Cars are one of my main interests yet I haven’t written too much about cars (or motoring in general) here on this blog. I suppose this is partly down to the fact that I don’t consider myself any sort of expert, partly because I tend to talk about cars quite a bit at work (and am “talked out” after that), and – to a lesser extent – because the future of motoring simply looks bleak in my humble opinion. I have no interest in electric cars or current trends, for example, and it’s difficult to talk about current/future cars without broaching into these territories.
[Friendly note: I do, however, have SOME previous car posts, under the category of “Car Talk”, which you can find in the “Old Shit” drop-down on the right >>>>>]
So, with that in mind, it’s no surprise that I have owned my current car for just over five years now but have yet to review it, despite having a firm grasp on the pros and cons in my mind. On the upside, a Civic Type-R never really goes out of fashion, so there’s no such a thing as a “late” review, is there? Plus, it’s always better to read a review of a car from somebody who has ran it long-term.
Why this car?
While I appreciate many different car ‘scenes’, the two that have always commanded my attention are American cars (classic, muscle, and general unapologetic V8-equipped louts) and JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) specimens. My first two cars were bog-standard, UK-built Fords however. The second of these was a Mondeo ST-TDCI which I actually really adored. Unfortunately, a load of big stuff went wrong with it, and I was forced to get shot of it in a hurry and replace it with something reliable that could take over as my daily driver. Enter the FN2 Honda Civic. I can clearly remember first seeing these on the roads and being blown away by the spaceship-like design. The big light strips, ‘arrow’ doorhandles, split rear screen, triangular exhaust exits, double-stacked dash…it seemed like such a bold design. And while it was all about angles and triangles, it was also curvacaeous at the rear.
The Type-R took this to the next level with skirts, extended bumpers, a rear spoiler (that only emphasised that split window), and 18″ Enkei alloys (19″ ‘Rage’ alloys by Speedline were also an option – and are considerably rarer to spot today). Inside, the interior carpets were all red, as were the seat inserts and door cards. The front Type-R-emblazoned bucket seats aren’t actually Recaros (as with the EP3), but Honda’s own design. There is a nice aluminium gear knob, a production number plaque, and an angrier, red shade to the gauges…as well as the eco gearshift lights being replaced by a, er…Type-R logo lol. Under the bonnet, there is a straight 2-litre 4-cyl V-TEC equipped lump that puts out 198bhp and revs VERY high.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a Type-R straight away. I’d only owned the Mondeo for approximately eight months and had spent a fair amount of cash buying it, so my finances still needed to recover. So I chopped it in for a standard, 1.8l petrol FN2 Civic which thoroughly impressed me. The car was utterly faultless and lived up to Honda’s bullet-proof rep. I had intended to be sensible and run the 1.8 for as long as possible but it got traded in for its sexier sister little over a year later. I just had that hankering for another car that was a little bit special.
This specific car had a lot going for it. It had just one previous owner, only 45k on the clock, and full Honda dealership history. Buying it from a main dealer cost me a bit more but it is always worth it for the peace of mind and warranty in my opinion. Additionally, it was a 2011-registered car on a 61 plate, and therefore the last of the FN2 Type-Rs – an attractive selling point as the last cars were stealthily fitted with an LSD (originally equipped to the limited edition Mugen 200 variants), and were free of any product recalls and manufacturing issues that affected earlier models (such as roof rust where the roof meets the windscreen!).
What has it been like to run?
The Type-R has ran like a dream for the last five years, with most of the costs being the usual, expected consumables (tyres, brakes, bulbs etc.). There were a few bits that I had to do though, including refurbing all four wheels, fitting the Type-R grille badge and side decals (which the original owner hadn’t optioned), binning the cheap ‘Evergreen’ tyres that the car came on in favour of Bridgestones all round, and dealing with seized brake calipers a few years into ownership (more on that later). The nearside rear indicator unit was also getting a bit leaky last year so I replaced both corners with brand-new OEM parts. The seized brakes aside, I consider this pretty good going for five-and-a-bit years ownership, especially given that most of the optional expenditure has been out of choice, rather than necessity.
