The standard Type-R is wearing the same shade of blood-red paint as the Mugen version, but it might as well be invisible. The newcomer has only been here a few minutes but already a crowd has surrounded it, from its jutting, razor-edged front splitter to its high-rise carbonfibre rear wing and fat, round tailpipes. The flared arches add to the theatre, while the bonnet vents are menacing enough to slacken the jaws of even this hardened group of trackday goers. When the current Type-R was launched it seemed so futuristic, but right here, right now, it’s being totally outshone. Suddenly it looks plain, frumpy even. Such is the effect of this prototype super-Civic.
It’s the work of the European branch of Mugen, Honda’s celebrated race and tuning partner. For decades, Mugen has been the specialist company Honda turns to when it needs cutting-edge, motorsport-bred technology (see panel on page 106). In Japan, it enjoys the kind of reputation that Cosworth does here, so it might not be a coincidence that the European bases of both companies are on the same small, nondescript industrial park in Northampton. In fact they’re right next door to each other; the workforces even share the same sandwich van.
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In the two years Mugen has been here it has built some 250 race engines, but this is the division’s first foray into road cars. With Honda’s blessing it has re-engineered the UK version of the Civic Type-R and the result is a car that can mix it with the hot-hatch kings from Ford and Renault, namely the Focus RS and the Mégane R26.R. Project leader Colin Whittamore is keen to distance the Mugen Type-R from such comparisons, but it’s difficult to ignore the competition, especially as the R26.R is one of the most popular members of our long-term fleet. More of that later.
Happily, the Mugen Civic’s arrival with us has coincided with an evo trackday at our second home, the Bedford Autodrome, but before I try the crowd-pleaser I want to reacquaint myself with the basic Civic Type-R, and also the limited-slip-differential-equipped Championship White edition.
The standard CTR has become something of a forgotten hatch in recent times, a result of mixed reviews and the fact that it hasn’t moved forward in a sector now crammed full of sharper alternatives. On track it’s not a biddable companion. It takes a delicate foot and a great deal of patience to get the best from it. Get greedy with the throttle out of a slow- or medium-speed corner and the inside front wheel will light up instantly, wasting the energy you were hoping it would use to pull you forwards. On the road, where you’re not travelling with quite the same intensity, the issue is less pronounced, and it handles mid-corner bumps well, but you don’t get all the detail from the steering that you want – it’s a tad vague. That’s the last word you’d use to describe the engine and gearbox. Rev-hungry, precise and manic in the VTEC zone, the internals of the naturally aspirated 1998cc unit are bumblebee busy and are kept buzzing by a sweet, rifle-bolt gearshift that’s unmatched in this field. There’s both good and bad in the standard Type-R, then.
The Championship White costs an additional £1140 and, apart from the all-white colour scheme, the only real difference is the diff. It sounds like a lot of money for not a lot extra, but one corner of the West Circuit is all you need to be convinced it’s a bargain. The diff changes the feel and behaviour of the car so comprehensively you’d think there were other upgrades, but there aren’t – everything else is the same, even the tyres. Yet the White is more effective on the brakes, there are a whole load more messages coming from the nose, and it claws its way out of the turns with no fuss or frustrating wheelspin. When we strap the timing gear on, it knocks more than 3sec off the lap time set by the regular version – a staggering improvement that I wouldn’t have believed possible if I hadn’t done the driving myself. The game is upped on the road too. The CTR is all front end, but with the CW the rear can be brought into play and its reactions are sharper, allowing the driver to play with the interface between tyre and tarmac.
In a way it’s a shame for the Mugen team that the Championship White Type-R exists, because adding the diff alone would have made them look like tuning gods, but there are bigger plans here. Whittamore, who has come along with the car today, explains that Mugen wants to build on its relationship with Honda. ‘This was a project initiated by us,’ he says, ‘but we have worked very closely with the engineers in Japan. We sent a standard UK car to them, along with the spec and design of the car we wanted to create. They built it and sent it back for us to refine. From the outset this was to be a concept car, so we don’t have to begin selling them for the project to be a success. The project’s aims are to demonstrate the co-operation between Mugen and Honda, to bring attention to the Type-R and to flag up the fact that Mugen is in the UK. It’s the starting point for other road-car projects and we do have a few things up our sleeves.’
He’s smiling now, but he won’t be drawn on what they might be, so I ask him about the brief for this car. ‘It was to wake up the Civic,’ he says, ‘but not to go crazy. It had to remain recognisable and close to the car it started as. It’s a Type-R plus one, if you like, something a current owner may aspire to. But where we go from here with it is still to be decided.’ Whittamore is playing it cagey, but if the reaction here is anything to go by, Honda should get the Mugen Civic into the showrooms right now.
It’s not all about the looks, though. For a start Mugen has lightened the car by over 100kg. A chunk of that has come from body-panel liposuction, as the dramatic new bonnet, bumpers, wings and front grille are all composite items. Inside, the rear seats have gone and the fronts have been replaced by a pair of deep Recaros with Sabelt harnesses. You won’t find a roll-cage or plastic windows, though – they were deemed a step too far. Instead there’s a rear bulkhead and a huge boot.
Mugen has also fitted stiffer, 10mm lower springs, which are controlled by trick dampers. The 18in forged alloys are each 5kg lighter than the standard car’s items and are wrapped in trackday-spec Yokohama Neovas. It’s no surprise to learn that the engine has been breathed on too. At 237bhp it’s 20 per cent more powerful than before, and there’s a noticeable torque hike when the high-lift cam profiles kick in at 5600rpm. It’s up 15lb ft, and that extra fizz has been achieved with a new camshaft and valve springs, different pistons, a larger throttle body and the obligatory remap. Air is also moved through faster thanks to a new intake manifold and a free-flowing custom-made stainless-steel exhaust system.
