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The legend Returns

BY RORY DALEY
Observer writer

Friday, November 02, 2018

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In 1997 when Honda brought the Type R treatment down to mere mortals with the EK9 Civic, it created a very different driving aesthetic to their previous Type R efforts — the exotic NSX and sports coupe Integra.

Lighter and having a smaller displacement for Honda's revolutionary VTEC engine system, it had to be operated at maximum to get the best out of it. For the original Honda Civic Type R (CTR) it was all or nothing. That raw rabid experience cemented it among the pantheon of greatest performance hatchbacks.

Since then things haven't been well. As the CTR went global for the next successive models, its trajectory went downhill gaining a softer edge to appeal to all.

This didn't sit too well within the company and in 2006 Japanese engineers broke off and created their own Japan-only version, based on the eighth generation Civic sedan, which they felt retained the ethos of the very first CTR.

Unfortunately globalisation won out, but all wasn't lost. Lessons from both sides in the battle for the Type R badge on the Civic created what stands now the 2019 Honda Civic Type R, the fastest front-wheel drive car around Germany's Nürburgring with a blistering 7 minutes 43.0 second lap time.

For perspective, the Nissan R32 GT-R — nicknamed Godzilla for its monstrous performance due to its 2.6 twin-turbo engine and advanced four-wheel drive completed the torturous 14-mile lap in 8 minutes and 22 seconds in 2000. Godzilla, meet King Ghidorah.

Race engineers have a saying it can either be functional or pretty, not both. Here lies the only quandary about the 2019 CTR — its looks. The already futuristic styling of the core Civic hatchback is retained, but augmented by an enormous front splitter, side skirts, rear diffuser, and two rear spoilers — trunk and roof. Fenders bugle. Vents and slats adorn the bodywork. Topping off the already over-the-top styling is a triple exit exhaust system. It gets attention on the road as many onlookers stopped to gape as if they expected the CTR to transform into some giant Japanese robot. Love or hate the styling, all of it is functional. There are times you can feel the downforce from all the aero accoutrements.

Step inside and things aren't as polarsing. Other than the sports seats that will fit the large majority of buyers comfortably, the rest is standard Civic interior design with stitching and materials that follow the racing theme. Interior space and practicality from the regular Civic hatchback remain undisturbed. All major functions are automated and the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system is lifted to the top of the class, because many functions are mirrored in the instrument cluster and can be accessed with the steering wheel controls, meaning less need to use the main screen. Also, functioning satellite navigation.

Given all that's around the car, there's little drama starting the CTR besides the sultry female British voice offering instructions. There are three modes of which the default is SPORT, perfect for what is a sports car.

In COMFORT the car slacks off the suspension, steering is light and throttle is muted. It's a bit more relaxed in this mode, but one can feel some restraint. In SPORT mode — or normal — the sense of tension rises with each prod of the accelerator.

When the time comes to switch into +R mode, the iconic scene from Japanese cartoon Dragonball Z comes to mind — the villainous Vegeta screaming nervously, 'It's over 9000', as he crushes his scanner in disbelief. At this point gaps in traffic turn into the opening laps of the 24-hours of Daytona, one's favourite piece of twisty road becomes the Nürburgring and the north-south leg of Highway 2000 might as well be the Mulsanne Straight.

The CTR may have grown in size and weight for its fifth generation, but it's a clear return to form as the 306bhp turbocharged motor works in perfect concert with all its partners — the rifle accurate six-speed transmission, the infallible 13.8-inch cross-drilled rotor and 4-piston caliper combination, and tenacious chassis grip bolstered by a 20-inch wheel/rim package and the aforementioned aerodynamic aids. The CTR will go, stop, turn like few. More importantly, it can be driven hard, put away wet and be called on again to do it over and over again. Just like the original.

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