Depending on your age and whether you like pocket rocket cars, you will surely remember the early VW Golf GTi, Ford XR2 Turbo, Vauxhall Astra GTE, Renault 5 Turbo, Peugeot 205GTi or even the lunatic Daihatsu Charade GTti.
They all followed a similar formula: fairly dull, sensible hatchback exterior apart from the odd spoiler (white paintwork and white alloys excluded), and an attempt at sporty seats. Apart from that, you needed to be a car nut to figure out that the slightly fatter tyres, slightly lowered suspension and possibly slightly more throaty exhaust note, were signs that lurking under the bonnet was an engine which could provide some serious fun.
The Charade GTti appeared in the UK in the late 1980s, and the sort of performance and power that little car achieved from a three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine is very similar to what we have now, thirty years later. It was way ahead of its time. Daihatsu pulled out of Europe in 2012; they couldn’t make a profit on small, cheap cars owing to the strong Yen.
Many hot hatches were unreliable. The engine in a Renault 5 Turbo became so hot that, if you stalled at a junction, it refused to start again for the simple reason that the petrol was evaporating before it got to the cylinders.
In 1997, an upstart appeared from Japan. The Honda Civic Type R. It took the hot-hatch market by storm. There was now the option to buy a hot hatch, but one with burst-proof reliability for which Honda had become renowned. It was an instant hit.
Fast forward to 2017 and the latest Honda Civic Type R is here.
Like most cars, it’s grown in size and now has five doors. It will still perform the sort of duties that any humdrum hatchback has to perform – go to the shops, drop off the kids, take the rubbish to the tip – but it also offers you the opportunity to go totally bonkers on the way home.
£30,995 buys you into the new Type R. It’s money well spent. You get 316bhp from a front-wheel drive 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine which plonks its power onto the road via a 6-speed manual gearbox. Zero-60mph takes 5.7 seconds; top speed is 169mph. If you think that front-wheel drive can’t possibly handle all of the power, think again. The Type R has just claimed the Nurburgring lap record for a front-wheel drive car.
It’ll also manage a shade over 36mpg, but I suspect that if you’re interested in the Type R you won’t be too bothered about fuel consumption figures.
Oh, and it’s built in Britain.
As you can tell from the photos, the new Type R doesn’t exactly try to blend in. Massive spoilers, deep bumper, roof vortex generator and fat 20-inch alloys certainly let everyone know about the car’s potential. You won’t waken the neighbours with the twin exhausts. If there’s one disappointment about the Type R is that it doesn’t growl. Granted, for some folk, that will be a plus. Don’t be fooled by the third, middle pipe. That is a natty piece of engineering which helps reduce exhaust noise at steady motorway speeds.
The real joy of the Honda Civic Type R, is the way it drives. You get adaptive suspension which means you can have either a comfort mode or steadily increasing sportiness. Wind-up the sporty characteristics and the suspension stiffens, the steering gains weight and the response from the throttle is pin sharp. In other words, it gives you the option to either dawdle around town without loosening your fillings, or you can transform your ‘sensible’ five-door hatchback into a serious flying machine.
The interior is extremely smart and, in terms of quality, is top notch. The sports seats offer plenty of support but they’re also comfy. The rear seats are also quite deeply cushioned which means you can only get two adults in the back. There’s loads of kit as standard – air con, sat nav, reversing camera, adaptive cruise control, DAB radio and a host of safety gubbins.
There may be faster and quicker hot hatches (Audi RS3 does 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds, top speed 174mph, but £13K pricier) out there, but if you want a car which is a brilliant, all-round, decent value, hot hatch, plump for the Honda Civic Type R. It should be extremely reliable and it’ll hold onto its value like a limpet. It’s comfy for long family holiday trips, but it’ll be a hooligan when given the opportunity.
Is it the best overall hot hatch on the road, though?