Mugen hasn’t published performance figures as yet, but our guess is that its Civic will cover the dash to 60mph in less than 6sec, as it rips off the line with all the enthusiasm of a junior rally car. Henry Catchpole, our in-house tarmac stages expert, confirms that particular association. ‘It has the same light rear-end feel as the Suzuki I campaigned last year,’ he says, ‘and without the sound-deadening in the back it makes the same four-cylinder noises too.’ Ah yes, the soundtrack. If the standard Type-R was wild in the upper echelons of the rev-range, then the Mugen is bloody furious, a rorty, raspy, popping, snarly mix of induction and exhaust. Brilliant.
On track the Mugen attacks the corners like a race car, turning in with a hunger unmatched even by the Championship White. The body control is more composed and you can work the rear harder still. It even allows trail-braking – try that in the others and the nose will stubbornly plough straight on. The front discs are 10mm larger and of a two-piece design, while bespoke four-pot calipers bite so hard you find yourself pulling the harnesses tighter each lap. How much faster is the Mugen? It knocks 3.2sec off the Championship White’s time and in the process undercuts the R26.R by an impressive 0.4sec too.
On the road the news is still good. There’s an uncomfortably loud, booming drone at 4000rpm and it torque-steers a tad too aggressively, but this car is still being fine-tuned and both of these foibles will be engineered out. If we’re being picky there is a little choppiness to the slow-speed ride, but it disappears as soon as you wind things up. Which you will. The Mugen goads you on, and the hot cams are so addictive you’ll want to use them every time the traffic clears.
This car needs to go into production. There’s no news yet on whether that will happen, but there are signs that there could be a limited run, possibly of 25 cars. It’s also likely that a kit of parts will be available to allow existing Type-R owners to upgrade their cars. In a less guarded moment, Whittamore let slip that ‘every part on this car has been designed as a ‘‘first of” rather than “one off”’, which sounds promising. Don’t expect the Mugen Civic Type-R to be cheap, though. It will cost more than the Mégane R26.R and the Focus RS, but it will also be considerably more exclusive. After our time with it, we reckon it’ll be good value whatever the price.
Brief history of MugenIt may have been set up in 1973 by Hirotoshi Honda, son of the Honda Motor Company founder Soichiro, but Mugen has always remained independent. The name translates as ‘unlimited’, and engine tuning, primarily for motorsport, has always been the mainstay of its business. The firm’s highlight was a decade in Formula 1, where it scored wins powering the Prost and Jordan teams, only dropping out when Honda itself entered the fray in 2000.
Mugen’s European base was established in 2007, initially to service motorsport in Europe through the building of engines for junior prototypes and touring cars. Its Northampton workshop includes a Formula 1 engine test cell that was built by next-door neighbours Cosworth; in terms of its capabilities and accuracy it is one of the very best of its kind in the world, capable of running engines up to 20,000rpm.
There are currently eight engineers working for Mugen in the UK and this will be scaled up if the company’s version of the Civic gets the go-ahead. To that end Mugen intends to take over more of the building it currently occupies, with the expansion including the creation of a showroom in which it will present its products. But you won’t have to travel to Northampton to buy a car or a kit – the big plan is for Mugen road cars to be available through the Honda network.
|Civic Type R||Championship White||Mugen|
|Engine||In-line 4-cyl||In-line 4-cyl||In-line 4-cyl|
|Location||Front, transverse||Front, transverse||Front, transverse|
|Bore x stroke||86 x 86mm||86 x 86mm||86 x 86mm|
|Cylinder block||Aluminium alloy||Aluminium alloy||Aluminium alloy|
|Cylinder head||Aluminium alloy, dohc, 4 valves per cylinder, i-VTEC||Aluminium alloy, dohc, 4 valves per cylinder, i-VTEC||Aluminium alloy, dohc, 4 valves per cylinder, i-VTEC|
|Fuel and ignition||Electronic engine management, Multipoint fuel injection||Electronic engine management, multipoint fuel injection||Electronic engine management, multipoint fuel injection|
|Max power||198bhp @ 7800rpm||198bhp @ 7800rpm||237bhp @ 8300rpm|
|Max torque||142lb ft @ 5600rpm||142lb ft @ 5600rpm||157lb ft @ 6250rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive, VSA||Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive, limited-slip differential, VSA||Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive, limited-slip differential, VSA|
|Front suspension||MacPherson struts, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar||MacPherson struts, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar||MacPherson struts, Mugen coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Rear suspension||Torsion beam, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar||Torsion beam, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar||Torsion beam, Mugen coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Wheels||300mm ventilated discs front, 260mm solid discs rear, ABS, EBD||300mm ventilated discs front, 260mm solid discs rear, ABS, EBD||310mm ventilated discs front, 260mm solid discs rear, ABS, EBD|
|Brakes||7.5 x 18in front and rear, aluminium alloy||7.5 x 18in front and rear, aluminium alloy||7.5 x 18in front and rear, aluminium alloy|
|Tyres||225/40 R18 front and rear, Bridgestone Potenza||225/40 R18 front and rear, Bridgestone Potenza||225/40 R18 front and rear, Yokohama Neova|
|0-62mph||6.6sec (claimed)||6.6sec (claimed)||5.9sec (est)|
|Top speed||146mph (claimed)||146mph (claimed)||155mph (est)|
|Basic price||£19,000||£20,140||TBC – see text|