There aren't many ways that you can get a Touring Car experience on the road, but Mugen is about to create one. The Japanese tuner of all things Honda has decided to put the Type R concept it built over the summer into limited production. And when I say ‘limited', this time it really is. Just 20 cars will be built and all are heading for the UK in the spring.
Each of those 20 customers will have to shell out £38,599 - about £20,000 more than the standard car. That's a big ask even for a hot hatch as capable as this Mugen Civic.
So, for nearly £40k you get an uprated engine which now produces 238bhp, an all-new exhaust system, forged alloy wheels which are 32 per cent lighter at each corner, altered suspension, bigger front brakes, and an outrageous and active aero kit.
If you decide to throw more money at Mugen, they'll throw more of your car away. You can opt to remove the rear seats, fit Recaros at the front, and get stickier tyres.
All that will shave more than 100kg off the standard Civic Type R's weight, whereas the ‘standard' Mugen loses 20kg. Personally, I think spending nigh on £40k on a Civic is eye-watering enough, so I'd stick to the normal version.
And why wouldn't you when it's this good? What a car. There aren't many things this side of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS that are this responsive, this ready to react to your every command. There's a fantastic poise and balance to the Type R now, so that it feels like it's pivoting around you. Yes there's understeer, but on the open road you won't be going quick enough for that. And I'd wager this thing would be as much fun, and as quick, as a Ford Focus RS.
Turn in, feel the front tyres scrabble for grip, plant your foot and let the limited slip diff try to drag your nose in, snick the amazingly slick gearstick into the next cog and concentrate on the next bend. It's so alive and brilliant and addictive.
I'll be honest - we drove it on a flat circuit and I've no idea what the ride would be like. But Tom Ford reckoned the concept was better damped than the normal Type R and the front springs on this pre-production spec version are a bit softer than the concept, so it should be pretty good.
The engine is amazingly tractable, so that even if you're just pootling along you don't have to feel like you've got to constantly change down a gear to get some torque. The way it revs and reacts to your right foot feels like a racing car, though. And if you're worried about the resonance that Tom mentioned in his feature, don't be. It's still loud but a trip to the shops won't make your ears bleed.
The only disappointment here is that the round and flashy tail pipes are still fake. You can see the real exhaust (and it's tiny) peeking out from inside the chrome. Come on, Mugen - you're an engineering firm steeped in glorious history. Fake exhaust pipes are not what you're about.
What's even odder about persisting with those pipes is that everything else is so well done. There aren't any ridiculous and blank air vents on the bodywork any more (the concept was littered with them) and the brakes feel fantastic. We did a lot of laps of a track and at no point did they start to fade. Approach a corner and you have absolute faith in them every time - there's enough feel to let you know what is going on, but not so much bite that it feels as if you'd be sent through the front windscreen every time. Perfect road car brakes.
There's no doubt a lot of time and effort, and brilliant engineering, have gone into this Mugen. It's now the car the Civic Type R should always have been. And if you do plenty of track days, this is certainly the hot hatch for you - nothing else will come close to it on a circuit. But it's also really expensive, and that just takes some of the shine off it. Brilliant, but not perfect.