Honda Civic Type-R

The Honda Civic Type-R is one of the finest analogue driving experiences you can get. With the numbers of decent cars thinning out, now’s the time to buy.

Words Nathan Chadwick Photography Laurens Parsons

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f you’re struggling to understand why the Honda Civic Type-R is now an investment opportunity, we understand. After all, many thousands left its Swindon birthplace, and it seems like only yesterday that the streets were filled with the unmistakeable whine of EP3s charging around. More recent still is the memory of poorly modified examples. We know what you’re thinking – surely there are too many of them around?

But we need only look at the precedent set by the Peugeot 205 GTI. Top-quality Pugs worth waving your well-earned at are now £10,000, with truly exceptional examples trading for much more. The Honda is now at the same stage the Pug was at just 10 years ago. The difference between the very best, low-mileage cars and the ones you wouldn’t touch with someone else’s are getting further apart. Values are already strong for the best examples and, like the 205 and the 206, the replacement wasn’t quite as good.

This means the Civic Type-R has a bright future. The very best cars are worth seeking out and tucking away now. Still unconvinced? Let us show you why it’s such a good buy in the perfect place to demonstrate its skills – Wales.

Forget your preconceptions. Forget those tedious internet memes about VTEC kicking in (yo). Forget the badly modified Civic Type-Rs angrily trundling around Maccy D’s on a Friday night, their tailpipes so huge even Rocco Siffredi would feel inadequate. All that matters about Honda’s EP3 is what happens at 6000rpm.

This is when the Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system makes its presence known. At higher rpm oil flow forces a slider pin through the camshaft rockers, which in turn locks the 'VTEC' profile and the low-rpm rockers together into one large rocker. The cam lobe that's now acting on the valves has a different profile designed to maximise high-rpm power output – and evoke Cheshire cat-like grins from those behind the wheel. Where other hot hatches would give up at 6000rpm, the Civic is thirsty for more – around 2000rpm more.
Get into this heady 6000-8000rpm zone and you’ll be relishing the pure, analogue zest. It’s the kind of palm-sweating, synapse-sizzling excitement that only comes when an engine’s screaming, the cabin’s resonating and the outside world is just a series of indistinguishable browns and greys. Head into a corner, thrust the ideally-placed gear lever down the close-ratio gearbox and let the revs sing as the Civic scythes through the apex. Boot the throttle, feel the extra shove come in past 6k, then bang up through the gears as the rev needle slams around the dial faster than you can blink.

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But let’s calm down a bit and take stock – you have to appreciate what a change of pace the EP3 Type-R was for Honda. Of course, it wasn't the first Civic to wear the hallowed badge, but the EK9 Type-R was never officially brought to the UK. The EP3 Type-R was designed and built in Swindon – and you can sense the British B-road-honed quality throughout. 

A colleague describes the EP3 'R' as about as close as you’ll come to riding a motorbike on four wheels. He’s not wrong, though in the bleak midwinter in southern Wales, we’d much rather be in the Civic. The interior is enormous; there’s lots of space in the footwell and plenty of headroom. The centrally-mounted, rising gearlever frees up knee space and there’s even room in the back. The bright red Recaros are beautifully supportive, though some of the interior trim is overly plasticky and even on this sub 45,000-mile car shows signs of wear.

But this isn’t a car for smugly analysing the density of the interior plastics. Nor is it a car whose looks provoke eulogies, though it’s not ugly. The Type-R may not be beautiful, but it is purposeful and neat – quite an achievement, given the normal Civic was a blobby sub-SUV by this time. 

The engineers got around the problem by lowering the ride height by 15mm. The result is a car that’s sweetly poised, and one that seems subtle these days compared to the brand-new Civic Type-R. 

But the best fettling can be found under the skin. The Type-R uses variable timing control (VTC), which hydraulically adjusts the degree of overlap of all 16 valves, constantly adjusting them based on engine load. This adds up to a flatter torque curve than previous Type-R lumps. Though peak revs come in at a vertigo-inducing 7600rpm, 90 per cent of its 145lb-ft of torque comes in at 3000rpm – so once past that threshold you’d better hold on.

The gearshift itself is perfectly located, allowing you to pull off touring car-style ratio changes like a pro, although there is a caveat. Going across the gate requires an aggressive shove – as does dropping from sixth to fifth. Forgetting this on the motorway and falling victim to the 'box’s eagerness to centre, means you may find yourself in third, and probably deaf. This isn’t a car that responds well to the gentle touch. That’s part of the appeal, though. Pulling away requires a Noise Abatement Order-baiting dollop of revs and cruising at 30mph means 4000rpm in fourth. It appeals fully to your inner 21-year old. 

