When the FN2 Honda Civic Type R was launched, the days of naturally-aspirated mass-produced cars were already numbered. With each passing evolution of VTEC technology, Honda engineers were under increasing pressure to reduce emissions and enhance performance without raising costs - and in 2007 their job was made to seem all the more difficult by the widespread introduction of turbochargers among its rivals. Honda had good reason to stick with atmospheric induction, of course, as it gave the Civic its greatest USP. Revs.
Renault Sport hadn't abandoned the technology either - the 197 was only fed by a cold air pipe, as well - but Honda was significantly hungrier for engine speed. The lightly updated EP3 unit didn't offer 201hp until 7,800rpm, some 550rpm later than its French equivalent. It was unique in the segment, as its predecessor had been.
Honda's decision not to significantly alter its Civic Type R powertrain with the introduction of an otherwise all-new model was met with both consternation and support. While there were those who welcomed the continuation of the breed, others argued a heavier platform - the FN2 was 1,301kg to the EP3's 1,270kg - warranted enhanced firepower. Why had Honda given its quick three-door only 1hp more and an unchanged torque output? Unsurprisingly, it was chiefly the fault of stricter emissions standards.
Underneath, the third-generation Civic Type R also appeared to take a step back, as it used independent front suspension with a less sophisticated torsion beam and trailing arm setup at the rear (the EP3 was independent all round). Then there was the Marmite exterior - which you can find your own simile for - and yet more yeast extract in the cabin, where Honda had indulged its sci-fi tendencies while also lowering the six-speed manual 'box to a more conventional position. Which also upset as least as many people as it pleased.
Has the Civic's styling improved with time? Obviously it's subjective - but it's fair to say its successors haven't exactly proven bullseye-grade achievements, and there's something to be said for the FN2's less cluttered look. The brace of red buckets seats inside Honda's heritage car certainly look the part and the instrument cluster's central rev counter with central digital screen does feel far more special than the EP3's layout. Moreover the placement of a numerical speedo on top and a line of gear shift LEDs next to them is brilliantly functional - and far simpler to get used to than the digital stuff you encounter today.
Conversely, the seating position doesn't offer any of the sports car-like snugness of the current FK8; the supportive buckets have you perched slightly too high and the steering wheel's placement is a little too low for purposeful comfort. But, in isolation the FN2 feels like an amenable place to sit, even if the steep slope of the bonnet and permanently visible rear wing make parking slightly tricky. On the move though, it's sight of the spoiler which keeps you in the right frame of the mind, and the short nose which has the Civic wrapping around you.
The engine, though, as it was in its EP3 guise, is the star of the show. Not all the time, mind. At low to middling revs the FN2 is as moderate as a Liberal Democrat manifesto. It is anonymously and worryingly benign, and almost the exact opposite of what we've slowly come to expect from a hot hatch. But then, when you're minded to send it spinning beyond 7,000rpm, does it come alive. Yes, that's a familiar traits that was also true of earlier Civics, but the FN2 has a different profile high-speed cam to the EP3 so the improvements are more gradual, improving driveability and real-world pace and making the tight gated, short throw six-speed manual all the more enjoyable to use. Even the clutch pedal offers genuine feel and it's easy to roll your foot onto the throttle with every downshift, so you can revel with each action as the VTEC end of the engine beckons you to work it harder and harder.
The FN2's chassis is not quite so convincing. The less sophisticated suspension configuration forced Honda to utilise harder spring rates, making the model brittle at low speeds and busy at pace. But where you're wincing over joins in the road and edges of speed bumps at normal speed, it's easier to forgive the chassis at speed because it delivers such a responsive front end. While not everyone will appreciate a car that bounces into braking zones, as the revs rebound in unison, others might find something to like in the FN2's unapologetic way of doing things. It will cock an inside rear wheel around a hairpin, and while the firmness is not accompanied by BTCC-like levels of adjustability, the presence of a limited-slip differential is something to be grateful for in the later cars.
The FN2's inability to build on the fine foundations of the EP3 - not to mention its divisive looks - left the model floundering during its production run, especially when compared to the cars leaving Dieppe at the same time. Its lacklustre reputation though comes with an obvious upside: it is conspicuously cheap. It is also (again, using contemporaneous Renault products as a benchmark) built for longevity, functionality and practically.
Well looked after, fairly low mileage early FN2s go for little more than £5,000. Similarly tidy EP3s have long since appreciated past that point despite their longer years. For someone after the cheapest way into a reliable, still fairly modern world of Type R ownership, the FN2 is therefore recommendable. And you have to wonder if in the not too distant future, when everything is hybridised or else fully electric, the very last naturally-aspirated Civic Type R might finally have its day.
SPECIFICATION - HONDA CIVIC TYPE R (FN2)
Engine: 1,998cc, inline-4
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 201@7,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 142@5,600rpm
0-62mph: 6.6 secs
Top speed: 146mph
Price new: £18,619
Price now: £5,000+
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