Wasn't 2020 awful? This year will be better. It has to be. But just to make sure, PH has reached a sticky paw into the car industry, and yanked free two of its very finest products for your long term viewing pleasure. Better still, we like to think we've come up with a) two of the best real-world performance cars you can currently buy, and b) two cars that are very different from one another.
Despite their obvious divergence in cylinder count, body shapes, styling, price, approach and hydrocarbon preference, the plan is to keep them pressed together over the next few months, and update you on the shared 'ownership' experience a little more regularly. Anything you'd like to know, post in the usual spot and we'll try to get to as many as we can. We've already had a week or two (or four in Nic's case) to get to know the contestants; this is where we're at...
Honda Civic Type R (FK8) | Matt B
Hopefully like many car people of my age (I'm still 29, because 2020 didn't count), a rather unhealthy obsession with the Honda Civic Type R began about 20 years ago. Thanks to a certain PlayStation racing sim, a whole world of unknown Japanese gems was opened up to an impressionable kid. Back then, when hot hatches in the UK were enduring their late-90s phase of being a bit crap, the notion of a Civic that revved to nearly 9,000rpm and made more power per litre than a Ferrari F355 was unspeakably awesome. That was the EK9 Type R. And, for me, where it all began.
Then the hot hatch had its 21st century resurgence, the EP3 battling with Clio 172s, Leon Cupras, Cooper S Minis and the rest - I devoured every magazine and TV test possible. My dad took me out in one and I wanted everything after to rev like the Civic did. Yo, indeed. Then came the spaceship FN2, the mad Japan-only FD2 and those years of waiting for a turbo Type R. For a fanboy, they felt like decades.
But when it came to actually driving them, I've not loved the classic Type Rs. The FN2's ride spoilt any enjoyment that could have been derived from the powertrain, and the EP3 was good but nothing more. Certainly nowhere near as satisfying as either the Accord or Integra Type R that preceded it.
The turbocharged Type Rs, though, I've loved. Which is why I'm particularly thrilled to have the keys to this Racing Blue FK8 for six months. I ran one of the FK2 predecessors back in 2016 and really enjoyed its ability to be both rabidly fast and eminently sensible; every experience I've had of the current car suggests it's improved on what was good and eliminated a lot of what wasn't so great, so it'll be interesting to see how that impression evolves. Take for example the Honda Connect infotainment; not something you think about when driving a car for a day, but irritating already.
Still, as a purchase, the Civic is a very easy one to understand. You choose from standard Type R spec, a GT like this one, or the more discreet looking Sport Line trim that's imminent. Prior to the facelift, around 90 per cent of Type Rs were GT trim in the UK, which brings climate control, parking sensors, the Connect nav and other convenience features. Like a choice of colours beyond red. Everything else is remarkably simple: there's one choice of wheel, one upholstery option and not a single option you want. Because they are a carbon exterior pack, a carbon interior pack and a 'Red Illumination Pack' for inside. A GT like this, with £850 of Racing Blue Pearl paint, costs £37,170. With a £10k customer deposit and 10,000 miles a year, it's £400 a month for three years, with a 5.9% APR from Honda.
Good, that's the dull stuff done. As for what I've got planned... Well, it's all rather dependent on what ends up being allowed during 2021, but there are all sorts of possibilities. First are the hot hatch grudge matches; the Yaris GR is the obvious one, given both Toyota and Honda are the most exciting hot hatches on sale today and some of the best cars to come out of Japan in recent times. Perhaps ever. But don't forget the Golf Clubsport, too, the GTI we're all hoping can reward its driver in a fashion that the standard car doesn't - and which the Civic emphatically does.
There's more, too, as Type R celebrates 30 years in 2022. Which is all the excuse needed to try the Civic against its illustrious forebears, specifically those only reserved for the Japanese market. The cars that began a Type R fascination for yours truly, to be honest. Because then we'll know for certain if this latest FK8 really deserves a place in the Honda hall of fame. It's not been here long, but I have a suspicion it might do just fine.
