The new 8th Gen Civic for Europe is one of the most radical looking model Honda has came out with in recent times. Spotting futuristic lines clearly based on the ubiquitous tear/rain-drop, the car has been very well received and has won praises and acclaims throughout Europe. Topping the range is of course the Type-R variant. Carrying the model code FN2, the Euro Civic Type-R is a breathtaking and futuristic design and offers very high outright performance to boot. Ever since its launch for Europe, I had always wished I could check it out in real-life. Initially, I had thought it to be near impossible as it looked highly unlikely I'll be making a trip to Europe in the near future. The turning point came when Honda Singapore launched the FN2 CTR for the SDM. I have been extremely fortunate to have a large number of readers and supporters from Singapore and during a recent business trip to Singapore last October to attend an IBM conference, thanks to TOVA readers Justin and Benjamin from the SHC (Singapore Honda Club forum, url www.shc-forum.com), I finally had the priceless opportunity of experiencing this unique and great model.
In terms of Honda's Type-R history, this period of time is rather unique in that it is the first time Honda offers two totally different versions of the Civic Type-R. In the past, other models of course also had two quite different versions across the world, the Accord being the one that quickly springs to mind. But the 'R' version of the Accord was still a single version, initially sold in Europe as the Accord Type-R and then in Japan as the Accord Euro-R. But not with this latest generation of the Civic Type-R. These two cars not only differ in looks, their technical specifications are quite different as well. And so consequently are their outright performances.
With both choices available, one might think it is a foregone conclusion which car a 'true' Singaporean Type-R fanatic will choose. The FD2 is clearly a lot more 'hardcore' than the FN2. And it doesn't help that the FD2 is actually slightly cheaper than the FN2 (this can be misleading however as FD2 are sold by PIs and so the selling price doesn't include warranty and insurance, etc). Indeed, there are talks going on about how anyone who would choose to get the FN2 over the FD2 is either making a huge mistake or is not a true Type-R fan. But is life ever that straight forward ? I had a lengthy discussion with Ben, who is the owner of the FN2 Civic Type R I am reviewing in this article, to try to understand his point of view.
Ben works for an I/T company that is very famous for their network routers (if you are in I/T and works with networks, I guarantee you will know the brand). As a service personnel and also because of the distance between his residence and the office (and where most of his customers are situated), Ben has to travel at least 100+km a day in his work. While 100+km (approx 60+miles) daily commute may seem trivial to some readers, especially those from say the United States (where I understand daily commute of 100 miles are not unheard of), for Singapore island, 100km is a huge distance indeed. So in his case, Ben puts down a case where he has a real requirement for a degree of comfort to temper against the outright performance he expects from his car. Yes, like any petrol-head, he wants the highest possible VTEC performance he can get but he also needs to make sure he does not suffer too much from getting it. Reflect honestly on this issue and the truth is that it is not a trivial matter. Being a hardcore enthusiast is one thing, but how often can we drive at the limit consistently ? Everyday driving is not an endless session on the race-track, or a grudge match with everyone else plying the roads with us. So often the real truth is no matter how 'performance' our daily car is, the fact is we drive it mundanely more than 90% of the time. In terms of outright performance, I will cut to the chase and confirm that the FD2 (R) outruns the FN2 (R), not by a little mind you but by quite a lot. But I have to admit that Ben's arguements makes a lot of valid points as well. The best option is of course to have a hardcore 'project car' and then a second regular car for daily driving. But Ben unfortunately do not have this luxury. Actually not many of use do as well.
So I will leave this particular topic here as it is. This is a review of the FN2 Civic Type-R and there is really no point wasting time and space talking about which is better because the absolute truth is that it all depends on the individual. On to the review proper then.
