What's it like living with the new Honda Civic Type R?
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By now you'll have been submerged in content relating to this blasted car.
Admittedly we've been part of that cycle, too, having given the car a full road test before comparing it to (almost) every other past Civic Type R. This car is a big deal though — a piece of 'forbidden fruit' that Kiwis have never been able to purchase at home ... until now that is.
Naturally, as a JDM fan of some repute myself, as soon as it was confirmed to be coming to New Zealand I simply had to raise my hand and nominate myself for the drive. And so it came to pass; three days with the only Civic Type R in the country, all to myself.
Being given the keys on a rather cold Sunday morning, the day would be dedicated to Driven's big photoshoot. We had organised getting one representative car from each past generation of Civic Type R for the day, and would be based around Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in Waikato.
Thus, my first drive of the Type R was the 45-minute drive to pick up one of the photographers for the day in Papakura. Having not driven a manual for a few months, the initial minutes were spent getting acclimatized to the clutch, as well as trying to feel out where the corners of the car were.
Evidently, it's a car that feels quite small. Smaller than its Accord-esque dimensions might initially let on. Part of this could be explained away by how surprisingly comfortable the R felt to drive at low speed; feeling almost humdrum.
Once I hopped onto the motorway, the temptation to have a pull or three became too strong and down went my right foot. It's a car that, for me, helps cast my mind back to my first car and the antics I could get up to with it. It's a naughty feeling; enhanced by the knowledge that this weird looking little car can decimate just about anything else occupying these roads.
The photographer I picked up was Simon Chapman, who had been a bit sick in the morning. However, the promise of some Type R exposure coupled with a dash of peer pressure convinced him to come along. Though, not before we took a couple of snaps of the car in his driveway and mulled over its visual merits.
"I definitely think it's ugly. I like it, but it's ugly."
"Nah, I reckon it looks good."
The shoot itself lasted about two hours longer than I expected it to, such are the dramas you have organising these kinds of things as a first timer. Nonetheless, the images are good, and everyone seemingly drove off happy — most of them having been given a ride in the shiny new machine for their troubles. There was also pizza.
The day closes in completely unsatisfied fashion. The door is open to take the long, long, long way home, but I feel knackered. Into the garage it goes, although not until one last drawn-out conversation about it with a polite and slightly nosy neighbour.
"That's the quick one, isn't it?"
The stars align and the decision made early that today will be the day I get to take this car for a proper thrash somewhere, anywhere.
Driven headquarters is pretty much smack bang in the middle of Auckland City, so the morning commute is largely bumper to bumper lameness. Not that the drive in was boring ... not when everyone in the surrounding cars can't help but stare at you.
I generally try and avoid the kind of 'look at me' nonsense that sometimes comes with testing certain cars. But there's no escaping it in the Civic; perhaps the most extreme and bizarre looking car to ever wear a Honda badge. While the looks aren't really my cup of tea, they are rather taboo and anti-establishment — two values I love seeing from a manufacturer as, can we say 'mild', as Honda have been lately.
Having mowed down a fair few miles of motorway by this point, the Civic feels almost like home. The clutch is forgiving, but it's the suspension that impresses more than anything else. The old Type Rs, as good as they are to drive on a wiggly road, are absolutely wretched to live with every day precisely because of the way they break your back as soon as you hit a bump.
By comparison, this new jigger is relaxation, to the point where it almost feels like a Civic RS when you're not playing with it. As I squint a bit and watch the guy behind me in traffic video the car with his phone, the rear wing gets a bit in the way. Not as badly as you might expect, though, especially considering how Honda have hidden most of the wing struts and end-plates behind the C pillars.
After a solid morning of work come a few little rides for some of our JDM-loving co-workers.
Sports cars are nice, but I'll always prefer a good hot hatch for the simple reason that, with five doors and at least four seats most of the time, one has the ability to share the experience of a car like this. The fun and silliness of good hearty driving can remain a group activity.
Skipping the office in the afternoon to take the car for a proper bash sees me give the car a little blat along Scenic Drive. It's an old favourite of mine, and just a stones throw from home. Something like a big hulking HSV will struggle on roads these narrow and tight, but a Type R is another matter entirely. Here is where cars like this are at their best, and the Civic doesn't disappoint me one bit.
Part of me still wishes that the engine didn't come with a filthy turbo attached, but this is simply the way the world is moving. Soon we'll be missing these turbocharged wonders as electric engines gain precedence ... it's all about progress I suppose.
I decide to pick up my parents for a surprise trip to Mission Bay in the afternoon for some fish and chips on the beach. This motoring stuff is still foreign to mum, while dad hasn't owned a 'fun' car for almost three decades.
"Is this one fast? Or just loud," asks mum.
I don't normally do anything silly when giving my parents a ride, but off the back of that line I can't help myself. Motorway. Clear road. Down from a calm fifth to second. Foot flat.
Question answered, to much laughter.
Just two cars I've driven this year are ones I was ultimately sad to return. The first was the HSV Clubsport R8 30th Anniversary Edition (such a big, dumb, lovable thing), and the second was this Civic.
As different as the pair are, they're both much missed for similar reasons of balance. When you want to go fast they feel damn fast, and when you want to relax they relax with you. Both are also part of bigger 'David vs Goliath' story arcs; the exotic Japanese secret that blows away Europe's best, and Australia's dying breed of charismatic muscle cars.
My return to Honda New Zealand in Newmarket was slated for 5.00pm. So my mission was to give it back as late as feasibly possible. They get it back at 4.30pm, but not before a final fling or two.
One of those flings involves an inner city pit-stop to take some quick photos for this blog. Crouching in the parked cars, I hear a voice.
"I know what that is!"
Weird way to make a statement to a stranger, but nonetheless I say hi to the guy. The voice emits from the window of a postie's clapped out Toyota Echo. Leaning into the window we chat about the car for about 10 minutes. Turned out he was a massive Civic Type R fan, and had driven most of the past editions. Pulling out my phone I show him a few of the images from the group photoshoot two days prior, and watch as his eyes light up.
On the way to Honda I stop in at the local model car shop. Normally the place is silent during week days, but it's the school holidays and a big group of teenagers is bouncing around the place. Having seen them gather around a 1:18-scale model of a Datsun 240Z, my ears track them as they walk out the front door to the Civic parked on the road. The response is a group one, layered with all sorts of four-lettered words.
Five minutes later I leave the shop, and they're all still there taking photos of it with their phones. I show them around for a few minutes before departing — all of them visible in the reversing camera, recording the noise the thing makes on departure.
Cars like these draw a great reaction from their central fanbase. They're a dedicated and single-minded group, and some of the most passionate car people you'll ever meet.
So, what's it like to live with the new CTR?
It's great, and much better than it is to live without it.