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Honda Civic Type R sets lap record around the Nurburging… and I don’t much care

The all-new Honda Civic Type R has become the fastest front-wheel drive car around the Nürburgring Nordschleife, and I almost wish it wasn’t.

TWO MONTHS FROM now I will get to drive Honda’s new Civic Type-R. A front-wheel-drive hatchback with a 236kW turbo engine and all sorts of clever chassis parts, and crazy manga aero, and a manual gearbox. I am very, very excited.

The whole internet seems to be equally frothed up – whenever this car is mentioned on the enthusiast sites, the clicks and comments go into near-meltdown.

We’ve just learned it has been around the Nürburgring Nordschleife in seven minutes 43.8 seconds. This is a new record for front-wheel-drive production cars around the historic, bewilderingly bendy and difficult German race track. I was emailed a press release by Honda to crow about it.

They might as well have sent me a string of grinning-turd emojis.

The whole business of Nurburgring lap records is really very pointless, other than as a diversion for internet commenters who have too much time on their hands. Actually, for the cars themselves, chasing a fast ’Ring time to the exclusion of all else isn’t just just pointless but actually rather damaging.

Oh and by the way, Honda, will surely get egg on their faces.

A few years ago Renault made a succession of Meganes that were ultra-handy round the ’Ring. They traded records with a couple of versions of a Seat Leon. One of which was the first FWD production car to go around in under eight minutes. (Seat is a brand made in Spain by the VW Group that can’t be bothered to make the crossing to Oz, and a Leon is a cheaper sort of Golf, or if you will a more expensive Octavia.)

Then came the last-gen Civic Type R. And then the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S and won it off Honda.

There might have been some others in between. Sorry, I really can’t be bothered to look them all up.

What happens if you’re a car maker and you say your car is a record-breaker, and make it the main selling point? When a rival comes along and beats you, you’re left as first of the losers. Your USP has evaporated.

But that’s not the half of the idiocy of this record-chasing business.

First let’s touch on the droll irony that gives us a ‘front-wheel-drive record’ in the first place. It’s a straight-up admission that for track work rear-drive or all-drive would be better.

Then there’s the kind of measures the manufacturers sometimes take to win the record.  That Golf GTI, for instance, as well as some of the Renaults that have won the blue riband temporarily, doesn’t have a back seat. It’s a hot hatch. But, duh, a two-seater. Well if you’re going to buy an expensive two-seater (and this Golf was both those things) that’s fast around the Nurburgring, you’d almost certainly buy a Lotus Exige or Porsche 718 Cayman and have yourself some proper fun.

But if manufacturers want to make stupid cars, and internet forums want to argue stupidly over them, I don’t really care.

What really pulls my chain is that it’s almost certain this record-chasing will have made a worse car out of the Civic Type R than it would otherwise have been. It will have slightly too firm damping. It will have slightly too little noise insulation. Tyres that don’t work as well as they might on wet roads. Its engine will have been tuned for manic top-end at the expense of lag reduction in the mid-ranges. The lower gears will be too long.

It will wear be aero aids shaped to give downforce in 150km/h corners, which make you look, when you drive past a cop on the highway, like you’ve unzipped your trousers to wave your organ.

Doesn’t anyone realise that the most face-bending possible apex speed isn’t the thing that makes a great road car? Not if it come at the expense of vivid sensation and a sense of fun.

Honda engineers are capable of making a truly brilliant hot hatch. They will get tantalisingly close with the new Type R, I’m sure. But then, by chasing a stupid record that they’ll hold for a few scant weeks, they’ll slightly spoil the Type R for ever.

At least one of the Renaults that held the record would only attain its lap time if it had an optional ‘Nurburgring Package’ fitted. There’s a thought. If Honda were to offer an optional ‘Not-Nurburgring Package’ for the Type R, it’d be worth real money to me.


Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.