The FN2 Civic Type-R is powered by a slightly revised version of the K20A that powered the previous generation EP3 Civic Type-R (Euro-spec). On paper, the two engines are very similar, with even the same CR and the same redline. Power-wise the FN2's K20A gives 1ps more 200rpms higher and the same max torque but also 300rpm higher up. Upon 'popping the hood', visually the K20A-R engine even looks pretty much the same as before with the same red valve cover. The silver plastic intake runners cover has been slightly redesigned on the FN2 CTR. One obvious difference is the intake manifold. In this case, the new FN2 K20A-R has much straighter and shorter runners and a revised plenum. The air-filter system is also slightly different between the FN2 and the EP3. There is one significant difference in the powerplant, or more accurate the 6MT gearbox however and that is the FN2 CTR is not equipped with the excellent 'Helical' LSD that Honda fits to the JDM Type-Rs.
Suspension-wise, this is where a lot of the controversies come from. When Honda changed the front suspension to MacPherson struts for the 7G Civic back in the turn of the century, it caused quite a bit of upset. For the FN2 CTR, Honda R&D Europe went further. They replaced the rear suspension as well, the Civic now using a torsion beam design similar to that on the Honda Fit/Jazz. This caused lots of ripples amongst the hardcore Honda enthusiasts community when it was launched though most things heals over time and so the 'out-rage' is no longer as great now. The FN2 CTR of course have to use the same chassis as the normal line-up and thus the same suspension as well. The suspension has of course been suitably tweaked for high performance driving. There were some scepticism whether Honda can squeeze acceptable high performance out of what some considers a low performance suspension system but reviews of the FN2 CTR so far seems to indicate that Honda has succeeded and to jump the gun here, I can vouch for the same thing too.
One interesting item on the FN2 CTR is the brake rotor backing plates. Both the front and rear disc rotors are backed by a metal plate and we couldn't figure out the plate's function. It looks as if it will even interfere with air-flow over the brake rotors which would not be good for brake cooling during hard-driving. They do make the brakes look bigger though, nicely filling what would have been a rather big gap as the wheels are 18".
European cars are well known for their styling. As a result, Honda's 'hot-hatch' Civics of the past while delivering equal or better performance than its European competitors have often been marked down for their conservative (some magazines even call it 'boring') styling, both exterior and interior. But not anymore. This bold new 8G CTR sports enough curves to mix it up with the best of its European competitors. And befitting its red R badge, it delivers plenty of performance to back up its looks too. The first time I saw the car live was at night. Because it is black in colour, the visual impact wasn't apparent then. In the 'photo-shoot' session the next morning, the full impact of the FN2 CTR's styling was felt. In black, the FN2 CTR spots a rather subdued but classy look, unlike the bold & striking yellow CTR that is well known across the internet. Kah Motors (distributor for Honda in Singapore) offers 3 choices of colours for the FN2; nighthawk black, milano red or alabaster silver. So that wonderful yellow colour is not an option. Actually neither does Honda U.K. offers this colour so it looks like those photos were just for P.R. only. In any case, Ben chose black exactly because he wanted the understated look - red he feels would make him look too racerish while the silver really loses the car in the visual department - according to Ben's taste anyway.
Interestingly as I walk around admiring the car, I found that it quickly reminded me of one of my favourite Honda models of all time - the EF-CRX. The stunted backside, the sloping front-end, the bold styling (the EF CRX was a revelation in styling in its day too), things were so familiar ! And then I got into the driver's seat and looked at the rearview mirror, and found that it even have that split tailgate design ! I suspect this has a lot to do with my very favourable impression of the FN2 CTR for the looks department. Very nice looking car, very nice looking car indeed !!
