Civic Type R kicks up a storm but all is forgiven as we race around the track
ONE word was on everyone's lips. From your humble servant here to the racing driver to the engineers: forgiving.
It's a cliché, I know, but after pushing Honda's new 310PS Civic Type R to my limits (not the car's) and then sitting in and feeling it being driven to the limit by a proper (racing) driver, it is the word that sums it up.
I hammered it over the Slovakia Ring race circuit, five long laps that equate to nearly 30km.
And yes, I made mistakes at speed that might, with another car, have ended in the gravel or spinning (and ignominy).
But this fourth generation Type R clung on and hung on. That's the sort of handling and performance that builds confidence.
Then I absolutely floored it - two laps in racing +R mode - a few squeals of the tyre, a lot of adrenalin, loads of braking (massive Brembos), quick-shifting up and down the exceptional 6spd manual box and it was over. Too, too soon. I'd drive it all day.
Then Slovakian driving legend Stefan Rosina took over. Lord forgive him for the way he drove. The car did. Where I thought I was fast and fairly clean, he absolutely powerhoused. Humbling, instructive. I forgive him.
The great thing is the Type R is based on your everyday 5dr hatchback Civic. The cabin has the same dimensions, there's loads of rear room and apart from a variety of special touches and seats and fancy stuff, it will still carry four in comfort.
I sat in the back (special rear-seat bench takes two, 60/40 split, folds flat, no 'magic seats') and I had loads of room.
Of course to cope with the immense flow of power from the high-revving new 2-litre VTEC TURBO engine, body rigidity/chassis is stiffened and strengthened as are areas such as the torsional rigidity of the rear axle. And there are great big 19ins alloys filling the wheel arches.
In the two laps in +R mode, it was tangible how the system stiffened the chassis and boosted engine response (damping is increased by 30pc too) for a much firmer ride. Great fun. Maybe some people would criticise it for not being edgy enough, for not pulling the arms out of you. I can see how they might say that but I don't necessarily agree. I think this is about composing power and channelling it in such a way that even people like me can drive and thrill. And that makes it more relevant than something that demands perhaps more than most of us can muster.
Anyway, we subsequently took it for a sprawling, sedate but betimes sharpish, swirl through Slovakia and Austria.
That's because, while it is a stomping hot hatch, it can double up as a family motor too. Well that's the thinking but this is really an aficionado's car. One you buy to drive for kicks occasionally on tracks like Mondello.
By the way, this front-wheel-drive 'race car for the road' comes only as 5dr.
Price? Sterling isn't helping (it's built in Swindon) but I'd guess mid-to-late €40,000s. Others in that price range include the excellent Golf R (5dr DSG mid-€40,00s) and Audi S3 - both 300PS.
The 2-litre also develops an exceptional 400 Nm of torque (2,500rpm to 4,500 rpm) and red-lines at 7,000 rpm (I did that many times).
It consumes 7.3l/100km (not if you really drive it though), generates 170g/km (€570 road tax) and scurries from 0-to-100kmh in 5.7 seconds. Top speed is 270 kmh (167 mph). I got 205kmh on the back straight. They claim it is the most powerful of its kind.
Coping with that power posed huge challenges. They came up with an intricate and detailed new suspension system and myriad ways to dispense the heat and air turbulence generated by such forward thrust.
Managing air flow is a science all of its own. In this it shoves the car down to keep it glued.
Then they have this Active Damper system which controls each corner - you don't get nose lift when you accelerate or dip when you brake. It did stay remarkably stable on my madcap track drive and even more so on our open-road run.
Even with a race helmet on, I had head room in the cabin where I liked the look and feel of the sports seats (red double stitching), steering wheel and alloy gear stick.
The front sport seats (great support) are 20pc leaner. The car is lower but I had no problem getting in or out.
The Connect infotainment system runs android and permits access to vehicle information, rear-view parking camera, music, Bluetooth internet access, AM/FM/DAB and internet radio etc. There is a six-speaker 180-watt sound system. It also uses MirrorLink which means your smartphone 'becomes' the display and you can use apps that way.
On the Multi Information Display (i-MID) you can add/choose G-meter, brake pressure/accelerator pedal position, lap time, acceleration time etc. That's the interesting stuff when you have time.
I didn't notice - I was too busy being forgiven on the track - but they told me that, for example, the Agile Handling Assist applies an imperceptible light braking force to the inner wheels when you turn the steering.
But I kept coming back to the heart of it all. The engine, for the first time combining VTEC technology and turbocharging. They get impressive low-rev and high-end power between them.
The +R mode increases chassis, engine response - there's a little more rasp out the two twin exhausts.
There is a GT Pack of styling, comfort and safety elements. But, to an extent that's superfluous.
This is really about a drive that manages to thrill without spilling - and that makes it one of the most forgiving power-cars I've driven for a good while.