After two different flavours of Type-R (an Accord followed by a Civic), buying the Civic Type-S GT was a compromise. Economic climate as it is, the 60 mile round trip commute I've been doing for the last 10 years was becoming a slightly worryingly expensive affair. But at the same time I knew that the switch from the Type-R to anything more economical was going to make that journey less enjoyable, and was fully aware that if I went too far down the road of super cost efficiency I'd end up finding the daily journey a miserable grind. So I started to look for the best of both worlds.
I decided on sticking with the same class of car, and initially widened my search to look at any manufacturers. I set my criteria as 3-5 years old, under 30k miles, with a budget of £8-£12k, depending on the kind of trade in I'd get on my current car. Based on these requirements it became clear very quickly that options were surprisingly limited. All but the most basically equipped Audis and BMWs were ruled out. Plenty of Fords, Peugeots and Citroens, but nothing inspiring when I came to look at performance figures, features and reported reliability. This was important as, while I wanted to get better MPG, I also wanted a decent drive, and I have become accustomed to not even having to think about reliability with my last 3 cars being a Honda. In the end, even being as objective as I possibly could, and after several hours of searching Auto-Trader and elsewhere, it became clear that I was back to Honda, and not just Honda but back to the Civic again. That felt a bit weird, but I was sure I was back there for the right reasons, so started looking at what was on offer. In the end I settled on the new shape Civic Type-S.
Beyond the red tinged badge on the boot lid, the Type-S specification adds climate control, alloy pedals, a leather steering wheel, remote audio controls (on the wheel), better speakers, curtain airbags and 17" alloy wheels. The Type-S also has slightly stiffer suspension, which sets the car slightly lower to the ground than the base models, and has more sporty looking bumpers and side skirts. I set to work finding one with the additional GT pack, which adds a panoramic sun roof, cruise control, dual zone climate control, fog lights, alarm, electric auto-folding wing mirrors and automatic headlights and wipers into the bargain. Given prices didn't really vary between cars with or without the GT pack, I figured it would be silly to settle for less. The car also has ABS and electric power steering as standard, but that kind of goes without saying these days. Take note also the CD player will also play MP3/WMA files, but you only get an integrated USB port to stick a flash drive in from 2009 models onwards. Earlier models will still pay MP3/WMA files, but you need to put them on a CD; not quite as effective, but you can still get around 13-15 albums on a CD providing you rip them around 128kbps or less.
There are two engines on offer as far as the Type-S goes, either the 1.8 i-VTEC petrol, or the 2.2 i-CDTI diesel. The same engines are available in non-S badged Civics too, and both produce 140BHP, but according to Honda's figures the diesel (as you'd expect) is more frugal; 54mpg for the diesel Vs 43mpg for petrol. Additionally, the diesel is quoted as being slightly quicker off the mark at 8.6s to 62mph against 8.9s for the petrol (probably down to the additional torque that the diesel generates). Otherwise the specification is the same. It might surprise you therefore that ultimately I bought the petrol variant. There were a couple of reasons for this. First was price and availability; there seem to be far less diesels on the second hand market than petrol versions, and when comparing prices for cars with similar age/mileage, the diesels were typically £1000-1500 more expensive. Secondly, user reviews seemed to indicate that people who have test driven both generally felt that the petrol engine was more refined.
Looks - on the outside
I went for a 56 plate in Alabaster Silver, because in my opinion the car looks nicer in this colour than any other. Not because it's necessarily the most attractive colour, but because the side skirts and lower bumper trims on the front and back are not body colour coded, and come in a kind of metallic looking gun metal grey. In my opinion, this looks much nicer contrasted against silver, and complements the overall look, whereas I feel it detracts slightly from the look of cars in other colours. I think newer cars may have colour coded trim as standard (or at least as an option) but as far as I know this wasn't available on the earlier cars. I've found examples on the web of people getting an after market paint job done on their trim for around £300-£500. However, I enquired at a couple of specialist body shops and the cheapest quote I got was £800. I decided not to get mine done, not just because of the cost, but because I now quite like the contrast between bumpers and body. As far as looks go generally, I very much like the aesthetics of the new Civic, particularly the front end. The Type-S is a 3 door which gives it subtly different lines, and with it being slightly lowered, and on 17" alloys, the car has quite a sleek sporty look. You won't quite mistake it for a Type-R, but it's got an attractive, contemporary look from any angle.
