In the land where the model was born, something is deeply wrong with the latest Civic lineup.
At the 2006 Geneva Motor Show, Honda revealed that a 3-door Type R would soon be set loose upon European consumers. You many have even seen the photo of President Takeo Fukui posing alongside Honda F1 driver Jenson Button in front of the yellow hatchback. Then in North America, the OEM released a 200hp Si coupe and sedan in '06 and '07, respectively; the first time the trim has ever been offered to the States with four doors.
But what about Japan? The birthplace of Soichiro Honda. The place where the NSX Type R first prowled and proved it truly carried racing DNA. Where there is never a shortage of high technology ... Japan, where Honda has its global headquarters!
Nope, not this time. Many of you reading this outside of Japan probably don't know how bad we've got it this time. It's bad.
There currently is no Civic Type R in an FD/FA/FG chassis in the Land of the Rising Sun, not even an announcement or concept release from Honda to tease the imagination. And making matters worse, the Japanese have been saddled with only four-door sedans. That's right; there's not even a Civic coupe available to buy. Talk about payback for every year of having it good.
Back in the day, we'd see Type Rs around and think nothing of it. We'd secretly laugh at foreigners eagerly taking photos of the cars and getting all juiced up about the R. "Yeah, we get all the cool stuff here and you don't," we believed. We had Type Rs, the white lions of Timbavati, the rarest and finest works of the Honda Motor Company, the only vehicles worthy of the red emblem.
But not this time. This time the world got the good stuff and we didn't. Or so they say...
Oh, how we miss the Championship white and unique exhaust note. If this just reads like too much bellyaching, you'll have to forgive us. It may be this writer's lot in life to sit around and complain about shit to get his point across, hoping that someone will read it and fix things. Don't underestimate the power of the pen.
Don't underrate initiative, either. There was someone else out there who also had the notion that there was something amiss about this scenario. But instead of whining about it like yours truly, he took matters into his own hands-literally.
The president of internationally recognized tuning shop Spoon Sports, Tatsuru Ichishima, decided to make his own Type R. If Honda wasn't going to do it for the Japanese, Spoon would do it itself. Who else could be up to the task but these renowned Honda specialists?
Let's take a closer look at exactly what our friend Ichi-san and his team at Spoon did to turn the modest JDM grocery getter into a Civic credible enough to wear the red H.
The 1.8-liter, four-door, FD1 chassis was the chosen starting point because, like we said, it wasn't like Spoon had anything else to choose from in Japan. First, they grabbed hold of the anemic R18A motor and hucked it out the window. In its place is a K20A mill from the JDM Integra R. The pistons were replaced with forged metal slugs from the S2000 and the sleeves were also altered to accommodate the replacements. Additionally, the rotating assembly was balanced and blueprinted to minimize any vibration and help hit high revs without trouble.
As a result this engine makes around 245 horses at 8,500RPM. Ichishima says the motor can be pushed to 9,000 without any problems and can climb further. Keep in mind the "stock" K20A Type R engine puts out 220hp at 8,000rpm, with a max torque output of 152 lb-ft at 7,000rpm.
Next, the weak-ass 5-speed transmission of the Civic was done in. A 6-speed gearbox from a DC5 was installed, but for further improvements, parts from the CL7 and EP3 chassis transaxles were also used, since all those platforms share the same trans in Japan. What resulted was a slightly shorter final drive ratio for a sportier ride.
Weight reduction and chassis tuning are further elements that set Spoon's whip apart from others. Deleting the vehicle's fat, the finished car weighs a svelte 2,469 lbs., down over 250 pounds from the stock 2,734. Spoon coilovers and 4-pot brake calipers give the car added hops to handle the extra power. In addition, tire sizes were bumped up from the stock 16 inches to 215/40/17 Bridgestone RE01R's on both front and back. The sedan is now the picture of lean and mean.
Before I stepped into his shop's version of a Civic Type R, Ichishima asked me if I knew the story of the wolf in sheep's clothing. He claims that the chassis of this DBA-FD1 Civic has much potential of becoming a real Type R, a wolf underneath the friendly exterior. I replied to him in disbelief, "Come on! How about the 4 doors?" Can there really be a 4-door Type R? Then he reminded me of the '97 Integra Type R sedan. True, but I still wasn't sold as I started the test drive.
