Mont Tremblant, QUEBEC — Seven minutes and 43 seconds sounds more like the time it takes to get coffee at a Tim Hortons drive-thru. It is not the time anyone would have believed the new Honda Civic Type R could run the entire length of the world’s most challenging race course — the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife.
As much a course used by manufacturers to test and measure the performance of their cars as it is a meandering ribbon of asphalt lined with fender-eating, career-killing Armco, the Nürburgring is where everything matters, where the true sum of a car’s engineering is measured by the ticking of a clock. The track’s 20.8 kilometres encompass roughly 75 left-and-right bends, 300 metres of elevation changes and often result in horrific crashes. The “Ring” is as much about survival as it is flat-out speed, where all performance cars come to be judged.
And so it was there, on April 7, 2017, that Honda’s Civic Type R made a run that has become one for the record books, achieving the fastest ever title for a front-wheel-drive car, putting the hatchback in league not only with some seriously fast company, but prestigious cars costing many times as much. With a time of 7:43.80, the Type R was quicker around the Nürburgring than a 2008 Audi R8 V10, a 2011 Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG Black Series, and even the monstrous, Shelby-tuned 2015 Ford Mustang GT350R. This, from a five-door compact with a four-cylinder engine.
That engine is no normal four cylinder, of course, and the Type R no ordinary Civic. While other parts of the world have enjoyed Type R cars since 1997, the fifth-generation R marks the first time North America will enjoy Honda’s ultimate expression of performance. The Type R’s 2.0-litre turbo-four is the most powerful ever installed in a Honda production vehicle, the Acura NSX notwithstanding.
Sending 306 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque through only the front wheels might sound like an unholy terror on the tarmac, but in reality this engine is as welcoming as mid-summer’s day: Bright, smooth and quick to spool. Pistons designed to trim reciprocating weight minimize vibration. A die-cast aluminum block with exhaust ports built into the DOHC aluminum cylinder head help reduce weight. Connecting rods are forged steel, as is the lightweight crankshaft. Maximum torque arrives as early as 2,500 rpm, peaking at 4,500 on its way to a 7,000 rpm redline. Power flows out quickly, early, and in such a continuous line that the driver is always aware of what is happening under the aluminum hood. With direct injection, a high-flow mono scroll turbo capable of 23.2 psi of boost, this i-VTEC has the pull and feel of a BMW straight-six. It’s a total sweetheart.
On Circuit Mont-Tremblant, a 4.26-kilometre racetrack with 15 corners and multiple elevation changes in Quebec’s Laurentians, the Type R is completely at home and totally alive. While the scoops, ducts, fins, vents and massive rear spoiler will not be everyone’s cup of tea, they all have a role to play in keeping the car cool and planted on the track. The hood scoop, for example, was only added after early Nürburgring testing saw the car get too hot and too light. Twenty-inch, piano-black wheels with red accents clad with 245/30ZR20 Continental SportContact 6 tires are as sexy as they are sticky. LED headlamps, fog lights, tail lamps and turn signals give the car a properly current look.
Out on the track, the surety of the steering is immediately noticeable, lacking in torque steer thanks to electronic roots and complex algorithms, but also a unique dual-axis strut front suspension that divides suspension and torque duties. It may not have the feedback of a Porsche 911, but it wheels just as accurately. Only minimal movements of the black and red leather, flat-bottom wheel are required to hold the correct line.
Those lines and apexes arrive and depart fast. The Type R feels as if it were bred to make the complicated business of travelling extremely fast extraordinarily easy. Three years in development, the Type R invites the driver to explore its full potential, the Helical limited-slip differential preventing tire slip, the chassis keeping body lean and roll in check, the six speed manual transmission and drive-by-wire system giving quick blips of the throttle on every downshift. The aluminum ball shifter feels excellent in the hand.
Clip the apex and flatten the gas, the R pulls strongly through the first five of all six gears, the clutch sprung lightly and the pedals positioned just right for heel toe shifting for those so inclined to snub the electronics. While downshift rev matching works in comfort, sport and R mode, the latter gets a more aggressive punch to the throttle. Top speed is 274 km/h, zero-to-100 km/h is estimated at somewhere between five and six seconds.
And in R mode, the car becomes slightly louder — though still not loud enough — its unique three-port exhaust only slightly louder than in Sport. In R mode, the driver can completely shut off VSA and traction control to leave everything up to the driver. R mode also tightens steering response and adjust the dampers for a firmer ride, which, on the street should be quite livable in Comfort mode. The seats, too, while superb on the track, will be easy to live with daily.
Braking, thanks to four-piston Brembos on 13.8-inch vented and cross-drilled rotors up front (the largest ever on a Civic), and single-piston calipers on 12-inch rotors in rear, exhibit zero fade after about several 15-minute sessions of hard braking. They feel more than up to the job of reigning in the R’s speed. However, beware of braking hard in anything other than a straight line: The car’s ferocious stopping power and light rear end (62-38 per cent bias to the front) will allow the car to wander in the back under the weight transfer. The benefit of the weight up front is a total absence of understeer.
Built in Swindon, England, the Type R is assembled alongside the regular, 10th generation Civic hatchback. Only 1,000 units will come to Canada this year. Priced at $40,890 and painted either white or black (possibly red for 2018), there are no options — just honest, adrenaline-juicing speed.