THE issue with Honda's Civic Type R is deciding what type of hot hatch it is. The front-wheel drive car is a contradiction: boy-racer winglets and wild rear wing on the outside; sophisticated, safety focused vehicle from behind the wheel.
It isn't as quick off the mark as some rivals but more than atones by being a better-rounded package.
It will carve corners with the best of the breed yet can cosset its passengers in a way few hot hatches hope to achieve.
Few hot hatches also have a full suite of active safety software. Fewer still have the suspension and throttle response to be actually amenable around town. And fewer still again can match the Type R's 25-year pedigree for performance driving.
The Type R's legacy has prompted more than 350 drivers to put money down on a car they have yet to drive. Relative to its forebears, this turbocharged car is faster, more focused and more family oriented, from the 414L cargo capacity to the fact it doesn't need to be revved to the redline to get the best out of it.
The interior kit includes a seven-inch touchscreen with Android/Apple smartphone connectivity and a series of displays showing performance stats.
Outside, the massive rear wing and trio of exhaust tips give a fairly good indication this isn't a regular Civic. Brembo brake calipers are conspicuous on all four corners.
With a price of $50,990, the Honda is playing in serious territory, with potential rivals including the Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R and Subaru WRX STI.
ON THE ROAD/TRACK
There are any number of reasons why the Type R will carve a space in the hot hatch segment but the 0-100km/h sprint time isn't one of them. Honda's front-drive firecracker simply can't plant the power from a standing start like some of its all-wheel drive rivals, as evidenced by a 5.7-second run to triple figures against a claimed 4.7-second interval for the Focus RS.
That puts the Honda into also-ran territory in terms of traffic-light launches.
The ascendancy reverses in the 80-120km/h roll-on acceleration run where the Honda takes four seconds flat in fourth gear compared to about 4.2 sec for the Ford.
The Honda also has the edge in the always contested Nurburgring lap times, a feat attributed to its 200kg weight advantage over the Ford (along with the fact the test car used non-standard tyres).
One fact isn't disputable: the Honda's adaptive dampers make it a far more welcoming proposition as a daily driver because, unlike the Ford, it isn't constantly trying to separate your vertebrae over every ridge in the road.
In comfort mode it isn't much stiffer than a regular Civic hatch, progressively winding up suspension, steering resistance and throttle response as you switch to Sport and Type R.
A limited-slip diff minimises tugging on the steering - there's still a slight twitch from the wheel when exiting tight corners as the 20-inch Continental tyres struggle to contain 228kW/400m - but this car rewards drivers who seek out serpentine back roads.
The Brembo brakes are solid despite the pedal travel being longer than in some rivals. Once you're used to it, the extra travel isn't a bad thing - you don't get flung against the seat belt as in rivals' more aggressive set-ups.
If your definition of a hot hatch extends beyond launch starts and rock-solid suspension, this Civic is your type of car. It is a genuine performance car that still performs admirably around town.
PRICE There's a gulf in price and performance between this Civic Type R and the third-generation hatch that was sold in Australia from 2007-12. The new model costs $50,990 (the same as a Ford Focus RS) against $39,990 in the previous version.
TECH Engine capacity remains at 2.0 litres but a turbocharger now provides boost from 2500rpm, where the variable valve timing on the naturally aspirated predecessor didn't kick in until about 6000rpm. Honda has also loaded the new Type R with its active safety suite, including auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure monitoring.
PERFORMANCE The new Civic is almost a second quicker than the previous model but the claimed 5.7 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint doesn't reflect how well it accelerates out of a corner. The six-speed manual gearbox is a gem and Honda has built in (switchable) rev-matching when shifting up or down the ratios.
DRIVING It holds the front-wheel drive lap record at the Nurburgring, reflecting how well it hangs on through the turns. Continental rubber on 20-inch wheels is cling-wrap sticky and the unique front suspension set-up gives this car more bite around the bends than its predecessor.
DESIGN Aerodynamic appendages festoon the Type R from nose to tail, giving it a true boy-racer appearance along the lines of the Ford Focus RS. In contrast, the outgoing car used only a relatively discreet rear spoiler to differentiate itself from a regular Civic hatch.
AT A GLANCE
HONDA CIVIC TYPE R
PRICE $50,990 (competitive)
WARRANTY AND SERVICING 5 years/unlimited km; $921 over 3 years (value)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 228kW/ 400Nm (solid)
SAFETY Not rated, 6 airbags, AEB, lane-departure alert (excellent)
THIRST 8.8L/100km (good)
SPARE Repair kit (not good)
BOOT 414L-764L (best in class)