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Time to drive this bespoke 1980s monster. The sun is streaming through the glass, and we're looking between the plush stitched leather and the tiny Perspex sliding window. It's easy to believe that this car might have some identity issues. And with ‘the glow’, we're feeling the need for painkillers and sunglasses. And we're not even hungover. But otherwise, we're ready. Bring it on.

‘On’ is the usual ignition key, and start-up is a snuffling whinney, a snort. That's then a whumf, which settles into a menacing growl of a slightly more nervous pace than the standard idle. It's an angry-sounding car, this.

Knowing how much power has been pushed from the big horizontally-opposed 12-cylinder sitting quite high behind your right shoulder, it’s quite a surprise to feel the usual benign clutch of a Testarossa. And, like its standard cousins, the monster trots off slowly on little more than tick-over, grumbling to itself as it goes. Apart from the row, it could be a Mercedes-Benz trickling forward such is its docility. Lamborghini would have done well to take note.

As soon as you think that though, you reach down to click through the open gate, going from first – close in by your thigh – to second, forward and to the right. It’s a little stiff of course, at least until the oil warms up. Idling towards a main road, there’s time again to take a deep breath and prepare for what's about to happen.

Once again, it's time to take stock of the super-wide bodywork, but from the perspective of the driver’s seat.The Testarossa’s standard mirrors – generally quite good ones by supercar standards – have been replaced by angular and elfish little ears. There doesn't appear to be any way of adjusting them. The far side one gazes into space, while the driver’s one stares down the assorted ducts of the rear pod. So we’re going to have to rely on the centre mirror, which does its best to peer out of the engine cover openings and under the F40-style rear wing.

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On the other hand, it shows a maturity in its handling that’s far beyond its greatest inspiration, the Peugeot 205 GTI. Whereas on period tyres the French offering would ping you into the nearest bit of scenery at the merest suggestion of the revs dropping, the Civic Type-R is much more benign.

True, there’s a sense of numbness through the steering wheel, but that’s just the car telling you to try harder. Start gnawing at the edges of the chassis’ extremities and the steering livens up. And it’s not murderously twitchy like a MkI Focus RS, either. Push the Civic into a corner and it’s as flat as a Fenland relief map, understeer only coming in when you’re being an absolute muppet. Lightly back off and the nose will simply tuck in. 

Torque steer only becomes a problem in the wet, under serious provocation. Turn-in is fantastically judged, and the Civic is so easy to place you can nail every apex. The 300mm ventilated anchors up front give you all the faith you need too.

Honda fitted two extra struts at the bottom of the front bulkhead; another nestles between the rear wheelarches. The dampers and springs are firmer than the standard Civic, and there are stiffer roll bars fore and aft. So the ride is firm – but it’s not flummoxed by B-road undulations, which gives you plenty of confidence to push harder. The more vicious you become, the more the car comes alive. It positively thrives on it, almost seeming disappointed if you change up before 6000rpm.

It’s about as close as a hot hatch gets to a full on racer, certainly this side of the much more specialist (and expensive) Renault Megane R26R. Get the engine singing past 6000rpm and all your senses tingle in time to the engine, your heart beats faster to the howling torrent flowing through the bulkhead and you’ll want to keep on driving until forced to stop. 

The Civic Type-R is very focused, to the point of sacrificing luxury and refinement, but its analogue highs will have you salivating at the thought of your drive home. It’s not for everyone, but once it’s got its hooks in, you’re under its spell.

Now, can we have another go, please?

The Modern Classics View

If ever a driving experience elicited pure joy at the expense of common decorum, this is it. It’s noisy, it’s in your face, it’s not for those who like to relax. But if you find it is your thing, very little else comes close for the money.

That’s at the very heart of why this car has such a big future. We’re now entering the age where owners are moving away from outrageous mods and cherishing low-mileage examples. Facelift UK cars with sub-60k miles are now around £6k-7k. Decent cars start at around £4500-5000, and below that it becomes a bit of a lottery. While the Civic Type-R is a hardy creature, diligent oil changes with the right stuff are key – no car is infallible, and more than a few will be hiding crash damage.

In five years the best low-mileage examples will top £10,000, which will drag up values lower down the chain. But it would be a shame to see Type-Rs become static garage queens – they were built to be driven, hard. Anything else would be missing the point.

That might seem a bit of a paradox – hard driving with one eye on future values – but the EP3 is the exception that proves you really can have your cake and eat it. Great to buy, drive and own. What are you waiting for? 

Lewis PlumbHonda, Civic, Type-R, Japan, 2000