Honda Civic Type R vs. MUGEN Civic Type R

Why the comparison?

It's an unfair comparison (we know this), because the MUGEN Civic Type R is as far removed from the production Honda Civic Type R as a Heston Blumenthal beef wellington is from a Greggs mince pie.

But there's logic here, and it's simple: is it worth spending the price of two bog standard Type Rs for the MUGEN one?

How are they similar?

They look very similar, what with being ostensibly the same car, though park the two side by side and all of a sudden the standard Type R - a hot looking hatch by anyone's standards - appears very normal indeed. The MUGEN is lower, its arches filled by a beautiful set of custom lightweight alloys, and then there's the rear wing, which is huge.

Add the custom body kit, including a lower front skirt, and you've got a car that Honda aficionados (and Gran Turismo players) will grant you instant respect for driving. Inside there's not much difference, save for a trio of pressure gauges to the right of the steering wheel, and, if you've paid a few thousand more on top of the £38,000 list price, you can have the back seats replaced by a roll cage.

How do they differ?

Where to begin? One may look like a version of the other with a body kit, but what MUGEN has done borders on ludicrous; the company estimates that there's £60,000 worth of car, parts and labour in this model. And only 20 will be made. Seems a bargain now, eh?

The Civic Type R's 2.0-litre VTEC engine develops 198bhp by allowing you to rev it past 8,000rpm - the antithesis of today's torque-laden turbocharged hot hatch engines. (It's actually extinct now because it emits so much CO2, which is a minor tragedy really.) Well, the MUGEN basically takes what's good about it and turns it up to 12. By stripping it, rebuilding it with stronger parts and reprogramming its computer brain, MUGEN gives it an extra 40bhp.

The suspension is replaced, the brakes are boosted, the exhaust is new and the steering is re-calibrated. The MUGEN might be far from the most powerful car on the road, but we can't think of one that's closer to a touring car racer.

So which one would we have?

We have two main issues with the normal Civic Type R: its horribly hard ride and its lack of low-end grunt. The MUGEN rectifies these two problems, the first by making the car more comfortable while, amazingly, giving it more steering feel, and the second not by giving it more grunt, but by making the power delivery past 6,000rpm so brutal that you cease to care about the lack of poke below that.

Some of the Civic's issues remain, like its driving position (seat too high, wheel too low) and its plasticky dashboard. However, the good stuff about the Civic, like its wonderful steering feel, superlative gear change, grip, styling and massive boot are made much better with this conversion. Well, apart from that last one.

Is £38,000 too expensive for a hatchback? Probably, but how many limited edition, brilliant to drive, hand-built cars can you name for the same money? Exactly.

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