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Type R thrills at the track

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Honda Civic Type R 1
BRIAN M. AFUANG

SEVEN minutes, 43.8 seconds. That was the lap time set in April last year by the 2017 Honda Civic Type R at Germany’s legendary Nurburgring circuit — the performance car planet’s proving ground/bragging rights battlefield. Asterisked though that record time might be (the car that figured was fitted with a roll cage and reportedly wore stickier tires) it nonetheless is the fastest yet for a front-drive road car to have hurtled around the track’s 24.4-kilometer lap distance. To think it was only recently that a sub-eight-minute run for a road car at the ‘Ring was the equivalent of the four-minute mile.

With a CV like this, it was hardly surprising for Honda Cars Philippines, Inc. to have chosen a race track on which to demo the benchmark-setting prowess of the Civic Type R. The car’s local seller on Feb. 24 herded to the Clark International Speedway in Pampanga 37 of the 100 Type Rs sold in the country, and also brought over the pair it owns, so these could be enjoyed amid their natural habitat by owners, as well as by other guests. On hand to make sense of the track proceedings were the team of champion race car driver Georges B. Ramirez and Louie B. Ramirez.

Arranged for the daylong gathering were a series of driving exercises — slalom, braking, and racing line tutelage — leading into full-track lapping sessions. The exercises allowed owners to judge the handling and braking capabilities of their Type Rs, and driving instructors to gauge the skill levels of participants. This eliminated nasty surprises.

As such there were only pleasant ones, supplied by the Type R itself. The car’s acceleration and straight-line speed was sort of expected — a 2.0-liter turbocharged, four-pot engine that expels 306 hp and 400 Nm will not in any way be sluggish, unless it is tasked to haul an Airbus. Just as anticipated was the performance guaranteed by the huge disc brakes — cross-drilled Brembo units in front — and 20-inch wheels wrapped in 30-series rubbers, which say the Type R will have no trouble hauling itself down from speed, and that it will tenaciously grip the tarmac during most conditions. Easy to presume too was that the wild aerodynamic appendages embellishing the car equates to high-speed stability.

What was amazing is the manner by which the Type R seamlessly fuses these qualities together. Helped further by electronic wizardry, the Type R is a study in duality, at once comfortable and athletic, quick but controlled, predictable yet fun to drive.

Honda Civic Type R 2
Various holes and other aerodynamic appendages may look too busy, but these are functional and effective. — BRIAN M. AFUANG

It does not matter which driving mode is selected (there are three, which alter the behavior of the steering, suspension and throttle); the Type R will soak in small bumps and bad road surfaces in a way no car rolling on such aggressive tires has any right to. A solid structure, plus sundry insulation, also helps in quelling noise, vibration and harshness. Drive the Type R sedately and it returns total refinement — the engine note is virtually imperceptible, the cabin hushed, the suspension bits pliant. Now, also consider how much space the Civic offers its passengers and their luggage.

But wind the car up and it reacts appropriately. The engine bellows as it spins faster. The suspension goes taut as it tries its level best to keep the car flat on sweeping, high-speed corners, as well as in reducing pitch during vigorous acceleration and braking. The steering transitions from feeling light and vague at low speeds into a communication tool that telegraphs exactly what the car is doing — or what it intends to do. As a result, no other car of this kind is as easy to drive fast as the Civic Type R is.

And yet the car proposes more, like the six-speed manual gearbox that bolts to the engine. Sure, dual-clutch (and even some automatic) transmissions fitted with paddle shifters are nifty, but for sheer involvement the act of rowing through the gears manually brings unparalleled driving delight. This is especially true with the Type R’s gearbox. It slots into any chosen gear slickly and reassuringly, thanks to gates that are neither too tight nor too loose, and which requires an effort neither too hefty nor too mushy. Plus, accompanying the act is a muted mechanical clack that serves quite a tempting invitation for one to shift gears for no reason at all.

Enhancing this very analog experience are more digital ministrations; the Type R’s gearbox, during downshifts, will match the rate at which the engine is spinning at any given time. This duplicates a driver’s heel-and-toe action, a necessity when downshifting while at the same time braking prior to entering a corner. It’s a driving skill that’s important to acquire, difficult to master, and the Civic Type R throws this into its mix of goodies.

Comes quite handy for the Nurburgring of drivers’ minds. — Brian M. Afuang