It might be a hard sell, this $30,000 2008 Honda Civic Mugen Si.
Sure, here we speak of a generation of Civic that is much more sophisticated than any that came before and possibly the most sophisticated in its class. Additionally, this Civic sedan is pumped up with the zingy 2.0-liter, 197-horsepower Si motor and the sweet six-speed manual transmission that comes bolted to that engine.
Further, for those whose tastes run toward the JDM, this Civic has a suspension, exhaust and body worked over by the able folks at M-Tec using the venerable Mugen name. Founded by 1973 by Soichiro Honda's son, Mugen has a proud list of motorsports accomplishments that include campaigning Super GT racers in Japan and building Formula 1 engines. It's also a premier aftermarket performance parts purveyor. Note: If you don't know what JDM stands for, stop reading. This is not the car for you.
For all of this sporty goodness, we must say that we hated this 2008 Honda Civic Mugen Si during our first lap of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, where we had a brief test-drive of the car that will go on sale in mid-October.
This Is What It Sounds Like When Slugs Cry "What a pig," we exclaimed to no one in particular as the Mugen Si we were driving pushed toward the outside of the Carousel — just as it did at the Keyhole.
It wasn't until we began our second flying lap of the course that we realized that it might not have been fair to hop in this midsize sedan — no matter how tuned it is — immediately after lapping the same course in an S2000 CR.
A little slower at turn-in to the corner and a little more patient getting back to the gas pedal and the Mugen Si comes into its own. Still, it feels tall and a little heavy for track work. But damn if it doesn't sound good. Its ripping exhaust note is loud enough to be heard clearly through our full-face helmet. And from the outside the Mugen's exhaust is turned up to just between the standard demure Si exhaust and the raucous flatulence of many aftermarket Civic pipes.
And damn if we're not only 10 mph slower at the end of the back straight than we were in the S2000 CR. The digital speedometer flips over to 109 mph just as we approach the braking cone we used for the S2000 CR — uh oh.
It'll take another lap for us to stop abusing the car and a nice, slow lap to cool off the standard Si brakes so we don't come rolling into the pits with all four corners of the car on fire.
Limitations, Caveats and Forewarnings Unfortunately we were not able to test a standard Civic Si on the same track and we were not able to test the Mugen Si on the street, so we're running a little blind here. We do not imagine that the standard Si, as good a budget sport sedan as it is, would have been as much fun on track as the Mugen (eventually) was. Street cars hate racetracks and the feeling is mutual.
Even so, the standard Si has just as much power, just as snickety-slick a six-speed shifter as the Mugen. In fact we came away from the day most impressed with how good a powertrain the base Si has and how surprisingly easy it is to heel-toe downshift the standard car. Incidentally, Honda says that the free-flowing Mugen exhaust "probably adds a few horsepower," but claims it hasn't been tested.
One Slug, Hold the Mucus The Mugen's track-tuned suspension is comprised only of stiffer springs and dampers. The standard Si antiroll bars remain. The reworked suspension drops the Civic by a little more than a half inch. The lowering gives the Mugen a not-unpleasant sluglike stance — a tall, narrow blob slammed down to the ground. The body seems to ooze down over the 18-inch forged aluminum wheels that at 17 pounds each are lighter than the 17-inch standard Si wheels. To these handsome seven-spoke wheels, Mugen mounts BFGoodrich g-Force KDW 215/40ZR18 summer tires, which are significantly grippier but no wider than the standard Si's tires.
The Mugen Si comes with an aero body kit, of course. There is the obligatory rear wing, which is neither the largest nor the most garish we've seen. The rear bumper cover includes a special shape to help clean up airflow at the back of the car. The rocker sills are more pronounced and the front end gets a new, deeper front spoiler with some sort of canardlike things on the corners. And there's a new blacked-out front grille.
Oh, and we hope you like blue, because it's the only color you can get on the Mugen Si. It's Fiji Blue Pearl, if you must know.
And buyers get a specific Mugen aluminum shift knob of an impressive girth. But $30,000?
Honda's Case We will not make Honda's case for it, since a base Si sedan with much of the essential goodness of this Mugen is almost $8,000 less expensive than the Mugen. That's an extra $160 per month, every month for five years, assuming a car loan with a 7.5 percent interest rate.
On the other hand, a Volkswagen GLI, which has the same number of doors and essentially the same horsepower, will run you $28,000 with a few big-ticket options. Of course we know we'd rather be in the Mugen if we were racing a GLI up a mountain road.
And because the 2008 Honda Civic Mugen Si will be sold through dealers, it's covered under a full factory warranty. Try making a warranty claim on your car after you and your boys have fiddled with the suspension and slapped on an exhaust pipe the diameter of a sewer main. Good luck with that.
Honda should be able to unload the 1,000 Mugen Si's it will make available for '08. And no, there will be no two-door Mugen Si model. This is because, in a bit of sweet irony, Honda says the sedan has wider appeal.
The company admits that this special model is a trial balloon, to see how valuable the name Mugen is to buyers.
Still, a $30,000 Civic?
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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