The sun hasn't even peeked above the horizon as I'm slicing through some of Japan's most demanding mountain roads. Hakone is a popular tourist destination, but it isn't the relaxing onsen baths or spectacular views of Mt. Fuji that I'm after today. I'm here to drive hard. My tool of choice for this early excursion is the recently released Mugen version of the Civic Type-R, or should I say Euro-R. Last year, Honda Japan decided to bring 2,015 European hatchback versions of the Type-R to Japan, following requests and interest from enthusiasts. The futuristic design of the FN2 model differentiates it quite drastically from the four-door sedan FD2 offered in Japan, and the hatchback quickly gained popularity. Design and a need to be different are always rated highly by the Japanese, and even if the FD2 is more powerful, roomier and probably more practical, it doesn't stop some from going with the more fashionable, European-designed Euro-R - especially if it packs the full Mugen treatment.
Being a Honda, you know you'll never be disappointed on the driving side of things, and this Mugen-fettled Euro-R is definitely something to behold. Driving cars like this is always a big wake-up call, proving how the motoring world is getting carried away with overly complex cars. Keeping things simple has always allowed Honda to retain an edge, a feel of purity that allows the driver to become one with the car. The surgical precision of the handling has come together thanks to stiff Mugen-tuned dampers joined by slightly firmer and lower springs that allow the car to be accurately placed around the tight turns snaking through the Hakone mountains. The rear end suffers a bit compared to the JDM FD2 because packaging requirements forced Honda to go with a torsion beam rear axle rather than a double-wishbone layout. This makes the rear end more susceptible to lift-off oversteer, which came in quite hard at times on wet surfaces, but on the dry, this setup can be made to work for you, effectively tightening up corner entries. The electronically assisted steering has a good deal of feel dialed into it, coming alive through the corners as the Mugen one-way LSD locks up and tries to put the engine's power to the ground. On the braking front, Honda curiously decided not to fit the Brembo calipers from the FD2, which may cause some fading problems on a stock car. On the Mugen version, however, the brakes didn't complain once, thanks to very aggressive competition pads (more road-oriented items are also available) and Mugen brake fluid. The braided mesh brake lines are responsible for stiffening up the pedal feel, something that boosts adjustability even when requiring the maximum from the system.
Lifting the lightweight Mugen aero hood reveals a familiar sight, the same K20A found in the FD2 - although tuned for slightly different driving characteristics. The engine is practically identical but has a lower compression ratio compared to the Japanese spec car (11.0:1 versus 11.7:1) and gives a somewhat lower power figure of 198 hp at 7800 rpm against the 222 hp at 8000 rpm of the JDM Type-R. The idea was to make the engine less peaky, with a slightly broader spread of torque, which thanks to a retuned iVTEC, comes in at lower rpm with a max of 142 ft-lbs of torque at 5600 rpm. Mugen has further worked on this by fitting a carbon-fiber airbox with a freer-flowing panel filter along with a full exhaust system comprised of 4-into-1 headers, a sports catalyst and a twin-exit exhaust. These give a very slight boost to both power and torque, especially felt from 5500 rpm onward. Out on the road this translates into an even more manic feel from the engine, as the rising rpm not only shoots toward the 8000-rpm redline faster but rewards you with even more midrange response and acceleration.
The full stainless steel exhaust system also works wonders in the sound department, with a deep and almost quiet burble at idle, intensifying dramatically as the hotter profile of the cams come into play. The gearbox is a revelation; the Mugen short-shift kit, which requires only a flick of the wrist to stir from gear to gear, further tightens up Honda's usual crisp shifts. Mugen also fitted its newest clutch kit, which makes gear engagement faster (thanks to a copper-fiber clutch disc), and can handle the abuse of the slightly more powerful engine. The gear ratios are the same as the ones used on the JDM FD2, and on the roads around Hakone, they make you work hard to keep the engine boiling to get the full iVTEC experience. That's precisely the best aspect of this Euro-R, much like every model to wear the Type-R badge; it gives you unparalleled exhilaration by forcing you to drive hard and feel each area of the car work in sync and ultimately reward you with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. Best of all, this is obtained without driving at 200 mph, a cheap thrill that has become less common these days with the more powerful performance cars on sale.
Mugen certainly didn't hold back in the looks department, coming up with a selection of body parts that inject a more race-inspired character into the FN2. The front bumper sits lower due to an integrated lip spoiler and does away with the stock triangular foglights that have been replaced with a pair of air intakes. The triangular theme is carried over to the air outlets on the lightweight hood, as well as the openings worked into the front wider FRP fenders.
The Mugen treatment continues to the rear bumper with its heavily contoured lower section from where the large exhaust outlets sprout. A double-plane rear hatch spoiler is there to keep the lively rear end planted at higher speeds. A set of bronze Mugen GP 18-inch wheels, wrapped with sticky Yokohama Neova AD08 tires are a nice final touch, but due to their aggressive offset, have required fender garnishes to be fitted, helping keep the car legal in Japan where wheels can't protrude excessively from the fenders. The extremely futuristic double level dashboard of the FN2 has been spruced up with a triplet of gauges that allow the driver to keep a close check on water and oil temperatures as well as oil pressure. Tire pressure monitoring systems are fast becoming hot sellers in Japan, and the Mugen version is a cool little module that accurately displays tire pressure and temperature in real time. The plush Euro-R bucket seats remain and are a great place to sit while putting the Civic through its paces, but they might be set a little too high for those who are taller than 6 feet.
When the Mugen Euro-R had satisfied my craving for the day, it was time to grab the highway and head back into the overcrowded capital, where it tackled everyday driving situations without any fuss. I recalled my past driving experiences of the FD2 and the legendary Mugen Civic RR version, and this Euro-R really began to make sense. Its very limited presence in Japan, coupled with a stunning conversion from Mugen, makes this slightly less extreme version of the JDM Type-R quite an appealing proposition.
Specs & Details
'10 Honda Civic Type-R EURO
Engine Honda K20A 2.0-liter inline-4
Engine Modifications Mugen carbon airbox, upgraded air filter, 4-1 stainless steel exhaust manifold, sports high-flow catalyst, sports exhaust, carbon-fiber ignition coil cover, oil filler cap, oil filter, REV-R oil, brake reservoir cover
Engine Management Custom Mugen-tuned ECU
Drivetrain Mugen quick shifter, copper-fiber clutch kit, 1-way LSD
Suspension Mugen Sports Suspension, 3.8 kg/mm springs (f), 4.1 kg/mm springs (r)
Interior Mugen assist meters (oil temp, water temp, oil pressure) & i-TCMS tire pressure monitoring system
Exterior Mugen front bumper, front grille, bumper air intake garnish; Aero hood, front fenders, rear bumper, rear wing, front & rear fender moulds
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Mugen GP Bronze wheels 7.5x18" +55mm (f/r), lightweight wheel nuts; Yokohama Neova AD08 225/40ZR18 (f/r); Mugen Type-Competition brake pads, micromesh brake lines, brake fluid
Numbers 198 hp & 142 ft-lbs of torque