Yes, this really is a test drive of a car that won’t go on sale for more than 12 months.
But that’s how important the Type-R is.
Previous generations of the Civic Type-R garnered the kind of devotion that money can’t buy, and for a while it appeared there would be no new Type-R. But now there is, and that’s why Honda allowed a brief taste of it just before the Tokyo Motor Show.
Even though it won’t appear in showrooms until 2015, this car is so important that we’re getting to drive a prototype version very close to the finished article.
You won’t mistake it for a regular Civic, that’s for sure. Admittedly this example is finished in military-look matte paint and has ‘VTEC TURBO’ emblazoned down the flanks in a pleasingly ’80s retro touch.
But it’s a fantastically aggressive-looking thing, with big scoops, unsubtle wheelarch extensions and a rear wing that would suit its BTCC cousin. It looks like a serious piece of hardware and, given that there are plenty of other options if you want a quieter life, it’s a good thing the Type-R looks the part.
It’s the same on the inside too. Although it can’t be taken as entirely representative of the finished product, the chunky bucket seats are exactly what you’d expect, while the familiar Civic dashboard has the addition of a centrally-mounted rev counter and a thicker steering wheel. Purposeful, comfortable and highly appealing.
There’s one other addition too. Where the Eco button normally sits high up on the dash there is, instead, the distinctive ‘R’. Punch this button and R mode is engaged, which alters both the throttle and steering response, the damper settings and also the reactions of the ESP system.
But before all that, you have to start it up. To some, the news that the Civic Type-R will use a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine rather than a naturally-aspirated one will be a surprise, but in truth it is inevitable. Efficient turbocharged engines are everywhere – even Formula 1 cars from next year, as Honda knows – so to provide Type-R levels of performance without abandoning respectable economy and emissions, turbo is the only way to go.
More importantly, Honda is introducing a trio of turbocharged engines for different cars in the range, but the Type-R gets the most powerful of the lot. The engineers are coy, but say the Type-R will have at least 280 horsepower.
It feels like that, too. Slot the Type-R’s manual-only gearshift into first, pull away with intent and the performance is right there from low revs. There’s a roar from the exhaust, the throttle response is nice and sharp and there’s power right around the rev range. Instead of the expected Type-R high-rev mania there is instead a broad spread of torque – and while that might not sound as exciting, the reality is it feels fast everywhere.
Despite all that power going through the front wheels, the traction is excellent and there’s no fight through the steering wheel. Although our time behind the wheel was limited, the steering felt delightfully sharp and responsive with a nice firm feeling to it – that little bit of extra weight compared to the standard car encourages confidence.
It looks very much like the king is back.