Vtec Kicked in Y0

Honda Civic Type R FN2

The 5th Generation Type-R; the FK8 has been obliterating Nurburgring lap times left right and centre. With a $50k Price-tag though, it’s out of reach for people not looking for a brand new vehicle. So what better time to look to the last of the Naturally Aspirated rev-nuts to bare the coveted red H. We pop down to our pals at Auto Exotica, to take one for a test.

  The fourth Gen FN2 as it was known in Europe, came only as a three-door hatchback. The rear suspension came in a simplistic torsion beam setup, and a drivetrain which was largely similar to that of the outgoing model at the time. That is, 148kw (201 bhp). The screaming 4-pot i-vtec motor wails to an 8,300 redline and the uninitiated often jump to comments akin to ‘no torque’, ‘sluggish’ etc. But the truth is, there is a certain je ne sais quois that comes with the territory that takes some adjustment to your approach to appreciate. there’s a certain learning curve involved here.

Whilst that might sound cliche, it’s shrouded by truth. It often seems that only those familiar with the ‘Type-R’ moniker, truly understand the somewhat cult appeal. You see, the reality is, the ‘CTR’ is one of those cars where you have to wring it’s next to truly enjoy it.

On the outside, it’s modern, spaceship-esque looks divide many. Some see the split rear window which to me harks of the CRX’s which I lusted over after as a kid without a licence. One of the original pocket rockets. Nostalgic, yes – but greatly rear-view inhibiting.  Others see a car that looks like it wouldn’t be out of place on a set of Star Trek. Personally? I think it’s aged well. It doesn’t have the wild arches, false vents and monster wings of the latest offering – but I definitely feel that three-door setup suits the hot hatch model much better than a five. The outside does a great job of making the car look like it’s redlining without moving, without being too OTT. Inside, the sporting, futuristic intent is clear.

The dash wraps around the driver, displaying all of the vitals and offering all of the controls with the smallest of eye movements or figure tweaks needed to interact with them. A lower display houses fuel economy, revs and other warning lamps whilst an upper display shows your speed. The gear lever is positioned so that your hand finds it as soon as you neutrally drop it from the wheel – and whilst we’re talking about it, it is very slick. Each year clunks into place with rifle-bolt precision. The Recaros up front may prove too tight a fit for the larger enthusiasts out there, but for most they hold you in all the right places. For me, they fit like a glove. Some complain that the driving position is a tad high but that is one of those oh so personal features of a car that not all will ever agree on. The steering wheel is small and sporty, and perforated aluminium trims the pedals. A ’type R’ placard above the gear lever and red Honda badge which adorns the wheel are nice touches. Another surprise is the cooled glovebox which is piped in to the air-conditioning – a benefit of the GT pack which includes electric folding mirrors, fog lights, cruise control (a must in my humble opinion if you want to avoid the trap of speeding tickets that toeing the vtec line may well bring) and dual-zone climate control with individual controls on the passenger’s door card.

The push-start button, whilst a nice touch is a bit of a novelty in that not only do you have to insert the key to start the car, but you also have to turn the key to turn ff the engine. We have to remember that the FN2 predates more modern keyless entry systems by as much as a decade though. Such gimmicks do add to the sense of occasion though and if you know anything about me, it’s probably that I like a little drama to accompany a drive.

Spurring to life, the peppy 2.0 motor is quite muted if we’re honest, but a somewhat satisfying blip doesn’t extinguish all excitement. Navigating out of the carpark I notice the typical ease of piloting a light hatchback around tight conditions. The ride is firm, which again is often another point of contention, but given the sporty intent of the machine, I feel is well-suited and the handling benefits that it naturally brings to the table are well worth a few jolted bones. It all depends on your background; personally, I don’t find the ride to bring too much discomfort. Onto the main road, a squeeze on the accelerator and we climb through the revs, two thousand, three thousand, five tho… oh my! The much-memed vtec moment and a noticeable rush of urgency. You ride a wave of revs for the next 3,500 on the range with increased intensity and growing aural pleasure. A slight quiver of torque steer hustles you before you slot into the next gear on the close-ratio six speed. Paired with the limited slippy diff it forms a playful partnership as you tilt in to the upcoming corner where you can really start to appreciate the feedback of the electronic steering. The car is about more than straight line drag times and tyre smoking although if you’re enthusiastic you will hear a chirp from the front wheels, but truth is they are not quick to come un-glued from the road.

The CTR isn’t for everyone, you can’t of course please them all. Around town it lacks low down torque. It’s torsion beam rear suspension is less sophisticated than the Type R of old (many will say this has a huge handling impact; the truth is that it more effects the balance between a smoother ride and handling – plenty of capable machines come sporting torsion bars). FWD, hatchback, compact; these are all generally things that I don’t aim for when shopping. But if you are looking for a fun car that’s a blend of practical and fun then it makes a strong case for itself. The boot swallows 415 litres, trebling if you drop the rear seats. Much like the king of practicality, the Jazz, there is an additional shelf under the rear bench. If Safety is your thing, it packs 6 airbags, ESC with traction control and of course ABS all courtesy of its four-star ANCAP rating. The environmentally conscious will be pleased to hear that it affords 7.6 l / 100km if driven to achieve so. And for those who have petrol flowing through the veins, you will enjoy the rewards of keeping it in the vtec rev-range as you bound from corner to corner, smiling all the while.

Priced on the used market between 10 and 16k, the FN2 Civic Type R might divide opinions for seeming less hardcore than its predecessor and successor; whilst others love it’s blend of top end performance and everyday practicalities, but it is certainly a performance bargain once you learn to master it.

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