Honda Civic Type R (FK2) | PH Used Buying Guide

Honda Civic Type R (FK2) | PH Used Buying Guide

12/21/2020

The FK2 ended the Type R's naturally aspirated streak. The Honda Civic never looked back…

By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, December 20, 2020

Key considerations

  • Available for £15,000
  • 2.0 turbo four, front-wheel drive
  • More 'alive' than most of the competition
  • Lairy looks nicely detuned by non-primary colours
  • Well equipped, but infotainment is a bit dated
  • Very little goes wrong

Click here to search for a Civic Type R

OVERVIEW

If the words ‘Type R’ don’t generate some kind of instant heart remap in you, you’re either Chuck Yeager or you’re on the wrong website – and Chuck passed away the other day, so you’re not him. Red-badged Honda Civics have been exciting the pants off people since 1997 when the EK9 three-door buzzed onto the scene with its soon-to-become-familiar recipe of stinger engine, close-ratio gearbox, lightweight body and stripped-back cabin.

In the ’97 EK9, the stinger under the lid was a normally-aspirated 1.6 four producing some of the wackiest figures ever: 182hp at 8,200rpm and a tittersome 118lb ft of torque at 7,500rpm. An EK9 didn't weigh much more than 1,000kg, so if you could work the titanium shift knob fast enough to keep it in the correct ratio of the five available, this frantic machine would scream through the 0-60mph run in just 6.7sec. If you think that’s mad, Honda tuning specialists Spoon Sports developed a racing EK9 Type R with an 11,000rpm red line. Gumph!

The rarity of that first Civic Type R (which was never officially sold outside Japan) means that the contemporary 1998-on Integra with the same hand-ported B16B motor gained a much higher public profile in Europe, but the perception of Rs as exotic niche purchases all changed in 2001 when production of the new EP3 began in the decidedly unexotic environs of Swindon. Suddenly, Japan’s otaku culture of passionate nerdiness had become part of Honda’s mainstream offering. A new K20 2.0 litre four mated to a six-speed box took power on the European (EDM) model up to 197hp at 7,600rpm, which with 1,270kg to haul was just enough to replicate the EK9’s 6.7sec 0-60 time. More highly-tuned 212hp Japanese JDM versions dipped into the five-second bracket. Seems amazing, what with this being more than twenty years ago and all.

A year or so after the EP3 was discontinued in 2005, its successor appeared. Assembled this time in Japan as well as the UK, the FN2 came with controversial ‘pencil sharpener’ styling in both three-door hatch and JDM FD2 4-door saloon formats. The weight was up again, to 1,300kg, but although power was pretty much unchanged at just under 200hp the same mid-six second 0-60 time was claimed. In reality, few testers got the job done in under 7sec.

A major element in the Type R’s allure had always been the use of naturally aspirated engines, so there was more than a little muttering when fans realised that the replacement for the 2011-discontinued FN2, the FK2, was going to be the first turbocharged Type R. In 2014, three years after the new Civic base model went on sale, the FK2 was previewed at the Geneva show in 2014 and then revealed in production form at the 2015 show alongside the new NSX.

Styling wise, the FK2 was an evolution of the FN2. The cars were to be assembled in Swindon using engines shipped over from Ohio. Once more weight was increased, from 1,300kg to 1,382kg, but a 50 per cent leap in power more than made up for that. Not only was the FK2’s 306bhp knocking on the door of the Civic Type R BTCC car’s output, lending some credibility to Honda’s ‘race car for the road’ claim, turbocharging made the road car vastly superior to the racer in terms of its low-rpm performance.

More importantly, on paper at least it was also vastly superior to the preceding road car. Top speed shot up from 146mph to 168mph and the 0-62mph dropped to 5.7sec, with 38.7mpg as the official average fuel consumption. That spec superiority was accurately translated into a proper on-road duffing for the FN2. Although the FK2 didn’t sound as good as its normally-aspirated dad, offering more of a drone than a growl, in every other measurable area like acceleration, flexibility, ride, braking, grip, and even in less tangible areas like driving involvement, the newer car was a huge advance over the old one. And it still had variable valve timing and ‘lift’ so it still felt like a VTEC.