Looks - on the inside
That contemporary look continues when you get inside the car. In fact, the dashboard is positively space age. A split level display gives you a digital speedometer high on the dash, so you barely need to avert your gaze from the road to check your speed (a great feature, and typical of Honda's clever, driver focused design). To the left of this sits a separate LCD screen giving you info on the CD track/radio station and climate control. The main dash display is permanently lit in a gorgeous blue neon hue (as is the speedo), and centres around a large tachometer (rev counter), flanked with fuel and temperature gauges. In the centre of the tachometer is a black and white window showing you lots of useful info; for example, current mpg, miles of fuel left in the tank and lots more, including a very useful feature showing you whether or not the rear passengers have their seatbelts on - great to have with kids! The dash immediately lights as soon as you open the door and is continuously lit (nothing is visible at all when the car is not in use). When it first lights up, it's a definite 'wow' moment, and really enhances the driving experience. The surrounding dash with buttons and dials (which are all really solid feeling) for climate control, hazard lights, VSA (see below) etc. is crescent shaped in a nice glossy black material, and beyond that the rest of the dash looks and feels to be of a high quality material. There are also buttons on the wheel for CD/Radio volume/track and cruise control. It all feels very well put together indeed. The alloy pedals are a nice touch too, as are the brushed steel 'Type-S' branded plates on the floor just inside the door sils.
However, there is one thing to note with the dashboard though. Both the clear plastic covers over the speedometer and tachometer, and the glossy surround, scratch very easily if not cleaned carefully with the proper kind of cloth (I use the duster I got with my LCD TV). I was aware of light scratches on the glossy black surround when I bought the car, but didn't notice there was quite significant scratching on the clear plastic over the rev counter until a couple of days after I'd collected the car, when the sun caught it at a particular angle. I was really disappointed with this, but please to say that the Honda dealer I bought the car from agreed to replace the plastic free of charge. They acknowledged this is an issue that they are aware of, but that Honda can't offer any advice on how to fix this as there is a coating on the plastic which means you'll only make it worse if you try to use the kind of glass/plastic cleaner/repair kits you can get in Halfords and the like. So be aware if you're in the market for one - check this very carefully (sit in the passenger as well as drivers seat so you can see it from all angles) and ask for it to be replaced if you're not happy. Beyond the dashboard, the rest of the interior is similarly attractive. I'm not sure if there are multiple upholstery options for this model, but mine has the same Alcantara trim that I had in my old Type-R, which has a rich velour/suede like feel with nice silver/white stitching detail which gives everything a quality feel. You also get 'sports' seats in the front, which are not quite the Recaros that you find in the Type-Rs, but are comfortable and keep you pretty well planted going around corners; definitely a worthwhile upgrade from the seats in base models.
The panoramic tinted glass roof is the star of the show here. The additional light this can offer is really welcome on dull days, and on sunny days it's a pleasure too. Even when the sun is directly overhead, the glass has enough of a tint that you never really feel the need to close the internal cover (automatically operated by a button just above the rear view mirror). It adds a new dimension to travel for passengers in particular; my kids often spot planes in the sky, or sit transfixed in when it's raining as rain drops make patterns across the roof.
The dual zone auto climate control is worth a mention too. You can choose to deactivate it, but you probably won't as it does a good job of switching between air-conditioning and heating to maintain your chosen temperature. The positioning of the vents, and the way you can angle them is good too, so you can achieve the optimum temperature without having to feel the fans blasting in your face. The 'dual-zone' feature of the GT version allows the passenger to adjust the temperature on their side of the car independently from the driver, with separate temperature controls in the passenger door arm rest. This seems to work surprisingly well given you're only sat a few inches away from each other.
The automatic wipers and lights work well too. There are several sensitivity settings for the wipers to suit your personal preference (i.e. how much rain needs to be on the windscreen before they start going). There is no similar setting for the lights, or at least not that I can find. I always leave them on auto, although occasionally the lights will go on and off a few times if you're driving at dawn/dusk when light conditions are changing - this is rare though, and not a problem.
