The Mugen RR took us all by surprise. The FD2 Civic Type R that it’s based on seemed hardcore enough. So hardcore in fact, that Honda deemed it too track-focused for European buyers. The four-door saloon was kept for the Japanese domestic market only and we were supplied a rather soft, awkward-looking FN2 hatch Type R instead. So, when Honda announced its official tuning partner, Mugen, would be producing 300 no holds barred Mugen RRs, most of us were a little taken aback.

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When we first heard the rumours we were expecting a lower, firmer FD2. One with some aggressive aero, a few breathing enhancers and a remap to extract some addition horse power as special editions rarely go much further (Nismo 400R an obvious exception – see here). When the specs and images were officially released back in 2007, it seemed our initial expectations had been bang on the money.

Since then though, the Mugen RR has gone on to lap race tracks across the world around two seconds quicker than its stock FD2 Type R counterpart. Let’s take a closer look beneath the skin to see where that time saving comes from and what real-world difference those changes make.

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Let’s get started with the most important aspect of any performance vehicle – the engine. The FD2 Type R came with a similar but slightly more powerful K20A engine to that found in the DC5 Integra Type R and CL7 Accord Euro R, unlike the European FN2 which possessed a watered down K20Z4 setup of course. The in-line four cylinder 1998cc arrangement in the Mugen RR ups power yet further from 222bhp to 237bhp. Officially, this additional 15bhp comes courtesy of a new camshaft setup, an uprated intake system, a bespoke exhaust manifold, a free-flowing twin-exit exhaust and a remap, but let’s break that down a little…

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Think aggressive cam profiles and you usually expect a nice lumpy idle. Here though they simply add a little welcome coarseness that becomes more prominent as the revs rise. That said, the K20A manages to remain relatively smooth, so smooth in fact that if you hadn’t driven a stock FD2, you’d be hard pushed to know uprated cams were even in place.  But the K-series engine certainly feels more fighty and less lethargic. Stiffer valve springs help and the effects of some increased core strength is certainly detectible. The VTEC motor feels harder and more punchy. It’s almost B-series in its behaviour.

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The RR’s intake layout benefits from a direct feed from a carbon fibre scoop in the front bumper. Fresh, cool, dense air is then ‘rammed’ into a larger diameter air box. The system is so effective, so responsive it almost feels like Mugen has snuck an oversized throttle body in there for good measure, but officially that’s not the case.

As for the exhaust manifold, a Mugen-developed 4-2-1 part has been mated to the K20A. The free-flowing design is more effective in expelling spent gasses, with a sports cat helping in this department too. Once the relevant filtration has taken place the gases continue along a Mugen exhaust system and disperse via efficient twin-exit tailpipes. The RR’s breathing apparatus work very well indeed.

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The sharper throttle response mentioned just a moment ago has also been mapped into the Honda’s ECU. The right pedal continues to be light, but you need less angle of depression to apply maximum power. Small movements of your foot lead to bigger changes of acceleration, something you need to get used to and allow for when riding over bumpy roads.

The 15bhp increase may not sound a lot, but the rev needle rises and races to 8000rpm notably quicker than on a stock FD2. The RR feels like it’s got a far greater power advantage, but it’s a dramatic weight loss programme that’s largely responsible for the sensation.

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The Mugen machine weighs in at just 1095kg. That’s 165kg lighter than the FD2 Type R (1260kg) it originates from and that’s despite additions like arch extensions, a lower boot spoiler and wider wheels.

This dramatic weight reduction is the consequence of using lightweight materials. The vented bonnet for example is aluminium, with Mugen’s engineers deeming sound deadening as surplus to requirements. 

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The front bumper is carbon fibre, as are the upper section of the front grille, lower air scoops and under tray. Those carbon air scoops feed the carbon intake and as you progress further back you’ll notice the steering wheel, Recaro seats and rear wing are all constructed from beautifully woven carbon fibre.

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What enables the Mugen RR to get round tracks so quickly though is the focussed chassis. Mugen has added a set of its own dampers and springs to the car which make it sit about 10mm lower than the FD2. The springs are of course stiffer, but unusually for a car this age, the dampers are adjustable! You can’t alter the ride height but you get five damper settings to choose from, which you have to adjust manually with a special tool.

