While the mere mention of Honda's Type R nomenclature was previously enough to send hot hatch aficionados into dreamland, the arrival of the first Civic bearing the label moves this dream to another level.
It's in its blood
For a brand that has motorsport featuring so strongly in its history, the latest Civic Type R was always going to be something special. And after the NSX-R started it all in 1992, fast forward 15 years to 2007, and it all comes together with this super hot hatch, which is pretty, and is pretty fast. What a hot combination!
The Type R builds on the exquisite styling of the "regular" hatchback range (the three-door Type S is not available in South Africa), but adds some serious kit. Sporting killer 18-inch wheels, a menacing black mesh grille, deeper front and rear bumpers with an imposing rear spoiler and glinting twin tailpipes, this model indicates its true intentions.
But the real winner has to be the way this car makes you feel once strapped into the serious Alcantara bucket seats. You feel as though you have become an extension of the driving machine. And it's a marvellous sensation...
Built for speed
The ride height is lower by 15 mm and its track wider by 20 mm, which, aided by a reinforced chassis and a tighter body structure ensures a car that dynamically could have been hewn from rock. The suspension has been reworked with revised spring rates and damper settings and thicker stabliser bars for impeccable handling.
The term "solidity" even tends to shortchange the Type R somewhat, as we discovered while scything a path across mountain passes and along undulating country roads on meaty low profile 225/40 18-inch alloys.
But the car's dynamism only accounts for some of the high-octane fun. Powered by the latest generation of Honda's naturally aspirated 2.0-litre DOHC i-VTEC engine with variable inlet camshaft technology, this machine is a high-revving howler.
The allure of the Type R lies in its motor. Maximum power of 148 kW is available at 7 800 r/min (just a few spins shy of the 8 000 r/min red line) with peak torque at 5 600 r/min. Most of the torque already comes on song at a low 2 500 r/min, so the torque curve is relatively flat and the car is a driver's treat in any gear.
All this power is channeled to the front wheels via a short-throw six-speed shifter with a light action that allows one to truly exploit the four-cylinder's capabilities. You would expect some torque steer, but it's hardly discernible.
And while I'm sure it would be perfectly at home on a track on any day, its utter refinement means it's at ease coasting the suburbs on the daily commute. Incidentally, at sea level, it accelerates from 0 - 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds...
Cabin = race hub
While the car is aimed squarely at the enthusiast, the driver-focused cabin is purposefully comfortable. Feel the love from those bucket seats, tap the aluminium foot pedals, toggle the aluminium gear shift and gaze at the red backlit cluster to get the feeling. Also take in the metal plate, just ahead of the leather strapped gear shift, bearing the car's serial number and you realise that you've just made the acquaintance of something special.
By the way, if you're dying to spec your Type R in that killer yellow shade, think again. In South Africa, you have the choice of Milano Red and Nighthawk Black for the exterior. And that's it, but it's not as though you'll find anyone complaining since it looks super sexy in both these colours.
Back to the business details, the car pats your ego by strapping in some heavy duty safety kit. ABS, BAS, EBD and VSA vehicle stability control (specific to the Type R) are included, along with a full complement of airbags and pre-tensioned seatbelts in the cabin.
But while the Civic Type R proved itself to be a pukka hot hatch while playing at sea level, it would be very interesting to see how it matches up to a certain turbocharged benchmark up at reef altitudes.
So what if it costs a bit more than some of its counterparts who have already had some time to establish themselves in the hot hatch scene. Honda contends that this car is not a "boy racer" and is aimed squarely at the 30 to 40 year old market segment, but really, just take a look at this car in the metal. It's R259 500 price tag also comes along with Honda's sterling reliability record, so how's that for a bonus.
Just one day and 300 km of driving was enough for me to realise that spending some more time with this hot hatch would be greatly appreciated. To quote the project leader for this latest incarnation, "The Type R is the embodiment of all our efforts. If you cut this car in half, you will see our blood."
We've seen this Civic's blood, and it's bright red, Type R-red...