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The new turbocharged Honda Civic Type-R takes on its rivals

22 May 2016 - 02:00 By Thomas Falkiner

This is a young adult’s car at an old(er) adult’s price, writes Thomas FalkinerThe old Honda Civic Type-R, in my book anyway, was a jolly nice car. Even though the design of the dashboard prohibited you from seeing how fast you were going and the seats on a long journey would pound your coccyx to the consistency of wood glue, I liked it. It felt lithe and engaging and not as overly refined as the rest of the usual hot hatch suspects.There was also that manic normally aspirated VTEC engine that could hit 8000rpm all day every day. Talk about a conversation piece. Unfortunately, this Civic's stint in the sun was fairly short-lived because it more or less broke at a time when everybody else was turning to the wonders of the turbo. This meant that unless you lived next to the sea, anything from a Volkswagen Golf GTI upwards would blow you into the weeds. Embarrassing.Especially if you're into these sorts of motorised pissing contests and, let's face it, most South Africans are. Which is probably why not all that many were sold here before it disappeared in 2011."Never mind," said a sheepish Honda. "We will soon be bringing out an all-new Type-R and it will be turbocharged to the hilt."And, in true Honda fashion, after nearly seven years of twists and teases, here it crouches before us. So what is it like? Let me start with the good things; for instance, the driving experience. Type-R treatment has always placed dynamics on a pedestal and here they've been perched higher than ever. Buckle into that ultra supportive seat, roll a mere 100m down the road, and you'll notice that the Honda engineers have tuned this thing tighter than Stewart Copeland's snare drum.Like a racing car, the chassis feels stiff and taught and built to resist the roll of any lateral movement. At a slow pace around town, the ride is arthritically firm, but once you get going it finds a cool fluidity that makes high-speed driving a joy.There's a ton of mechanical grip and a feeling of stability that gives you confidence to really press on through your favourite corners. Helping you carry more pace out of them is a mechanical limited-slip differential. There's also torque vectoring: electronic wizardry that automatically applies a bit of braking force to the inside wheels to allow for crisper changes in direction.Then there's the motor. I was scared that the bolting on of a turbo would blunt what was always the best thing about Type-Rs of old - stratospherically high power delivery. Thankfully, Honda still makes you work for every last kilowatt with maximum muscle arriving only at 6,500rpm. Keep your foot flat and this Civic accelerates to velocities in a way its predecessor could only dream of This is accompanied with a long line of F1-inspired shift lights that glow various shades of warning as you close in on this target, as well as an engine note that sounds - similar to how it feels - more normally aspirated than turbocharged. It's bloody good. Fast too. Keep your foot flat and this Civic accelerates to velocities in a way its predecessor could only dream of. More importantly, however, it no longer has to hide away when challenged by rivals.All of this, plus the manual-only gearbox and Brembo brakes, is excellent news. Unfortunately, there are a few things that aren't. In particular, the unchanged two-tier dashboard that still hides the speedo behind the rim of the steering wheel. "Do you know how fast you were going back there, son?" "No, sorry officer, I truthfully do not."Equally vexing is the +R sports button that sharpens up the car's steering and throttle response but also injects the dampers with what feels like concrete. Seriously, with this mode called to action the Type-R morphs into the hardest-riding car you'll ever encounter in your life. So, on our roads it's a redundant feature.Then there's the ridiculous exterior styling. The old Civic was edgy but acceptable. This one looks like it was styled by a team of flat-cap-wearing Anime artists tripping on caffeine. I'm a fairly youthful 33-year-old but I felt embarrassed driving this Honda around town with its many bolt-on scoops and grilles and wings and skirts. Apparently, they help generate "much-needed" down-force and aid in cooling, but I have my doubts. It all seems woefully unnecessary.Yet perhaps the most concerning thing about the new Civic Type-R is the price. At a whisker over R600,000, it's on the cusp of pricing itself out of the market. Especially when the Volkswagen Golf R and Audi S3 Sportback are both cheaper.Don't get me wrong - the Honda is an exceptionally sharp and capable driving tool. I really enjoyed my time in it. But would I pay in extra over these two more livable Germans? And then have to try and put up with those questionable looks every day?Maybe if I was 25. But I'm not - and neither are people who can afford this car. Which is why, like its predecessor, I fear it will remain a rare sight on our roads. FAST FACTS: HONDA CIVIC TYPE-R Engine: 1996 four-cylinder turboPower:228kw at 6,500rmpTorque: 440Nm at 5,600rmpTransmission: Seven-speed PDK0-100km/h: 5.7-seconds (claimed)Top Speed: 270km/h (claimed)Fuel: 11.3l/100km (achieved)CO2: 177g/kmPrice: From R600,900Follow the author of this article, Thomas Falkiner, on Twitter: @tomfalkiner111..

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