dominates the Type R
So I don’t need persuading on the engine. Nor the brilliant gearbox and its dash-mounted lever. I do need the steering and chassis explained though. This car had the specification from the gods, struts at the front and double wishbones at the rear at a time when its rivals dragged torsion beams under their arses. But it just wasn’t that much fun. And it was so stiff that the extra wheel control potentially on offer from that expensive rear suspension was never realised.

The steering was massively corrupted by the power delivery. I didn’t find it easy to place. In fact I found it very hard to place, which was a problem because the thing built speed like no hot hatch had done before. I felt trapped with the obligation to drive the Type-R like a mentalist – it was pretty horrid going slow anyway, and it just felt criminal to have a motor that sounded like a BDA on acid and not wring its neck. Self-control was necessary, but when you did succumb (as I did every few minutes) the resulting experience beyond the powertrain was disappointingly inert.

10 years on is Chris right or wrong?
10 years on is Chris right or wrong?
Two things I’ll concede: the EP3 CTR deserved the massive sales on the back of the powertrain alone. And its replacement was in many ways far less special. But if you’d offered me a used 306 Rallye instead back in 2001 I’d have jumped at the chance. Nothing like as fast or well-built, but more fun in more situations. So, did I miss something? Am I being unfair? Did those of you who drove them back then, or drive them now, feel the same?

Tell me.

Author: Chris Harris