When Honda asked MUGEN Euro to take a look at their Civic Type R, the western arm of the Japanese tuning company didn’t muck about. This wasn’t some half-arsed stickers-and-exhaust job, it was a full-on package of serious modifications.
The result was the Civic Type R MUGEN, a car that signalled the end of the FN2 Type R with only 20 hand-built cars going on sale. The value of that specialised workmanship was reflected in the asking price – no less than £38,599, a hell of a lot when you consider that at the same time you could buy a standard Civic Type R for under £20k.
At the heart of the Mugen Civic’s appeal is the engine. Honda’s VTEC units are renowned for having an appetite for revs and this is no exception. If you’re used to punchy turbocharged engines it feels a little weak at first, you start to wonder what all the fuss is about, and then the rev counter hits 6,000rpm and all hell breaks loose.
From that point on the Civic surges ahead with a turbo-like kick, the engine responding with almost telepathic speed to the movements of your ankle. Your instincts tell you to change gear but there’s more to come, the needle on the rev counter eager to swing around to 8,600rpm before the limiter cuts in.
While the engine is spinning enthusiastically it’s accompanied by an almost feral howl inside the cabin. It’s a hard, metallic-tinged scream that could easily be mistaken for a recording taken straight from a race track. Part of it is the natural howl of a VTEC engine but there’s something different here, an amplification of the best bits that comes courtesy of the uprated exhaust. It brings a horrible boominess to the cabin at around 3,000rpm but after that it sounds amazing. I wouldn’t want to spend any length of time with it on a motorway but by God, I’d be taking the cross-country route home at every opportunity.
There’s real racing blood running through this modified i-VTEC. The 2.0-litre engine is the first to reap the benefits of MUGEN’s time in Formula 1 and GT racing. New camshafts and a modified intake system increase power by 20 per cent and torque by 10 per cent. A change of pistons means a higher compression ratio and breathing is made easier with a custom stainless steel exhaust system and MUGEN airbox. The finishing touch is a MUGEN map for the ECU.
The level of engineering skill and number of hours required to modify the engine accounts for nearly half of the Mugen’s asking price. Race-craft for the road doesn’t come cheap!
The work continued inside with new, lighter Recaro seats that grip like a Wookie in mating season. You quickly learn to appreciate the stiff, unyielding side bolsters when testing the grip offered by the track-spec yet surprisingly road-legal sticky tyres. The dashboard is treated to a cluster of Mugen-branded dials and, for the serious enthusiast, there was an option to replace the rear bench with a lightweight composite blanking panel.
Returning to the subject of tyres, they wrap a set of lightweight forged alloy wheels that weigh just 7.85kg each, a drop of 32% compared to the standard Type R. Behind the wheels sit four-piston mono-block racing brake callipers, unique to the MUGEN.
Those gunmetal-painted wheels are one of the visual clues that you’re looking at a proper MUGEN-tuned Type R. Chances are you’ll have worked it out before spotting the wheels though, courtesy of that enormous rear wing that makes the Civic’s already poor rear visibility even worse. There’s also a scattering of MUGEN badges that could be mistaken for aftermarket eBay stickers.
It may be long-gone from Honda showrooms but the MUGEN Civic is a reminder of what Honda can do when they let their hair down. You wouldn’t want to, and most likely couldn’t, live with the MUGEN Civic Type R as your daily driver but when the mood takes you, this is a road car that can thrill like few others. It’s also the final flourish of a bygone age where Honda stood alone against the tide of turbocharging. MUGEN may well turn their attention to the new Civic Type R but they’ll struggle to create an engine as viscerally exciting as this FN2.