DON’T LET common sense rule your entire life. There are plenty of things that you need to keep a cool head over; what pension you should choose and perhaps which car insurance policy to get – the humdrum and the everyday. Most of us need to apply this logic to our choice of car too, but if you’re a little fortunate and prepared to compromise a little, you can have a little bit of divine madness in your life.
Honda makes very good, very sensible cars. There’s a brand-new Civic now of course, but the previous generation was no less impressive. And aside from the very slick and modern exterior and futuristic interior, it was a sensible and solid as any Honda. Then they brought out the Type-R version, which looked the business and went pretty well thanks to the fiery 2.0-litre VTEC engine.
But that wasn’t enough for Mugen, the tuning arm of Honda. They went nuts and created the Civic Type-R Mugen. It was lightened by 100kg, including beautiful lighter alloy wheels and composite body panels, lowered and stiffened suspension and super grippy tyres. There were also some significant engine upgrades that liberated and extra 40bhp and 15lb.ft of torque. In short, it was a genuine fire-breathing hot hatch. It was also not cheap at £38,995, although you were getting one of only 20 cars with some serious engineering added in.
The new Civic’s arrival should have been the end of the story, but there were a few remaining cars and the Mugen people decided to go back and make it even more bonkers. By increasing the engine capacity to 2.2-litres power went up to 256bhp and torque to 177lb.ft for one final hurrah.
And what a car it is. You’ll spot it’s a Civic straight away of course, but like no other on the road. The exterior upgrades include a BTCC-like massive rear wing, which on another car could look daft but on the Civic’s modern, radical shape looks just right. Finished in Championship White with a prominent Mugen graphic on the flank, it is as purposeful as you could wish for. It looks ready to head out onto the track and set a pole position time.
Climb inside and you drop straight into the very huggy Recaro seats. Apart from being very supportive and comfortable, they have huge side bolsters that clamp you in place. If you hadn’t realised by this point that the Mugen Type-R is a proper driving machine, the fact that your bottom isn’t going anywhere tells you all you need to know.
Turn the key then finger the starter button and the engine spins rapidly into life, idling quite high at first with a serious rasp from the large diameter exhaust. The gearlever slots firmly into first, and the upgraded clutch has a sharp bite – a brief kangaroo moment is inevitable until you get used to it and it sums up the whole car; it is a precision tool that needs to be driven with purpose.
Within 50 yards you’ll notice that the suspension is firm. On really rough roads you might wish it was a shade softer, but if you want a compromised car then look elsewhere. Driven sedately the engine feels more than sufficiently torquey, the steering is sharp and the pedals all respond with pinpoint accuracy. And yes you can relax while behind the wheel, the Civic settling down to the task of just getting you where you want to go.
But to drive it this way is a waste. You need a twisty and open section of road to discover what the Mugen is all about. If you didn’t know it already, Type-Rs are all about revs and with this 2.2 Mugen even more so. You need to work this car hard and once the needle passes 6,000rpm the exhaust note turns from a roar to a manic blare, it surges forward with renewed vigour and the grin grows further across your face. No other production car bar six-figure supercars can provide such an intoxicating mix of noise and pace. And the super-slick gearshift helps you keep it on the boil; snap changing between ratios is a pure delight.
And when you arrive at the first bend the experience continues in the same vein. The uprated brakes give a very firm pedal action that inspires huge confidence, and it takes a long time before you find the limit of the braking power. Then the sharpness of the steering takes over as you peel into a bend, the front tyres biting hard and gripping more than you thought possible. You have to push and push before the Mugen Civic starts to push back, and when you eventually find the grip running out it helps you gather it all up again. Driven like this you forget all about the price tag and savour the engineering that has gone into it and the visceral experience that it delivers.
And yet it still has the Magic Seats that fold completely flat to give you a huge boot. It still has all practicality and usability of a regular Civic – although it needs a bigger commitment to get there in the first place. It even coped with the snow without fuss despite the dry-optimised tyres.
This is not a car for everyone of course, not at almost £40,000. But who wants a car for everyone anyway? It is a car for the true enthusiast, someone who can appreciate fine engineering, a unique approach and a car that will only ever have 19 siblings worldwide. Soon they will all be gone, and each owner will have a car to cherish and savour – not bad for a car that can still do sensible.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Honda Civic Type-R Mugen 2.2, £38,995
Engine: 2.2-litre petrol producing 256bhp and 177lb.ft of torque
Performance: Top speed 150mph (est), 0-62mph 6.0 seconds (est)
Economy: 35mpg combined (est)
Emissions: 200g/km of CO2 (est)
- Power5 (high performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy2 (worse than average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups2 (higher than average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: