You’re never too young to get behind the wheel, as this collection of fun-size cars proves
What - Honda Civic Type R MUGEN
Where - Goodwood to Silverstone, UK Date - April 2010
Price - £38,599
Available - Until all 20 are sold
Keyrivals - Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R, Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R, Porsche Cayman, Nissan GT-R
Summary - Renowned Honda motorsport specialist MUGEN has been let loose on the Civic Type R. The results are extraordinary - but come at quite a price.
Welike - brilliant bespoke engine, greater grip and handling, utterly exclusive, exterior looks are set to stun
We don't like - shame the seats don't go lower, not for everyone (thank goodness)
There's no getting away from it, so we might as well talk about the Honda Civic Type R MUGEN's price straight away. This is a Honda Civic. And it costs £38,599.
But whatever your immediate reaction, we're here to tell you it's a bargain. And not just because the Type R MUGEN is one of the best hot hatches we have ever driven.
It's also offering value for money. Honestly. We'll explain.
Each of these cars - and there will only ever be 20 - is hand-built by MUGEN Euro in the UK, local arm of MUGEN proper, an independent Japanese motorsport company specialising in Honda enhancement.
If you were to take a Honda Civic Type R Championship White - the recently discontinued special edition upon which all Type R MUGENs are based - and add all the MUGEN parts a regular punter can actually buy, the total bill would be in the region of £55k.
£55,000. And after all that you still won't have its heart - the MUGEN engine. MUGEN does not sell these to the general public. It's essentially a race engine. And a MUGEN race engine costs £20,000-£120,000.
Holy cow. We'll get to exactly how an engine can possibly be that pricey in a moment.
The fundamental thing to understand about this car is that it's been engineered as a total package. A total package designed not for outright speed but pure driving enjoyment.
MUGEN will build just 20 of these Type Rs because, thanks to a healthy dose of realism, it understands there aren't many people out there ultimately looking to drop nearly £40k on a hot hatchback.
Especially not when the car in question has only 39hp more than the regular version. The same cash could, for example, buy you a Porsche. Albeit a bone-stock basic one.
This is a money's no object kind of deal - on a modest scale. Your £40k scores you MUGEN suspension specifically retuned for the UK, MUGEN brakes, MUGEN wheels, MUGEN bodywork, all products of internationally renowned quality.
Then there's the engine. 240hp might not sound much, but from a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre unit it's plenty. The output has been chosen for reliability, yet this Civic now revs to 8,600rpm.
That's 500rpm higher than standard, accompanied by a 10 percent torque increase, and achieved via a total precision rebuild that takes seven days, including new camshaft, bespoke pistons, ECU, intake and full stainless steel exhaust system.
Development and testing is done on a Formula 1 spec dyno worth £3-£4million - MUGEN describes this as being like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but stands by its commitment to thoroughness.
In other words this engine is a serious, serious piece of kit. MUGEN prefers the overall experience approach, so all it'll say about the official 0-62mph time is 'sub six seconds'. Out on the road it's an animal.
Less flighty than standard, the MUGEN feels stronger throughout the rev range - making it surprisingly bearable during a motorway schlep - but the real action occurs after 5,700rpm.
That's when the second cam phase kicks in - you have now entered the VTEC zone (dodododoo) - the engine note goes from fabulous to full-on Touring Car, and the throttle response zaps like 350,000 volts.
Keep the MUGEN above this point and you've still got nearly 3,000rpm to play with; from the sharp stabbing note when you nail a heal-and-toe downshift to the final rising howl on approach the redline, this engine redefines the epitome of hot hatch emotional engagement.
And perhaps best of all it's fast - but it's not bonkers fast, so you don't feel like a social outcast and/or jail sentence waiting to happen extracting the best from it.
Ride and handling
The MUGEN engine is worth the price of entry alone - we can't stress how much we genuinely believe that. Making this car complete, however, is the fantastic chassis.
Like all regular Championship White Type Rs, the MUGEN is fitted with a limited slip differential - which in the standard car gives great cornering grip on smooth, dry roads but becomes considerably less predictable in all other circumstances.
Without altering the basic suspension geometry, MUGEN's new springs, dampers and lightweight alloys transform the Civic's reactions. We drove motorways, fast a-roads, bumpy b-roads in the wet, the greasy and the dry, and the results are astonishing.
The Type R's better than average steering feel remains, but is now complimented by an exceptionally bitey front end, with super direct responses, tenacious traction across all surfaces - and just enough bodyroll to hint you're approaching the limits.
The squirmy, snappy diff action is basically just gone - leaving you to get on with enjoying the vastly improved brakes and the awesome exactitude of Honda's god-like gearbox engineers. Six-speed snickety, oh yeah.
Corners can now be approached with complete certainty, power put down earlier, revs and downshifts perfectly matched. Even the Type R's uncompromising ride has been improved. The MUGEN is a dream.
If the MUGEN has a flaw you'll find it on the inside. Nope - nothing to do with that enormous rear wing, which is so tall it actually clears the window line and doesn't impede rear visibility at all.
Rather, it's the seating position. The seats themselves hold you tight; trouble is they just don't go low enough - particularly in relation to the steering wheel.
It's a tiny bit like you're driving a compact high-speed bus - a Bullet Bus, maybe - but probably enforced by homologation issues involving airbags and frame rails. We could live with it. No problem.
Other items of note inside include the plaque denoting the car's limited edition status, and the non-working shift lights. Standard on the regular Type R they won't talk to the MUGEN ECU.
You won't miss them, though, as the MUGEN gives far greater aural warning/ecstasy concerning the impending approach of the rev limiter. For more money, more extreme owners can also opt for a track pack.
This replaces the rear seats with a composite panel to save weight, adds an extra set of gauges on the dashtop and even includes a data logging system for pro-level circuit analysis.
Economy and safety
Since this is effectively an aftermarket conversion, MUGEN doesn't have to quote any official fuel consumption or emissions figures. Worse than standard? MUGEN reckons for sure. We found the economy pleasantly surprising, however.
There are no changes to the safety kit - bar the greater grip and response enabled by the MUGEN tuning. The limited amount of intervention from the stability control further reflects the effectiveness of these modifications.
The MSN Cars Verdict
We said it above, and we'll say it again: the Honda Civic Type R MUGEN isn't for everyone. It is aimed precisely at people who want a Honda Civic Type R MUGEN. No compromise.
Many will find the rev-happy engine hard work, and rue its lack of torque. We suggest they go and buy a turbodiesel. The ride is still on the firm side, the pricing raises eyebrows wherever it goes.
The MUGEN look is now available on a MUGEN 200 special edition of the regular Type R for £24,370. But with its perfectly matched blend of performance, dynamics and gob-smacking noise, the full £40k deal is now the hot hatch act to beat.
Given the available funds, your scribe would buy one of these cars in a shot. That just 20 will be made is at once a triumph and a great tragedy. A legend is born. Can you hear it screaming?
|Need to know|
|Engine - petrol||2.0-litre i-VTEC with bespoke MUGEN tuning|
|Engine - diesel||don't be daft|
|Torque (lb ft)||157|
|0-62mph (secs)||'sub six seconds'|
|Top speed (mph)||150+|
|Economy (mpg)||n/a (standard type R:31.0mpg|
|Rating||Honda Civic Type R MUGEN|
|Ride and handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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