Sean O'Grady: This car is a Chihuahua
This week, I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about and try the Honda Civic Type-R. Among what we might call the "petrolhead community", the Type-R has a very special status as a "hot" hatch. In the past, Type-R versions of Civics and Accords have done their revviest best to dissipate Honda's "trusty wheels for pensioners" image. So, I thought, would this one.
Being a fan of Honda cars (but only since I actually started driving them, and getting on in years myself), I fully expected to fall in love with this machine. I was looking forward to it. But I was a little disappointed.
The Honda Civic Type-R doesn't quite live up to expectations, if only because expectations are usually pitched so high for the Type-R sub-brand. There's just something ever so slightly lacking in this Civic, and I'm not sure I'm a sufficiently competent chassis engineer to tell what it is (in fact, I'm not a chassis engineer at all, in case you were somehow under that illusion).
I note that it has dropped the independent rear suspension it deployed on the old-model Civic, in favour of a torsion-beam set-up, usually regarded as inferior (and cheaper). I also see that the new car is heavier than the old one, so that doesn't help, given that the engine they've carried over for the Type-R is more or less the same, albeit impressive, two-litre petrol unit that happily thrashes to 8,000rpm.
It's just that it doesn't seem to shift with the same urgency as, say, a Golf GTI or a Mazda 3MPS (a very underestimated car, that one), or any of those brightly painted Renaultsport something Cup something models you occasionally see.
On paper, the Civic is a near-150mph pocket supercar that sprints to 60mph from standstill in 6.6 seconds (faster than the Golf GTI), but on the road it feels more lethargic. Maybe it's because I'm more used to torquier engines that need less revving, and Honda is still holding out against turbocharging, but I didn't get the best out of this Civic.
I ought also to mention, in passing, its solid build, superb detailing and gorgeously adventurous dashboard design as major pluses; but, for a change, I'm not sure I can recommend this Honda over, say, the equivalent Renault. That's a letdown.
However, I'm still happy to highlight the baby Daihatsu Copen to anyone who'll listen. A few weeks ago, I was subject to my first episode of Copen comradeship when a girl in a red one waved at me as we passed on the A6 in Leicestershire. I don't know the girl, but I imagined her little car living a pampered life as a pet, a sort of automotive Chihuahua somewhere in the lovely heart of England.
That's where I should be. Life in London is no fun for car or owner, let me tell you. I have a strong belief that all those speed humps and potholes in the capital lead to premature wear and tear, of car and driver. This is why SUVs are so popular in London. Whenever I've had one, I've tried to see (social-scientific research in action, this) how fast I could go over a speed hump without being bounced off the ceiling. Amazingly fast, usually. Not what the anti-car lobby had in mind, I think.