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So whether you’re using the Mugen RR on the road or you’re braving it on track, there’s a chassis setting to suit your needs. Surprisingly, even on bumpy British A-roads the chassis remains adequately supple, absorbing the undulations nicely. But it’s the precision and predictability of the steering that’s phenomenal. Initially, the steering can feel a little light, but the more you get involved the more you realise there’s no vagueness to it all. The feel is pretty good and you quickly build confidence in the Honda’s abilities.

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The brakes help with this too. Instead of trying to up the stopping power of the Mugen RR, the engineers focussed on, predictability and feel. It’s the same Brembo calipers up front as the stock FD2 and the disc size is the same at 320mm, but Mugen has fitted a set of its own lightweight grooved discs, which provide a bit of extra bite. But the internal design of the discs means they flow air better and as a result they stay cooler for longer. Those carbon scoops under the front bumper feed cold air to the brakes too so you’ve really got to be on it to experience any fade. We’ve not managed to detect any yet!

Braided lines help the middle pedal feel nice and firm, less spongy than a stock FD2. All of Mugen’s chassis work have resulted in one of the most perfectly balanced FWD performance cars you could ever hope to drive. You’ve got to be pushing it to fully appreciate it. The setup is so forgiving. You can arrive at corners at crazy speeds and silly angles and still get the Honda turned in for the apex.

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Once into the corner the Mugen RR feels more planted and stable too. There’s notably more grip than in a stock FD2. That’s probably because of the bespoke forged 8x18” wheels on each corner. They still run 225/40 Bridgestone Potenzas, so it’s not as if there’s any more rubber on the road, it’s just the track is slightly wider and there’s less movement in the side wall so it feels more sure-footed.

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You can’t feel it on the road, but at high-speeds and on track, the Mugen’s aggressive aero comes into play. From the front carbon under tray back, the RR has a very flat floor, much like a race car. And subtle tweaks like the lower lip kit, the big rear diffuser and the more aggressive angle on the rear wing no doubt help with stability.

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With such high-speed cornering possible, it’s hardly surprising the front seats are so narrow and supportive. And when we say narrow, we mean narrow. The carbon-backed items are unbelievably snug and if your shoulders are any broader than Mo Farrah’s, you’ll find yourself hunkering forward into attack position. That’s no bad thing and as you fire through the tight, positive six-speed manual gearbox, you instantly appreciate the short, precise throw. The changes are ultra-crisp.

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The Mugen RR then is the ultimate FWD Honda. It may not have the power of the latest turbocharged FK2 Type R, but what it lacks in straight-line pace, it more than makes up for in driver engagement, precision and balance. Mugen has increased the K20A’s power, sharpened the handling, fitted a race-inspired interior, added some cool lightweight aero parts and made the whole package absolutely sing. It’s the kind of Honda we all dream of building.

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Photos: Frytography

What’s more, Mugen only turned out 300 of these special RRs, meaning they’ll remain exclusive. It’s said that all 300 were sold within ten minutes of going on sale and that if you were to require a replacement wheel or bumper, you’ll have to prove to Mugen that you own a genuine RR before they will supply you one. It’s clear they never wanted stock FD2 owners building replica examples. The Mugen RR then is still the best of the best when it comes to hardcore Hondas…

PERFORMANCE: 237bhp & 161lb ft of torque

ENGINE: 1998cc four-cylinder DOHC K20A engine, uprated camshafts, uprated valve springs, large carbon airbox with direct feed, carbon intake manifold cover, 4-2-1 exhaust manifold, sports cat, twin-exit Mugen exahaust

CHASSIS: 8x18 forged Mugen wheels with 225/40 Bridgestone Potenza RE070 tyres, five-point Mugen adjustable dampers, Mugen springs, lower carbon intakes to cool Brembo four-pot front calipers, 320mm vented front discs, 282mm rear discs, Mugen brake pads, stainless steel braided brake lines, helical LSD,

EXTERIOR: Milano red paint, aluminium vented bonnet, carbon fibre front bumper, carbon fibre lower front vents, carbon fibre under tray, deeper side skirts, rear wing with carbon fibre upper gurney flap, boot lip spoiler, black rear diffuser, rear fog lamp, Mugen RR badges

INTERIOR: Carbon fibre Recaro SP-X front seats, carbon fibre-topped steering wheel, metal gear knob, short shift, metal sports pedals and footrest, Mugen dials,  Mugen gauges (water temp, oil temp and oil pressure), Mugen RR kick-plates, keyless entry

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