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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Shiny Toy!

So this evening we wended our way to Johnson's Honda in Oxford, to test drive The Darling G's potential new toy:

The new Honda Civic Type S GT.

The Darling G gave me the chance to drive it, as she'd taken it for a spin yesterday - the sense of 'rubber-stamping' a decision already made was strong as I settled into the drivers seat...

The first thing you notice about the Type S is - well, the way it looks. Have you seen it? It's gorgeous from every angle, especially in red, and it has a purposeful, squat look to it that gives you a feeling of anticipation before you even get into it. The angular looks, with those triangular twin exhausts matched by the triangular front fogs, add to the dynamic sensation, like it's crouched ready to pounce before you've even unlocked the doors.

As you open the wide doors, you see that the interior matches the exterior for styling and presence, with good-looking sports seats, drilled aluminium pedals, that amazing dash (more on that in a moment) and, of course, the Big Red Start Button.

I love that button. It makes starting the car into an occasion, makes any drive redolent of old Grands Prix and the announcement of "gentlemen, start your engines". Unfortunately, in this case it's let down a little by an old-fashioned, unfeasibly large ignition key - why have a key AND a starter button? Surely keyless entry wouldn't have cost too much more, and would have added to the avant-garde feel?

The interior feels well-made and solid, and there's plenty of storage. The Type S GT also has a full-length glass roof, and though I drove the car in a gathering dusk, I can imagine that it will be lovely when the sun's shining.

The equipment level is, as you would expect, pretty good. There's a CD/MP3 stereo with steering-wheel controls, cruise control (with steering-wheel controls) and dual-zone climate control with (and I loved this) controls for the passenger side actually on the passenger-side door!

Despite being a 3-door, there's plenty of room in the back. Our dealer is six feet tall and was comfortably ensconced in the back. There's also a pretty big boot.

But then you slide into the firm, supportive seats, twist the key and press the Big Red Start Button.

And you notice the dash. Oh, wow, do you notice the dash!

(Yes, I nicked the photo from Auto Express - the pic links to their review.)

I have to confess that I was worried about the dash. The Darling G has never had a Japanese car before, and the dashboard of the Civic is a riot of blue LEDs with the speedo placed high above a large rev counter. In all honesty, I was worried about whether the dash was actually usable or whether it would be an overly-bright gimmick.

But it works. It really, really works.

When you're driving - especially when you're 'making progress' - the most important thing you want is the speedo, and positioning the speedo higher in the Civic means that it falls naturally within your field of vision. It's a little like having a Head-Up Display.

The speedo is flanked by two sets of five LEDs - five green ones on the right that let you know how economically you're driving (in my case, not very) and five red ones on the left that let you know when to change up, as in a racing car. A nice touch.

The larger central display houses the rev counter, fuel, temps, range meter and other information such as whether the passengers have their seat belts on.

And off you go.

The steering is light around town, yet well-weighted when driving quickly, and the gearchange is quick and positive, though not particularly smooth - though not heavy, it needs a positive action to change gear, which is something that I prefer. The clutch is light and easy to use.

I found the 2.2 diesel engine to be an absolute joy, really adding to the pleasure of driving the Civic. Despite Honda's adverts about their diesels, it's still quite rattly when cold, and in fact is more so than our '06 Vectra. But once it gets going it's quiet, with the majority of the noise coming from the turbo - a constant spinning noise that almost sounds like that of a spinning supercharger rather than the normal turbo whistle.

And it's quick. Oh yes, it's quick.

Max power is 140bhp at 3500rpm, but the best bit is 251lbs-ft of torque, which Honda allege comes at 2000 revs. However, change down at 50 for an overtaking maneouvre and it's blisteringly quick. Honda claim a 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds for the diesel Type S, and on the test drive I saw no reason to doubt that. There's no noticeable lag to the turbo either (as long as you're in the right gear) - you can just put your foot down and it takes off, with your eyes glued to the road, watching the red LEDs in your peripheral vision for the best time to change up.

I didn't find it losing grunt up to the 5000-rpm redline either. Like most Hondas, the car seems to thrive best when it's being revved hard and given some right foot. However, it was also perfectly tractable for those who like to drive Miss Daisy, pulling away happily in second gear and cruising in sixth at 50mph and 1500rpm.

The best bpart, though, was in the corners. Here the squat shape and a wheel at each corner comes into its own, and the Civic was direct, quick and positive. The steering is fast and you feel confident that you can put it exactly where you want it in every corner, with that lovely grunt accelerating you out towards the next one. Despite the speed of the steering, though, the little Honda doesn't feel twitchy like an Audi A3, instead feeling secure and sure-footed and allowing you to enjoy driving it quickly.

The ride was firm, yet lacked the jarring that I was expecting considering that this is a pretty sporty hatchback. I could feel the bumps through the wheel and the seat, yet there was no need to employ an osteopath even after some nasty sections of road.

The only slight negative was rear visibility, as this is partially obscured by the spoiler across the centre of the rear window. However, as I tend to have my seat quite high I didn't find this a major problem (I was looking above the level of the spoiler) and it's offset by quite the largest wing mirrors I've ever seen on a production car!

I didn't want to get out of this little car after the test drive.

We take delivery on Saturday.

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