The car comes with VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist) as standard. It's turned on as a default and, although you can manually turn if off (button on the dashboard), Honda don't recommend that you do this. Basically, it's a clever system that senses what's happening to your front wheels, and will detect if they are losing grip. In these instances it can reduce the throttle input (i.e. override your foot on the pedal) and apply subtle braking to each wheel independently, until it detects that traction is regained. A good safety feature to have that will no doubt work quicker than your brain, should you ever be in a position to need it.
Finally, a nice touch for the fuel conscious driver is a series of six green LEDs just above the speedometer. These light progressively indicating how fuel efficient your use of the throttle is; all five lights on is good, no lights on is bad. In addition, there are a matching set of amber LEDs on the opposite side indicating engine revs, the more lights on the closer you are to the red line. Don't even bother trying to get all ten to light at the same time, it'll never happen!
Drive & Reliability
With all of Honda's VTEC engines you need to exploit the full RPM range in each gear as the peak power comes somewhere around 6000RPM, and this one is no different. It takes a bit of getting used to if you haven't driven one before, but it's a satisfying experience once you get the hang of it. That said, there's plenty of power/torque for everyday driving in the lower in the rev range, so you don't have to push the car that hard if you don't want to. But there is a pretty good turn of speed if you do, and a nice note to the engine as it spins up at higher revs. Make no mistake, it's no Type-R, so don't be expecting hot hatch performance, but in it's class it's a great performer and quite rewarding to drive. The lowered springs and ride height also make the handling quite firm, and it sticks to the road quite nicely when cornering. Again, no Type-R but perfectly capable for the kind of performance you would expect from it. The six speed gearbox is slick, and gear changes are smooth and effortless. Only having had the car less than 6 months I can't really comment on reliability, albeit I've had no problems whatsoever. And or course, it's a Honda, so I'm not expecting any either.
Costs, Practicality & Safety
Service intervals for the new Civic are 12500 miles, so I haven't needed one yet, but if the experience is similar to other Civics I've owned then I'm sure the servicing costs will be very reasonable. Fuel efficiency seems good, although I'm not sure I'm getting 44mpg out of it. That said, having not quite got Type-Rs out of my system yet, I like to put the pedal to the floor once in a while. As far as practicality goes, space in the front and the back is generous, which belies its appearance from the outside. Boot space is also exceptionally good, with a wide access for loading. An additional expandable drop down compartment in the back is also available, further increasing space. This is possible because there is no spare wheel; not even a space saver. Instead you get a mobility repair kit, comprising an inflating foam material that fills a flat tyre to provide a temporary repair until you can get to a garage. The new and improved seat folding system for the back seats is fantastic as well, opening up a completely flat loading space. Safety wise, the car certainly feels well grounded around corners, and in the wet. The addition of the VSA system is also reassuring, as is the strong Euro NCAP result for the new Civics with drive and passenger airbags all round. One thing I did notice quite early is that the 17" alloys are shod with wider tyres than those I had on my old Type-R. Admittedly that was an old shape 2003 car, and the new Type-R sits on 18" rims, but it was a bit disappointing to realise I'd probably be forking out just as much for new tyres on this car!
All in all, after just over 3 months behind the wheel of my Civic Type-S GT, I've got to say it's been a fair compromise. I miss the performance and raw edge of the Type-R, and I know some day I will go back to a car like that. However, I feel like I've gained a much prettier, more modern looking car, and sitting inside it feels a lot more special than the old car. Admittedly, you can also get the new Type-R in the same GT spec, with the same space age dashboard and same dashing good looks, but this upgrade was all about being a bit more sensible (at least for a few years!) and I feel really pleased to be able to save some money but still enjoy my car, and be pleased to see it waiting for me in the car park after work. I've had some ribbing from friends, grinning as they ask me why I'm now driving the 'poor man's Type-R', but I don't mind. I feel kind of proud of myself for resisting the temptation of the big red badge this time around. I don't know if I'll resist when I come to change the car again in a few years time, but for now she does me proud.
(Review also posted under the same name on another review site).