Honda employs super-tuner Mugen to hone the Civic Type R to a razor’s edge. But is this 240bhp, 8,300rpm screamer any good? Click through our gallery to find out…
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The art of noise
The Honda Civic Type R Mugen Concept can be neatly summarized in surprisingly few words. Unfortunately, seeing as all of them are swear words apart from ‘mental’, bleeding’, ‘earholes’ and ‘backwards’, it’s very hard to give you the full stretch without getting letters. Suffice to say that it’s more than a bit feisty.
But first, a word on what this car is all about. Now, Mugen might be a name that you’re vaguely familiar with if you’ve ever spent any time near a racetrack or group of go-faster Honda owners. Founded in 1973 by Hirotoshi Honda (the son of Honda’s founder Soichiro), Mugen is an independent Honda ‘tuner’ based mostly in Japan, and it’s still owned by the Honda family.
Thanks to this handy bit of cuddly corporate nepotism, Mugen has developed high-performance bits for Honda for years. Not just road cars either: from ‘91 to 2000 Mugen prepped F1 engines for Tyrrell, Ligier, Prost and Jordan, as well as advising on Honda’s engine programme. Now, rather less sexily, it has a base in Northampton, and this car is a kind of rolling billboard for what Mugen would like to do. That is, become the ‘M-Sport’ equivalent of Honda. So huge associations with Honda, but more focussed: think of them as (potentially) Honda’s AMG, or Renaultsport, and you’ll get the idea.
Good. It’s all going swimmingly until we see the car in the metal. Now I’m quite keen on the J-tuning scene, so the big wing is actually - in my eyes - appropriate, but I’d prefer it if it was useful (it’s not, apart from creating some marginal negative lift characteristics). I’d also prefer it if the extra bodykit bits weren’t so obviously fake. The vents behind the front wheels don’t appear to do anything, and the triangular ducts in the bonnet are solid black plastic under mesh. Not great.
Walk up to the car from behind and your eye is lured towards the gaping pair of circular exhausts that dominate the lower part of the bumper - noticeable firstly by their size and secondly because they aren’t triangular. And thirdly because they aren’t connected - at all - to the actual exhausts. You can see straight through them to the suspension, the real exhausts hanging out near the back like hosepipes stuffed in oil barrels. Not something I’ve seen on race cars.
Soon forgotten though, because once you jump in, it all gets very exciting. The seats are gone, the fronts replaced by lightweight Recaro units set far lower than standard. There’s a triple set of extra gauges to the right of the instrument binnacle and as soon as you fire up the motor, a grin will fire up your face. This thing is race-car fruity and unsociably raspy. Excellent. A new cam, pistons, throttle body, ECU, intake system and exhaust release 240bhp at 8,300rpm (500rpm higher than standard). A relatively lowly 157lb ft only reaches a peak at 6,250rpm, when most cars are coughing up a lung, but seeing as the Mugen is 105kg lighter than stock, it doesn’t really matter.
And the noise. At 76mph in sixth gear your brain leaks out of your ears. Not, as you might expect, from the banshee wail of an iVTEC 2.0-litre trying to birth its valves through the manifold, but the horrific resonance of a semi-race exhaust unmitigated by silencers, or probably more appropriately, a helmet and earplugs. It’s horrible. Until you start playing with the ever-so-slightly more precise gearbox and realise what Mugen has really done.
It’s made a Touring Car. Out of a Civic.
It’s not as if a Honda generally has flabby great swathes of engineering fat to excise, but Mugen has done it. The suspension gets new springs, dampers and bushes as well as geometry tweaks, but the result is extraordinary. This car is softer than a standard Civic Type R, but so brilliantly caught on the rebound that it has body control without the brittle ride. And you feel every single gram of feedback through the wheel, like someone has attached your tendons to the wishbones. The wheels are some 4-ish kg lighter than standard (each), and it means that turn-in is off the wrists, with the car pivoting around a point that sits just above the front axle - the Type R experience amped-up on the good drugs.
The brake pedal is firm thanks to a new four-pot front brake set-up, but the car isn’t over-braked. Everywhere there’s feel, but firmness. It’s taut, but tactile. And when you set that motor spinning through the 5,500rpm VTEC boundary, lunacy is achieved time and time again. It might not be as blithely quick as the current crop of turbo hatches, but it’s a pure and simple joy for the keen driver - a very pointy point made that absolute fastest is not always best.
A point bourne out when the Stig takes the wheel at the TG test track. There we are surrounded on all sides by barren airfield for at least 200 metres, and as I turn 360 degrees, there he is, a foot behind me. As if he’s beamed down from planet Helmet. Not so much a keen driver as completely psychotic, the Stig pounds the Mugen around and around until it runs out of petrol, then abandons the car with the keys in it and the door open. As he walks past on the way to God-knows-where, he gives me a thumbs-up. At least that’s what it looked like. If you squint.
It’s a delight, this Concept. Stupidly noisy, not as fast as a Focus RS, a bit on the tinselly side, if we’re getting personal. But when you get down to it, this is a car for people who love driving, rather than just going fast. And the world is a better place for it. Just pray that Mugen takes heart and gets us more stuff ASA-bloody-P.