It just gets the fundamentals so damned right, this car.
There’s a tangible feeling of a near 30-year legacy stretching back to the Integra Type R in the new hot Civic, because Honda has become an expert in great front-wheel-drive chassis.
First, the suspension.
The Type R’s damping is superb and a lesson to those rivals that no doubt look upon a front-drive hot hatch as a bit old hat.
Yet we’d have this car’s sublime ride, firm but always comfortable and controlled, over driven rear wheels any day.
Given how low the car rides and how responsive and agile the chassis is, it should be a pain on rough roads.
But no. You could take a gnarly speedbump at close to 30mph, so supple is this Civic.
The gearshift, clutch and brakes all match that ability.
Every interface in the Type R is so perfectly tuned that, when you do get a bit of open road ahead, the Honda is not only quick, but also an experience that reminds you why you love cars.
Sharp, well-weighted steering makes cornering a joy and, perhaps even more impressively, completely belies the Honda’s size: the Civic has become a very big car.
Of course, that size makes it practical, too.
The back seats are spacious and the boot is cavernous.
The Type R is a perfectly easy daily driver, feeling little different from a normal Civic beyond enjoyable touches such as the aluminium gearknob or brilliantly supportive red bucket seats.
That dual character is reinforced by the Type R’s famed VTEC engine.
Assisted by turbocharging in recent years and offering 325bhp in this most recent guise, the engine has that typical non-linear rev range.
It is a perfectly smooth four-cylinder at lower revs but becomes a screamer past 4000rpm.
Last-gasp, old-school, front-wheel-drive hot hatch it may be, but the Civic hasn’t escaped some vices of modernity.
The lane-departure system in the car is one of the most intrusive driver aids we have encountered, and must be turned off every time you start up, while the electrically assisted steering is a bit too isolated from the road surface for our liking.
And the engine noise finds its way to your ears with the help of some cabin speakers.
Honda has bravely clung to enough Type R tenets for this new Civic to feel genuinely distinct from the all-wheel-drive hot-hatch brigade with which it will be compared.
Though perhaps slower than many of those cars around a track – and no cheaper, either – we’ll remember this Type R as one of the best
to wear the red badge thanks to its thrilling engine, handling finesse and handsome styling.
Proof, as ever, that great driver’s cars aren’t made by spec sheets and lap times, but by the feeling through the seat of the pants.
Images: John Bradshaw
- Engine 1996cc turbo ‘four’; 325bhp @ 6500rpm; 310lb ft @ 2200rpm
- Transmission six-speed manual, FWD
- 0-60mph 5.4 secs
- Top speed 171mph
- Mpg 30
- Price £46,995
Enjoy more of the world’s best classic car content every month when you subscribe to C&SC – get our latest deals here