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Hot Honda Civic is go

Under the bonnet, the high-revving 2.0-litre engine of the previous Type R remains, but modifications mean it offers even more power, and now feeds 198bhp to the front wheels. That might not seem much compared to turbo rivals such as the Vauxhall Astra VXR or Ford Focus ST, but the Type R is still set to be one of 2007's most exciting driver's cars.

This is because Honda is pro-mising performance will be much more accessible than before, and has modified the famous i-VTEC system to deliver its trademark power boost from lower in the rev range. The hike now comes in at 5,200rpm - down 300rpm - and continues to the 8,000rpm red line.

To help motorists really benefit from this system, next to the Type R's speedo is an i-VTEC indicator light, which glows when the revs rise above the magic mark.

But despite the wider spread of torque, drivers will still have to stretch the 2.0-litre engine to its screaming limits to extract full performance. This is because its peak power doesn't arrive until 8,000rpm - 600rpm higher than in the old Civic Type R.

So why has Honda opted out of taking part in the power struggle led by Mazda's 247bhp 3 MPS and the 237bhp Astra VXR? The firm wanted to avoid turbocharging in order to maintain pure and lag-free power delivery.

Even with its relatively modest output, the new Civic flagship is far from sluggish. The sprint from 0-62mph takes only 6.6 seconds, while the top speed is 146mph. Both figures are identical to those of the outgoing Type R.

Available only as a three-door, the range-topping car has a 20mm wider rear track than the five-door and rides 15mm lower. Every aspect of the suspension has been tuned to make the Type R a truly thrilling driver's machine. Reworked steering is intended to give much greater feel through the wheel than in the previous model, while even the fuel tank has been moved to lower the centre of gravity. Extra strengthening has been added to the floorpan to stiffen the shell for a sportier response.

Honda describes the Type R's chassis as having "enhanced responsiveness and predictability". The company also claims to have made the flagship more refined, and improved comfort levels, too. All this can be enjoyed from one of the sportiest cabins in the class. Red trim on the deep bucket seats is carried over from the old-shape car, as is the smattering of red H badges. Every model to roll off Honda's production line in Swindon, Wilt­shire, also features a numbered plaque by the gearlever.

Prices have yet to be announced, but Honda will offer two levels of Type R trim. The base variant will take on Ford's Focus ST, while a GT adds luxuries including cruise control and dual-zone climate control. The first deliveries will be made in March next year. The showroom-ready version of the thrilling Civic Type R has finally broken cover

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Hot Honda Civic is go
Japanese Import Car, New & Used Car, 2007