High on Civic Mindedness : Honda Civic Type R (FD2R) [review]

Car Specifications
Engine: 
1998cc Normal Aspirated
Cylinder Layout: 
4-cylinder In-line, VTEC, 16-valve
Top Speed: 
231 km/h (187 km/h limited)
Transmission: 
6-speed manual
0-100km/h: 
6.0 sec
Power: 
225 bhp at 8000 rpm
Torque: 
215 Nm at 6100 rpm
Features: 
  • Superb high revving engine
  • Track-ready suspension
  • Excellent gear change

The first Type R appeared as the NSX-R (NA1) back in 1992 although some may argue that the Type R moniker first appeared on Honda’s motorcycles long before it appeared on their four-wheelers.

Since then Honda has introduced a number of Type Rs as Integra (DC2, DC5) and Civic (EF9, EP3), they even had it as the UK Accord (CH1). Now Honda has introduced two Civic Type Rs, the UK Civic FN2 and the Japanese Domestic Model the FD2. Confused yet? Well should you meet up with Type R cognoscenti you had better bone up on these model codes.

Type R to Honda is what the “M” is to BMW. Honda has long been involved in Formula One racing and although F1 cars bear little resemblance to cars we have nowadays, Honda is keen to celebrate its racing heritage. The formula for the Civic Type R is a universal language understood by all petrol heads.

Start with the chassis, it is not the run of the mill Civic but a special beefed-up, lightened version with strategic reinforcements that include stiffer steel panels and pressings included at the welding and bonding stage.

Lightweight glass is also used for the rear windshield and there is little or no soundproofing to speak about in an effort to keep weight at 1270-kg which is surprisingly lower than the 1345-kg UK Civic Type R

Luxury items are usually deleted and the interior is pretty bare except for the Recaro look-alike sport seats and an alloy topped gear knob. 'Recaro' branded sports seats used to take pride of place but Honda has developed these sports seats in-house and they now feature height adjustment; however, it should be noted that these supportive seats are OE by Recaro, albeit following Honda's requirements.

The side bolsters are higher and the seats seem to offer greater comfort than the earlier Recaro seats, which should come as no surprise, considering these manufacturer-developed seats with Recaro tend to address many of the 'issues' of off-the-rack seats. The foot pedals are also specially adorned with grippy rubber studs on a drilled aluminium backing.

Honda says “R” stands for racing so it makes no apologies for the rock hard suspension that it fits to the Type R but many of the owners swap these for something even stiffer and lower. The handling is very sharp and is tuned for neutrality and indeed some pretty serious lift throttle oversteer so is not for the faint of heart.

Oddly enough for a FWD car the rear spring rates are about 30% stiffer than the fronts. Honda adopts this to raise rear roll stiffness to reduce understeer. The hard ride characteristics are due to the damper rates with high compression damping and lighter rebound damping as is the usual set up for race cars. A swap to dampers with inverse characteristics should give the Type R a European feel.

For those in the know, Bridgestone RE070s are just about the best street going tyres they ever made and these are standard items on the Civic Type R. These 225/45 YR 18 tyres are track based ones, homologated for street use and of course delivers tremendous grip in the dry. In the wet the broad tread blocks might not have good aquaplaning resistance but they do have good wet performance although it is not the best around.

Thanks to the exceedingly stiff sidewalls and tread belting, the steering is pin sharp and handling is extremely stable with no slack whatsoever. Honda is using the hydraulic type assistance instead of the electrical one in the UK Civic to get this sort of feel and sharpness in the steering. The downside of the RE070 is of course a hard ride but surprisingly the Civic bodyshell manages to shrug off the worst bumps and the cabin is surprisingly taut and crash free thanks to a bodyshell that is about 50% stiffer than the outgoing Integra Type R (DC5).

Finally Honda gives its Type Rs great brakes, now sporting 320mm discs and Brembo 4-pot callipers, up from the 300mm of the Integra which frankly was only barely adequate. The increase in size does not necessarily reduce stopping distances but enhances stamina for repeated stops on a track. Pity they didn’t include a set of steel braided brake lines.

As with all Type R Hondas, the piece de resistance is of course the engine. All except the NSX engines are above the 100 bhp per litre mark and the latest iteration of the K20A engine punches out 225 bhp which is 112.5 bhp per litre, quite a remarkable feat for a normal aspirated engine until one realizes the S2000 has 125 bhp per litre.

This latest iteration of the K20A engine has a compression ratio of 11.7:1 and the short inlet manifolds are tuned for high rpm breathing. The 4-2-1 exhaust manifold has better acute angle joints favouring an increase in exhaust gas-flow. And instead of adopting a pair of useless twin pipes in the rear, Honda engineers decided on a large single one.

The first Type R engines were specially hand honed and ported to exacting specifications before being dropped into cars which proved to be a production bottleneck but today Honda has reduced production tolerances and has instead elected to epoxy coat the intake tracts to produce a smooth surface instead of manually port and polishing them allowing Type R engines to be efficiently made on the production line like all its other engines.