With five-door, four/five-seat practicality (you can replace the R's individual rear seats with ones from a normal Civic in twenty minutes) and used prices starting at £15,000, the FK2 would now appear to be ticking a lot of boxes for the hot hatch-fancying PHer. All you need to do is find a good one – and with Honda’s reputation for reliability that shouldn't be too hard, surely? Let’s have a gander.

SPECIFICATION | HONDA CIVIC TYPE R (FK2)

Engine: 1,998cc inline four 16v turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],500-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 secs
Top speed: 168mph
Weight: 1,382kg
MPG (official combined): 38.7mpg
CO2: 170g/km
Wheels: 19in
Tyres: 235/35
On sale: 2015 – 2017
Price new: £28,990 (GT £31,290)
Price now: from £15,000

Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.


ENGINE & GEARBOX

As noted, from a powertrain perspective the differences between the 2015 FK2 Type R and the previous FN2 were game-changing. For a start, Honda didn't mess about with the materials for the engine internals: the FK2 had cast aluminium pistons, aluminium VTEC rocker arms, forged conrods and a lightweight crankshaft. For maximum power in the FN2 you needed to see 7,500rpm on the tacho. The direct-injected, air-to-air intercooled, single-scroll turbo FK2 gave you 50 per cent more power at a thousand fewer revs, and more than double the FN2's maximum torque, that being available from 2,500rpm compared to 5,500rpm in the old car.

Still, relative to other cars that didn't follow the Type R prescription for turbo engagement, it could feel like the FK2 was a bit short on low-down urge. Put that another way: the combination of Dual-VTC that allowed a degree of valve timing overlap and VTEC that varied the degree of exhaust valve lift gave the FK2 some of the 'wait for it' character so beloved by EP3 owners. That effect was underlined at the top end by a narrow 500rpm window between maximum power and the limiter. If a skilled driver got their gearchange timings right it was entirely possible to come in under the advertised 5.7sec time for the 0-62.

Reliability-wise, well, it's a Honda innit. Some owners have experienced overheating problems in warmer weather and/or at track days, triggering a power reduction. There were also a few instances of a wiring issue that could affect turbo boost. On any car you're thinking of buying, check that it’s blowing correctly on the test drive by holding the top left button on the steering wheel on the g-meter menu to bring up the boost gauge. You should see a reading of 1.2-1.4 bar under hard acceleration and a quaint expression on the face of the owner in the passenger seat.

The six-speed manual gearbox was happy to assist the committed FK2 driver. Given the company's proven engineering expertise it seems odd that Honda has hardly done more than dip its toe into the world of dual-clutch transmissions, restricting them to motorcycles, niche products like the NSX and a handful of cars not available in the UK, but the quality of the Type R's manual 6-speeder means that most owners will feel no sense of loss. The 'box had its own oil cooler for extra resilience on the track and the same short shift throw as the old NSX-R, although the shift knob itself had long been downgraded from the EK9's titanium to still-cool aluminium.

There have been problems with gear selection, especially first to second, which is almost always a reflection of the kind of use these cars receive. Second to third can also become crunchy. Jumping out of fourth and not being able to engage 1st or reverse can happen too. Building ample warmup time into your driving regime (and of course being less forceful with the stick) will help to fend off problems in this area.

On the plus side, the EK9's helical mechanical limited slip diff was brought back for the FK2, a reprise that was instrumental in trimming three seconds off the car’s Nurburgring lap time (where it was two seconds faster than a Lamborghini Gallardo), helping it to secure the record for front-driven production cars there. At least as impressively, the Honda beat Mercedes' all-wheel drive A45 AMG on a British test track. 

As an aside, you can buy something called a Remus responder which takes no time to fit and which amplifies the throttle pedal signal to increase throttle response and driveability. According to those who have fitted it and never turned it off, the Remus kit is well worth trying at £165 or thereabouts.

In moderate to hard driving you should expect mpg figures in the low 30s, with mid to high 30s easily achievable even if you apply some tuning to the car. Many parts prices are surprisingly cheap. The CTR was designed to operate on a variable servicing basis but there are rumours of some dealers turning that off and replacing it with a conventional annual arrangement to harmonise the car's various needs which might otherwise present themselves at inconveniently different times. If you use the car as the manufacturer intended, you'll march through brakes and tyres, but insurance is nicely affordable.

