Honda have a heritage in motor sport that many other manufacturers could only dream of, from “Fast Freddie” in the 1980’s winning multiple super bike championships, to providing engines for Formula 1 teams throughout the 60’s, 80’s and early 2000’s. Honda has always been there or there about when it comes to racing. While the well publicised fall of Honda’s Formula 1 team in 2008 and the rise of Brawn F1 during 2009 probably still lingers bitterly in the tongue of then chief executive Takeo Fukui. Nevertheless Honda’s ability to make exciting and bum-clenching vehicles for the road has never been in doubt.
Cars that truly started the “sporty” revelation for Honda could probably link their initial birth back to the Integra, sure there where many other fast Honda’s before this model, but the power, excitement and beautiful white paint work of the Integra created a cult following that is still present today. Jump swiftly to the early part of the Noughties and another car that sold in its droves was the EP-3, or for its public name the Civic Type-R, this particular model was not amazingly pretty to look at, nor was it discreetly styled. However, an engine that spins to above 8000 rpm and practicality that even Noah’s Ark couldn’t compete with, the agile, 200 BHP hot-hatch captured the imagination of the younger generation. This was widely acknowledged as the first mainstream car Honda had released that wasn’t pigeon-holed with being your grandmother’s car.
Fast forward a few years and in 2006 Honda released the 8th generation Honda Civic. Happily the Japanese outfit caused such a stir regarding the way the “spaceship” Civic looked, it became one of the most instantly recognisable cars on the road, nothing looks like the Civic, even four years on, hate it or love it, it is certainly a step away from the mundane hatchback market that kept us as a nation depressed for much of the 1990’s.
So how does it drive? That question is dependant upon which spec of car you choose. The Civic in its 5-door and most practical guise is very much family orientated and will appeal to the customer that will appreciate such features as the “magic seats” which allows the rear seats to be manipulated in all sorts of practical ways that ultimately gives you more space. I however have been test driving the Honda Civic Type-S GT, Honda’s attempt to form a bridge between the 5-door and the manic Type-R. Subtle differences from the 5-door model are noticeable but are not in your face, such changes include; lower sports suspension, a widened rear track, gun-metal coloured body kit, wider and fatter exhaust wipes and of course that big give away….its only got 3 doors. While these changes seem minor, they add up to a huge difference in the way the car travels down the road. The second you enter the space-age cabin you are instantly cocooned by Alcantara seats and a dash board that would be more at home in the space shuttle.
The handling is sharp and composed, even when you begin to lose grip you’re relatively safe in the knowledge that the VSA (Traction control) will come to save you. Engine wise, the 1.8 petrol iV-Tech lump is a brilliant compromise between fuel economy and performance. It is the little touches however that set the Civic in a different league to its competitors. The economy lights and rev lights give long and usually tedious journeys a good kicking up the rear end. My mind was often split between getting all the green lights up constantly, to flooring it and seeing the orange rev lights. This combined with the Civics’ space age dash with digital dials; no self-respecting car enthusiast can deny it’s an exciting place to be.
It has been the practical attributes to the Civic that has impressed me the most. The boot space is large enough to swallow South Africa; the bottle holder in the rear door cards is an idea that will be appreciated by people with friends, who drink. However, the one practical issue I have with the Civic is the now infamous front seat mechanism. The problem begins when you pull up and you want to retrieve something from the rear seats, you pull the lever to move your seat forward, collect your items, pull the seat back, and for a reason many cannot comprehend the seat does not remember the original seating position. Why haven’t Honda resolved this issue since the launch in 2006? With regards to the ride, I was expecting to need medical attention after driving it but while the set-up is indeed firm, it remains perfectly comfortable. The ride coupled with the superbly comfortable suede seats impressed.
Overall though, the Type-S GT isn’t the Type-R, yet it still manages to thrill and induce a smile that is comparable to the Cheshire cat. It will undoubtedly appeal to the younger generation but it isn’t as hardcore and as uncomfortable as the Type-R, which in turn allows for the Type-S to be the best of both worlds.