Interiorwise, the car feels very comfortable. The seats (drivers) are nice and firm, and nicely supportive as well, reminding me of the standard 'Type-R seat' (and nicely reminding me that I am sitting in a Type R). According to CTR enthusiasts, the Euro version of the EP3 CTR came with only black semi-bucket seat option, embossed with a large Type-R logo on the backrest. The JDM variant of the EP3 CTR on the other hand comes with red Recaros. The FN2 CTR in this review comes with a black-red combo bucket seat that reminds me of the Recaro SR3s on the original DC2 ITR. Ben's car is equipped with a cruise control which is actually considered 'blesphemy' by some hardcore Type-R purist fanatics as cruise control and high performance is actually not supposed to mix together. The dashboard is based on the excellent futuristic design of the regular Civics which in my personal opinion is actually even better looking than that on the JDM and Asian Civics. As with the FD2 CTR, Honda Europe fitted the FN2 CTR with the red START button, located prominently on the dashboard on the right of the steering wheel. The upper tier instrument panel of course houses the digital speedo readout display and on the right of the display is the same i-VTEC rev indicator found on the FD2 CTR. The lower tier instrument panel looks pretty much the same as that on the standard Civic.
The rear seats are very clearly the ultra seats pioneered by the Fit/Jazz and fitted to the regular Civic hatch. But I couldn't lift the seat bench to see if it also offers the various ultra-seat modes. Upon checking, it seems the seat support has been locked by a plastic latch (photo on the left). I am not sure if this latch will be unlocked if I fold the seat-rests down as I didn't try.
Ben, the owner of the black FN2 CTR in this review, generously offered me a quick drive of his car on the first night after dinner. The moderators of the SHC who hosted the dinner for me and my wife wanted to take us over to the Yishun dam and show us the favourite spot where most Singapore fan-freaks will hang out on weekend nights. The initial plan was for my wife & I to hitch a ride to Yishun dam on Ben's car but as we were walking to his car, Ben shocked me by handing his keys to me "why don't you drive". Why not indeed !
My 'hardcore weekend car', a DA6 Integra, is from the era where Honda was still using cable-actuated clutch. Since 1991, Honda switched over to hydraulic actuated clutch and so as with all new manual Hondas I have driven, I spent a little bit of time just to reacquaint myself with the different feel of a hydraulic actuated clutch. It also gave me the opportunity to sample the clutch pedal weight of the FN2 CTR. Actually I didn't spent much time because the clutch pedal of the FN2 CTR felt much like any normal manual car, just a little bit heavier and with a clear and consistent clutch engagement point. So after just a few tries, I started moving off out of the car-park. The gear-shift on this FN2 CTR is superb, just like all of Honda's close-ratio manual gearboxes. Slotting in the next gear, there is still that just perceptible little 'notch' when the synchros engage the gear. The FD2 CTR by comparison no longer has even this slight notchiness, thanks to the superior synchros used on its gearbox. Nevertheless, this tiny detail does nothing at all to detract from the joy of shifting gears. As hardcore enthusiasts would suspect, throughout the short drive, I was secretly looking for the slightest excuse just so I can make a gear-shift !
At this moment in time, I have the extremely good fortune of having driven both Civic Type-Rs. However, they have been driven in vastly different environments. While I drove the FN2 CTR in this review on public roads, my FD2 CTR driving experience was at the Sepang track, during the media drive event organised by Honda Malaysia recently. Still, even from comparing the FD2 CTR on the track, I can already confirm that ride of the FN2 CTR is much more comfortable than the JDM FD2 CTR. This was one of the important considerations by Ben when he decided on his purchase. This comfort is not only in the area of suspension firmness (or hardness as some calls it) but also soundproofing - how much engine sound and road noise penetrates into the cabin. In an all-out hard-core performance car like the FD2 CTR, engine noise is actually considered part and parcel of the attractiveness of the car. Thus Type-R owners, at least the hardcore ones, want to hear as much of the engine sound as possible, especially during those much-loved WOT runs. On the other hand, having to hear it non-stop over 100+km every day will eventually lead to tired ears, no matter how hardcore one is. For this reason, Ben chose the FN2 because he needed the relief. 100+km travel for a working person like Ben also means the daily rush-hour 'prison' on the roads. For such 'prison' terms, the company of a nice stereo system is priceless so sound-proofing is actually quite a necessity for Ben. In the FN2 CTR, cruising at between 90-110kph, the tyre road and outside noise was quite subdued. An indication of the relative degree of quietness (for the standard of a Type-R that is), our conversation was conducted at normal speaking volume and in fact we had to turn the stereo down because it, and not the outside noise or the exhaust note, was what was inteferring with our conversation.
