Honda’s AWD architecture was first received as little more than a novelty. Early Civic wagons’ AWD guts appealed predominantly to would-be subcompact buyers who fancied the idea of more predictable, off-road-ish modes of transportation. The idea that torque can be distributed in such a way that drivers could pull themselves out of small ditches appealed to campers and outdoorsman alike. AWD wagons remained a novelty, though, as serious nature lovers, and those who purposely went hunting for ditches often opted for more seasoned AWD vehicles, like those from Jeep, even Subaru.
Ten-second Hondas that trap just beyond 130 mph are nothing revolutionary. Ten-second Hondas that trap just beyond 130 mph on street tires are, quite frankly, unheard of. Blame traction for that ... or the lack thereof. Slicks, wheelie bars, and various suspension and chassis peripherals take care of all of that at the track, but do little to improve front tire grip when in street trim. Not unlike the ability of a FWD’s limited-slip differential to spread torque across two drive wheels, AWD configurations conceivably do the same but across all four wheels. Craig Zyskoski understood this prized concept early on, converting his then-400hp Civic hatchback to AWD trim, transcending its 11-second track capability to full-fledged street practicality.
Craig sold the hatchback, but didn’t forget the lesson learned. As you’d expect, the owner of a small Honda shop longed for another Honda. As such, he and a ’95 Civic DX coupe soon found one another. Not surprisingly, the $500 Honda’s AWD transformation was among the first modifications to be mapped out. The blueprint called for a first-generation CR-V’s manual gearbox and transfer case fastened to an LS-VTEC assembly. Custom engine mounts were fabricated, and the CR-V’s shifter cables were appropriately routed into the cabin. Before the project even began, though, Craig knew that the CR-V’s rearend wouldn’t do. With relatively small gears and no provisions to allow for adequately sized axles, Honda’s SUV differential would prove less useful than the more conventional FWD configuration. Instead, Craig retrofitted components from the fourth-generation Civic wagon, including the rear differential, driveshaft, and viscous coupler. Compared to the CR-V’s, the Civic’s differential is stronger; its housing made of cast iron; and is able to accept larger, torque-tolerant axles. Its viscous coupling unit that transfers power to the rearend can also handle more torque and is more responsive than the CR-V’s hydraulic clutch packs. Combine all of this with the CR-V gearbox and you’ve got the makings of the all-terrain arrangement Honda should’ve produced to begin with.
Craig made use of the Allentown, Pennsylvania, shop he co-owns, Epic Tuning, and fabricated the appropriate rear suspension components to accept the AWD Civic pieces, along with rear disc brake components from a later-model Integra and Wilwood. A custom subframe was fabricated, as were lower rear control arm mounting points since the original locations, along with a portion of the trunk floor, were removed to allocate room for the differential housing. With space for a gas tank scarce, Craig instead fitted the Civic with an eight-gallon fuel cell. And with everything mounted appropriately, the only issue left to address was the speed differential between the gears in the CR-V transmission and Civic rearend. A small, yet calculated aspect ratio difference between front and rear tires settled that.
Craig’s—and Epic Tuning’s—craftsmanship continues under the hood, where the 0.5mm-bored non-VTEC engine sits with its JE pistons and Eagle rods. Boost is supplied by a Garrett 60-1 turbocharger—perhaps not the most en vogue according to modern-day turbo aficionados, but is more than capable of supplying enough air for the 600 whp Craig demanded. A handmade exhaust manifold hangs the T4 turbine off of the GS-R cylinder head, which is fitted with valvetrain goodies from Supertech and cams from Skunk2. Further bespoke components thrive throughout, including custom intercooler piping, intercooler end tanks modified to follow the front bumper’s curvature, and a handcrafted exhaust system that terminates into a Vibrant muffler. Fuel components from Aeromotive and Bosch, along with an AEM engine management system, allowed tuner Jeff Evans to massage the keyboard to coax out a healthy 607 whp and 415 lb-ft of torque while pushing 26 psi.
On the street, Craig reveals that the coupe is incredibly fast, as you’d expect. “Putting that kind of power down on the street in a Honda without slicks is a strange feeling—like a fast EVO, but in a car that’s about 800 pounds lighter,” he says.
