Getting an invite down to the Dezzi Raceway in KZN to drive what is now the fastest front wheel driven production car; to lap the famous Nürburgring circuit in Germany in a time of 7 minutes 43.8 seconds, in the form of Honda’s new Civic Type R, sure as hell beats spending a day in the office.
Even though it did mean trying to stay sharp after getting up at 4am and fighting your way through the early morning chaos at OR Tambo International Airport, to packing yourself into a flying sardine can, and back again later that same night.
Love it or hate it, one thing I like about the Civic Type R, is that it is completely unapologetic with what it offers in terms of hardcore performance and styling.
You’ll never mistake a Type R for any other hot hatch, and it’s not done to just freak out the VW fan club either.
Each flic and wing has an actual performance purpose. The new car is longer, wider and lower than previous Type R models. The aerodynamic elements include a smooth underbody; a front splitter and integrated spoiler creating a front air curtain; a prominent rear wing; and vortex generators on the trailing edge of the roofline.
The result is an optimised balance of lift and drag, allowing exceptional high-speed stability. Obviously, we never got to test this aspect of the car on the N2 highway.
Outside of the issue of the road being littered with traffic officers looking to make money, and do nothing constructive for road safety, while they allow jaywalking, and keep the cattle that are merrily grazing on the lush green grass next to them company, while they wait to trap you.
But the highway stretch did allow us to experience the new extended driving mode.
Everybody who knows the Civic Type R, knows what it is, and that is hardcore. While the default “Sport” and “+R” modes have been retained, a new, third “Comfort” mode has been added, which offers slightly softer damping and smoother steering feel.
And I say, slightly softer because this Honda is the Club Sport S of the VW GTI and the Trophy of Megane RS.
So, it’s made to rule the track, and this means it will always be on the firm side when it comes to the ride quality, but at least now you can tone down the level of aggression you want from the suspension.
The suspension comprises an advanced, dual-axis front set-up specifically designed to address torque steer while enhancing turn-in and steering feel, despite the Type R’s front-wheel drive configuration and considerable power potential.
Also new is the dual-pinion, variable-ratio power steering system, derived from the standard Civic hatchback, but adapted specifically for its Type R application to ensure direct, confidence-inspiring steering feedback.
The rear suspension comprises a completely new multi-link design that benefits both overall refinement and unflustered stability, and these updates made their presence felt around the very technical track.
Lots of fun was had throwing the Civic Type R around. This is its playground.
As before, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit employs direct injection, VTEC variable valve timing and lift control, and advanced turbocharging to deliver a maximum output of 228 kW at 6 500 rpm, coupled to a torque peak of 400 Nm, maintained between 2 500 and 4 500 rpm. But you do get revised software that offers better throttle response and tractability, and a single-mass flywheel that also improves engine response.
The performance claim comes in at 5.8 seconds to 100 km/h and a top speed of 272 km/h via a short shifting and precise six-speed manual gearbox sending power to the 20-inch wheel via a helical limited-slip differential. The car certainly felt strong.
If I did have a complaint, though, I really would have liked a bit more bark from the new triple exhaust system, especially when in the +R mode. The Civic Type R doesn’t look subtle at all, so I believe it shouldn’t sound as subtle as it does.
Of course, inside, it boasts an interior perfectly suited to the car’s extrovert character and performance prowess, with bucket seats and bright stitching and colouring.
A bit of a bonus is that the car’s increased dimensions translate into enhanced space and comfort front and rear. It offers an impressive array of active and passive safety features.
The uprated braking system is equipped with ABS anti-lock control, including electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assist (EBA). Hill Start Assist (HSA) and Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) are also standard, the latter incorporating Agile Handling Assist (AHA).
Also, on the list are tyre pressure monitoring, auto-activating LED headlights with integrated LED day-time running lights, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, LED fog lamps, an integrated high-mounted third brake light, and parking sensors.
A key passive safety feature is the Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body shell, which ensures progressive deformation and passenger safety cell integrity in the case of a collision.
ACE operates in conjunction with no less than six SRS airbags (front, side and curtain airbags), as well as a front seatbelt pre-tensioning system, inertia reel seatbelts front and rear and ISOFix child seat anchors.
The array of standard security features includes remote central locking with keyless entry and walk-away door locking, speed-sensitive auto door locking, and selective unlocking. An engine immobiliser and integrated alarm system are also provided, as is rear privacy glass.
The Civic Type R is available in a choice of six colours: Championship White, Crystal Black Pearl, Polished Metal Metallic, Rallye Red, Brilliant Sporty Blue Metallic, and Sonic Grey Pearl.
The retail price of R627 900 includes a comprehensive five-year / 200 000 km warranty, as well as a five-year / 90 000 km service plan and a three-year AA Roadside Assistance plan. Scheduled services are at 10 000 km intervals.
So, if you want the fastest standard production, front wheel driven, hot hatch on the track or in the twisties, with enough luxury and refinement to make it a good everyday car, then look no further than the new Honda Civic Type R.