The fans get excited, the rivals start looking to their laurels but a carmaker takes the final strides into the full, new model production process with renewed energy and a strong desire not to lose a technological advantage, highlights Iain Robertson, as Japan’s Suzuka Circuit plays its role in the proving, evaluation and certification loop for Honda.
While 99% of all new cars spend their formative periods under a cloak of total secrecy, with the inevitable publicity benefits arising from ‘sneak previews’ and grab-and-snap spyshots, it is the final stages prior to launch that determine their market relevance and what the consumer will actually be driving in the not too distant future. In previous features, we have shown BMW testing in the frozen Arctic Circle, Land Rover trialling in super-heated deserts and lightly disguised Jaguars carrying out on-road fuel economy tests in the UK. All of these far from glamorous exercises combine to determine a product’s often multi-role viability in worldwide climatic conditions. Extreme temperatures play havoc with both man-made and natural materials used in vehicle production and the only way to improve durability, reliability, reduce running costs but increase longevity is to test to breaking point and then start all over again.
For a company like Honda, one of the few remaining ‘unattached’ global carmakers, which could be said to have lost its mojo following the passing of its founder, Mr (Soichiro) Honda, late last Century, product proving is a major tool in its kitbag. Being even more specific, the Civic Type R may not be a halo but is definitely a hero product within its range, its race circuit bred form being vital to its DNA and an expectation of successive generations of buyers. Although I am not a fan of boastful circuit lap times, not least at the easily reached (from the UK) Nurburgring Circuit in Germany, carried out usually by well-rewarded professional drivers but, thanks to public access, replicated by the less skilled to leave a litany of squandered automotive dreams and wrecked insurance policies in roadside Eifel garages, I do understand a perceived need for standards’ achievements, often across the several territorie, where the products are represented. Suzuka has a home stomping ground and historical relevance to Honda.
Naturally, Honda is well represented in the motor racing scene, not least by Team Dynamics in the UK, led by several times BTCC champion, Matt Neal, and a mix of close-knit family and friend team-mates. The fortunes of Type R are held aloft with each outing made by the team, further enhancing the commercial value of the sub-brand in a hyper competitive and fervently successful arena, the well-televised British Touring Car Championship. While I have not been a consistent fan of Type R, believing that several previous models have been better than others, the current and soon to be introduced replacement could be destined for greatness. My single biggest gripe has lain with poor packaging of the some models, a factor restricted by my personal two metres height, although I do understand why each member of the series exists…just do not expect me to rattle off the internal model designations in the manner of some fans and I am thinking about Mr Stuart Pridham here, who could almost carry the soubriquet of Soichiro’s British son.
Even though the new Type R is dimensionally larger all-round and even a unidexter like me is going to be able to secure a comfortable driving position, its on-track performance might be described fairly as giant-killing, having lopped a barely perceptible 0.873s from the record breaking lap of its stripped back predecessor, to a fresh benchmark of 2m 23.12s for the 5.8km circuit. Honda sets the benchmark for itself. While it does not seem like much, it is worth remembering that the Type R is a front-wheel drive machine, traditionally not an ideal mode for consistently quick lappery…four-wheel drive would be wasteful but rear-drive would optimise the situation. In fact, the Type R is one of the best handling front-drivers on sale today.
Honda also has a habit (a good one) of taking what might be a representative mid-run model from its new stock by which to achieve various records. I can recall, as a member of the World Record Team for the (then) new Honda Accord Diesel, joining my erstwhile colleagues at Papenburg Test Facility on the German-Dutch border, before setting a remarkable 92.6mpg on a road trek south to Frankfurt, carried out at autobahn speeds. The two cars selected for the 19 World Speed Records attained at Papenburg were completely bog standard, with their fuel tanks being sealed (after topping up) for the economy drive. It was an astonishing achievement that has never been beaten officially so far.
The hastily snapped pictures of the new Civic Type R, in its camouflage livery, are lacking detail intentionally, because Honda, despite releasing the images, does not really want its competitors to obtain any more information about the new model until it is launched this summer. Yet, insiders inform us that the car’s longer wheelbase pays dividends in the handling and stability stakes, while a wider track reduces on-the-limit nervousness, which was not a fault of the outgoing model, even though the previous generation delivered such edginess, which was ‘sold’ as its race-bred character. We are also told that the ride quality of the new car is significantly less jarring, possibly as a result of longer travel springs and dampers but not to the detriment of the model’s renowned high-speed grip and dynamic balance. Honda has taken the curate’s egg (good in parts) and refined the combination to a reportedly higher plane. In typical form, Honda will probably offer a sharply focused variant for the hardened enthusiast, with a more grand touring (GT) emphasis on the alternative. However, you can be certain that pricing will be aimed at the less impecunious, probably starting in the region of £36,000, all without a whiff of battery pack.
Conclusion: Honda knows how to charge for its more specialist models, into which classification the Civic Type R is a core member. The more purposeful alternative might carry a price tag of just over £40,000 but decent residual values should ensure that lease rates are competitive, even though list prices are not. One aspect is guaranteed, the models will sell out quickly.