Driving-wise, I spent most of the time in the top 6th gear while on the highways as traffic was quite heavy. The engine does not feel lacking in 6th, even when we had to slow down to speeds as low as 60-80kph. Of course I couldn't resist testing the car at WOT a few times - slotting into the fast lane, letting the car in front build up a good gap and then shifting into 3rd and flooring the throttle, accelerating from ~60-70kph to ~130-140kph. In 3rd this brings the engine revs from around 3-4000rpm right through the 'VTEC-open' sequence to the redline. In terms of 'VTEC roar', as might be expected, the FN2 sounds a little bit subdued. It reminds me of the original DC2 SiR, i.e. the one with the B18C DOHC VTEC with the VVIS dual-runner intake manifold. If I listen carefully, the 'VTEC-open' engine note change is there but it is not 'in your face' kind of transition, certainly nowhere near that of the FD2 CTR or even the B16A. Pull was nicely consistent and there were no drama and no sudden surge when VTEC 'opens'.
In terms of handling, the FN2 actually feel somewhat like the Fit, in the sense that it drives like it has a strut-beam suspension. Unfortunately I am not eloquent enough to explain in words the actual handling feel itself. Having driven my Jazz VTEC for over 3 years now, and my DA6 Integra over 10 years, there are clear and very obvious differences in handling feel between the two. Of course it can be a silly comparison because my Jazz is a daily car and totally stock (well OK, it has both a lower suspension arm bar and an upper tower strut bar) while my DA6 Integra has suspension mods like HKS Hiper-Max-Dampers and Eibach anti-roll bars. However, the same visceral difference is also there between the Jazz and my ex EK3 Civic Ferio Vi and the EK3 was really completely stock. The EK3 of course was the last generation of Civics that uses double-wishbone/independent suspensions all round. So, I am not referring to the different levels of grip and handling per se, more that the feel of the cars are very different, especially when cornering hard. It's similar to when one goes from an FF to a FR or 4WD for e.g. (like when I drove the S15 Silvia Spec-R or the Mazda 2.0l Roadster, or the Porsche Boxster S for e.g.), the driving feel of the car when pushed hard is very different between the different configurations.
Having said the FN2 CTR drives like the Fit, I now have to elaborate that I have always said I felt the handling of the Jazz VTEC, despite its strut-beam suspension, to be surprisingly good. Here, the FN2 CTR is more than a class better than the Fit/Jazz VTEC in handling, thanks to suitable 'Type-R tuning' done by the Honda engineers. The suspension has the familiar firmness of a Type-R, a little bit softer and more comfortable than all of the JDM Type-Rs (like the JDM DC2R or the DC5). But this softness does not detract from the handling much. Upon taking a sweeping left-hander a short distance after the car-park to enter the highway proper, Ben generously told me to 'give it a push', to check out the cornering composure of the FN2 CTR. The FN2 CTR took that corner pretty flat, and gave me lots of confidence. One big difference in specification between the FD2 CTR and the FN2 CTR is the lack of an LSD in the latter. This will make a lot of difference when pushing very hard in tight corners when the tyres start to fight for grip. But as this car is not mine of course, I didn't push any corners till the limit of tyre traction so I did not feel the lack of the LSD.
I also did the 'dance test' with the steering wheel, i.e. quickly wriggling it left and right at a reasonable turn of speed to see how the car reacts to quick steering changes and the FN2 CTR exhibited very little undesired body roll. Steering response was again like the Jazz - i.e. very nice and very fast. I know some people still do not like the feel of the EPS but I personally do not have any issues with it. The FN2 CTR steering feels quite OK, not too light. I have driven many different cars, including a number (non-Hondas) which is supposed to give 'great steering feel' so I know what people mean when they say Honda steering 'do not communicate with the driver'. In this case, the steering feel of the FN2 CTR feels pretty similar to the standard Honda EPS but is tuned to give a slightly heavier steering feel. So while I find it more than OK, it depends on the individual how they will accept it.
