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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.


  • Guest

    If you build a car not to do something, then what are you selling it on? A name? Reputation? A badge?

    Motoring journalist say things like well dampened, sharp steering etc and the majority of the population will have no idea what you’re on about. It’s only some car nerds that have half an idea and even then, the subtleties is slight and makes no difference to the everyday commute.

    TBH, the DC Integra Type R was unfairly criticised for the harshness but the car is built for speed, handling on smooth roads, the rawness and aural experience. Type R has always been that and isn’t a luxury barge others try to be nor does it pretend to be but there is an expectation that people forking out this money wants some creature comforts like power windows. I call them softies.

    • Paul Horrell

      Thanks for the comment. I’m not just talking about name or reputation or badge. I’m saying that a great hot-hatch needs brilliant power and steering and damping (as you point out). And it needs to be built for speed. But not smooth-road or racetrack speed at the expense of all else, because real roads are bumpy. So a car that is optimised for bumpy roads will be faster and more fun than a car built for racetracks. Even sound deadening can make a car more fun, because it takes away some of the tyre noise and lets you hear the wonderful Honda engine noise. C’mon you can’t really accuse me of being a softie when I recommended an Exige over a Golf?

  • PretBurg

    Have you read the disclaimer at the end of the Honda press release, that record setting car was not really what you drive off the showroom floor. As you say, it is ALL in that record time, at the cost of everything else. That’s why I audibly and visibly cringe when I see the new BMW X5 and X7 being ‘thrown’ round the ‘ring..

  • Monty

    Car companies think that they need a “hero” car. It is intended to make you think that they are brilliant designers and manufacturers. It’s a bit like Macca’s having a 5 star restaurant attached to the take away to prove that they can cook if they want to. Honda used to make interesting and technologically advanced cars. They went well, handled well and were pretty frugal. Somehow they lost the plot and started producing cars that were dull and boring. Since nearly every manufacturer has a broad range of D & B, they lost their reason to exist. Honda could not compete with the likes of Toyota. Honda is trying to get back their reputation for high tech and high performance. I hope they do find the balance. They were brilliant in their heyday. The earlier versions of the CR-V are a good example. They had what is missing now – grunt!

    • Andrew Riles

      I’ve been wondering this about a few Japanese manufacturers of late, specifically Nissan, Toyota and Mitsubishi…..in the 90s there was a plethora of models worth getting excited about, now it feels like you can count them on one hand….

      • Monty

        I had some dealings with car companies over the years. While they employ some of the finest designers and engineers you could hope to find, fundamentally they are controlled by accountants. It is understandable. Most of the brilliant engineers and design people would send the company broke in short order. But the accountants have way too much control and we’ve seen the result in half baked vehicles, amazing concepts that never got produced, utterly safe and conservative cars and a resistance to change that makes a glacier look like a Golf GTI. Throw in marketers who know all about spin and not much about cars and you have the modern car company. You get pretty good cars. Yet the new Mustang is sold with below minimum safety features because the marketers reckoned (correctly) that it would sell anyway. Few cars have any character. Designers come up with cars that you cannot see out of so you have to add cameras and sensor that just were not necessary not so long ago. Don’t get me started about vehicle colours. ANCAP should include visibility in their test regime. It is better to avoid the incident in the first place, or so I believe. panel beaters may disagree.

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.