IF I picked the perfect ingredients for a countryside drive the car would - 100 times out of 100 - be a hot hatch. Their uncanny knack of fitting tight, twisty roads like a glove mean you’re not worrying about grazing an eye-wateringly expensive, low-slung carbon splitter and you can instead concentrate on why the car of choice was created: the thrill of driving something built for enthusiasts.
Of course the weather - particularly in this country - tends to play a massive role, too. Combine early February, back-to-back, silly-named storms covering Yorkshire in a blanket of snow, which then turned to the inevitable slush and ice, and you’d be forgiven for keeping that special hot hatch in the garage, primed for the spring’s rising temperatures.
However, if you’ve only got a week with the car, you simply have to bite the bullet and take your chances, no matter how many times that voice in your head reminds you about Michelin’s dry-biased Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres being your only contact points with the road. That choice of sticky-when-warm rubber should hint at just how special this hot hatch is, as they’re usually reserved for some of the motoring world’s most exotic vehicles, notably GT-badged Porsches.
It’s also been on a 40-odd kilogram diet - found thanks to a lack of sound deadening, forged alloys and the lack of media system or air conditioning - but much remains the same as the car it’s based on is so good to start with. It’s Honda’s harder, meaner version of its indomitable Civic Type R - the perhaps uninspiringly-named ‘Limited Edition’.
One of just 20 UK cars and 100 worldwide, Type R buffs will immediately recognise the look-at-me hue that’s only available on the LE. Named Sunlight Yellow, it last appeared on EK9 Civics and DC2 Integras and accentuates the downright crazy shape of the latest Type R, one that clearly divides opinion even three years since its release thanks to its vents, triple-exit exhaust and that in-your-face rear wing adored by my three-year-old (and his sometimes child-like dad).
Open the LE’s door and you’ll find a spartan interior, not quite to the level of Renaultsport’s hardest hot hatches as there's a rear bench capable of carrying three, but it’s not far off. The seats remain the same as the ‘normal’ Type R - why change them when they’re great anyway? - and in front is the same steering wheel, albeit wrapped in alcantara and without the usual volume control for the binned stereo. There’s a teardrop-shaped gearknob - absolutely freezing to the touch in winter - and a blanking plate where the infotainment system used to call home.
Prod the starter button and it doesn’t appear much noisier than before, it’s just that your senses are heightened given the lack of distractions. Depress the clutch, select first gear and you’re away - the steering’s heavy in an almost non-power assisted way and the ride has a hard, no-nonsense edge regular Type R owners will be familiar with.
Commuting - something which surely won’t be done by LE owners who’ve just forked out £40,000 on a car this compromised - is fun, but only while the novelty is there. Tyre noise is loud on the motorway, the lack of music doesn’t make sense when you’re going about your daily journey and those Cup 2s terrify when they encounter the remnants of Storm Darcy’s detritus. However, persevere, take the bull by the horns, search out a tricky road and you’ll be in hot hatch heaven.
Given the standard Type R has been and continues to be my favourite hot hatch because of its frankly laughable ability to cover ground and how single-minded it is, it should come as no surprise to read that the LE is even better. It’s dialled up to 11 in lighter form; you feel its reduced weight through every aspect whether that’s acceleration, handling, steering or braking. Its 316bhp 2.0-litre remains unchanged - as does its 5.8-second sprint to 60mph and its 169mph top speed - but it punches much harder when it matters as it’s got less weight to pull. The in-gear pull is eye-opening and the way it piles on speed means it's an extremely fast car.
Three settings remain - Comfort, Sport and +R - which each progressively up the ante and offer very different traits to the Type R experience. Get in the car and it’ll be in Sport in its default mode; this is a good thing as it’s probably the best balance, but it takes seconds for curiosity to get the better of you before you select +R. It considerably weights up the steering, it brings in clever rev-matching on down changes, sharpens up throttle response and of course alters the dampers’ rigidity. It suits the car’s crazy look, its feel when you’re behind the wheel and gives the experience you crave from a car of this type. However, there's a catch: it soon becomes a little too harsh when you’re on a typical countryside road, just too stiff, so Sport is soon called upon. If you take your cars on track, +R would be great, but it requires smooth roads and if they’re not, it’s just too much.
The steering feel is fantastic - heavy, but communicative and trustworthy - and the handling feels out-of-this-world good on those Cup 2s even in just-above-freezing conditions. When they find a slither of temperature, their heart-stopping traits diminish and they become your best friend - reliable, full of grip and utterly addictive to lean on. In the wet, forget it - you’ll pussy-foot around and they’ll spin up well into third gear.
Star of the show? The gearbox. This side of a manual Porsche 911, nothing comes close. You find yourself working it, sneaking in perhaps unnecessary shifts, just because it’s so damn good. It’s mechanical, it’s a joy to use and shows just how important manual transmission - unfortunately a rare ingredient in modern performance cars - truly is and praise ought to be lavished upon Honda for staying true to its manual-only Type R roots.
Driving the LE - a family-sized hot hatch with no creature comforts and with tyres so compromised - on the mundane commute doesn’t make much sense. Get it on a good road and it makes perfect, beautiful sense. It’s you, it and nothing else to distract you from what this greatest Civic Type R is all about: driving. The standard car’s a masterpiece in its own right, but the Limited Edition is the best hot hatch I’ve ever driven.