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Old 03-01-2007, 01:54 PM   #1
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Default First Drive: 2007 Honda Civic Type R (edmunds.com)

First Drive: 2007 Honda Civic Type R (edmunds.com)


First Impressions:
True to the Type R philosophy, but not the class leader.

2.0-liter four-cylinder i-VTEC
198 hp and 142 lb-ft of torque
Zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds

At the limit in Honda's British-built sport compact

It might only have 198 horsepower, but the 2007 Honda Civic Type R is smack in the middle of the hot European sport compact market that has enjoyed a revolution in recent years.

We say only 198 hp because the latest models from Ford and GM boast 222 hp and 237 hp, respectively. Forced induction is now the order of the day as European "hot hatchback" buyers find themselves drag-racing Porsches. But Honda's marketing mouths say the normally aspirated Civic Type R ducks the power struggle in pursuit of a purer driving experience.

Typical Honda. It's hoping European enthusiasts will eschew brute force in favor of fun and finesse. The strategy worked in the past with cars like the NSX and previous hot Civics, but this time around it sounds dangerously like an excuse.

The Type R philosophy
The Type R name was initially applied to Honda's motorcycles to denote a performance derivative. The first car to carry the nameplate was the wonderful NSX-R, a stripped-out version of Honda's NSX supercar. More affordable Type Rs followed, including the Integra Type R that was introduced to the U.S. in 2001.

Although no Civic Type R ever has been sold in the United States (including this latest example), the Civic Type R in Europe is an alternative to age-old favorites, such as the VW Golf GTI.

Each Type R model was bound by a common philosophy to deliver a raw, edgy, race-derived driving experience. A high-revving, normally aspirated engine was a prerequisite, as was a quick-fire gearbox. The original Civic Type R delivered all of these things, but its harsh ride and poor refinement made long journeys a chore. The new model therefore seeks to offer a greater breadth of ability, without compromising the Type R philosophy.

Self-consciously radical
In Europe, Honda is determined to establish a more youthful image. While the old Civic was conservative, the new model is self-consciously radical. The aggressive wedge shape is defined by a narrow snout and a high waistline that culminates in an extravagant rear spoiler. There's also some unusual detailing, such as the triangular exhaust pipes and the red Honda badge that denotes a Type R model.

The cabin is no less radical. At first glance, it all seems a little overpowering. A 3D rev counter takes center stage in a binnacle framed by the three-spoke steering wheel. The speedometer has a pod of its own on top of, and set back from, the rev counter. The primary controls for the stereo and ventilation are mounted centrally but additional switches including the one to turn off the standard stability control are scattered randomly about the fascia.

You sit high a little too high on the sport seats and grasp a tiny three-spoke wheel. No passenger could be left in any doubt that this is the Type R, as there's "R" branding on the seats, the carpets and steering wheel. The pedal set and shift knob are carved from aluminum, and there's a bright-red starter buttonn, a gearchange indicator light beside the speedo and a plaque displaying the production number. Some might find it too garish, but at least it's different.

Si under the hood
The Type R's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is essentially the same engine used in the American-market Honda Civic Si where it is rated at 197 hp at 7,800 rpm and 139 lb-ft at 6,100 rpm.

It's an impressive power plant, revving happily to 8,000 rpm with the provocative, high-pitched engine note we've come to expect of a Honda i-VTEC. The system switches to the high lift cam at 5,400 rpm so the engine offers an effective power band of 2,600 rpm. The cam change has also been refined so the power delivery is now more linear.

But for all its high-tech trickery, it still struggles in the face of the turbocharged opposition. More significant than the power deficit is the Honda's chronic lack of torque. Whereas the 2.5-liter, turbocharged engine in the Ford Focus ST offers 236 lb-ft of torque from 1,600-4,000 rpm, the Honda musters just 142 lb-ft at 5,600 rpm. The 197-hp VW Golf GTI offers 207 lb-ft at 1,800 rpm.

That means the Civic needs to be thrashed to deliver its best. Six closely stashed ratios help its cause and the gearshift is both quick and positive, but the Honda's competition is less labor-intensive to drive quickly. The last Honda Civic Si we tested, a sedan, hit 60 mph in 7.1 seconds and reached the quarter-mile mark in 15.3 seconds at a little over 93 mph. Honda says the front-wheel-drive Civic Type R, which unlike the Si does not use the company's helical limited-slip differential or any other LSD, can hit 60 mph in 6.6 seconds.

Torsion beam in back
Whereas most of its rivals now boast sophisticated multilink rear suspension systems, Honda has opted for a torsion beam in the interests of packaging and, no doubt, cost savings. A more familiar MacPherson strut arrangement is employed at the front.

It only takes a few yards to discover that the ride quality is still on the solid side of firm. While the Ford or VW smother surface imperfections with well-judged damping, the Honda feels like a refugee from the racetrack. Die-hard enthusiasts will appreciate its raw-edged character, but a firm ride is not necessarily a prerequisite of exquisite handling just ask Lotus.

The Civic turns in nicely and there's no shortage of grip from the 225/40R18 Bridgestone Potenzas. This car can carry big speed, but it lacks sophistication. The balance and poise of the VW or, to a lesser extent, the Ford, is missing here. You need to bully the Honda, but the experience is strangely unrewarding. On a track, this car would no doubt feel terrific, but on the road it often feels like it's trying too hard.

The steering undoubtedly improves on the old models, but it's still not perfect. The weighting is good but a Golf's helm is more talkative. The brakes are also nicely weighted and the pedals well placed.

High price, low torque
Honda's U.K. pricing for the Type R is curious. The company regards itself as a quality rival to VW and even Audi. It seems strange, therefore, that at 17,600 ($34,278), the Type R should be pitched below the Ford Focus ST ($35,047) and the VW Golf GTI ($40,082). This is surely a tacit acknowledgement that the Honda doesn't have the firepower to command a premium.

The Type R is by no means a bad car. It's distinctively styled and when you're in the mood and on the right road, it can be great fun. On these occasions, its slightly rawer character will give it an edge over its most obvious European rivals.

But for all Honda's talk of increased civility and all-round appeal, the Type R lacks the performance or the depth of quality of its European rivals. The game has moved on since the Integra wowed us in the 1990s and Honda needs to play catch-up. The Civic needs torque, not talk.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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