Since I saw my Civic on that fateful episode of Top Gear way back in 2007, I straightaway knew it was the car for me. I was definitely in the ‘love’ camp for the love-it or hate-it camps at the time, and despite how it was absolutely slated in that review (which by the way was a laughably rubbish review when you look at finer details), it was the car for me.
In 2015, after much hard work through high school and eventually into uni, I saved enough to make my dream a reality (definitely not sponsored by mum and dad). I purchased my 2008 Milano Red Type R with 90,000km on the clock for $13,250 down from $17,990 trading in my first car, a 2003 Corolla. While it was everything I dreamed it to be, with the rose-tinted glasses off, there are indeed a few grievances with the car.
The polarising exterior styling is a big highlight for me. It’s a (subjectively) handsome car. For a soon-to-be 11-year-old design, it hasn’t aged a day and remains contemporary and sharp. People are surprised when I say the design dates back to 2007. The triangle cues on the exhaust, door handles and foglights, the sharp lines, the pumped-up front flanks all lead to a squat, aggressive design. Although, the actual ride height isn’t that low. I do call my car the red egg, though, as it looks as such from certain angles.
Honda has frustrated me through the omission of projector headlights, however. Retrofitted projectors really improve visibility at night, and allow for the addition of HIDs/LEDs without blinding people, nor looking like a bogan with a VS Commodore and the blue cubes of HIDs in non-projector lenses. They also add a significant visual element to the front, and given how both generations of Accord Euros (and the previous CTR, Integra from the ’90s etc) received projectors, I find it a bit disappointing (to me, it’s cost-cutting here).
Another grievance is the rubbish paint quality, which is really quite thin and prone to chipping. There is noticeable fade on the upper portion of the rear bumper, however I regularly detail my car so it’s mostly kept at bay. The Milano Red is a very vibrant and striking colour otherwise. I would have preferred a Championship White car, but they still do command a premium.
The plastic clips that hold the wheel arches on are very flimsy, and prone to breaking. Replacements are cheap, but it’s annoying no less. Those niggles aside, I love it from an aesthetic standpoint – polarising and not for everyone, but certainly for me.
Another place where Honda is due credit is the interior design. Like the exterior, the interior has barely aged. I love the split-tier dash – many find it irritating, but I like having my speed readout in my eye line. The speed refresh, however, is quite slow. The huge rev-counter is gorgeous, and the colour of the backlighting is fantastic.
On the head unit/wheel buttons, however, the use of that off-green/white backlighting at night isn’t particularly appealing. If only it had the red lighting of the EP3 and DC5.
The leather steering wheel is small and feels great in hand. The 10-2 notches, while there, aren’t overly defined, but otherwise it’s one of the better steering wheels I’ve held. The best I’ve held was from a MK6 GTI I was lucky enough to drive.
The plastics are predominantly hard, but feel rubberised with a nice grain on the radio unit and door tops. The door bottoms are hard and scratchy, but my partner’s 2017 Astra RS-V is no better in that respect. Although, the passenger portion of the dash is soft-touch plastic, in addition to the area in front of the speedo. The other touch points are a little disappointing, but I don’t spend my time actually touching the touch points, so I can mostly overlook them.
The seats are a highlight. They look fantastic, are supportive and very snug, and supremely comfortable even after five-plus hours of driving. The backseat space rivals that of much larger cars. I’m 6ft and in my driving position I can still stretch out in the back. The rear floor is flat too. Pity it only seats four then. I don’t have friends, so this is never an issue thankfully.
The spoiler is something often criticised, but it actually helps a lot at night to block out headlights. You can still see pretty clearly rearward because of the split-tiered glass. I don’t have difficulty at least, especially with the huge wing mirrors. Rather impressively, there isn’t an audible squeak or rattle anywhere in the cabin. Overall, the solidity and build quality are great.
Standard equipment is a bit so-so. It didn’t have iPod connectivity/Bluetooth optioned as standard. I had to install that myself. The speakers are a little average too, but I use an equaliser on my phone that has improved things. It now provides good bass, crisp mid and treble notes. Updated cars received better speakers and Bluetooth/AUX as standard after 2009. I don’t use the six-stacker CD, auto-headlights/wipers, VSA stability control and nothing else that notable.
The cruise control works well, and only the steepest descents will cause it to overspeed. The dual-zone climate control works nicely and is cool, as demonstrated in Melbourne’s mini heat-waves. The passenger also gets their temperature adjustment below their window switch weirdly.
Even though AUDM models are basically the GT spec from the UK, we never got the factory sat-nav. Electric folding mirrors are a nice touch. A sunroof as the Civic Sport had from factory would’ve been nice – perhaps black headlining, but that’s nitpicking now. Otherwise, it has everything I need.
A very big strong suit is practicality – 415 litres seats up, extending to 1282 litres when the seats fold completely flat is a big plus. I’ve used it as an improv’ panel-van at times, stuffing it full of moving boxes and other miscellaneous items. I’ve even got a deconstructed queen bed frame in with a bit of careful placement. Exactly how a hot hatch should be.
