Test bed may lead to Renault Megane R26 and Ford Focus RS rival

What is it?

Officially it's a concept – the Honda Civic Type R Mugen Concept, to be precise. It's a brand-building exercise for both the Civic Type R and Mugen Euro, the semi-official tuning arm of Honda, which has only had a presence in Europe for the past two years.

Unofficially it's also a working prototype, built to gauge how well received this car might be if put into limited-scale production. That would further boost the image and awareness of Mugen, and could herald the launch of more Mugen-branded tuning products and upgrades - perhaps even sold through Honda dealers.

For now, though, it's a one-off. And it's a thorough job. Mugen Euro (based in Northampton) has taken a Swindon-built Civic Type R and, first, got to work on the engine. Traditionally that's Mugen's speciality and a lot of its motorsport expertise has gone into this. There's a new airbox, intake manifold and stainless steel exhaust on the outside, with new pistons, throttle body, camshaft and valve springs on the inside.

New mapping has increased the engine's rev limit to 8500rpm, with peak power of 237bhp at 8300. The VTEC cam timing change is left at 5500rpm and is still a big old kick; maximum torque (only 157lb ft of it) doesn't come in until 6250rpm. Below 5500 it only has around 135lb ft and barely more than 140bhp. The power curve is as steep as they come.

However, you don't need loads of torque in a light car, so Mugen has thrown 105kg out, by using composite body panels at the front, ditching the rear seats, fitting new front seats and using lighter, forged wheels which alone save around 20kg. The power-to-weight ratio is better even than the Japan-only Mugen Civic Type RR saloon, of which Mugen made 300 in 2007.

Unlike the Japanese Mugen Civic, the British-built Mugen Civic retains a torsion beam rear axle. Mugen – and Honda – want to make this car work as a driver's tool without cutting the torsion beam and fitting fully independent rear suspension; otherwise, the thinking is, it's not a proper European Civic Type R any more. It's a commendable attitude. Springs and dampers are new, the geometry is altered slightly and Mugen is still trialling different kinds of tyres. Other changes include the body styling bits, a short-shift kit for the gear lever and uprated brakes with four-pot front calipers.

What's it like?

Loud. And not just when you're going for it. Tuned naturally aspirated engines, and particularly four-pot Hondas, make a really pleasing, hollow sound at low revs. They sound expensive, refined, somehow thoroughly engineered. Well, the Mugen Concept does this with the added backbeat of excessive exhaust parp. Perhaps a bit too much; Mugen knows there's a resonance at around 4000rpm and is going to dampen it out.

Nevertheless it's a smooth, free-revving engine with none of the hunt and lumpiness that a 120bhp/litre car would have had a few years ago. It's very tractable, and the shorter-shifting six-speed 'box is really slick.

Trundling around town reveals a ride that's unsettled, but no more so than the standard Civic Type R. The Mugen is not noticeably harsher, even if it is firmer; perhaps the lighter unsprung weight comes into play, because it feels a mite more composed. The steering is more positive, too, though still quite light.

Up the speeds and the ride's still on the lumpy side. On a motorway you can detect a constant patter from the back end, while on A and B-roads it lacks the fluidity of damping that you'd find in, say, a Renault Megane R26 or a Ford Focus RS. Don't get me wrong: the Civic is better than the standard car, and its front and rear ends feel better connected. But it's as if there's too much rebound damping: it springs back too harshly over bumps and lumps in the road, it fidgets too much and you feel a bit tossed from side to side.

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Still, it is good fun. That engine is thoroughly peachy when worked hard, the Recaro front seats are brilliant, the driving position is up to scratch and there's even a little steering feel – although it's mostly when the front wheels, under power, give a little tug here and there. The new brakes are superb, too.

Ultimately, though, the Focus and Megane cover ground just as quickly and tell you just as much about what's going on, while subjecting the car's body – and yours – to less kickback.

Should I buy one?

The question should really be: should Mugen make one (or 20)?

I'd say yes (who wouldn't want them to make a car that revs to 8500rpm?) but I think there's more work to be done on the chassis yet. Some prices have been mooted elsewhere – £30k here, £35k there – none of which have come from Mugen. Renault had trouble shifting all of its R26Rs, don't forget.

But at under £25,000, on a limited production run, I reckon it could be a success – and crucially, pave the way for more Mugen-inspired products in future.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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FR3000 5 October 2009

Re: Honda Civic Type R Mugen Concept

Of the cars I've driven the standard Type R is not a patch on the Focus ST or Mini Cooper S - not withstanding the fact that the previous generation Type R was an infinitely better car to drive.

The latest model looks nice and the engine and gearbox are almost without fault - BUT... the chassis balance makes it feel constantly unsettled, the ride is dreadful (admittedly softened slightly by the pretty good seats), it under-steers like pig and the steering is un-communicative. I struggle to see how making it stiffer and noisier is going to make it a better car.

Honda - please just stop! Take a step backwards in order to go forwards and bring back the independant rear suspension used in the previous generation car.

Civinfo 2 September 2009

Re: Honda Civic Type R Mugen Concept


This car doesn't have a torsion beam rear. I'm not saying that the twist beam with coils is any good on a "normally" sprung car, but here Mugen have made maybe the second known car with a twist beam rear that, on driving, really works.

Anyway, I found this car more fun to drive than my all time favourite (for sheer amusement), the 968CS.

It is a shame that it's a pricey incarnation of the expensive version of a cheap car. The 968CS was a cheaper version of a soggy expensive car. As such, I imagine that if this car were made, only a few people would shell out.

I wrote a review here. To judge this car without driving it is foolish.

LairdDrambeg 2 September 2009

Re: Honda Civic Type R Mugen Concept

It really bothers me when a company takes a class-leading engineering design and turns it into a mobile turd. Even if the "double wishbone" suspension was "quasi-pseudo" at the rear and somewhat contorted at the front, in the models up to 2000, it worked. To go back to a (torsion beam) design they previously used in 1982-1989, and fall into line with the rest of the industry with McCheapson at the front, in the name of innovation is a form of corporate madness.