A lot has been written about the Honda Civic Type R elevating it to an almost iconic status. After getting my hands on one last week, I'd like to set the record straight. It's not. It's a well engineered shopping car with bolt on bits to excite spotty teenagers.
I'll no doubt be raising some hackles already amongst those loyal to rice burners, but tough - it's time to take off the rose tinted spectacles and the reversed baseball cap and recognise the car for what it truly is.
I'm not for one minute disputing that the acclaim the car has received for its chassis. It is a fine piece of work. With a wheel at each corner, a rigid bodyshell and some very sorted damping, the Type R handles superbly. Its steering is direct and at times feels deceptively quicker than the 2.7 lock to lock turns may suggest. Cross country the setup delights. The car feels very planted and it does remind the cynical amongst us that you can have fun with front wheel drive.
The interior works well with good ergonomics and extremely supportive seats although the raked windscreen and seating position did make me feel like I was driving an A Class. Interior space is generous.
The Civic can be a surprisingly harsh environment though. It's tempting to think that most modern cars are much of a muchness when it comes to interior refinement these days but it's certainly not the case. Driving at speed in the Type R does highlight a level of wind and tyre noise which is surprisingly intrusive for a modern car. Shouting at my passenger is a pastime I prefer to reserve for convertibles or arguments.
My biggest disappointment was with the engine however. 2 litres, 197bhp? It's a useful headline grabber but it doesn't help when you're overtaking the numpty with the caravan. Maximum torque is a less impressive 145lb-ft. According to Honda 130lb-ft of that is delivered from 3000 rpm upwards. Bear in mind that's not much more than what an old 2 litre Astra GTE would put out a few years ago and you'll appreciate that there's nothing mystical about the performance of the Honda engine.
Whoa! I hear the VTEC enthusiasts screaming. Screaming is what it's all about after all isn't it? Hit 6000rpm and all hell breaks loose doesn't it? Well, hit the magic number and yes, the VTEC perks into life and starts hyperventilating. You'll feel a rush, well a pleasant surge as the engine decides that it's prepared to do a bit more to earn its crust. You've passed the max torque at 5,900 rpm though and you've got the needle screaming through the remaining 2000rpm rather quickly. It red lines at 8000 with the max power at 7400rpm. Needle time in that power band is fun, difficult to prepare for in everyday driving, and ultimately, pointless.
There's my gripe really. It's a hot hatch with a superb chassis, but let's keep some sense of proportion here. It's fun to chuck about, and it can nip to sixty in a chirpy 6.4 seconds - thanks to low gearing - but it is not the complete all round package that it could be. Peugeot's hatches of recent years can still hold their head high in the company of the Type R. A car of this type needs a great chassis and a torquey engine. Power is nothing without grunt. The VTEC screams like an pre-pubescent pig.
Honda say it's a "lean, mean and focused road going race car".
I say it's a noisy, nippy shopping car that handles.