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Wed 20 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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It's maniac, it's mental, but this Honda is not for us

Noel Ebdon grabs the Japanese spec Civic Type R for a few very quick laps at Motegi.

Noel Ebdon grabs the Japanese spec Civic Type R for a few very quick laps at Motegi.

Is if it's not bad enough that we don't get the British-made European Civic Type R hatch, visiting Honda in Japan turned up another Type R - the Japanese version in saloon guise, and it's even madder. And travelling this far was the only way to get a drive because despite calls for it to be imported, Honda has managed to offer every excuse under our hot sun for not bringing it to the Gulf.

Despite the excuses, the Type R is one seriously quick pocket racer and Middle East buyers will have to look to the grey market importers if they want a fix of Honda's finest adrenaline in a can; and then find some good conversion specialists to get it switched over to left hand drive.

Testing the Civic in Japan is like going back to its birthplace. There are tuned cars on every street corner and the Civic is certainly one of the tuners' darlings. We were confined to Honda's famous Motegi Twin Ring race circuit, which is one of the best equipped I have ever seen.

Refreshingly, there were no speed limits or instructors. Just a Type R and an empty track.

Pure bliss. The hills around the circuit even let the rorty exhaust note echo back across the pits for everyone to enjoy. Brilliant!

Compared to the Civic saloons we're used to, almost everything on this car is different. It has a new 2.0 litre i-VTEC engine and a six-speed short shift gearbox. It also has a lighter and more rigid shell, a huge front air intake and a rear diffuser built into the bumper. Power is now up to 221bhp with 159lb ft of torque at 6100rpm. Even the brakes have been up-rated to 320mm discs. It's a seriously focused car!

The Type-R has always been a great car to push and nothing's changed there.

It grips like crazy and is infinitely readable when it does start to slide. The brakes are also excellent, making the overall package tight and nimble. Almost anyone can be a hero in a Type R.

The saloon loses out to the hatchback in the looks department, but it has the prerequisite body kit and rear wing, plus of course some nice looking 18-inch alloys. Apart from that it differs very little from the standard saloon, which of course is a modifier's dream.

Inside the normal seats have been replaced with some excellent racing versions designed specially for the Type R and a sports steering wheel gives it that all important racer feel. The clocks have been altered and the whole trim level brought up to match the seats.

Nothing feels as composed and yet so radical on the street. But the best thing is that it can still be enjoyed within the realms of reasonable speeds, whereas many sportscars need a track to really test them. The only question mark hanging over the Civic Type R saloon is why Honda Middle East won't import it.

NEED TO KNOWPrice:$26,000 (est)

Engine:1998cc, 16v, four-cylinder, 221bhp @ 8000rpm, 159lb ft @ 6100rpm

Transmission:Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Performance:6.0sec 0-100kph, 241kph

On sale in ME:n/a

Rating:5/5

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