Born to be wild

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Everything is wrapped up in a massively beefed up and be-winged Civic shell. Photo: David Thomson

Honda's most recent media gathering was wall-to-wall with new models expected to a play key role in leading buyers back to
the brand.

The arrival of the hatchback version of the current Civic was Honda's original reason for organising the event, with the new-generation CR-V a late addition.

Given that the latter vehicle is almost certain to become Honda's best-selling car here, the Civic hatch might even have been left in the shade, but for one vital point: the flagship of the range is the Civic Type-R.

Four versions of the Civic hatch, all of them produced at Honda's Swindon factory in the United Kingdom, have been added alongside the four sedans that have been finding good business here for the past year.

The entry level Civic SX hatch costs the same $32,900 as the similarly-designated sedan and mirrors that car's specs and 104kW/174Nm 1.8-litre CVT powertrain.

Honda New Zealand has created a local special - the SX Sport. Aimed at younger buyers, this $36,500 vehicle adds a racy orange hued bodykit, 17-inch alloys and tints to the base package. Above this sits the $40,900 RS Turbo model with its 127kW/220Nm 1.5 turbo and CVT.

In terms of styling, there is less between the hatch and sedan than you might expect - in profile they're similarly low-slung and lean.
The five-doors have different bumpers and there's a shorter rear overhang. The RS gets a central exit exhaust, side skirts, tinted glass and black detailing. The hatch interior is just as you find it in the sedan too, save for a darker roof lining. The RS gains a 12-speaker audio
system, but it's the same seven-inch infotainment system featuring CarPlay and Android Auto.

The quoted luggage space for the hatch is smaller than that of the sedan, with 414 litres versus 515, but the hatch's rear opening is larger and you can lower the backseats to realise 1200L of space if you are happy to travel in two-seater mode.

Launch time behind the wheel of the Civics was restricted to laps of the Hampton Downs race track. Here, the standard variants performed pretty much as you expect a relaxed and refined, but not overly rapid, car to.

The Type R was a different story. As you'd expect from a model that arrives with the reputation of having set a front-drive lap record on the famous Nordschleife Nurburgring track in Germany, it utterly owned the Waikato circuit.

Honda NZ's Type R experience is skant - the only previous official representation was with an 1995 Integra - in fact, we've not had any proper Honda sports car locally since the S2000. Much has changed for Honda since then yet remarkably, even after all this time, not so the basic ‘R' recipe.

Yes there are now more safety and driver assist aides. And it's more complex on the suspension side, but the heart of the Type R remains the old-time goodness of a high-revving thumper VTEC four-cylinder engine, only now it's turbocharged and paired with a six-speed close ratio manual gearbox with rev-matching function (and no plan for anything else) and a super-tricky (helical) limited slip differential.

Power and torque, which peak at 228kW and 400Nm respectively, are transferred to the road 245/30R 20 performance tyres. Stopping power comes from Brembo four-wheel aluminium callipers squeezing 350mm cross-drilled rotors and 305mm behind.

Everything is wrapped up in a massively beefed up and be-winged Civic shell.The $59,990 Type R doesn't officially release until September, but there have been 46 sold - a start for a model that is going up against the VW Golf GTi and R, Ford Focus ST and RS, Renault Megane RS and the upcoming Hyundai i30 N.

The Type R is being asked to reflect glory on the workaday stuff, hence it will be engaging in public duties such as competing at next year's Leadfoot Festival with Scott Dixon behind the wheel.

Honda marketing manager Natalie Bell said linking the everyday models with the Type R engenders a ‘‘one Civic'' approach that builds the brand.

Remarkably, the quietest thing about the Type R is the exhaust note at idle: I'd really love some extra snap-crackle from those three pipes. Otherwise it's utterly, gloriously wild. And, wow, can it go.

Three quick laps were quick indeed, I would have loved it to have been 30 or 300 laps. The grip, balance, braking, turn-in accuracy, mid-bend playfulness ... the engine is deliciously old-school in its desire for sky-high revs and ... well, all in all, it's the car that brings back the faith. In spades.


Born to be wild
At a Glance

Prices: SX, $32,900; SX Sport, $36,500; RS Turbo,
$40,900; Type R, $59,900
Engines: 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder,
maximum power 127kW@5500rpm,
maximum torque 220Nm@1700-4300rpm;
1.8 litre normally aspirated four-cylinder,
maximum power 104kW@6500rpm,
maximum torque 174Nm@4300rpm;
2.0-litre DOHC VTEC turbocharged four-cylinder,
maximum power 228kW@6500rpm, maximum
torque 400Nm@2500rpm
Transmissions: Constantly variable transmission;
six-speed manual (Type R)
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear
disc brakes, ABS, VSA
Safety rating: Five star ANCAP
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 215/55 R16 to
245/30 R20 tyres
Fuel and economy: 6.0 to 7.7 litres per 100km,
capacity 47 litres
Emissions: CO2 166/170 g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 4515mm (4557mm Type R),
width 1799mm (1877mm),
height 1421mm (1434mm)