Honda’s drivetrain simplicity allows Craig and company to experiment in both FWD and RWD formations simply by removing the driveshaft for the former and the front axles (among other simple modifications) for the latter. In RWD configuration, the car proves sketchy, and, as you’d expect, its FWD configuration is employed only for tuning purposes. The ideal balance lies in its AWD state, locking the drivetrain’s viscous coupler for an equal power distribution both fore and aft of the driver. The results are 1.58-second 60-foot times—somewhat anomalous numbers considering “normal” street-tire-equipped Hondas. Such figures are what led to the Civic’s 10.7-second pass at 134 mph.
Retrofitting some sort of AWD gearbox to the likes of any number of FWD Hondas remains the stuff daydreams are made of, a sort of rite of passage to be chalked up on most any Honda noob’s proverbial wish list. Noobs and serious enthusiasts alike can thank Craig for helping make this dream a reality. Epic Tuning is said to be releasing its AWD conversion kit to the public soon. AWD Hondas a novelty? Perhaps no more.
Bolts & Washers
Epic Tuning LS-VTEC conversion kit
Epic Tuning 4WD mount kit
CR-V 5-speed transmission
Civic wagon transfer case
Civic wagon shortened driveshaft
Civic wagon rear differential
CR-V shifter cables
ACT 6-puck clutch
Integra front axles
Driveshaft Shop rear axles
Custom 4-inch aluminum intake piping
Garrett 60-1 turbocharger
Garrett front-mount intercooler
Epic Tuning custom intercooler end tanks
Epic Tuning custom 3-inch intercooler piping
TiAL Q blow-off valve
H22A throttle body
Edelbrock Victor X intake manifold
Epic Tuning divided exhaust manifold
Dual TiAL MV-S wastegates
Custom 3-inch aluminum exhaust piping
Vibrant 3-inch aluminum muffler
Epic Tuning headwork
Skunk2 Tuner Series Stage 1 cams
Supertech stainless steel valves
Skunk2 Tuner Series valvesprings
Supertech valve keepers
ARP head studs
JE Pistons 9.5:1 pistons
Integra Type R oil pump
Dual Bosch 044 fuel pumps
Dual Bosch fuel filters
Custom fuel rail
Injector Dynamics 1,000cc/min fuel injectors
Aeromotive A1000 fuel pressure regulator
Fragola hose ends
RCI 8-gallon fuel cell
S2000 ignition coils
AEM Series 2 engine management system
Eibach Pro Street coilovers
Skunk2 Pro Series front/rear camber kit
Epic Tuning rear trailing arms
Blackworks rear lower control arms
BLOX rear toe kit
Wilwood 12-inch front rotors, 11-inch rear rotors
Wilwood Dynalite front calipers
Integra rear calipers
Wilwood front brakes lines
Russell rear brake lines
Wheels & Tires
5-Zigen FN01RC 16x7 +42mm offset
Falken Ziex 225/40-16 front, 205/45-16 rear
OEM Milano Red paint
Mugen-style front lip
Modified rear subframe
Art Morrison 6-point chromoly rollcage
RCI 5-point harness
MOMO carbon-fiber steering wheel
Blackworks Racing shift knob
AEM boost controller
Auto Meter fuel level, boost, and oil pressure gauges
Recaro fabric throughout
M&S Auto Body
Keith B. Machine Works
Today’s SH-AWD subsystems are highly complex, working in tandem with vehicles’ VSA systems and on-board computers, taking into account important data like engine speed, wheel speed, steering angle, yaw rates, lateral g-forces, and transmission gear selection. The complex system is made up of a torque-transfer unit that bolts directly to the transmission. The torque-transfer unit receives torque from a helical gear that’s attached to the front differential’s ring gear and a short horizontal shaft and hypoid gearset within the torque-transfer unit’s case that sends power to the rear propeller shaft, which, in turn, transfers power to the rear drive unit. If it sounds complex, that’s because it is. Honda’s SH-AWD system remains among the most sophisticated mass-produced drivetrain to date.
Honda’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive, introduced to North America aboard the ’05 Acura RL, is among Honda’s most sophisticated subsystems to date. Unlike more conventional AWD configurations that distribute relatively consistent amounts of torque front or rear, SH-AWD does so progressively, also divvying up torque to both the left- and right-side wheels. Honda’s system relies on torque vectoring, which assists with cornering, reducing understeer, and improving balance and control. By carefully controlling the speed of both the left and right front wheel while cornering, the system creates its own yaw moment, which aids steering and further reduces understeer, unlike a limited-slip differential found in a FWD car.
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