I quickly learned the FD1 chassis has plenty of linear stability and turning prowess, 4 doors and all. The lowered vehicle relentlessly clung to the road surface in the test drive, regardless of direction. Turning was as simple as piloting a kart; just point the car where you want it to go. Even with its overpowering engine, the chassis rigidity didn't expose any faults-no over extended roll through curves, just a tight and firm body taking on the road.
Under the hood, the Spoon-tuned K20A made gobs of torque. At high revs under VTEC, Ichishima explained, it feels like there is no limit to the engine. Torque is alive and strong all the way up to 9,000rpm. Indeed, the entire driving experience was extremely pleasurable, almost as though the gear ratio had been tuned perfectly for the winding roads outside of Tokyo.
Driving Tokyo's back roads is one thing, but in order for a Type R to earn its badge it has to prove itself on the racetrack. Can this car actually hold up under the scrutiny of a professional driver on a closed circuit? That was the next task, to find a pilot that could tell us the objective truth.
Luckily, one of the best things about being the executive producer for Best Motoring International is that you have access to lots of talented guys like Keiichi Tsuchiya and Daisuke Ito. Keiichi is most famous for being the Drift King and making cameos in popular Hollywood flicks, but he's also a fairly well known ex-GT racecar driver and tester. Daisuke Ito is KT's protg and is currently piloting the Honda NSX in Super GT. It is believed he may even win the series title this year.
The drivers chosen to confirm my impressions don't get any better than these 2. And whereas some tuners get cold feet bringing their cars to get throttled on camera, Ichishima does not. One thing we pride ourselves in at BMI is our ability to judge cars without prejudice. That's how we've earned respect, but also why we aren't among everybody's best friend.
So Ichi-san gracefully took on the challenge to pit his baby Civic "R" against a stock S2000 and a 4-door ITR. We picked the 2.2L S2K to see how the Civic would fare against it in terms of power and total performance, and the Integra to compare the sedan with another 4-door. We contemplated bringing out the EP3 CTR hatch, but in truth the EP was never considered in the same league as the EK9 CTR. The EP3 was a mildly tuned Civic that never really resonated with most enthusiasts. We figured a better yardstick would be to race Spoon's sedan against the highest performance Honda currently in production, the S2000.
Before the battle, Keiichi Tsuchiya took the Spoon Civic out for a test run, and when he returned, he was all smiles. In a tone of sarcasm, he teased Ichi-san about how Spoon had finally come up with something worth driving. It became clear, though, that the seasoned driver was truly impressed with the car.
He raved about the engine, the smooth and perfectly geared transmission, and the chassis' high level of handling performance. We were genuinely glad to see this, as KT can sometimes be harsh in his assessments. He's not the considerate type that hands out passing grades for "effort," so when he gives the thumbs up, he means it.
His fastest lap was 1:12.63. Finishing in the one minute, 12-second range on Ebisu's East course suggests the Civic has enough to compete against the S2000, which can rip off laps in about the same time. At that moment, the Spoon Civic became the fastest new Civic in Japan.
The battle had more surprises in store.
Juichi Wakisaka, another Super GT driver who happened to be with us, took the reigns of the S2000, while Daisuke Ito climbed in the 4-door Integra. KT stayed in the Spoon Civic. Conditions at the time were semi-dry, as it had rained a little just before the battle.
The Integra, with a lap time of 1:17.23, had the first grid spot as an advantage, which it desperately needed. The S2K and Spoon Civic, coming up from behind, overtook the struggling Integra on the very first lap. The decade-old Integra R was visibly not in the same class as the top two cars.
The S2000, being Honda's newer sportscar, showed that even a DC2 Type R couldn't hold a candle to it. But the Spoon Civic-based on a family sedan-really shocked everyone when it passed the S2K on the final lap; this after 4 laps of pressuring the S2K from behind. The Spoon Civic was constantly clocking 1:12 laps as it took the lead and bested Honda's race-inspired roadster.