One of the best things about this car is the way that it can be sporty AND practical. I can blat around like a yob and explore the higher ends of the rev counter, or I can trundle around town calmly, commuting to work etc. The car is happy to do both; happy to operate at either extreme of the rev range without fuss. The boot space is generous, and the back seats are designed so that they fall completely flat, gifting you quite a large amount of carrying capacity. You know, in case you want to transport rubbish to the tip in the back of a Type-R?
But the best experience is hitting the B-roads and the twisties, or accelerating down a ramp onto a dual carriageway. Unlike a lot of cars, performance Hondas with V-TEC capability absolutely do not mind being pushed hard in lower gears. Even after five years, I’m still not tired of feeling that kick at 5,500rpm – when V-TEC kicks in (yo) – and the extra shove in my back as the engine howls and just keeps on giving. It sounds like it will explode but also urges you to have big balls and keep your foot down. The car isn’t really that fast, but the theatre is so worth it. Manufacturers of electric cars keep trying to reassure petrolheads that the speed will still be there in the future, but it’s the sound, vibrations, and mechanical feedback – the drama – that I will mourn the loss of. And no, I’m not interested in artificial noise being piped into the cab via the speakers…
All of this comes at a price though, because this car does tend to go through fuel quickly; a situation not helped by the car having a reasonably small fuel tank. I can typically squeeze out just under 30mpg in a week of standard town driving/commuting, though I have managed a 40mpg average on a long motorway run down to the south coast several years back. This is to be expected when buying a car like this though and, as I always say, it’s smiles-per-gallon that matter to me. Yes, I’m a frequent patron of the local petrol station forecourts, but that’s a small price to pay to own a car like this, and not a dishwater-dull Ecoboost Fiesta or Blue Motion Golf.
What DON’T I like about the car?
I’ve owned this car for five years, so it’s safe to say that I enjoy it – a lot. I love the way it looks, and I fully subscribe to taking the rough with the smooth. Nothing in life is perfect and it’s especially so with cars. That said, I can’t review this car without talking about the things I DON’T like.
The biggest offender is the non-existent ride quality. Now, cars with sports set-ups NEED to have firmer suspension to provide stiffness, reduce body roll, and improve high-speed cornering. But there’s “firm” and there’s “spine-rattling”. Guess which camp the FN2 falls into? It’s not all the car’s fault though – the UK’s roads are absolutely abysmal these days. In the FN2, this results in a very crashy ride that can simply be irritating as fuck on days when I’m not in the mood. There are some days where I don’t appreciate being bounced around as every ridge, uneven surface or dip is telegraphed to me. It also means committing to a life of steering around even minor potholes and sunken drain covers, which ALSO grows tiring, especially when SUV mommies and furious white van men are right up my arse, operating in a completely different dimension where it isn’t necessary to pick one’s way around the roads’ beauty marks. Speed bumps are also a constant threat and almost always require first gear and precision positioning to navigate. Even slightly too fast and the underside of the FN2’s front splitter will hit the ground. This is all on stock suspension by the way.
Then there are the doors, which are just too long, and don’t have enough ‘lock’ settings. This makes getting out of the car an athletic effort in tight spaces as you need to master the art of squeezing through a narrow gap while also holding the door from hitting the car next to you. I don’t know what car parks are like in other countries but spaces in the UK tend not to be overly-generous with room so it is a pain in the arse.
DIY maintenance isn’t something to take lightly either. The engine bay is incredibly tight, and nearly everything at the front involves removing wheel arch liners or even the front bumper – something I DON’T relish in this age of brittle plastic clips and fittings. Even replacing a headlight bulb is a traumatic experience. There’s no room to work, and you can’t take the lamp unit out without taking off the front bumper thanks to all the over-lapping, interlocking layers of plastic. The last time, I had to do it blind by feel and it literally took hours. To do the job without resorting to bumper-off bullshit, I had to remove the air intake pipe and attempt to operate crappy, uncooperative plastic housing mechanisms that I couldn’t see. The headlight bulb is a Halogen Discharge bulb too, and these were still around £30 each a few years ago, and very fragile, so you’d BETTER not mess up. After all that, I was shocked that the bulb still worked.
