Thanks to a high-output turbocharger, direct injection, a high-performance cooling system and, of course, variable valve timing, Honda's new 2.0-liter four produces upwards of 280 horsepower while still complying with upcoming Euro 6 emissions standards. Although actual output has yet to be confirmed, that preliminary figure already compares favorably with the Ford Focus ST (252 hp) and Mazdaspeed3 (274 hp) and rests comfortably in between the Volkswagen GTI (217 hp) and Golf R (296 hp).
For demonstration and testing purposes, Honda shoehorned the smaller 1.5-liter turbo four and 1.0-liter turbo three-cylinder engines into an Acura ILX and another Civic hatchback, but the home it gave the 2.0 betrays more than an engine swap. What you see here is essentially the next Civic Type R, following a long line of Honda hot hatches. With this latest model, the Japanese automaker is targeting the front-drive lap record at the Nürburgring that belongs to the Renaultsport Megane Trophy and before that, to the lightweight Megane R26.R. A tall order, to be sure, so we headed to Honda's R&D center in Tochigi, Japan, to take it out for a ride.
- Walking around this Type R prototype, you can immediately tell this is no ordinary Civic – even with the concealing matte black treatment and taped-up elements. It's got prominent beefed-up wheel arches, a big rear wing and a rear diffusor from which quadruple exhaust tips protrude – something you don't see on any of the aforementioned rivals short of the Golf R. Lightweight alloys do little to hide the cross-drilled brake discs with bright-red Brembo calipers. Step inside and you'll find bucket seats deeply bolstered and clad in Alcantara, with a thick-rimmed steering wheel right in your chest.
- Pulling out of the paddock and onto the access lane to the banked track, the Type R responds instantly to a floored accelerator. Although Honda has made no mention so far, the absence of any discernible lag makes us wonder if it hasn't fitted a variable-geometry turbocharger or if the Tochigi engineers had managed to tune the turbo and VTEC to work in concert to eliminate the lag.
- Nor was there much torque steer evident as we sped down the narrow lane, prompting similar questions over whether Honda is using a differential – either mechanical or electronic – to keep the beast on the straight and narrow. These and other questions will, of course, be answered with time, which isn't something the Type R seems to take a lot of to reach a rather brisk pace.
- Racing onto the banked track, our car was limited to 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour), a speed to which it pulled with authority. The limiter cut in when there was still plenty of accelerator travel to go and a sixth gear we never had a chance to grab. We couldn't help but wonder what she'd do derestricted, but for this early drive, we were forbidden from using the most steeply banked lane at the top of the track anyway. Just the same, the car tracked smooth and solid through the sweeping turns, and whatever that lesser car was that pulled out onto the inside lane of the track as we passed the pit exit grew in our windshield and shrank in the rearview mirror like it was stationary.
- Honda has clearly left few greasy bits unchanged in the Type R from the standard five-door Civic hatch on which it's based. Everything about it feels tight: the weighted steering, the firm pedal feedback and the taut suspension that only stiffened at the touch of the red Type R button next to the steering wheel.
- Unfortunately, our two laps were up in tellingly short time, but we were left impressed by a solid hot hatch in the making that just might stand a chance of knocking Renault off its perch at the top of the Nordschleife leaderboards. We look forward to seeing it try, but more than that, we're hoping that Honda finally gifts North American consumers with this most forbidden bit of fruit.