A curious new title has become more and more coveted in recent years by mainstream automakers: that of the fastest front-wheel drive car to lap the Nurburgring Nordschleife. For now at least, the right to brag belongs to Honda and their 2018 Civic Type R.
The last front-drive car to claim that throne was the Volkswagen GTI Clubsport S (known locally as the GTI 40 Years), who knocked off the previous-generation Civic Type R (FK2) and relegating it to being second in line. As the Japanese marque plotted a new version of the car based on the 10th-generation Civic, reclaiming their lost crown was (seemingly) at the forefront of their priorities.
The white pre-production Civic Type R (FK8), which Honda maintains is an accurate representation of what future owners will be receiving, was not modified in any way besides the installation of a roll cage for safety reasons, clocked a time of 7 minutes and 43.8 seconds to lap the 22km circuit, a 5.4 second improvement over the lightweight special edition Golf.
A 2.0-litre turbocharged engine sits at the heart of the new Type R, near identical to the one that powered its predecessor, but power now sitting at 238kW and 400Nm. Similarly, it’s mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, but Honda says it has revised its gear ratios to improve acceleration.
Aerodynamics is another reason being pointed to a factor to its ascension to the new king of hot hatches, producing a marked improvement in both high speed stability and cornering downforce produced by the aero package, with negligible sacrifices in drag. Elsewhere, the multi-link suspension and a new lighter platform with 38 percent more torsional rigidity also helps.
Over the FK2 Type R, the inherently wider track and long wheelbase of the new car improved cornering speed significantly, a advantage that would compound more times than most when applied to the Nurburgring.
“The cornering speed achieved in the new Type R is higher because the car features a wider track and tyres, a longer wheelbase, new multi-link suspension in the rear and optimised aerodynamics that improves stability, ” said Ryuichi Kijima, lead chassis engineer for the Civic Type R. “For example, drivers typically enter the corner after Metzgesfeld at around 150 km/h. Even at this medium-speed corner, the speed is around 10 km/h higher due to the new Type R’s excellent stability. So, with improved cornering performance, we can increase the speed throughout the lap, helping the new Type R to achieve a much quicker lap time.”
While the hot lap wars fought between hypercars such as the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder did not really merit a drawn out explanation, even if they were beaten recently by the Lamborghini Huracan Performante, the ‘hot hatch’ King of the Ring crown is a little harder to fathom. Having said that, it’s fair to say that this present day tussle has roots in the Renault Megane RS and its more race car-like alternative approach to the hot hatch conversation.
While cars like the Performante were developed and honed to be the ultimate track weapon, the list compromises would exclude it from all but necessary driving on normal roads. The central appeal of hot hatches (and they happen to be predominantly front-driven) are that they are multi-talented, a capable and everyday-drivable car that also happens to be quite powerful and fun to drive at rapid speed.
Volkswagen made special point of positioning the Clubsport S as a lightweight, more unforgiving version of the Mk7 Golf GTI. Honda, however, is taking a different route, offering this level of track performance to all owners of their upcoming Civic Type R. We just hope it’s not at the expense of on-road usability.
Honda will begin production in mid-2017 at their UK Manufacturing centre in Swindon, England and apart from being planned for export sales in Europe, Asia, and yes, Australia, will be the first time the Type R will be offered officially in North America. With the addition of this title, though, they shouldn’t have any trouble with demand.