Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Honda’s BTCC race car gives a huge rush while the Civic EX Sport Line is a sublime bit of kit – The Sun

EMOJIS have become a new language.

Which is a worry for me as a man whose living depends on writing the Queen’s.

When I get a text from my daughter it takes about 18 hours to work out what she’s going on about. It’s like trying to decipher hieroglyphics on the Egyptian pyramids. Now emojis have infiltrated the world of motorsport.

I was lucky enough to test Honda’s BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) race car at Silverstone the other day and I noticed it had four face emojis on the steering wheel. But in all fairness, they did the job.

Smiley face (setting 2) is the cool down mode which “pulses the engine” in the pits.

Winky face with tongue (setting 3) and red grimacing face (setting 4) as one might expect are the balls-to-the-wall race modes, with the last one being slightly more Asbo. I liked them both.

Then there’s neutral face (setting 1) which dulls the throttle response in the wet. I didn’t bother with that one.

As for the rest of the switches on the dash? Sorry, I haven’t got the foggiest.

Someone did try to explain them all to me but this thing has more buttons than a Nasa flightdeck and I just sat there thinking: “You’re wasting your time, pal. Just show me how to make it stop and go.” And then it was play time.

With a clunk, I selected first gear and rolled down the pit lane on to a track still greasy from overnight frost. In a £230,000 race car? On slick tyres? Yikes.

Needless to say, the next ten minutes were a huge rush. A mixture of wonder and fear. This thing is quick. Really quick. Three hundred and fifty horsepower and a bit more quick. But with less grip than Bambi.

I didn’t want to be the mug that binned it. Thankfully, I didn’t.

Speed in a straight line is one thing but it’s how you make a BTCC car dance that slashes lap times. How you make the front end work.

And by that I mean using left foot braking to pitch the weight over the front wheels to maximise grip in a corner. Actually, scrub that, to get any grip in a tight corner in these conditions.

Key facts

HONDA CIVIC RACE CAR

Price: £230,000

Engine: 2-litre turbo

Power: 350hp+

0-62mph: 4.9 secs

Top speed: 156mph (Thruxton)

Honda BTCC race wins: 115

Drivers titles: 5

Manufacturer titles: 5

So how did I do? I’ll let triple BTCC champ and Team Dynamics boss Matt Neal answer that as we look at the data.

He said: “Not bad, not bad at all. You listened. You’re very smooth and progressive and self-controlled, which you need to be in these conditions.

“Your speed is not too dissimilar to Dan (Cammish) through the right, left complex and down Hangar Straight but he holds on to it for a bit longer.

“A little bit of that will be confidence in the brakes and confidence in the grip levels. It does look shiny through Stowe but there is a lot of grip there. Through the apex, he’s doing 124 and you’re doing 109.”

I’ll take that. This is Dan’s office. He’s a pro. I’m a keyboard warrior.

Thank you, Honda. (Insert clapping hands emoji here).

Thank you, Team Dynamics. (Insert flexed biceps emojis here).

Honda keeps things simple

I LIKE Honda because it keeps things simple.

Whereas the Germans have enough models to fill an Argos catalogue twice over, the Japanese have just four family cars.

I repeat, four – and four good ones at that.

The Jazz is unashamedly aimed at knitting nanas, bingo-hall runs and the population of Eastbourne. It’s rock solid.

The HR-V is Honda’s small crossover with “magic seats” in the back. They fold up easily to let tall items stand in the rear footwells.

The CR-V, Honda’s larger SUV, has a boot big enough to swallow Jeremy Corbyn’s hate mail. And it’s a hybrid. You see? Simple.

And then we come to the Civic, understandably Honda’s big seller because it covers all the bases so beautifully well.

It’s an excellent front-wheel-drive hatchback in regular form, which gives rise to the greatest hot hatch of the modern era in the shape of the whale-tail Type R.

Yes, it looks like a boy racer’s wet dream but it is a sublime bit of kit.

And that brings me to the white EX Sport Line you see here. It has the same look as a Type R, just minus the massive insurance bill and juicy running costs.

Key facts

HONDA CIVIC EX SPORT LINE

Price: From £24,510

Engine: 1-litre 3cyl turbo petrol

Power: 126hp, 200Nm

0-62mph: 11.2 secs

Top speed: 126mph

Economy: 42mpg

CO2: 128g/km

Out: Now

Indeed, the £24,510 Sport Line is powered by a little 1-litre three-cylinder engine with 126 horses.

This does not make it anything like quick, but it’s a willing, smooth and sweet-sounding engine that’s good on fuel, so I’ll give it a thumbs-up here.

A £1,000 premium over the plain-Jane top-spec Civic EX brings in the sporty body kit, different 17in alloys and an interior with its own jazzy trim.

That does make it a bit pricey overall, though, because dropping nearly 25 large on this seems a bit tasty.

Luckily, you’ll be able to add Sport Line spec to the lower-grade SR soon, so that’ll lower the price.

Anyway, two-stage dampers give the Civic Sport Line a comfy ride and also sharp handling, while the six-speed manual gearbox is a dream – avoid the CVT.

In fact, apart from a touch too much road noise, this Civic Sport Line is good, simple fun in an appealing package. Good work, Honda.

Q&A with triple BTCC champion Matt Neal

FIVE questions to triple BTCC champ Matt Neal.

Q. What is your daily drive?

A. Honda Civic Type R. The grey one outside. It’s phenomenal. Ninety nine out of 100 people will never experience what this car is capable of. You can’t on a road. It’s only when you take it on a track you can get anywhere near the limit.

Q. So the road car gives you a head start with the race car?

A. Absolutely. The shell and engine are stock but we work on torsional rigidity, aero and induction.

Q. How many horses?

A. 350.

Q. Why are you laughing?

A. That’s what it’s meant to be.

Q. What would happen without “success ballast” in BTCC?

A. You’d get the same teams winning week in, week out.

Q. And would that affect Honda?

A. Yeah.

Q. Is it harming your team?

A. It improves the show. Without it we’d win a lot more races because the base product is pretty mega.

Q. Frustrating, then?

A. I’m not against it. I think they should add weight in small increments in F1. It would stop it being the Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull show. The cream will still rise to the top, they’ve just got to work harder for it.

Q. I watched the last race at Brands. Dan was three miles from winning the title . . .

A. Heartbreaking.

Q. Have you got a winning car for 2020?

A. We hope so. Everyone will luck into results because that’s the nature of the formula. We want to be as consistent as we can at every race and that comes down to attention to detail and maximising everything we can.

Sorry, can’t count. That was ten questions. Thank you, Matt.

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