The battle was compelling evidence. It would appear the new Civic has the roots to become a real Type R. Equally evident is that Spoon knows its craft and can make a speedster out of even a modest Civic. (Now you know who to go to if you want yours to beat on S2000's at the track.)
Rumor has it that Honda will announce a JDM CTR in early 2007. Hopefully all this whining, and Ichishima's own initiative in coming up with an interpretation of the Type R, will convince the right folks that this land is in need of a Type R. Only then can this wrong-the absence of a Type R in the birthplace of the marque-be righted (and it has been - yay Honda! - Sen. Ed.)
Type R Refresher
The first Honda to ever come out with a Type R designation was the 1992 NSX. Significant among its qualities was a drop in curb weight of over 60 pounds from the non-R version, which made for a fairly killer power-to-weight ratio. After '92, no additional R's were produced until the model was sold again in 2001. Then in 2005, an NSX-R GT limited model was released (as a Super GT homologation model only) that sold for approximately $500,000. Just 5 of those were produced.
The next model line to get a Type R was the Integra. In 1995, Honda offered the DC2-generation chassis with its now-famous B18C-R engine, a powerplant that was factory tuned to make 200 horses at the crank, 20 more than what run-of-the-mill JDM Integra B18's were making at the time. The renowned hand-buffed ports and valve seats started with this iteration, which Honda engineers famously illustrated in Best Motoring International's Vol.1 "Type R Legends" DVD.
Honda followed up the '95 ITR with the EK9 chassis Civic in 1997, a hatchback that, in R trim, came equipped with the coveted B16B engine. The 1.6L B boasted 116hp per liter, and no other OE-tuned naturally aspirated engine has yet to reach this mark, even today. Then in '98, the ITR got a bump in running gear, rolling on 16-inch rims, and larger rotors for better braking. The B18C engine hadn't changed internally, but the exhaust manifold configuration was tweaked from 4-2-1 to 4-to-1 to increase torque.
In 2001, the Integra and Civic both went through full model changes. The DC5 Integra (more commonly recognized as an RSX in the U.S.) was given 60hp more than non-R versions, 17-inch rims, and a close ratio 6-speed transmission to clearly differentiate the vehicle from other grades. Even though it didn't look like other Civics of the era, the EP3 CTR was still a "Civic," but the wheelbase was changed from the EM/ES chassis and the vehicle was produced in England, breaking the longstanding tradition of R's only coming from Japan.
The i-VTEC K
In Japan, the K-series engine first came out in 2000, and later in 2001 with Honda's newly developed "intelligent" or i-VTEC technology that uses Variable Timing Control. But that wasn't the only thing unique about the power plant. As most tuners know by now, it is a positive rotation engine, which is a rarity for a Honda-designed mill. The K20 ultimately became the OE's de facto 2-litre engine; the only other is the F20C, native to the '00 to '03 S2000.
Production of the K20A Type R motor officially ceased with the discontinuation of the DC5 chassis Integra Type R in 2006. Of course the K20A is still used for other Honda models, such as the JDM Accord and the Edix minivan. The DOHC i-VTEC engine that carried the Type R distinction, however, remains in a league of its own, as Honda made several important developments in engineering the K to be something akin to a race engine.
First, the definitive race mill needed to be able withstand high revs. In the holes compression was a relatively high 11.5:1, so individual bottom end parts were strengthened using different materials and all fine tuned one by one. For example, the connecting rods use high resistance metals similar to ones found in Formula 1 applications. This was how 220 horsepower at 8,400rpm was finally achieved, while saving 10kgs of weight over other K20 bottom ends. Honda got creative in casting its R cylinder heads by using finer sand in the portions of the mold that corresponded to the ports. The smoother mold resulted in less liquid resistance once the aluminum was poured, which ultimately created much smoother port surfaces than in other versions of the K20 head. Only Type R plants got this treatment.
On the cold side, throttle bore diameter was increased and a single lumen isometric short intake manifold is used. This technology was originally used in racecars. The valve seat on the intake port was also modified with a special 20-degree tapered cutter for optimum intake flow. For the exhaust, a dual manifold with a bigger diameter than other Ks was selected. A variable valve silencer that opens and closes based on pressure is used to decrease exhaust resistance.