On setting out to find a replacement track car for my rolled Suzuki Ignis Sport, (see a previous blog for that story) I had a certain criteria the new car needed to meet. Naturally aspirated, practical (space for spare tyres etc), cheap to maintain, solid platform to modify, good aftermarket support and around £3000 to buy. Again, there is a previous blog covering the reasons for this list but all signs were pointing to an EP3 Honda Civic Type R. That is until I realised prices had followed every other remotely interesting thing on four wheels and gone a bit mad. At this point I put the track car replacement idea on the back burner to concentrate on a house move that, 5 months down the line, still hasn’t got anywhere.
Step in Craig from Rush magazine and his obsession for buying a Clio 200, a car everyone raves about yet has one thing that seems to be blasphemy in Honda world, a beam rear axle. In my eyes the FN2 CTR is the best looking of the whole CTR lineup, money no object not the one I’d have, that’s the EK9 but money is most definitely an object. For a while I’d dismissed the FN2 believing the internet and a less than complimentary Jeremy Clarkson review, that the swap from the EP3’s fully independent rear suspension to a beam, absolutely ruined the car. The FN2 however, was within budget, fit all of my criteria and considering there’s many other highly praised cars out there with the same rear suspension setup, decided to take the plunge. How bad could it be?
That brings us to my 2008 Nighthawk black FN2. It’s a high miler at 127,000 miles but with full stamped service history, a new clutch, all new discs and pads and two new rear springs, it appears to have been mechanically well maintained. The interior is also in fantastic condition, the outside less so but being a track car that doesn’t bother me too much.
First impressions inside is that while the seats are very comfortable and are properly bolstered to hold you tight in the corners, you sit a touch too high. I’m on the tall side at 6ft 3 so maybe those of an average height won’t see a problem? The slightly dished steering wheel is height and rake adjustable but I still can’t find the perfect driving position, even fully extended it seems too far away. Not off to the best of starts then. On the topic of steering, Honda were early adopters of electric racks and the FN2 is unfortunately fitted with one. There’s little to no feedback through the wheel about what the front tyres are doing meaning you can’t just instinctively grab the car by the scruff of the neck and attack the corners. It is however precise and accurate so you can get into a flow with it but you can’t help but think how much better the package would be with a hydraulic system.
I’m going to hold back my real judgment on the cars handling until after it’s first track day but from what I’ve felt on the road, I’m rather impressed. The standout point for me is how stiff the shell feels. It seems there’s very little flex in the body structure and with no extra bracing on at the moment, there’s potential to improve on one of the cars already strong points which is very encouraging.
Ride quality is far better than everyone makes it out to be, no doubt they’ve been influenced by the previously mentioned Clarkson review. Of course it’s firm, it’s a Type R but it’s not crashy unless you’re on the most cratered of road surfaces. I don’t really want to go more in depth about the actual handling of the car as its currently sitting on four ditch finder tyres that seem to struggle with the civics mole hill of torque in anything less than bone dry conditions. I can tell the balance of the car seems ok which is once again encouraging considering most components will likely be original and possibly in less than optimal condition, so there’s plenty of mods to come in this area. One would also hope any mods would go some way to getting some feedback into the steering but I’m not holding my breath!
The cars party piece is undoubtedly the famed K20 engine and its fantastic 6 speed gearbox, a pairing that surely has to be one of the best in hot hatch history. As I’m sure those who’ve read my blogs before know, I’m a sucker for revs and with redline coming in at 8200rpm, the civic certainly delivers. Once you’ve wringed it’s neck, the fun isn’t over, dip that clutch, row through the rifle bolt gears and watch the revs climb again. After experiencing a Honda gearshift, you question why other manufacturers can’t replicate that precise, double cream bathed action. The K20 itself, while a fantastic engine, is handicapped by the throttle by wire system in the FN2. Previous ownership of an Accord Type R with the H22 engine definitely felt more responsive thanks to its more old school throttle cable. My car specifically suffers from rather bad rev hang. It’s worse if you’re shifting just before vtec around 4-5k rpm and is first on the list of things to fix. The guru’s at TDI North will be tasked with most of the tuning and maintenance of the car.
Before I bought the car I had a list of things I wanted to modify first. Being a track car the priority is usually brakes, tyres, suspension etc. but thanks to the rev hang, I really want to get that glorious engine spinning as freely as I think it should, so intake, exhaust and a remap along with some investigative work on potential culprits of the rev hang will take place first. With the brakes being new, I’ll wait till they’re worn before I look at replacing them because I’m the type that likes to get my money’s worth. At the moment, I’m undecided wether to go all in on a big brake kit or just upgrade the discs and pads. The stock brakes on the FN2 don’t seem to be up to much so a big brake may be the way forward although they’re not cheap. I’ve already bought some second hand, 17 inch, OZ Ultraleggera’s which first need refurbished before they go on and they will be wrapped in Toyo R888R’s. From here, most of the modifications will be focusing on the reliability of the car, upgrading the cooling system, baffled sump, oil pump balancer shaft delete, timing chain and tensioner and possibly a professional under seal for peace of mind.
While it’s safe to say I can absolutely see why it’s the least loved type R, I can also see a fantastic base for tuning and I’m excited to see how it performs on track. This is most definitely a long term car for me so the build may take some time but when it’s finished I know it’ll be a bit of a giant killer!