And I can’t forget to mention those seized brake calipers either, as these are a common issue with the FN2. The stock Type-R branded front calipers are made of aluminium and both had been replaced well before the car was ten years old. The nearside one went first, warping the disc with it. The driver’s side failed the following year, and the heat from the caliper actually cracked the lacquer of the alloy wheel! Eventually, I binned them both and replaced them with a pair of brand-new OEM parts (which were made of cast-iron this time, so I suppose Honda knew about this issue) which I painted red. The rear calipers don’t seem to suffer the same issue though. Something to note for anybody reading this who is interested in buying an FN2…
The car isn’t very dynamic either. The engine is essentially unchanged from that of the preceeding EP3 model (albeit slightly longer geared to aid cruising) which is no bad thing on paper. However, the FN2 is a heavier car, and also lacks independent rear suspension. The latter was a massive step backwards and is one of the main reasons why the EP3 will always (rightly) be considered the better drivers car. The FN2 comes better equipped with AC, cruise control, auto wipers, auto lights etc. (technically GT-spec stuff but the extra cost was so negligible that it’s FAR harder to find a non-GT model – the majority of FN2 Rs are GTs…) but the trade-off is more bulk and really basic suspension set-up. This means that you do have to be careful when attacking b-roads because tight bends that include crests could cause the car to cock a rear wheel and lose control (there was a massive Nurburgring crash clip in which an FN2 did just that…).
Finally, the UK road tax for this car is pretty high due to the emissions rating of the engine. Last year, 12 months cost me an eye-watering £330.00!
So I’ve really enjoyed owning the FN2 Honda Civic Type-R for the past five years (despite the shortcomings I’ve chronicled just above). However, I do feel that it’s time for a change! I probably would have gotten on it by now but all the Covid bullshit keeping dealerships closed (MOTs and repairs aside) has forced me to hold fire. The harsh ride is a factor, but not the main one. Unfortunately, I have noticed that the underside of the car is sporting quite a lot of surface corrosion and I simply don’t have the time to have that rectified before it becomes serious. I don’t have the luxury of running more than one car so having the FN2 off the road or at a specialist for a good rust treatment and sealing job isn’t practical. Clearly, these cars weren’t very well rust-proofed, or galvanised (something that can’t be said for the similarly aged BMWs my Dad has owned). I’ve already had the corner of the exhaust heat shield rot away and need repairing last year, for example.
Also, I’m very conscious that this car is now a decade old, has driven just over 80,000 miles, and is still running the original shocks, suspension, bushes etc. It also has the original clutch in it. I’m sort of waiting for one of these to finally fail and – as with the aforementioned corrosion – there are some big bills and major inconvenience that will come with it.
Lastly, I’ve been on-off toying with the idea of fitting a Mugen wing and rear bumper/diffuser to this car for a few years now, because I’m just a big child who gets excited by air vents, banks of exhausts, and big wings that look like they belong on a jumbo jet. When you add the desire for loud aesthetics to the practical need for a newer car, what do you get? You get the FN2’s successor, the FK2! Of course, the FK2 is turbo-charged and packs 300bhp, so it’s nothing like the raw, naturally-aspirated era of the past, and that will be a sacrifice that will have to be made (not without considerable regret of course). If I had space, money, and time for two cars, then I would most certainly keep the FN2 and take it off the road for a bit to get a load of pre-emptive maintenance sorted and components refreshed, but this isn’t my scenario so it is what it is. I have decided that balancing the need for something younger with the desire for something that’s still a bit daft is the way forward. Watch this space!