CHASSIS

Honda isn’t the kind of company to put all its effort into only one aspect of a car’s engineering makeup. If a new car is going to be created, the chances are that it will be new throughout rather than a money-saving hotch-potch of repurposed bits, so the chassis of the gen-nine source Civic was entirely revisited for the ‘Dual Axis’ Type R. Tracks were wider at both ends of the car. Honda’s version of Ford’s RevoKnuckle was introduced at the front to minimise torque steer, with a redesigned H-section torsion bar at the back to boost rigidity (to the extent that an anti-roll bar was deemed unnecessary). Completing the suspension package was a mix of coil springs, magnetorheological adaptive dampers and stiffer bushes, giving a ride in normal mode that was OK on pockmarked roads as long as you avoided all but the smallest pocks. Some owners binned the 19in wheels in favour of 18s to reduce the crashiness of the ride. 

An '+R' button on the dash turned the instrument lighting red and ramped up the responsiveness of the engine and steering. Unfortunately, it also ramped up the adaptive damping to a level of firmness that made the Type R all but unusable on anything other than a smooth track. Those efforts to reduce torque steer were very successful, as long as you were happy to accept sub-optimal off-the-line traction in poor conditions, but the steering action ended up being too light to make it onto the list of the FK2’s best points.

Owners should seriously consider making the pilgrimage to at least one Civic Type R Owners Club track day to discover the true roadholding potential of their car and to more fully appreciate the central role played by that bitey diff. Front end grip is massive, while the back end could be described as good-naturedly lively, especially when braking hard going into a bumpy corner.

Bubbling under the paint of the lightweight, recessed-for-aero 19in wheels is common, as is kerbing damage. The standard tyres were ContiSportContact 6s that were specially designed for this car. Braking was by cast-iron drilled Brembo discs and four-pot calipers, with Honda's City-Brake Active System using a laser in the top of the windscreen to (a) point out that you were about to have an accident at speeds below 18mph, and (b) apply the brakes if you ignored the warning. City-Brake also prevented you from accidentally accelerating into the rear of the car ahead as long as it was less than 4 metres away.

BODYWORK

The same exhaustive approach that was devoted to the underpinnings of the Civic was also applied to the FK2’s bodywork. Not everyone will find the overall look handsome but it was certainly impactful and for many there will always be pleasure in sporting functionality, something Honda has always been good at.

The splitter, quad exhaust-framing rear diffuser and rear wing were all standard hot hatch fare, but Honda went further, channelling airflow through the engine bay to the brake cooling/outlet vents on the trailing edges of the aluminium front wheel-arch extensions that were necessitated by the R's wider tracks. The front bumper was shaped to minimise lift and turbulence around the front wheels, helping high-speed stability, and the floor was unusually flat, smoothening the airflow.

LED lights front and rear were standard. The paint generally isn't the thickest so stone chipping is par for the course. New R buyers who preferred a lower profile could swerve the normal bright primary colours and go for Championship white, blue, black or ‘polished metal’ (a gunmetal grey), none of which did a lot to stop the traffic light goading.

If you open the boot and shake it, you might hear a weird sloshing noise. That'll be the water that's got into the rear wing and then been too stupid to get out.

INTERIOR

Looking at the car from the outside, you might get the impression that the view from inside is going to be compromised, but in fact it’s nowhere near as bad as the haunchy back end and big rear spoiler would have you believe.

No arguments about the amazing style of the Type R’s high-sided sports seats though. They look like they’re going to be uncomfortable for anyone with, er, wider hips shall we say, but that usually turns out to be a false impression. The vast majority of drivers will find them comfortable, with only taller drivers suffering from poor vision out.

However, even though the hip point was 30mm lower in the R than in the regular Civic, there’s no disguising the high-set nature of the driving position that, at the end of the day, is based on a family hatch with a fuel tank positioned under the seats. Always try an FK2 before you buy as this can be a deal-breaker for some. The succeeding FK8 addressed this issue by lowering the hip point by another 50mm. It also replaced the FK2's torsion bar with a multi-link setup.

Whoever designed the dual-plane digital and analogue instrument layout may have been bingeing on the blue Smarties that day. It's a bit overwrought, and you may wonder why you need to be told about a tyre pressure problem in three different places on the dash. Nice if you’re a fan of the belt and braces approach though, and you can always concentrate on admiring the slender-spoked flat-bottomed steering wheel with its stitched-in straight-ahead marker.

