Affordable driver’s cars head-to-head and rear-wheel vs front-wheel drive is just the start of the contrasts here
It’s pretty clear whose engineers had to work the harder here. The BMW has a straight-six engine sending a lot of power to the rear wheels. It may have a more humdrum provenance, but this balanced car clearly makes an excellent basis for a sportier model. Then there’s the Honda.
A front-wheel drive hatch with only space for a four-pot under the bonnet and a lot of weight over the front rather than balanced throughout. So could the Honda engineers have done so much work against the tide that it’s actually a better performance car than the BMW? It seems unlikely as it looks from the outside that all the work went into making the Civic Type R look as lairy as possible. But we know looks can be deceiving.
Honda Civic Type R
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Torque: 295lb ft
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1380kg
0-62mph: 5.7sec (claimed)
Top speed: 169mph
CO2/tax band: 176g/km, 34%
On the road and then early on the track the M140i feels delightful. With 335bhp from its turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six, this is a properly powerful car, even if the eight-speed auto does hesitate a touch between shifts. The driver sits low, with the wheel thrusting far from the dashboard, and you’re in the right place physically and mentally to start pushing those limits harder.
At that point you start to note that the BMW offers a very comfy and quite long-limbed handling response. Which means when you push harder it feels like you’re on stilts, with the body lacking tight control, leaning too much in the turns and generally not feeling totally secure. With a ride that never settles when pushed, the harder you go the less rewarding it becomes.
The steering just doesn’t give you enough information to confidently really slot it into the turn exactly where you want, and then you have to deal with the limited-slip diff, which might lead to oversteer, understeer, a four-wheel drift or just spin up an inside wheel. You guess. Again, the harder you push, the less confidence-inspiring it becomes. This is the wrong way round. So how does the Honda respond?
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Torque: 369lb ft
Gearbox: Eight-speed auto
Kerb weight: 1505kg
0-62mph: 4.6sec (claimed)
Top speed: 155mph
CO2/tax band: 163g/km, 29%
From the get-go it feels planted, secure, with an absence of less than amusing little ways about it. In Comfort mode you have a very enjoyable road car, one that deals remarkably well with the foibles of our road system, but you won’t want to engage Sport or +R until you’re on the track.
Once there, the size, which can seem a touch daunting on tiny country roads, seems to diminish and you can really pour on the power. It has less – 316bhp against 335bhp – but it puts it down much more convincingly, and that’s only through the front wheels. The diff works better than in the BMW, allowing you to stay tight and hang tough in the turns, making it a hugely, sensationally fast car round the track. The harder you go the deeper you discover the limits are, the exact opposite to the BMW.
The cabin may be a touch iffy, but at least you sit low in the cockpit and from there you can’t really see the exterior. It’s quite an extreme package from the outside and very much an acquired taste. We recommend not getting out.
But you won’t want to anyway, not once the rumble strips start to unwind under the wheels. This is the best Civic Type R that Honda has made, and somehow they’ve managed to make a car that’s even better on the track than the more naturally track-friendly BMW M140i. The latest Civic Type R is a huge hurrah for Honda’s engineers and, like many on the track, we’re the winners.