The result is that Honda now has a reputation for being one of the dullest car makers of all which, for the first and only Japanese company to win races in Formula One, is a spectacular fall from grace. The good news is that it’s now hit the bottom and is about to bounce back high and hard.
In 2015 Honda will return to F1, as an engine supplier to McLaren and launch a new hybrid NSX supercar believed to be as quick as a Ferrari 458. But for you and me, the far more relevant news is the Civic Type-R ‒ Honda’s most popular performance car ever sold in the UK ‒ will be on sale again.
Because it is starting from such a low base, Honda knows a merely competitive car simply won’t command the respect it so sorely needs. So Honda has gone further and even now, with a year’s development still to go, is believed to be readying the most powerful and quickest front-wheel-drive hatchback of them all; a car with a mission to lap the Nürburgring Nordschleife in fewer than eight minutes, which would be an unprecedented achievement for any remotely comparable car.
Driving.co.uk drove a development model not at the Nürburgring but a test track north of Tokyo, and it was clear before we were even out of the pit lane that its turbocharged 2-litre, four-cylinder engine had far more than the 276bhp officially claimed for it. Later, an engineer told me the engine already had 300bhp and they were gunning for more. A lot more. Encouragingly, in these days of increasing flappy-paddle prevalence, the Type-R retains a six speed manual gearbox simply, says its defiant engineers, because it’s more fun that way.
They’re right. The new Type-R is a riot to drive even in undeveloped form. Acceleration is explosive, the chassis taut and communicative. Between now and its on sale date in early 2015 it’s only going to get lighter and more powerful. Or, put bluntly: better.
Between now and then there is work to be done: in particular the engine needs to sound better and find a sharper throttle response. But for those who feared that if and when Honda decided to project a more sporting image again, it would be done with tepid rather than truly hot products, the Civic Type-R will set them straight. Even now it’s one of the most engaging hot hatches in its class, and possibly the quickest, too. Just think what it’s going to be like by the time it goes on sale in 2015.
On course to set new standards for the class
- On sale:
- 2000cc, four cylinders, turbocharged
- Power: 276bhp @ 6000rpm (claimed)
- 295lb ft @ 2000-5500rpm
- Six speed manual
- 0-62mph 6.0sec (estimated)
- Top speed:
- 160mph (estimated)
- Road tax band:
- Ford Focus ST-3 £25,495
For Brilliantly balanced chassis, quite practical, cheap Against Rather ugly, build quality not the best, neither is the noise
- Volkswagen Golf GTi 5-dr £26,780
For No hot hatch has ever been so easy to live with, good looks Against Rather underpowered for the money, not as much fun as some