The 'i-MID' 'Multi Information Display screen on the left gave you information not just on boring stuff like the audio, trip computer, oil pressure, water and oil temperature, but also on the much more exciting and/or novelty data like turbo boost pressure, cornering G-force, brake and throttle pedal positions, plus timing functions for laps, 0-62mph times and standing quarter-miles. There were central shift lights to look at too. You had to remember to cast your eyes back on the road every now and then.

Equipment levels were good, with cruise control, hill start assist, a rear-view camera, satnav and a premium six-speaker sound system including digital radio, but by the time the FK2 came out in 2015 the Civic’s Android-based Honda Connect 7in touchscreen infotainment system was already looking slightly baroque and performing less intuitively than you might have wished. Smartphone connection was easy enough, but you had to burrow deep into the menus to find the folk you wanted to call. GT models added dual-zone climate control, all-round parking sensors and electric windows, auto wipers and lights and the ability to play CDs as long as the first buyer had specified the upgraded satnav.

Build quality is generally fine. Some of the plastic trim pieces might remind you that it's time to get the Christmas crackers in but the action of the controls feels good. New buyers could premium things up a bit by ticking the interior carbon box at £495. Some owners had problems with the centre console cupholder's sliding cover jamming shut, but if the clunk-drop of the electric windows alarms you, don't worry: they were all like that.

It's a little claustrophobic in the back thanks to that upswept window line, and in standard trim it's a four-seater not a five-seater. Sadly, Honda's cleverly folding 'Magic Seats' didn't make it to the Type R's rear compartment on weight grounds, leaving the default 60/40 split backrest and a well-shaped boot with 477 litres of space – about 40 percent more than you'd get in a Golf R – and over 1,200 litres with the back seats down, enough to ram a bicycle in without even having to take the wheels off. One of the advantages of a torsion beam design.

PH VERDICT

The FK2's biggest problem was the line-up of super-talented rivals it had to contend with. Besides the AMG A45, there was the Renaultsport Megane 275, Volkswagen Golf R, Seat Leon 280 Cupra, Audi S3 and BMW M135i.

Today, if pure involvement is your be-all and end-all, then you'd probably pick the Renault or some kind of hot Ford, but you shouldn't discount the Civic. What's especially good about it is that it wasn't just fast against the stopwatch, it felt fast too, and you couldn't always say that about some of the other cars on the list above.

The Honda is a front-wheel driver so it doesn’t have ultimate grip relative to modern all-wheel drive hot hatches, but in that context, you might regard a good FWD that requires a bit of skill to drive as the equivalent of a good old RWD. Or something. Anyway, let's give Honda credit for persevering with a manual gearbox that in no way hampered its ability to mix it with such tough opposition. In terms of lap times, you could hardly get a fag paper between the best of them and the Honda. Remember too that the current FK8 has the same engine as the FK2, albeit with a lighter flywheel and a revised map to linear-ise the boost.

There are some sacrifices involved with Type R life, but not that many. For some, these will mainly be about the looks and the comfort, but with cars like this it's surely true that a shouty appearance and the occasional jolt through your spine can be just as easily written onto the credit side of the asset sheet as the debit side. Looks are subjective. Many consider the FK2 to be more appealing than the busily festooned FK8, and the FK2's driving rewards are more than rich enough to compensate for any perceived downsides. Nor should you be worried about whether others think you're too old for it. Fun isn't something only young people are allowed to have. 

The FK2 arrived at the end of the gen-nine Civic’s run and it was only built for around 18 months so it’s a relatively rare car. When our man Matt did a piece on the FK2 in May this year the price of entry was around £16,000. Seven months later we've found cars at £15,000. The R's excellent reliability record suggests that fishing in the cheaper end of the pool is less of a risk here than it would be with many other performance hatches.

With that in mind, here's a lovely 2015 car in black with 54,000 miles recorded and a £17,050 price tag. At the top end of the scale, where FK2s are more expensive than the cheaper FK8s, we have another black car but this one is from 2017 and has just 16,000 miles on the clock. From the Honda Approved scheme, it's a fiver under £24,000. In between those two, here's a specced-up GT model in blue with 21,000 miles up. Another Honda Approved car, it's seriously tempting at £20,500.

For more information and to get whatever final encouragement you might need to take the plunge, have a look at this excellent FK2 thread by PHer Laura's Other Half.


Click here to search for a Civic Type R

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