A gripping drive

THE LAST time I drove a Civic Type R, I found the ride quite brutal. So I have to admit to being slightly wary of having this one to test on UK roads, but it had to be done, because just 20 of them are destined for the whole of Europe.<br /><br />First things first, this is not a luxurious motor. There&rsquo;s no rear seat, just a roll cage and two Recaro bucket seats up front. That said, it&rsquo;s comfortable but for the fact that twice when I got into the drivers seat, the seat belt closure stuck through the side of the seat sufficiently enough to dent my hip bone &ndash; or so it felt.&nbsp; Harness seatbelts are behind &ndash; I opted for the standard version instead.<br /><br />The dashboard&rsquo;s central display seems to show its information suspended in mid air. Above to the right, there are three dials showing oil pressure, oil temperature and water temperature.&nbsp; Press the engine start button and watch the needles fly around all three faces before settling again &ndash; part of the experience of being in such a track-led car.<br /><br />Mugen &ndash; translating as &ldquo;unlimited&rdquo; in Japanese &ndash; is Honda&rsquo;s engine tuner and to bring this car up to its high performance level, the engine has been stripped down, redesigned and then remapped. Power output has been increased by 39bhp, with a resulting total 240bhp on tap in a car that is 105kgs lighter than a standard Civic Type R.<br /><br />In addition, there is carbon fibre where in a normal Type R there would be plastic and cloth or leather. Add in lightweight body panels, lighter alloy wheels, larger brakes and plenty of downforce trickery and you have the explanation for the substantial price-hike.<br /><br />Taking all this into consideration, you won&rsquo;t be surprised to hear me describe the drive as raw. It is not a gentle experience. A jab of the right foot on the throttle and the Mugen lurches forth. Getting the right balance of power down before letting go of the clutch takes a bit of honing at first. I&rsquo;m mentioning this because the delivery driver still finds the car easy to stall, and he&rsquo;s spent a lot more time in it than me.<br /><br />All responses are super-sharp. It feels track-ready and this ultimately is where the Mugen&rsquo;s set up will be best exhibited, and yet it&rsquo;s also a useable day-to-day tool.<br /><br />The redesigned 2.0 litre VTEC engine has increased torque by 10 per cent and the Northamptonshire-based tuners have yanked the rev limit up to 8,600rpm. Mated with this is a short-throw, six-speed manual transmission, which is slick and super-fast and makes light work of shifting power.<br /><br />But to call this car grippy is an understatement &ndash; it&rsquo;s like Velcro around corners. It feels very tight and together but without being overly stiff &ndash; one touch of the steering and the response is immediate.<br /><br />Staying with you throughout is considerable noise from the engine and exhaust. It had the heads of passers-by nodding.<br /><br />The thing is, on paper the Mugen doesn&rsquo;t look that impressive &ndash; 0-60 in seven seconds is quick but not blindingly so, while competitor cars like the Focus RS are cheaper and offer more horses for your pounds. So why pay &pound;12,000 more for the Mugen?<br /><br />The answer is that it&rsquo;s 2.7 secs per lap faster than the Ford around the Nurburgring. Is that enough? For those who want the very latest hottest hatch, the brashest, rawest road going tool on the market, the Civic Type R Mugen is here and on sale in Spring 2010.<br /><br /><strong>THE FACTS: </strong><br />HONDA CIVIC TYPE R MUGEN<br /><strong>PRICE:&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</strong>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &pound;38,599<br /><strong>0-62MPH: &nbsp; &nbsp;</strong>&nbsp; &nbsp; 6.0 secs<br /><strong>TOP SPEED:&nbsp;</strong>&nbsp; &nbsp;150mph<br /><br />THE VERDICT<br />DESIGN&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; ***<br />PERFORMANCE&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ****<br />PRACTICALITY&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; ***<br />VALUE FOR MONEY&nbsp; &nbsp; ***