“Worst Type R ever made.” “The FN2 is absolutely awful!” “I never liked this car.” Those were a few of the Instagram comments we received when posting up about our recent test of the FN2 generation Type R, neatly proving my reason for getting it in for a drive in the first place: it’s the least loved of all the Civic Type Rs.
So what’s the problem with it? First of all, Honda carried over the EP3’s 2.0-litre K20 VTEC engine pretty much unchanged, so it’s no faster than the one that came before it. Secondly, the chassis is technically inferior, as the EP3’s fully independent suspension setup was ditched for a less sophisticated independent front, torsion beam/trailing arm rear setup.
It doesn’t sound awfully promising on paper, but I’ve always wanted to try one for myself. And since we’ve been running the new ‘FK2’ generation Type R for the last few months on a long-term test, now seems like as good a time as any to see if the poor old FN2 is deserving of all that flack, or if there’s a gem of a car hiding under all that negative rep.
In terms of looks, I actually rather like it. Naturally it can’t compete with the classic looks of the original EK9 Type R, but I was never a fan of the whole bread van thing with the EP3, and when sitting next to ‘our’ FK2 with its festooning of wings and vents, you appreciate the old FN2’s smoother lines and more balanced overall look.
On the inside it’s familiar territory: as in the current R you’ve a pair of red, hip-hugging seats, and a ‘double decker’ arrangement to the dashboard that sees the rev counter, fuel gauge and temperature gauge sitting below, with the speedometer sitting on the upper section. Only here, it’s not quite so fancy, and the trip computer isn’t an utter faff to use.
So far, so good, and as an owner of one of the FN2’s contemporary rivals - the MkV VW Golf GTI - I found myself wondering if I should have bought a Honda instead. Until I drove it for the first time, of course.
The problem is the FN2 doesn’t at any time feel fast. You can buzz it up to the 8000rpm red line all you want, but save for a mild increase in poke from around 5500rpm, there’s no VTEC kicked in yo force pinning you in the back of your seat. The gear change isn’t as slick as the FK2 either, but the biggest problem is with the suspension. Not just because the chassis lacks the fluidity of the old EP3’s - no lift-off oversteer heroics here, I’m afraid - but also because it’s absurdly firm.
You’ve probably heard us and pretty much every other UK car publication out there complain about the overly harsh ‘+R’ mode on the latest Type R. The FN2 rides rather like that, except there are no adaptive dampers here, so you’re stuck with the firmness all the time.
It just never seems to settle: you’re constantly jiggling around. It’s irritating in town, and when you’re on a bumpy B road it’s downright scary when the chassis’ firmness and lack of finesse sees you skating around and grappling with the wheel just to stay on the tarmac.
It’s not all bad, though. Despite the lack of poke the N/A engine is an utter joy to smash into the red line, and emits a zingy din the new car could never hope to replicate. The steering’s superior to the EP3’s slow and slightly vague setup too, and the interior a far nicer place to spend time in.
The idea of an FN2 with aftermarket suspension and a power boost (apparently some breathing mods and a remap can hike things up to a more potent 230-240bhp) is a genuinely tempting one, but unfortunately in its standard guise, the FN2 is too uneven to pass muster.
It has neither the playful chassis of the EP3, nor the genuinely shocking capability of the FK2. So yes, it’s the ‘ugly duckingly’ of the Type Rs, and after sampling one for myself, I totally get why. But hey, since the current Type R is such a belter, I think we can forgive Honda for the one-off blip.