REVIEW DATE: 04 Jun 2010
The Honda Civic Type-R Mugen isn't your typical hot hatch. Steve Walker takes a look.
Just how much difference is there between the racing cars we see on TV and the ordinary cars we drive everyday? It depends. If we're talking about Formula 1, the incredible resources pumped into each grand prix racer make the typical shopping hatch look like a skateboard by comparison. If we're looking at touring cars or GT racing, there are more similarities. Then, closing the gap further, there are specialist production cars that deliberately exist in the hinterland between road and track use. The Civic Type-R Mugen is one of the more affordable options in this category but in no way is Honda's most extreme hot hatch to be taken lightly.
Mugen means 'unlimited' in Japanese and it also happens to be the name of the independent tuning firm Honda goes to when it needs to develop competition cars or high performance components for its road models. Unlimited, in this instance, refers to the power that's the ultimate goal in most of Mugen's endeavours but the £39,000 being asked for a Civic Type-R Mugen might lead some to attribute a different meaning. There's nothing cheap about this Civic but what buyers get for their money is quite special.
Honda has given 20 Championship White special edition versions of the Civic Type-R to Mugen. These cars are shipped from Honda's manufacturing plant in Swindon to Mugen's European HQ in Northampton - where the magic happens. The 2.0-litre i-VTEC petrol engine is set-upon by Mugen's finest spanner-wielding technicians and completely stripped down. It's then rebuilt with high performance pistons and camshafts, a specialist air-intake system, revised engine management software and a stainless steel exhaust of baffling complexity. The result is a 39bhp power boost to 240bhp, an extension of the rev limit to heady 8,600rpm and a 10 per cent rise in torque to 211Nm.
The numbers don't tell anything like the whole story where this car is concerned. It will rocket from 0-60mph in under six seconds and top 140mph but that, its power and its torque aren't going to make the Mugen stand out amongst today's hyper hatchbacks, let alone amongst the other performance cars available for the same sort of money. Fitted with what amounts to a race engine, the Mugen delivers an intense driving experience that's quite different to anything else you could buy for the price.
"There's nothing cheap about this Civic but what buyers get for their money is quite special"
Unlike its turbocharged rivals, the normally aspirated Mugen produces a long, smooth flow of acceleration in every gear. The i-VTEC variable valve timing system really starts to sing in the mid range and by the time you're homing in on 8,000rpm, the cabin is ringing with a mind-bending chorus of sound and vibration as the scenery rockets past. On exiting the Mugen, it may be wise to avoid strenuous exercise until your internal organs have stopped quivering.
A limited-slip differential, suspension tuned for UK roads and upgraded brakes complete the Mugen package, endowing the car with formidable potential to cover ground quickly. The ride is notoriously firm on the Civic Type-R and seems quite a bit firmer on the Mugen so it isn't at its best transporting antique glasswear but grip levels at the front end are immense and the car rounds corners with unerring stability.
The steering is on the light side but quick and it transmits a reasonable amount of feel while the brakes do their thing in hugely efficient fashion. The highlight alongside the masterpiece of an engine must be Honda's six-speed manual gearbox which is as slick as you'll find in any road car.
A full bodykit adorns the exterior of the Mugen with a blade-like chin spoiler at the front that slices through the air at a little over ankle height. The rear gets aerodynamic help on an even more extravagant scale with a huge spoiler that manages to avoid impairing the Civic's already dodgy rear visibility by being so high that you can't even see it in the rear view mirror. The car looks like it's come direct from the racetrack and the sound emanating from its twin exhaust pipes appears to confirm that impression.
There's a special plaque ahead of the gear lever that tells you precisely which Mugen you're sitting in but elsewhere, the interior doesn't differ all that much from that of the standard Civic Type-R. There are three additional dials mounted on top of the dash which tell of the water temperature, oil temperature and oil pressure. Those aside, there's the Civic's distinctive layered dash design and the figure hugging sports seats that always feel like they should go a couple of inches lower. Space in the back isn't too bad under normal circumstances but buyers can elect to have the rear seating removed to save further weight.
Mugen is looking to establish a presence in the UK, a market which accounts for more Civic Type-R sales than Honda's domestic Japanese one. The Civic Type-R Mugen is central to this venture and represents a means for Mugen to showcase its engineering expertise and performance tuning products to the public.
Even at prices that knock on the door of £40,000, each Civic Type-R Mugen will make a huge loss for its creators. It's estimated that buying a regular Civic Type-R Championship White special edition and specifying it up to Mugen levels would cost in the region of £55,000 and that doesn't include the race-tuned engine which is not on general sale to the public. That engine would cost close to £20,000 on its own. Couched in these terms this stupendously expensive hot hatch could even be viewed as a bit of a bargain.
The Mugen is crammed full of specialist performance parts which aren't going to be cheap to replace. Insurance will be on the expensive side for this race-spec road car and regularly waiting for the rev-counter to show 8,600rpm before grabbing the next gear is nobody's definition of an economical driving style. The 20 Mugen models should retain their value with some tenacity, however. A warm reception from members of the press, many of whole are still waiting for the Mugen's feral scream to exit their eardrums, suggests we could see this very special Honda held up as a classic in years to come.
Most people are quite happy to leave the race-car experience to the professionals but Honda's Civic Type-R Mugen satisfies those who want to come somewhere close to it on the road. The pricing reflects what an advanced piece of equipment the Honda tuning experts at Mugen have come up with here but the 20 UK buyers are getting solid value for their £40,000.
The Mugen brakes, suspension and bodykit, along with that fantastic race-tuned engine, produce a driving experience of rare intensity that isn't necessarily reflected in the power and performance figures for this car. Those who like to compare statistics might not get much out of a Mugen but on the road or, preferably, on the track, it has a capacity to dumbfound that's rare, even for this money.
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