REVIEW DATE: 20 Jan 2010
Although the Type R is the Civic with the cult following, the Type S is a decent pick for those who don't need the intensity turned up to eleven at all times. Andy Enright reports
So elegant and cohesive is the styling of Honda's five-door Civic that you might think there to be a very real chance of the three-door variant having to live in its shadow. In silhouette, there's very little difference between the five-door and three-door shapes, so Honda has been forced to put in the overtime developing three-door models that will make potential customers sit up and take notice. The Type R sporting flagship has a ready market of committed petrolheads but if that car is a little too full-on for your tastes, fear not, for the more affordable Type S offers a decent quota of fun, packaged at a more manageable price.
Sharing the same platform as the five-door car, the Type S features retuned suspension for sharper cornering and a younger image. The styling is well judged, with a decent array of sporting cues without appearing too over the top. If you've seen the Type R, you'll appreciate that it's for genuine extroverts. Get at all self conscious in a car and this Type S may be more your thing. With side skirts that flare outwards to the wheel arches, the Civic's flanks now get a more voluptuous Coke-bottle look and the front and rear spoilers give the impression that the Type S is absolutely bonded to the tarmac. The lower body structure is finished in gun metal grey. The side windows of the three-door are probably the easiest way of identifying it, with an upwards kick to the rearmost pane giving a wedgier look than the five-door.
Powered by a 1.4-litre iVTEC petrol, a 1.8-litre iVTEC petrol or a torquey 2.2-litre diesel unit, the larger engines good for 139bhp, the Type S also comes with a slick, wristy six-speed manual gearbox that will have you punching up and down the ratios just for the sheer fun of it. Honda's automated manual i-SHIFT box is also offered on the petrol car but unless you plan to be bogged down in traffic for much of your time, it's hard to look beyond the manual transmission.
"The Type S may live in the shadow of the Type R but it certainly justifies its existence"
The suspension is what makes this car special and it's a long way removed from a common-or-garden variety five-door Civic. For a start, the steering has been sharpened to give a more direct feel. The spring and damper settings have been revised to offer a decent ride quality with the standard 17-inch alloys coupled with beefy roll resistance through corners. The rear track has been widened by 20mm to give the Type S an even more planted appearance, the car almost appearing to sit foursquare on the tarmac.
The detailing is very neat, with a repeating triangular theme appearing on the front fog lights, exhaust pipes and rear trim. Many manufacturers have tried to combine sharp angles with rounded curves and the results haven't always been very happy. The Civic shows how it should be done. The adventurous styling doesn't stop on the outside either. Where the old car introduced a lot of new ideas when it came to packaging, the eighth generation Civic again offers a novel approach. The dashboard is designed on two levels, the main instruments housed on the nearer one with a surrounding 'tier' that includes auxiliary functions like stereo, heating, ventilation and trip meter. This sophisticated, three-dimensional feel to the fascia is backed up with quality materials and interesting textures. The Type S is fitted as standard with silver-stitched black alcantara seats and a leather trimmed steering wheel. Peer into the footwell and you'll spot a natty aluminium pedal set too.
Two model grades are offered - standard and GT. As well as the big alloys and Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), the Type S is fitted with air conditioning, a cool box, remote audio controls and curtain airbags. Those who bought the old Type R will remember that air con was a costly option and many felt they had been a little hoodwinked by the car's attractive base price. No repeat this time round. The GT version of the Type S adds dual zone climate control, a panoramic glass roof, cruise control, front fog lights, retractable mirrors and automatic wipers and headlamps.
Now comes the bit that may well have you scratching your head. It did for me. Although the latest Civic is significantly smaller than its predecessor on the outside, the company claims that room inside is just as generous as before. Instead of trying to understand how Honda have warped the time-space continuum, it's easier to spot the simple engineering solutions they've employed. Like the Jazz, the Civic features a fuel tank that's centrally mounted along the cross member below the front seats. This means that the seats in the rear can fold flat and there's no intrusion into the cargo bay floor. Just because you opt for a three-door model doesn't bring any penalty in luggage carrying ability, the 485 litres of loading space identical to the more family-friendly five-door car. Honda's one motion dive down seating system creates a flat loading floor.
The Civic Type S looks to be a well judged package that will likely appeal to both younger buyers who can't afford the insurance on the Type R and older customers who are turned off by its extreme image. Although it may live in the shadow of its more extreme sibling, it more than establishes a niche for itself.
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