ENTHUSIAST'S PICK: Wheels24's Sean Parker argues that the Honda Civic Type R is the ideal hot hatch for an enthusiast. Image: Sean Parker
Cape Town - As automakers continue to chase sales targets (and world domination), in order to survive, the types of vehicles each produces needs to have mass appeal.
Cars need to be easy to drive, practical and, most importantly, hit the sweet spot in terms of value for money. This is especially true for halo performance models.
So many hot hatches to choose from
This year has seen many hot hatches reach Mzansi. We've already reported on the Audi RS3, Mercedes-AMG A45 extensively, as well as the Honda Civic Type R at its launch in Cape Town in January 2016.
I was fortunate to experience the new Type R at its launch, you can read about my test drive here. However, after spending a week with the most-powerful front-wheel drive hatchback in the world, and speaking to motoring colleagues, I believe Honda has built (yes, they've taken a long time doing so) the perfect performance for enthusiasts.
First-ever turbocharged Type R
When the Japanese automaker first announced, what feels like ages ago, that it was testing its next-gen Civic Type R, enthusiasts wondered if the firm would maintain its strongest selling-point: the normally-aspirated engine.
Unfortunately, Honda did not. And who could blame it? Owners of previous-generation Type R models were afraid of meeting smaller opposition in the form of the Ford Fiesta ST at traffic lights.
On that note, Honda has fitted its new Type R with a turbocharger. Has it lost its appeal? Does it still rev to the moon?
Five key things enthusiasts will enjoy:
1 It uses a manual gearbox - A manual gearbox is one of the fundamental ingredients for creating an enjoyable drive. The Type R's six-speed manual is one of slickest 'boxes I've encountered.
2 It's front-wheel drive - 228kW/400Nm is a lot of power put through the front-wheels but fortunately the Type R has one of the best front-wheel drive chassis in its class. It's able to handle the huge amount of power available and keep you on the tar.
Driving it hard on one of SA's mountain passes, you'll feel connected to the road as the Type R delivers an emotive experience.
3 It looks outrageous - In order to appeal to a broader market, premium hot hatches are almost 'q-cars' in that they struggle to stand out. The Type R rejects conventional styling with outrageous design elements. It has a massive wing that offers downforce and a deep chin that scrapes nearly every loose stone along a road.
4 It revs into the stratosphere - The 2.0-litre engine suffers from serious lag but give the turbo and V-tec time to kick-in and the power surge is relentless. The red line is claimed 6500r/min and overall the hot hatch feels rapid.
5 It has proper racing seats (sans racing harnesses) - If you're not agile or slim it can be quite an effort hoping in and out of the Type R at least with your dignity still intact. But those high-backed, narrow racing seats are perfect when navigating Franschhoek Pass as their snug fit keeps you upright despite G-forces pulling you in different directions.
Watch: Full lap of the Civic Type R around Killarney race track
What we didn't like about it?
It's not all plain-sailing in the Type R, the car does have one or two drawbacks.
Two major gripes we have -
1 It suffers from serious lag - There's no way of getting past its lag; It's sluggish off the mark and below 3000r/min the Type R is as useful as a shopping trolley with a dodgy wheel.
2 The interior is outdated - Some of the materials are not on par in terms of tactile quality as its rivals. This is probably due to the fact that Honda kept it's latest Type R a little too long in the development oven. To be fair, Honda enthusiasts won't have a problem with that.
Charlen Raymond: "The Type R is bloody fast! I think that will be the main reason anyone would buy it. Thing is, though, you can’t drive it slow. If you do, the ride quality will frustrate you more than anything else. Every imperfection on the road jolts up your spine and if you have false teeth, rather drive with your mouth shut.
"However, when you drive the car fast - at the limit - only then will you appreciate the car for what it is. It picks up speed faster than a cheetah chasing down an impala. It is more precise than a mountain goat balancing itself on the edge of a cliff! The Honda Civic Type R is one of the purest driving machines out there offering driver enjoyment in all its raw glory!
"But to truly appreciate it you’d have to know the manager at your local racetrack."