First drive: 2018 Honda Civic Type-R, Civic DCT & Clarity in Japan

First drive: 2018 Honda Civic Type-R, Civic DCT & Clarity in Japan

When we attended the Honda Meeting 2017 press conference in Japan, at the carmaker’s Tochigi R&D centre, we got an unexpected taste of some of the company’s latest products. The cars on hand to drive were the much-hyped Honda Civic Type-R, the new Honda Clarity range of hybrid/electric vehicles, and a Honda Civic Dynamic Study prototype. While our time with each of them was limited to a few minutes, if you ever get your hands on these on the same day, you’d have a completely different view of Honda as a carmaker than you would when walking into a local Honda showroom.

Honda Civic Type-R

We only got two laps on a small test track with this one. And it was absolutely phenomenal. Being a right-hand-drive car, and our motley Middle East media gang not having any experience with those, we weren’t very good at shifting gears. But it was still phenomenal. Unlike old non-turbo Hondas of old, this 315 hp 2.0-litre turbo one actually is fast with tons of torque (400 Nm). It revs high, but it runs out of revs quickly as we managed to reach third gear in that tight twisty track. It’s not even as loud as expected, as each of those three exhaust tips has a proper silencer. There is no fakery going on here at all.

On the corners, it just turns. If you feel it’ll understeer, just hit the brakes and let it rotate around the sharp curves. It’s easy to explore the limits because it inspires so much confidence, to the point where we managed to squeal the tyres on it by the second lap. And the best part is, thanks to the adaptive suspension, it is surprisingly comfortable. If you can get used to the moderately-weighted shifter and clutch pedal, this could easily be a daily driver.

Honda Civic DCT Dynamic Study

This mysterious matte-black Civic is not that locally-modified 2.0-litre n/a one being sold by the local dealer as a special edition. Not even close. This Civic we drove is a “Dynamic Study” prototype. It essentially means they are using this specific car to play with handling and mechanicals. This test mule comes with a 177 hp 1.5-litre turbo engine with 240 Nm of torque, mated to an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT) that also has a torque converter like a regular auto gearbox.

And boy is this car good. It’s what the CVT-equipped Civic RS should’ve been in the first place. The car is docile in “normal” mode, while becoming a raucous old-school Civic in “sport” that holds gears at higher revs, except that there is also a good chunk of torque at lower revs. And that dual-clutch gearbox is the best we’ve ever seen, offering quick shifts on the move but also behaving like an old-school automatic when taking off from idle, instead of the jerkiness found in VW’s DSG tranny. It’s the best of both worlds.

Aside from the powertrain, this prototype also features a revised chassis that includes a more rigid rear subframe and floor that improves stiffness and torsional rigidity, with a revised front and rear suspension setup, a more aerodynamic body (possibly under the chassis, as we don’t see any changes to the body), as well as revisions to the electric power steering and brake response.

It definitely drives very well, as we pushed it around the little test track. Sure, there is body roll, but it was easy to keep understeer under control, and grip was pretty good. It is unclear at this point if this fancy new Civic will be offered for sale, but even if it does, it might be limited to some markets.

Honda Clarity

The original Honda Clarity was a limited-release hydrogen fuel-cell experimental car, but with its redesign comes two new additions to the line-up in the form of an all-electric model and a plug-in hybrid model. We very briefly drove all three of them back-to-back, so we don’t have a whole lot of feedback on these. You can find the specs here.

All three Clarity models look very similar, except that the electric-only model has clear tail lights and no grille. Inside, the cabin design looks like an advanced version of the Civic’s one, while the cabin space is a bit less than that of an Accord, while the boot has a liftback tailgate. The fuel-cell model has a shallower boot due to the thick-walled fuel tank underneath.

All three cars offer very similar performance, about as quick as a 2.4-litre Accord. There are no gear-shifts and the handling is decent, so it feels a lot like driving a CVT Accord, except that the electric and the fuel-cell ones have no engine noise. While these two like to hum, the hybrid one has a little engine from the Honda Jazz that kicks in under hard acceleration.

We also watched a demo of Honda’s record-setting one-off all-electric Acura NSX Pikes Peak racer that’s so fast, it sounds like an aircraft taking off, with a complete lack of engine noise. It’s a sign of what Honda is capable of on the electric front, and the public will have to be content with the production NSX hybrid for now.

[Mash] Saw this all-electric Acura NSX Pikes Peak racer demo in Japan. Listen to the take-off!

Posted by on Sunday, June 18, 2017

If enthusiasts were ever jaded about the carmaker moving away from its roots as an engineering-driven company, this taster of Honda’s latest products would definitely bring them all back into the fold again. The only question is how many of these cars will come to the GCC, or even just the UAE.

Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury & Honda.

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