What's it about
These days South Africans are indeed spoiled for choice when it comes to hot hatches. The popularity of these cars is growing rapidly and they are important brand builders for carmakers. Rumour even has it that if it wasn't for the GTI, the Golf 5 would have been doomed.
The latest kid on the hot hatch block is Honda's Civic Type R, which is without doubt one of the most distinctive cars in its segment. Well, the normal Civic hatch is already a radical-looking vehicle, but there is little doubt that the Type R just looks like the ultimate Honda.
Yes, the Type R is relatively subtle with discreet Type R nomenclatures - however, the attention to detail is good as these logos appear on the front calipers and stainless steel door sills too.
There are several other unique styling features that distinguish the Type R from the standard derivative.
For example, at the front, the central clear acrylic panel is replaced by a black mesh, while there is also an aggressive front spoiler and large air dam. A red "H" badge is another unique feature.
There are also beefier bumpers and the sill is lower too. Striking 18-inch seven-spoke wheels fill the wheel arches.
Also, the Type R is a 3-door and overall the car's profile is sportier with the lower edge of the rear side window tapering upwards enhancing the racy appearance. In short, the Type R looks like a bullet.
There is a triangular theme throughout the car's design with the door handles, front fog lights and side indicator lenses having the same sharp styling.
At the rear, triangular tailpipes catch the eye and a prominent rear spoiler compliments the overall aerodynamic look.
There is a racy theme on the inside too as the Type R gets snug Alcantara bucket seats, gunmetal trim for the switch panels and aluminum pedals.
As with other Civics, the Type R gets a futuristic-looking dashboard with a digital speedometer. A racy touch is a red starter button, which is more a gimmick than anything else.
The stubby aluminium gear knob looks flashy too and is similar to that of the S2000 roadster.
Each Type R is numbered too, which adds to the exclusivity, and there is a plaque behind the gearlever which indicates the serial number.
You still have to put the key in the ignition and then you can fire up the engine with the push of the button - so it is a bit of a double act, and it would have been much nicer if the car was completely keyless.
Of course the Type R comes well equipped with all the usual suspects such as dual-zone climate control when it comes to comfort gizmos.
Obviously there is an arsenal of safety features too and the kit includes six airbags, ABS, BAS and EBD. The Type R also gets Vehicle Stability Control (VSA).
It's also an easy choice if you have to pick the body colour as buyers can only choose between red or black.
Under the skin
The Type R is powered by Honda's latest naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre DOHC i-VTEC engine with variable inlet camshaft technology. Maximum power is 148 kW at 7 800 r/min and torque is 193 Nm at 5 600 r/min.
Honda has lowered the Civic's ride height for the Type R by 15 mm and the track is wider by 20mm. The chassis has also been reinforced with a tighter body structure.
There are tweaks to the suspension setup too with revised spring rates and damper settings while the stabiliser bars are thicker.
Apparently, the torsion-beam rear suspension allows for more boot space, but more significantly gives the car better stability when cornering.
The car sits on low profile 225/40 18-inch alloy wheels.
The first thing that strikes you about driving the Type R is that it feels so much lighter than its rivals, and at 1 267kg it is the "light weight" in its category.
It's electrically assisted power steering is direct and instantaneous too, and you always aware of the power lurking at the front wheels.
Furthermore the power delivery coming from the naturally-aspirated engine is smooth and there is hardly any torque steer.
The ride might be firm at lower speeds but otherwise the Type R is refined and a breeze to drive in everyday city conditions.
It really feels special to drive and the VTEC engine is quite flexible making the Type R more driveable at lower engine speeds.
The electronic drive-by-wire throttle and shorter-throw 6-speed manual transmission, which is precise and impressive, adds to the car's racy appeal.
Overall the Type R's handling is top notch. Its road grip gives one lots of confidence and it loves hugging corners. Thrash it through the twisties and the Type R will stun you with the way it is glued to the road.
For a performance thrill you have to chase the revs and Honda claims a 0-100 km/h sprint of 6.6 seconds.
Unlike its force-fed competitors such as the GTI and ST, the Type R will unfortunately battle more for power at higher altitudes.
Honda's apparent reasoning for sticking with naturally-aspirated power is that force-fed engines suffer from turbo-lag and torque steer, whereas a naturally-aspirated unit delivers better linear power.
There is no doubt that the Type R is fun to drive, and it is a fast hot hatch that will make you yearn for more. Hot hatch fanatics, no matter which brand they support, can only appreciate Honda's effort to add extra spice the performance segment.
The Type R is also a rewarding car to drive and its engineering is admirable too. The car is an uncompromising hot hatch with great performance.
Furthermore the "Type R" badge definitely deserves the same status as that of "GTI", "ST" or "OPC".
It scores big on looks and quality too and in our books it is arguably the hot hatch with the most character.
But, now the debate is open: To turbo, or not to turbo?
Only available in black and red (why not yellow and white too?)