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Honda Civic Type R Mugen concept (2009) review

Published:18 September 2009

Honda Civic Type R by Mugen: it's quite lairy
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

Who’s Mugen? I thought the Civic was made by Honda...

Mugen is a tuning company and engine builder that specialises in Honda cars and bikes. Although it’s technically independent from Honda, the company was set up by a son of Soichiro Honda himself – and has done everything from bodykits for the Jazz to F1 engines. And now the European arm has turned out this Scuderia-esque stripped out and pumped-up version of the UK-built Civic Type R.

Looks pretty standard, what’s so special about the Mugen Civic Type R?

Look closer. The front wings, bonnet and bumpers have all received work, there are uprated brakes and suspension and a pair of hot cams lifts engine power from a now-looking-anaemic 198bhp to an on-the-pace 237bhp at a screaming 8300rpm.

Inside, there’s no cage but a pair of snug buckets fitted much lower than the standard chairs. The back seat is in the skip but, unlike in the Megane R26R, a false bulkhead means you’ve got a normal boot to keep valuables from prying eyes (or just stop your groceries lapping the interior on the way home from the shops).

Is the Mugen Civic all show and no go?

Oh no, this thing goes! It’s not Focus RS quick, but then with no turbo and half the torque it was never going to be. But it’s far more rapid than the slightly flat-feeling standard Type R, reaching 60mph in around six seconds we’d guess. And the engine noise is simply out of this world: a proper BTCC wail filling the cabin as the revs pass 5500rpm.

As more manufacturers disappear down the turbo route, this 2.0-litre engine’s soundtrack and razor-sharp throttle response are a perfect reminder of why a really good naturally aspirated engine still takes some beating.

But the Honda Civic Type R Mugen was never really going to be about going fast in a straight line. With sticky Yokohama rubber, the Type R’s optional limited slip differential and a 100kg weight reduction (ditching the interior saved most of it), the Mugen feels alive on the track, more racer than road car with an aggressive turn-in, abhorrence of understeer and brilliant body control.

Forget the flabby Focus RS, if you want a hatch for trackdays, this is the one now that the Megane R26R is unavailable. On the road it’s undeniably stiff, tramlines a little and the mid-rpm exhaust boom desperately needs sorting, but it's eminently usable and brilliant fun on fast smooth tarmac.

    

Right, where’s my chequebook? I’m off to my local Honda emporium!

Whoa there! This Civic’s still a concept at this stage while Mugen Europe works out whether there’s a good business case for it. If it does make production, it’ll be built at Mugen’s Northampton base at a rate of around 20 cars per year. Why only 20? Because you’ll need at least £35k, possibly £40,000 to buy one. Is that the sound of a chequebook being slipped back into a drawer I hear?

It certainly was. So what we’ve got here is essentially a Megane R26R with a better engine that costs £15k more...

Though Mugen would disagree, that’s about the size of it. The Renault just about made sense at £23k (although Renault UK failed to shift as many as hoped), but if you want to buy a track car for £35-40k that has no back seats but retains some on-road civility, why on earth wouldn’t you buy a Lotus Exige? No, we don’t know either.

Verdict

The Mugen Civic is brilliant but if it does make production at £35-40k, the queue is going to be shorter than a French head of state. What we’d like to see is Honda UK take a good look at it, and put something similar into production as a rival to the Focus RS and forthcoming Golf R at £25-30k.

How about it Honda?

Specs

Price when new: £35,000
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1998cc 16v four, 237bhp @ 8300rpm, 157b ft @ 6250rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 6.0sec 0-62mph (est), 150mph
Weight / material: 1233kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4280/1795/1440

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Photo Gallery

  • Honda Civic Type R on CAR road test. We like very much, but not the anticipated £35-40k price
  • Drive the Mugen on track, and it's bliss
  • Those big round pipes reveal this is the Mugen-spec Type R
  • CAR assistant editor Chris Chilton behind the wheel of the Honda Civic Type R Mugen
  • Big wing? This Civic Type R Mugen really flies
  • Extra dials in cabin of new Civic Type R
  • Regular 2.0-litre four-pot, but breathed on by Mugen
  • No rear seats, just a big black bulkhead
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