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Road Test: Alien Honda’s Have Landed

January 12, 2010

Honda Japan has made some very strange decisions lately, none of those more bizarre than the daft choice of pulling out of F1 a year before the team they abandoned went on to win the F1 WDC and Constructors championships. To say they choked isn’t even close to the truth. They committed sporting suicide.

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The Honda Civic Type R Euro, while not exactly a bad decision, is a relatively confusing one given that the Japanese market already has a faster, more powerful, roomier and more practical version in the 4 door Civic. Compounding this is the fact the Euro has been on sale for over 2 years in Europe and Australia so it’s not exactly brand new. So why bother to release it here? Well, knowing how important design is to the Japanese would help you come some of the way toward the answer.

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This car has all the characteristics and design cues of an alien spacecraft. I mean, look at it. What about it is unlikely to cause more division among us than the controversial design? Understandably, people complain about design concepts never looking like when they were first penned but in this Type R Euro, you can safely say that what you saw on paper is more or less the same as the real thing. That’s a good thing too because so many good designs are ruined by corporate noise and credit has to be given to the brass at Honda for having the temerity to leave this one alone.

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Powered by a 148kW (198hp@7,800rpm / 193Nm@5,600rpm), 1.6 liter DOHC with iVTEC, the manic little K20Z4 is more furious than fast, spinning its rings out to 8000rpm and needing to be worked hard to get it going anywhere with serious intent. Significantly, the 165kW 4 door Civic carries much more torque and power. (222hp@8,400rpm / 215Nm@6,100rpm)

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Punch the candy red starter button and the R fires up with a throaty rasp. Rowing the Euro R hatch through the hills can be hard work, not simply because of the frenetic and heady nature of the power delivery but also because its characteristics put you on edge as much as it appears to be. It draws you in, egging you on to go for redline in every gear. And that’s the power of the “Type R” drug, isn’t it? It may not be packing 400hp or doing anywhere near 300kph but you sure feel like you’re pushing the envelope when you are really on it. This is the purity that every motoring enthusiast craves and is something that Honda has been hard at work preserving in their cars. I’d be filthy rich if I could figure out a way to bottle it.

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You needn’t worry about the engine though because like any hearty sadomasochist, the Honda loves to be flogged mercilessly. It’s frenzied for a good reason too, delivering a spine-tingling aural chorus that lifts the hairs on your skin like any good Honda motor will do. You will undoubtedly notice VTEC kicking in around 5200rpm and then, not long after that, the rev needle will be bouncing off the limiter. You’ll be caught by surprise from time to time at how rapidly the engine will spin to its cut out; a shrieking “brap brap brap” will jolt you out of that trance quick smart.

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Driving through the limited slip differential, the sticky 18 inch alloys shod with 225/40 series rubber provide loads of grip; more than a match for the cars 1267kg kerb weight. You can be really aggressive with corner entries in this car. It always seems to need a toilet really because it cocks up hind legs faster than a dog on a fire hydrant. It does have a tendency to become unsettled when lifting off and gave me more than a couple of moments at speed. I put this down to the combination of the very stiff damping up front and the decision for Honda to use a torsion rear axle instead of the newer and more stable double wishbone arrangement; another reason why Honda has gone a little weird. Why make a car that looks like an alien life form if only to stuff old tech under the rear of it?

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Where questions about the chassis make sense, nothing can be said in negative tones about the amazing gearbox, it’s snicketty goodness so exceptional you’ll be shifting gears just for the heck of it, even when standing still. Its precision is scalpel like; you don’t “shift” gears so much as “slice” them from slot to slot. Honda has made a snack of delivering the quintessential shift experience in a sports car and this is no exception. The positioning of the lever could be a little closer though and I wondered how much better it would be with the shifter up near the steering column, like the outgoing EP3 model.

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Brakes wise, Honda had a bit of brain fade, opting not to fit the obligatory and ubiquitous Brembo caliper set adorning the FD2 4 door Type R. And does it show. They simply aren’t up to the task for prolonged periods of time and on more than one occasion were worked to failure way too easily, the pedal turning into an uninspiring soggy wet sponge. Having to stand by the side of the road and ponder the scenery is fine if you’re an oil painter but it’s a royal pain when you’ve got leagues of empty mountain road ahead of you. Put simply, these brakes aren’t “Type R”. They’re simply an “F”.

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Not that you notice them from inside the cabin under normal, more sedate driving conditions. It’s a very fitting place to be actually, the Euro R resembling something of a command module. From the supportive and attractive alacantra covered bucket, complete with harness recesses, a giant centrally located tachometer glows red, leaving you in no doubt as to the intentions of the car. Surrounding this, a double decked receding fascia slopes away from you, opening the cabin up slightly. More oddities. On the top deck a completely useless set of yellow shift lights sit un-noticed next to the digital speed readout. Odd place to put something you never actually see. Trust me, when you’re going for it, the last thing you need to notice before a guardrail is a stupid set of tiny yellow lights.

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It’s roomy enough for 4 inside as well, not that you’d think so given the compact dimensions. Honda baulked at the idea of incorporating a multi-function navigation system into the dash but then inexplicably offered a horrid aftermarket item to sit on it. Navigation systems are about as aesthetic as a brick and just as ugly but Honda somehow felt this was the right thing to do. Isn’t that odd?

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I walked away from the Type R expecting something more. I’m only looking back now that I’m writing about it actually. I wasn’t disappointed but definitely underwhelmed somewhat. It didn’t blow me away like all the videos on Youtube told me it would. It didn’t have me telling all my friends about how hectic it was. Perhaps there is some truth to the “fanboyishness” the car and brand appears to embody. I personally felt it was a little tepid where it needed to be hot and too compromising where it needed to be unyielding. Maybe that’s just my opinion but considering the odd decisions that have come from the Honda stable in recent times, an opinion not entirely without merit.

Perhaps the Mugen Type R Euro can bring me around to see things from an alien perspective…

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