It is a sound that is familiar to anyone of my generation, the manic buzzsaw howl of a Honda 4-cylinder. Unfairly tarnished in the minds of the public by legions of single-cam D-Series breathing through a potmetal Pep Boys muffler, the Honda 4-cylinder produced a truly moving tune in its highest iterations, the twin cam VTEC B-Series models, as they growled their way to stratospheric redlines. That era is officially over.
As part of
its online marketing campaign a teaser series released by Honda, a video has emerged showing the next generation Civic Type-R undergoing a shakedown at the Nurburgring. In a startling break from tradition, this Type-R will not be powered by a high strung naturally aspirated 4-cylinder. Instead, it will get its motivation from the ubiquitous two point oh tee powerplant that seems to pop up in everything from the Tiguan to the Taurus.
Honda appears to be going to great lengths to ensure that the newest Type-R is the top hot hatch in the segment, even going as far as to chase the nebulous Nurburgring lap time crown for bragging rights – something I can’t help but think the Honda of old would never condescend to. They would have been content to have made the most raw, engaging and brilliantly engineered car, with red Recaros and a redline north of 8000 RPM. But without a screaming engine and double wishbones, what does a Type-R have left to define itself by? Not a whole lot, I’d say. In a commodity car like the standard Civic, these things may not matter, but they sure do for an enthusiast product. Ergo, we have a whole bunch of amorphous hot hatches powered by 2.0T’s and DSGs chasing a rather meaningless metric of performance on some German race track.
On a gut level, this seems plain wrong. Honda has always adhered to an iconoclastic way of doing things that bordered on arrogance. Think about their steadfast refusal to build a rear-drive V8 luxury sedan, or a bigger motor for the NSX or put a V6 in the Accord for so many generations or even enter the light truck market. Their way was the only way, and they’d be damned if it cost them market share or profits.
Their resistance towards forced induction was a prime example of this. I have long suspected that they felt that forced induction was in some way “cheating”, an easy path to a sublime motor. In their eyes, VTEC was more efficient, more reliable and undeniably more thrilling. The RDX seemed like an odd anomaly at the time, and the fact that it wasn’t a great motor (while drinking vast amounts of fuel for such a small engine) didn’t help matters.
But when we view things through a dispassionate lens, it’s clear that Honda had to relent to increasingly onerous regulatory and market pressures for improved fuel economy and low emissions, especially in Europe, where the Civic Type-R is most important. The latest crop of turbo motors appear to be the only way to achieve these goals, which, unfortunately have ended the lineage of the B and K-Series VTEC motors in high performance applications. Understanding why this came to pass helps make it easier to swallow – but it does little to diminish the sense of loss.The Type-R could very well be brilliant, but it will also be a victim of the relentless regulation and market pressure that is driving performance cars to an unprecedented level of homogeneity. How sad.
In the mean time, turn up your speakers