I was thinking about it but at the last minute decided not to bring my Racetech AP11 with me to Singapore. As a result, the plan to do some impromptu acceleration tests on the FN2 did not happen. Nevertheless, unlike other models sold here in Asia, Honda Europe do supply official performance figures for the FN2 CTR. In the Honda UK website, it quotes a max speed of 146mph for the FN2 CTR, with the 0-60mph timing at 6.6sec. This is actually pretty serious performance. Kah Motors on the other hand, lists the top speed for the FN2 CTR at 231kph which is approx 144mph (wonder where that 2mph went to). They also quite a 0-100kph time of 7sec, 0.4seconds slower than the 0-60 mph time. I believe this rather large descrepancy between the 0-60mph and 0-100kph time can be attributable to the need to do 1 extra gear shit, from 2nd to 3rd for the 0-100kph dash. 60mph is around 96kph and while it is only 4kph away from 100kph, from my observations, Honda have tended to gear 2nd to top out at around 98-99kph at redline. So that extra gear-shift can easily incur the extra 0.4 seconds 'penalty' for the 0-100kph dash (relative to the 0-60mph dash).
The official specifications for the Singapore Domestic Market FN2 Civic Type-R is listed in the table below. This table is actually compiled from the data in the Kah Motors 'Honda Singapore' website page for the FN2 CTR and augmented by data from the Honda of U.K. website page on the same car.
On my request, Justin arranged a special 'photo-shoot' session with Ben for me, to allow me to take photos of his car on a Saturday morning and thus under good daylight conditions. Ben obliged by having his car washed early in the morning, just for the photo-shoot. Unfortunately it started to rain as we arrived at the Marina Bay Golf Club. It lasted only a short while but it was enough to mess up Ben's car. This is why the exterior shots of the car below shows a somewhat dusty car. It's not Ben's fault, just an unfortunate coincidence. Nevertheless, we did the best we could and I think the photos did not turn out too badly.
I divided the photos into three main groups, shots of the exterior, shots of the interior, and a few shots of some of the 'technical features' of the car, the engine bay, shots of the brakes with their large backing plates, and so forth.
I truly did not expect to be able to actually write up a review of the FN2 Euro Civic Type R. But then as is often said, never underestimate Honda fanatics. It is thanks to two great Honda fanatics (and TOVA supporters) that I have the chance to sample this unique model.
I am being really honest in saying that the FN2 Euro Civic Type-R is really an impressive car. It is true that Honda of Europe did 'soften' the 'hard-core' nature of the car by adding many luxuries (like cruise control and noise dampening) and by biasing its set-up towards street driving more than pure track driving. This of course polarizes it when compared to the JDM Civic Type-R. I think perhaps the fairest way to approach this is to view it as being that the idea of a 'Type-R' between Honda R&D Europe and Honda R&D Japan are quite a bit different, being dictated by differences in culture, usage and also concept. Regardless of this, on top of everything it does not detract from the fact that the FN2 Euro Civic Type-R is still basically one heck of a great car ! I suppose if Honda of Europe had actually labelled this car something other than a Type-R, say a Civic SiR, it might even have turned around even the most hardcore of Honda fanatics (just like how the USDM Civic Si have done). They say a measure of how good a car drives is given by how wide one grins after having driven it. As I got down from Ben's FN2 CTR having arrived at the Yishun Dam, I had a smile on my face for the rest of the night. That pretty much says it all !
Finally in closing, I wish to again put forward my deepest appreciation to Justin and Ben of the SHC (Singapore Honda Club) for their fantastic hospitality and cooperation in making this review possible.