This area is where my car is criticised a lot. A lot of people believe the car isn’t a true Type R on the basis it isn’t as hardcore as predecessors. To an extent, I agree with that statement. Compared to other Type R models, it isn’t as raw and solely track-focused like its predecessors. It isn’t a stripper special by any stretch either. It’s not exactly light at 1325kg, however Australia missed out on the UK base model, the ‘Race’, weighing in at 1260kg with no features, inclusive of AC/radio etc. That model is more befitting to the R ethos then.
No, it’s not the truest Type R from those standpoints. To me, it takes 90 percent of the Type R experience and blends in with the aforementioned everyday usability, practicality and (comparative) comfort. It’s far from a rubbish drive as many would say.
The steering is very sharp at 2.2 turns to lock, and while it’s electrically assisted, it offers a lot of feel, feedback and with n0 kickback, and is reminiscent of earlier predecessors. It has better feedback than an EP3 in that regard. The steering is notably heavy, particularly at parking speeds, but it’s a non-issue as I prefer heavier steering.
The suspension is certainly hard but not harsh. It’s controlled and settles down to be quite comfortable after 40km/h. There is n0 roll, and grip is immense from the Potenza RE003s. Mine is a pre-update car that lacks the LSD, but I can’t really gauge how much of a difference it’d make. I say this as my car grips like a limpet, and will really only understeer at the absolute limit, and it’s only once spun an inside wheel on the tightest of turns.
Throttle lift-off reveals a playful rear end that will eagerly pivot around you and a nose that will tuck into a corner. The VSA stability control is totally non-intrusive in the dry. Even the brakes feel great, with a firm but progressive feel to the pedal and a lot of bite. That’s also applicable to the weighty clutch pedal that bites rather low, although I’m running an aftermarket Exedy HD kit.
Road noise on the freeway is no worse than a new Mazda 3 SP25, if not quieter. Fuel economy is pretty average though. The best I can get with primarily freeway driving is 610km. I average anywhere between 500–540km from a 50L tank with mixed driving. Don’t even look at the OBC if you’ve been having fun either.
Now the crème de la crème, and what people are wondering the most. ‘How does it go for a lawnmower?’ ‘Only 193Nm of torque, only 150kW?’ ‘My blender makes more torque!’ I’ve heard it all. A lot of people tend to dismiss the FN2 purely from the on-paper figures, but in the real world it’s actually a pretty different story.
Firstly, the gearing is excellent. The ratios are short, and with a FD of 5.063, the car always feels eager. Fifth gear at 45km/h without foot to the floor and the car still pulls forward with alacrity. I rarely do this, however, but that just demonstrates how tractable it can be. Downshifts are still made when appropriate.
The torque band is very flat too – only 193Nm, but with 90 per cent of it being made at 2500rpm, in the right gears it feels pretty, well, punchy. Below 2500rpm it’ll get up to speed without struggle. Between 2500–3500rpm it will indeed push you back in your seat when pressing the throttle around town. Not as much as the turbo Golf, Focus or Megane competitors of the time would, of course. But it’s far from gutless, and you really don’t have to flog it to get it to move in traffic.
When you decide to wind it out, though, the car is an utter gem. The accelerator pedal is very sensitive but never jerky. The car revs very freely and urgently to 8200rpm, and when i-VTEC switches to the high cam, you really do feel a kick followed by a surge. I’ve GPS-timed my car and the best recorded time was 6.4 seconds to the century sprint, which is quite quick. That was with a perfect launch, conditions and perfect shifting (none of this powershifting nonsense). It’d be around the 6.6 claim to 6.9 generally. Getting below 7sec requires the driver to be on the money.
Shifting (which is buttery smooth, weighty and the most direct shift action this side of an exotic) helps that time the most, which is obvious. But when you have to keep an NA motor on the boil without the luxury of forced induction, and gears short enough requiring a shift to third to get to 100km/h, it is very important.
It’s common to see the times dip into the low and even high sevens for those who aren’t used to the car. Alas, 0–100km/h times aren’t the be-all and end-all as many people make them out to believe. The powertrain in essence is just sublime.
A criticism is that the car is actually a little muted in stock form. I made my own induction kit for it about five months ago and haven’t looked back. It gives the standard car the rich induction sound it deserves. Since then, the noise combines deep, burbly WRX-esque tones in the low to mid ranges with a banshee-like shriek in the upper reaches.
I won’t be putting an exhaust on the car any time soon. I prefer induction noise over exhaust noise, and Honda exhausts are a tricky (and expensive) affair to navigate without making the car sound ricey and, well, crap. Its 2.25-inch pipes from factory are plenty big enough for daily driving.
As a disclaimer, I’m by no means portraying my car as the fastest thing out there. I know that turbo rivals of its era definitely gave it a hard time on the straights, and would definitely be punchier in the everyday world, but contrary to general belief it’s more tractable than many would give it credit for.
While not the best Type R ever made, the FN2 is certainly not the worst. I don’t believe Honda has ever actually made a bad Type R, rather they each have different appeal and characteristics. No, it may not be as hardcore or track-focused as Type Rs of the past. It compromises more compared to those Type Rs that were designed to be track cars you could drive home.
But it remains an excellent overall package. It took the best characteristics of the older Type Rs to form a useable, fun daily driver. To me, it’s a Type R with a different personality. It’s an easy, friendly car to drive on the limit, practical, reliable, and a joy to own. That’s my pride and joy in a nutshell.