We talked Honda's hottest hatch ever with Civic head engineer Mitsuru Kariya.
The new Honda Civic Hatchback and upcoming Type R are two cars we’re very excited for. Both were on full display at the 2016 Paris Motor Show, with the former making its public debut and the latter appearing in prototype form. Honda has released a ton of info about the Civic five-door. On the other hand the Japanese automaker has kept quiet regarding the new Type R. We still had a few lingering questions that needed answers, so in an attempt to fill in the blanks we spoke to Mitsuru Kariya, the Civic's head engineer.
With the aid of a translator, Kariya-san shed some light on everything from why Honda decided to revive the Civic hatch in the US to his preference for front-wheel drive on the Type R. So, why did Honda decide now was the right time to reintroduce the hatchback model? According to Kariya-san, Honda was motivated by a variety of factors, including a desire to lure in new customers and to counter the competition. “The segment of the coupe is shrinking more and more. A hatchback is a combination of both positive attributes, looking like a coupe but being practical and versatile. That combination hits the demand and desire of the American market.”
“If we look at, for example, the Ford Focus, it’s a hatchback that has been very well accepted on the American market. We believe it [the Civic Hatchback] will be a success in the American market.” We were told the Civic Hatchback is the model range’s “image leader.” The idea of the five-door being the "image leader" was why it was the first version to get the turbo engine-manual transmission pairing along with the slightly beefed up Sports trim. “We believe the hatchback is designed to capture new customers,” Kariya-san stated. While we were curious about the hatchback the model we were dying to learn more about was the Type R. Apparently this new version will be different from the previous model in more ways than just its look and engine power.
“What is different on the Type R development this time is that in the past the decision to develop and make a Type R was made very late. In the latter half of the life cycle of the base Civic we decided to create a Type R. This time we had the concept from the beginning to develop the Type R,” Kariya-san told us. Developing the Type R early on allowed Honda to include all of the engineering and technological solutions from the base model in the souped-up version. When asked about his view on AWD vs. FWD as it pertained to the Type R, the Civic’s head engineer threw his weight firmly behind front-wheel drive. This is in line with the rumors we've been hearing about the car's drivetrain.
“It’s easy to apply 4WD. It’s easy to apply a bigger engine, but that distorts the total balance. If a car gets heavy that’s in contradiction to what we believe is dynamic performance. It’s a balance of all, and therefore we still insist on a FWD system. With smart technology application we still believe that we can achieve a high level of performance.” Some of the negatives of AWD that Kariya-san named off include: “too heavy, especially up front, sometimes difficult to handle and extremely expensive.” Throughout the interview the "man maximum, machine minimum" principal was brought up. Adding AWD would skew this principal as it would put more machine between the driver and the car.
When asked about the race to squeeze as much power as possible out of small turbocharged engines—like the 345 horses coming out of the RS’ 2.3-liter four-banger—Kariya-san’s answer led us believe that the new Type R will pack much less of a punch than the rumored power numbers that have been floating around. “We believe it’s much more important to have that drivability at low rpm, that controllability of the engine during cornering. That somehow is essential for enjoying and to provide that fun to drive feel, rather than having that 10 horsepower more at the top end.” The current Type R makes 306 horsepower, and we expect the new model to receive only a slight bump in power. About 325 horses sounds right to us.
There is still a lot more we don’t know about the new Type R, including its true power output, how much it will cost and when it will go on sale in the US. Honda said that Europe will get the car in the second half of 2017, which makes us think Americans will have to wait until at least early 2018. As for the upcoming Civic Si, well we’re be sure to ask Honda about that at the upcoming 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show.