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First Drive Review: 2016 Honda Civic Type R +VIDEO

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2016 Honda Civic Type R

EDITOR'S NOTE: The 2016 Honda Civic Type R has been named a top three finalist for the 2016 World Performance Car Of the Year Award, the other two are 2016 Audi R8 Coupe and Mercedes-AMG C 63 Coupé.

Great Car for Road and Track

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor

         • SEE ALSO: Honda Buyers Guide

THE HAGUE - June 2015: The world premiere of the new Honda Civic Type R did not go unnoticed. Fans had eagerly been waiting for five years to see the high performance version of the latest generation Civic. Finally, in March, the Japanese beast was unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show.

The very same day of the big event, Honda heated up the hearts with news from the Nürburgring: a Type R ‘development car’ had established a lap time at the Nordschleife of 7 minutes 50.63 seconds in May 2014. The old record of 7.54.36 was held by the Renault Mégane RS Trophy R. So far no other hot hatch has broken this record. Honda said that the prototype was equipped with the new technology that had been developed for the upcoming Type R. To compensate for the weight of the safety roll cage, the front passenger seat, A/C and audio had been removed. The roll cage was mounted in the car in such a way that it did not improve rigidity, one of the engineers told me at the auto show.

When I looked at the new Type R at the Geneva show, my thoughts went back to the 1990, when it would last another two years until Honda would introduce the red R-badge on the NSX. Then, the top model of the Civic was equipped with the 1.6-liter 160 hp DOHC V-TEC engine, Honda’s first power plant with variable valve timing and electronic lift control.

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Henny Hemmes driving the Civic V-TEC in the 24 hours of Spa-Francorchamps

Peter Seikel, owner of Seikel Motorsport, asked me to drive the Civic V-TEC in the 24 hours of Spa-Francorchamps. I had first met the German race driver/team principal in the late seventies, when I started to participate in the 24-hour races at the famous race track in the Belgian. Seikel had a very good reputation and I was glad to drive one of his cars. But would the small hatchback be powerful enough to meet the regulations for qualifying..? It did indeed, and we qualified56th out of 85 cars to qualify for one of the 65 places on the starting grid.

How fun it was to race the fast little Honda and to hear when the V-TEC technology started to work thanks to the open exhaust! Even though the Civic could not match the top speed of the big cars, the suspension was so good that we could catch up in tight corners and medium fast bends and pester them for at least a brief moment. My teammate De Angelis and I finished first in our class and 19th overall. Standing on the podium, we would not have dreamed of repeating the success, but that is what we did, twice! It meant a hat-trick for the Honda Civic V-TEC the team and myself.

Back to 2015 and the production version of the Civic Type R, the fastest model in the segment of the hot hatches. Honda combines the new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder VTEC engine now for the first time with turbo technology. This results in 310 hp of power and 400 Nm/332 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm. The turbo is of a small so-called mono-scroll type that revs up quickly, which results in the availability of a lot of torque both at lower as well as high revs.

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2016 Honda Civic Type R

We started our first drive event with a white Type R and drove from Bratislava in Slovakia into Austria. Even though the Civic has not been developed for cruising, on the hilly route we feel surprisingly at ease.

Honda has developed a new front suspension for a more dynamic feel. The Japanese call it "Dual Axis Strut Front Suspension," which reduces torque steer by some 50 per cent. The rear suspension has an H-shaped torsion beam for more rigidity. When driving the Civic, you indeed notice that there is hardly any pulling in the steering wheel when you accelerate, even out of corners. But we will have to wait for the track to feel its true nature.

On the road, in normal mode, the chassis is well balanced and feels quite refined. With so much power at hand it is easy to pass slower traffic, and in slow as well as fast bends the Civic’s chassis tells you what is going on. In the – new – R-mode, the car is still feeling smooth. This mode adjusts the dampers for a stiffer set up, but in reality it is not getting uncomfortable at all and there is hardly any body movement on asphalt - only when the roads are more bumpy.

It is good to be inside the aggressive looking Civic. The red design accents are prominent on the steering wheel, in the dashboard, the instrument panel and on the seats. Although the latter is hardly intrusive when as soon as you are seated and look at the road. The sporty seats offer good support and are comfortable as well. It is easy to find a good position for driving and a glance in the rearview mirror shows that the big rear wing is not blocking your view at all.

One on the road, the engine may sound a bit too loud for daily driving, but fans will probably love to be constantly aware that their car carries the Type R badge.

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2016 Honda Civic Type R

The fast Civic looks furious, with large air intakes and wide fenders to accommodate 19-inch alloy wheels. And with the bold body kit, including a deep front splitter to generate more down force. This is helped by huge rear wing. These terms may be more in place at the race track and that is where our next stop will be: the Slovakia Ring, a rather new circuit south-east of Bratislava. Those who watch the WTCC races (World Touring Car Championship) will be familiar with it.

We were only granted five laps, which is by far not enough to get familiar with a brand new race car and the nearly 4 mile long track. That was not Honda’s intention either. It was just to provide us a chance to push the throttle and have the engine come fully alive, and to test the 6-spead gearbox with the new suspension. Shifting is has absolutely butter soft feel and the short shifts allow for quick movements. Steering could be offering a bit more feel, but that is in fact the only downside to the experience.

The engine roars during acceleration. Honda says that the sprint from 0-62 mph goes in 5.7 seconds and I believe it. The engine reacts immediately to throttle input and the car stays well balanced in fast corners. When accelerating out of shorter ones, there is only the slightest torque steer. It will be great fun to take the Type R to track days, get to know it well and take it to the limit in the +R mode. The big and powerful Brembo brakes are well prepared for faster lapping and heavy braking. On tracks with a long straight end you may be able to reach the top speed of 168 mph/ 270 km/h. Please do not do not try this on the public roads.

The Civic Type R has standard a large central touch-screen which features Android MirrorLink to mirror your smart phone’s screen, which makes it possible to use apps. LED daytime running lights are also standard. Optional is the GT Pack with among others red details in the front and rear bumpers, automatic headlights and wipers, parking sensors in the rear and dual zone A/C.

I should not forget to mention that while the Type R may be a race car, it is also road worthy with the practicality of the standard Civic. Take the Magi Seats, a name for the rear seats, that can be folded down in a snap. Then there is a flat luggage floor, offering a space of maximum 1,427 liters, or just over 50 cubic-feet.

Honda has started to open the order books, but the first cars will be on the road this September.

The 2015 Civic Type R is not yet destined for North America, but it may be nominated for the 2016 World Performance Car of the Year. I have my bal