Car: 2021 Honda Civic Type R GT
Run by: Matt
On fleet since: January 2021
Mileage: 3,014 (delivered on 2,945)
List price new: £37,170 (Type R GT at £36,320, plus £850 for Racing Blue Pearl paint)
Last month at a glance: It's arrived and not been kerbed yet - good start for the Civic Type R
BMW M340d Touring | Nic C
I get the feeling the M340d doesn't like me. Its automatic boot lid has clonked me on the head twice now (something I didn't think was even possible) and at the first sight of a pothole, its nearside run-flat Bridgestone threw up its hands and went immediately to pieces. Now it's possible that I'm partly blame for the second one, but you get the idea. So far I've got a bruise and a bill for £231.52p to show for the first few weeks of pseudo-ownership.
This is unfortunate, because the feeling certainly isn't mutual. I already like the M340d quite a lot. We established that the car is a bit of alright on the group test that Matt conducted toward the end of last year, when its rivals on the day included the Alpina B3 Touring, a BMW 3 Series variant that can justly claim to be 'all the car you ever need'. The M340d didn't overhaul its petrol-powered sibling on that occasion - but it was much, much closer to it than the £22k difference in as-tested price suggested it ought to be.
That aspect alone would've been sufficient to justify the car's place on the 2021 PH Fleet. But it isn't why we're running it. We're running it because there might not be many more opportunities to do so. I'm referring of course to the mighty 3.0-litre straight-six loitering under the bonnet with all the glowering intent of a coal-seam fire. Introduced in 2015, BMW originally green-lit the B57 in the heady days of peak diesel - supremely confident that the market conditions would sustain a 340hp oil burner in the same way helium sends a party balloon soaring into the heavens.
The market, of course, had other ideas. Last year the manufacturer terminated production of the 400hp quad-turbo unit that all too briefly powered the M50d. Why? Because BMW wanted a line-up that better reflected 'customer preferences'. Which is a nice way of saying that very few people were intent on buying an X5 or X6 endowed with it. The powerful diesel engine, even furnished with mild hybrid technology in the form of a 48v starter-generator and two-stage NOX exhaust re-treatment system, is starting to look very much like an Argos catalogue in an Amazon Prime world. The chances of it surviving much longer in a decade that wants to banish oil burners from city centres, and ultimately eliminate the combustion engine all together, are probably slim to none.
Now, we'd be the first to admit that Rudolf Diesel's creation is not Concorde or the SR-71. There will be no parades held in its honour when the concept is reduced to powering buses and boats and trains and generators. Recently, it has become so politicised - often gleefully and without resort to reason - that many will openly rejoice at its demise. But PH does not speak for the masses. We're concerned only with the merry few. And to our way of thinking, a generation of gruffly fast diesel-powered cars have easily done enough to earn a wistfully drawn-out, flat cap-off goodbye as darkness falls on the black pump.
And what better way to do that than with the M340d? Alongside the current Audi S4 - itself the result of a strategy spreadsheet long since binned - it is comfortably the quickest oil burner you can still buy brand new, because it delivers 516lb ft of torque to all four wheels via a closely stacked eight-speed automatic. The national limit comes up in less than 4.8 seconds. And BMW says if I try hard enough, it'll manage 52.3mpg in the real world. Try that in a new M3. Oh, and it's an M-branded Touring model, kitted out to £62k. So naturally it fits into my middle-aged life like the Ordnance Survey app. What's not to like? In six months or less, I'll know.
Car: 2021 BMW M340d xDrive Touring
Run by: Nic
On fleet since: Dec 2020
List price new: £54,325 (on-the-road, as standard; price as tested £62,615 comprised of Visibility Pack (High-beam Assistant and BMW Laserlights) for £1,500, Technology Pack (Head-up display, Harmon/Kardon surround sound, Enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging, BMW Gesture Control, Wi-Fi hotspot preparation) for £1,900, Shadowline Plus (19-inch Jet Black 791 M wheels, Black mirror caps, Sun protection glass, BMW Individual high-gloss Shadow Line with extended contents) for £750, Premium Pack (Panoramic glass sunroof, Electric front seats + Driver Memory, Lumbar support, front) for £1,900, Comfort Pack (Steering wheel heating, Comfort access, Luggage Compartment package, Extended storage) for £890, Towbar, electrically folding for £850, Interior Trim Aluminium Fabric high-gloss BMW Individual for £500.)
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