The diameter of the throttle body goes up from 62mm to 64mm to aid air-flow and is now what Honda calls DBW or drive by wire. It is an electronically controlled throttle that if you didn't know better would assume to be a direct cable linkage.

With 225 bhp at 8000 rpm this engine is the highest output from this K20A engine to date. The previous 220 bhp motor in the Integra Type R feels slightly flaccid against this new engine as its torque was lower and appeared at higher rpm, 7000 rpm vs 6100 rpm. Admittedly 5 bhp is not a whole lot more but thanks to the compression ratio being bumped up to 11.7:1 from 11.5 increases torque throughout the working range of the engine. Tighter mapping of the fuel injection and ignition improves efficiency and response.

Perhaps the energetic impression is down to the fact that the Civic Type R weighs 1270 kg and the body in white is just 1.8 kg heavier than the two door Integra Type R. But a quick look at the gear ratios also suggest that it may also contribute to this newfound eagerness as the final drive is now 5.062 compared to the 4.911 of the Integra.

The first three gear ratios are similar but the last three are taller to compensate such that 100 km/h reads just 3100 rpm in 6th which is pretty close to what it is in the Integra. To maximize traction a Torsen LSD distributes torque between the front wheels.

Whilst every individual component makes interesting reading, it is really the sum of its parts that tell the whole story. The initial impression is that of a stiffly sprung aspiring race car, the spring and damper rates collaborating to jiggle the occupants around.

Adopting the recommended tyre pressures and allowing the suspension to settle reduces this turbulent ride but obviously it is set up for track use and while it does not crash and bump is rather uncomfortable over poor surfaces especially for the passengers as the driver is too busy revelling in the directness of the chassis and steering.

That the Civic Type R beats the Integra Type R around Suzuka circuit by 5 seconds is not surprising, but that it can match the NSX-R certainly is. The magic is in the latest generation Bridgestone rubber, RE070 which gives the CTR such grip and poise as to threaten the NSX-R. Too bad it has such a stiff ride but we are sure many would gladly give up the comfort for the performance.

Feeling direct must have been a priority at Honda as this is exactly what the gearbox feels like. The shifts are slick, positive and accurate without any slop making a mockery of many sporty European machines. Finally the brake feel even without the benefit of steel braided lines, is firm and progressive with just the right amount of servo assistance.

And should you lament that Honda has ditched the Recaros in favour of some home brewed sports seats, don’t. They not only hold you in better with its taller bolsters but are more comfortable too plus they offer height adjustment. A small drawback is the coarse ratchet rake adjustment compared to the infinitely variable one on the Recaro.

Some have opined that the Civic Type R is the reincarnation of the first E30 BMW M3 with its 215 bhp 2.3-litre 4-cylinder engine and 1200-kg weight. But guess what? More than that the Civic Type R feels completely up to date.

Compared to today’s M3, it may be short of 4 cylinders and about 200 bhp but it is crisper and more lithe with just 1270 kg against the overweight M3 which tips the scales at 1655 kg. The Civic Type R is a purist machine, without any electronic nanny or any feel-filtering rubbery bushings in the suspension, steering or gearbox.

The driver is responsible for everything the car does; your every action is translated into direct reaction be it braking, steering or cornering. And then there is that trick VTEC engine that spins eagerly to 8700 rpm but is completely tractable in town. Few are the cars this hardcore, offering this kind of man-machine interface and be completely at home at the track or around town and certainly none at this price point.

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS


ENGINE
CAPACITY : 1998cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT : 4-cylinder, In-line
VALVES : 4-valve heads, 16 valve total
BORE X STROKE : 86 x 86mm
COMPRESSION RATIO : 11.7:1
MAXIMUM POWER : 225 bhp at 8000 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 215 Nm at 6100 rpm

TRANSMISSION
TYPE : 6-speed manual
DRIVEN WHEELS : FWD with Torsen LSD

PERFORMANCE
TOP SPEED : 231+ km/h (JDM limited to 187 km/h)
0-100KM/H : 6.0 seconds

SUSPENSION
FRONT : McPherson struts and stabilizer bar
REAR : Double wishbones and stabilizer bar

BRAKES
FRONT : Brembo 320mm Ventilated disc
REAR : Brembo 282mm Solid disc

TYRES
TYPE : Bridgestone RE 070
SIZE : 225/45 YR 18

SAFETY
ABS :Yes
AIRBAGS : 2
TRACTION CONTROL : None

MEASUREMENTS
LENGTH : 4540mm
WIDTH : 1770mm
HEIGHT : 1430mm
WHEELBASE : 2700mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1270-kg
TURNING CIRCLE : 11.8m


BUYING IT
PRICE IN  2008: $106,000 with COE
WARRANTY : 3-yr / 100,000 km
 

Summary
Brilliant little hot sedan from Honda. This might well be the last use of the high revving K20A engines so get them while you can. The chassis is amazingly taut and sharp but the ride in the original form is unforgiving and the red badges have become far too readily available.- AL At trackdays it has become the defacto standard bearer. It has achieved cult status with an enviable following.
Photos: 
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