Earlier Type Rs are more beloved and later ones faster, but the last naturally aspirated Type R can still entertain
The market never received the original EK9 Honda Civic Type R, but we’ve been lucky enough to make the list for each generation of hot Civic launched since. The most recent, fifth-generation car (the FK8) is a class-defining hot hatchback, pairing huge performance with a chassis that’s as engaging as it is capable – and styling that takes a little getting used to.
The last point could also have been applied to Honda’s third Civic Type R, the FN2, when it arrived in 2007. Hot on the heels of the impressive ‘breadvan’ EP3 Civic Type R, the FN2 packed similar mechanicals but in a much more striking body shell – and one very different from the more conservative, saloon-shaped Civic sold in Japan (the FD2).
Unlike the very latest Type R though, the FN2 received a guarded reception at launch, and it was nothing to do with the triangular styling. Heavier and using less sophisticated suspension than its predecessor, the car’s performance and handling didn’t quite hit the spot, particularly on bumpier roads. But time can heal many wounds, and today the FN2, while not the most beloved of Civic Rs, is a conspicuous bargain and packs one of the all-time great four-cylinder engines.
Honda Civic Type R FN2 in detail
Those of you in the American market might find this hard to believe, but for much of the Honda Civic’s history in the UK it didn’t have the most… youthful reputation, let’s say. While younger buyers in the US were drawn to the Civic’s compact size, simplicity and healthy aftermarket, on the opposite side of the pond its other characteristics of dependability, practicality and ease of use tended to make it the default choice for older generations.
Honda might not have said it outright, but the eighth-generation Civic launched in 2005 looked very much like pushback against that reputation. It adopted the one-box silhouette first seen with the previous Civic, but a box probably wasn’t the shape that came to mind when first laying eyes on it.
Instead, there were triangles everywhere you looked, and the interior was similarly remarkable. Gone was the previous car’s floating dashboard with high-mounted gearshift; now a wide, expansive dash took its place, with a raised centre console, clusters of switches grouped close to the steering wheel, and a split-level instrument cluster placing the speedometer just below the bottom of the windscreen.
There were even bigger changes under the skin, particularly at the rear. Since the fourth-generation Civic launched in 1987, all Civics had used a sophisticated suspension layout with double wishbones at the rear, and 1995’s sixth-generation car had even used double wishbones at all four corners. The eighth-gen car, though, used MacPherson struts at the front, as its predecessor had, but with a simpler, cheaper torsion-beam axle with trailing arms at the rear.
Beam axles aren’t inherently a bad thing, but when the Civic Type R came along in 2007 it was clear the car couldn’t quite shrug off the effects of this more basic set-up entirely, lacking the composure of several key rivals – even if it had made strides in some areas over the EP3.
The powertrain was very similar to that of the EP3 though, with the same 1998cc 2-litre K20 four-cylinder VTEC engine under the stubby bonnet. It produced just 1bhp more, now 198bhp, but Honda had retuned it slightly for driveability, dropping the VTEC cam change point from 6000rpm to 5400rpm. The result was a less frantic experience, but exhaust tuning also gave the FN2 a deeper, richer sound. It also felt more refined thanks to the new car’s improvements in this area.
Type R visual cues were even more pronounced. The Civic’s already Pythagorean styling gained a few new triangles, 18-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels filled the body-coloured arches, the grille was now a mesh affair rather than the regular Civic’s perspex panel, and the obligatory red badges were affixed. Inside, red-trimmed Recaros also made an appearance, as did a wonderful aluminium-ball-topped gearlever, albeit one set lower than that of the EP3.
Mid-life updates to the FN2 were minor. The most prominent coincided with the launch of the ‘Championship White’ edition in late 2008. While the aforementioned colour – iconic from the original Civic R, NSX-R and Integra R – was the most visual change, it also received a limited-slip differential. While the R was never over-endowed with torque, the extra control over the front axle was a welcome improvement.
Before the Type R disappeared, there was just one more surprise in store from Honda, and specifically Mugen. The renowned Honda tuner built 20 special Type R Mugens for the region, each with new pistons, camshafts, a retuned ECU and the loudest exhaust known to humankind, adding up to 237bhp at 8300rpm. New wheels, suspension and seats were also on the list. Buyers had to be dedicated, though: Honda listed the new model at $49,010– a premium of almost $25,000 over the standard Type R.
Production of the eighth-generation Civic ceased in 2011, with the Type R having stopped in 2010, its K20 engine no longer capable of meeting upcoming emissions regulations. It would be the last naturally aspirated Type R: when the FK2 Civic R arrived in 2015, it did so with a turbocharged engine. It was arguably a better car, but no hot hatch since the FN2 has felt quite the same.
What we said
Honda Civic Type R FN2, ‘The Gathering’
‘Anyone who has spent time behind a full-house Honda VTEC will instantly recognise the light but percussive beat of the Civic’s all-aluminium four. It seems to respond more snappily to the throttle than memory suggests it did in the previous Type R, and in isolation you wouldn’t say it was gutless in the mid-range. And while the gearshift isn’t quite as snappy as that of the last CTR, it’s still one of the best here.
‘Dynamically the latest Civic Type R falls a long way short of the mark, its peculiar steering and inert balance scuppering any chance of it challenging the class leaders. And it really needed an agile, biddable chassis to help keep that sweet-spinning, naturally aspirated VTEC on the boil, because this fine engine flies in the face of the new convention – the turbo-enhanced 16-valve four.’’
What to pay
Civic Type R FN2
This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk
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