The rev needle is pushing 7000rpm as I grip the titanium gear-knob and slam it down into fourth. The speedo needle creeps over 150km/h, while the engine again raises a raucous racket as the end of the straight approaches. I’m in the 2018 Honda Civic Type R at Lausitzring in Germany, and I’m learning pretty rapidly that this car is a handful.
The all-new, 10th-generation hot-hatch stays true to its Honda Civic Type R forebears with front-drive underpinnings, foregoing the all-wheel-drive many of its direct rivals are endowed with. We’re talking Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R, and perhaps even in the competitor set could be the Mercedes-AMG A45, because this Civic is built in Europe. Well, it’s built in the UK, which is still part of Europe… for now.
But, I digress.
The shift light on the dash flashes at me, and fourth gear becomes fifth as I cross the start/finish line, approaching 200km/h before pushing hard on the firm brake pedal and continuing out for the next lap. The braking performance is nothing short of incredible.
Back to fourth gear, the new rev-matching feature of this six-speed ’box blips the throttle for me and I feather the throttle through the first corner, before dropping back to third with the steering wheel tussling in my grip.
It’s an ultra-responsive steering rack, verging on twitchy in the racy +R drive mode that also stiffens up the adaptive dampers and increases throttle response, not to mention loosening its noose on the traction control. I lift off the throttle as I sling through an off-camber corner, and the back end slips out and I steer it back into line, making use of its adjustability while wrestling some understeer, and then just a touch of torque steer under throttle.
The nose tucks in nicely upon quick changes of direction, but I really need to keep my grip on the tiller in the longer sweeping bends because the front axle pushes against me, and the line I want to take. It’s enjoyable, but I fear the Continental SportContact 6 tyres won’t withstand this pace and this severity for much longer at a track like this.
The sharpest drive mode setting means I’m being yelled at rather than whispered to, as though the car is grabbing me by the scruff of the neck to make me pay attention to what’s going on ahead of me.
Part of the reason I’ve got to be so focused is that this Type R, of course, eschews the option of an automatic transmission, favouring the more hands-on approach of a six-speed manual, which has a terrific rev-matching system that’ll do the heel-and-toe dance for you.
That manual shift action is a delight – typically Honda – and as I depress the robust clutch pedal and snatch the next gear there isn’t much effort needed due to the short gates.
And the engine?
It stays true to the high-revving nature of Honda models of years gone by, doing its best work from about 4000rpm onwards. With 228kW of power (for Australia; markets with better fuel quality get 235kW) at 6500rpm and 400Nm of torque from 2500-4500rpm, this is an engine that does its best work higher in the rev range.
It has a mono-scroll turbocharger that doesn’t allow it the most linear power delivery down low in the rev range, but there’s not much time being spent there at Lausitzring, as third, fourth and fifth gears are the ones we’re working with most.
I push the Civic, accelerator pinned to the floor in third gear and waiting for it to run out of pull. It screams, the three exhaust pipes at the back offering a chorus to my ears while the tyres scrabble to keep their grip on the perfect surface below.
The surprising bit is this track is too short to exploit the higher speed threshold of the drivetrain. But a quick stint on unrestricted autobahn shows that the claimed top speed of 272km/h is realistic, if not quite achievable with trucks and Peugeot 206 wagons to contend with.
For the record, it was 261km/h that flashed up, albeit momentarily, and apart from the bonnet seeming to disagree with the wind at that amount of speed, the extensive aero kit made it stick to the road like chewy to a shoe.
That’s all well and good, but most of us don’t drive on a racetrack or an autobahn to get to and from work, and that’s where the second part of this review comes in.
At lower speeds, driving between sets of traffic lights in German villages, there is some noticeable turbo lag, particularly in the most sedate drive mode, Comfort.
Still, the shift action is easy, and the ride comfort – even on 20-inch wheels with 245/30 profile Continentals – is better than acceptable over cobblestones and potholes. I look forward to seeing how it copes with roads outside Windsor on Sydney’s fringe, because the back streets of Dresden didn’t challenge it too much for a sporty hatchback.
It can’t match the AWD hatch brigade for traction, with some wheel-spin when taking off from the lights in first, and even second gear.
Honda has given the car some city smarts, with the brand’s range of safety technology fitted as standard, but it’s worth noting the Civic Type R won’t get the same five-star crash rating as the rest of the range – it will go un-rated, but it has six airbags (driver, passenger, front side and full-length curtain). Note: an earlier version of this story stated the airbag count was four, but Honda Australia has since confirmed the correct number.
And those seats are spectacular. They are comfortable and well cushioned, and like a mother’s hug they squeeze enough, but not too much. The seats are manually adjustable up front, and the rear bench is a two-seat setup, not a three-seat layout. There are no rear vents, no rear power outlets, and no flip-down arm-rest, but the seats (which lack adjustable head-rests, too) are comfortable and supportive, and the space is great, too.
The boot is great for the class at 414 litres – easily enough for a set of spare wheels for any track days you plan to do if you put the back seats down. There’s an inflation kit under the boot floor if you need it.
So it’s quite a handful on the track, and quite liveable in normal driving. But at $50,990 plus on-road costs it is on the expensive side of the equation, at least when you compare it to all-wheel-drive rivals like the Focus RS.
Sure, it's well equipped, and I – like many others – am really keen to see what the thing is like on Australian roads when it arrives in Australia in October. And yes, there’s no denying it’s an involving and fun thing to drive – but as slick as the shifts are and as enticing as the wail from the engine bay is, I can’t really see it being better in all disciplines than a Golf R or Focus RS.
Something to look forward to later this year, then...