Can a tuned, base model new Civic be as fun – and as fast – as a Type R?
That’s the question Spoon wants us to ask ourselves about the FK7 Civic. Undoubtedly, the new FK8 Civic Type R has been a huge success; since launching in 2017 demand has been strong for the high-power hatch, and only very recently did the new Renault Megane steal the Nürburgring FF crown.
But those of us with a bit of grey in our hair will remember a time when Type R simply meant less weight, more RPM, stiffer everything, no variable suspension or drive modes, and certainly no turbocharger. The good ol’ days, it seems, are dead.
So where does that leave the multitude of tuners who built their business on the back of Honda’s particular performance recipe? It seems to me like the modern day boosted Honda owner might not look as quickly to names like Mugen, J’s Racing or Spoon as they once did.
I decided to visit Spoon to find out.
Although we’re talking modern turbocharged Hondas today, there are still plenty of classic hits from the big H to be enjoyed at the Type One HQ in Suginami-ku .
The simply awesome Spoon S660 I’d driven a year ago has had its development finished, and was resting on the second level storage rack.
I spent what felt like hours poring over this NSX engine, which powered the Spoon NSX-R at the Macau GP back in the day. Dino did a feature on that car in 2011. With 3.5-litre capacity and plenty of trick bits (like the Toda individual throttle bodies you can see here) it made over 400hp – Project NSX was getting serious engine envy.
It’s always a pleasure just spending time at Type One; there’s never a shortage of interesting cars and car parts to check out.
The current model Civic isn’t a car that instantly drew me in with its slightly awkward angles when I first saw it back in 2017. However, seeing this white example hunkered down over a classic Spoon wheel design did get me a bit excited.
Most of the development work for the FK7 has been led by 20-year Spoon veteran Daisuke Jomoto between racetracks in Japan and the US. This very prototype has already lapped Tsukuba faster than the current production Type R, an undoubtedly impressive feat.
Daisuke handed me the keys, apologised for the noisy diff (a prototype LSD), and I was on my way.
To put the Spoon FK7 through its paces I’d be leaving the confines of the Tokyo metropolis and heading north, passing through the city of Nikko and into the mountains that form the natural border around the Kanto region.
The scenery up here is beautiful, and the area is a popular weekend getaway for Tokyoites – in winter for the ski fields, and in spring/fall for the spectacular transitionary colours of the native flora. Summer is a bit of a dead season, which makes it the perfect time to come in search of touge.
The miles of perfect highway stretching north of Tokyo revealed very little about the Spoon FK7. Many of the creature comforts including the stereo have been deleted from this demo car, and the stock driver’s seat binned in favour of a carbon-Kevlar Spoon bucket with about as much padding as a newspaper on a church pew. I suspect some sound deadening had been removed too, as I had only my thoughts and the constant thrum of the Bridgestone Potenza RE71R’s sticky outer carcasses to listen to.
Comfortable it most definitely is not, but that’s not a parameter this car is built with any concern for.
It should rather be judged on how quickly one can get from point A to B, and how much fun the driver has extracting that performance. Thankfully, I found just the roads to make that judgement.The Spoon Shopping List
Before we jump back in the driver’s seat, let’s take a closer look at exactly what Spoon has fettled on the FK7.
Under the hood lies the L15B7 VTC Turbo powerplant, the same engine that powers the US-market base Civic and Si, albeit in a higher performance guise for the latter.
Compared to the naturally aspirated Honda powerplants of yesteryear, extracting more performance from the L15 is a simple matter – you just add more boost. Tucked under the web of pipes is an enlarged turbo, while the block and head remain stock for now.
Spoon has partnered with Hondata to use their FlashPro device to run Spoon’s own performance mapping. All said and done, it’s reputedly good for 250PS, a 40% increase over stock.
Spoon have developed a carbon fibre bonnet as they have for most other Honda models, and this helps save just over 7kg up front, where it counts the most on a FWD platform.
The demo car had a prototype front grill with material removed and replaced with mesh to allow more air into the front-mounted coolers. The radiator has been beefed up (from 27mm to 36mm) and benefits from improved fin design and built-in bungs for temperature sensors.
A development larger intercooler sits beneath.
Meanwhile, the original foglight housing has been repurposed as a cooling duct for the front brakes.
At the rear the vents remain very non-functional, but there have been a few other tweaks. Spoon’s own low-profile roof wing adds a bit of visual flair and, reportedly, stability at high speed.
Spoon has also developed a larger diameter stainless steel exhaust to support the higher power figure. The centre-exit exhaust is one of the few design choices on the new Civic that I really like.
Inside, the aforementioned lightweight bucket is an updated design for 2019 from Spoon. The handsome weave pattern was hidden by a cover which I pulled back for this photo. The fabric is a modern Neoprene-like material, which is durable and easy to clean.
The steering wheel is Spoon’s own Momo variant, and in my opinion pretty much perfect (why you’ll find one inside the cabin of Project NSX).
Spoon have also fitted their popular lightweight Duracon shift knob.
Spoon-developed coilovers sit at both ends, using a very track-oriented 14kg spring all round. What you can’t see are the chassis braces added to the front subframe and suspension arms, and of course Ichishima-san’s own rigid collar system to improve the mating of chassis to subframe. Modern Honda chassis are stiff from factory, but Spoon still saw room for improvement.
When it comes to Honda tuning, it’s hard to top this wheel and brake combo. The freshly rereleased SW388 is an exceptionally lightweight design, as you might expect, and on the FK7 they are sized in 18×8.5-inch all around and wear 235/40R18 size rubber.
Spoon have developed a 6-pot monoblock caliper in conjunction with OEM-supplier Nissin, and these clamp a high performance pad, also from Spoon.
In totality, it’s a light yet comprehensive tune. If the carbon weave was covered in a layer of factory white paint, a passerby in the outskirts of Tokyo would be none the wiser.Behind The FK7 Wheel
When the engine is started, not much is given away either. There are no lumpy cams nor long equal-length headers to disturb the residents of this tranquil valley.
Whereas Honda’s old naturally aspirated engines could be shifted based on sound and feel alone, in the FK7 you become reliant on the centrally-positioned tachometer to know what RPM the engine is at. I’m not generally a fan of new-age digital rev counters, but this is one of the better ones, even incorporating an easy-to-read boost gauge that you can see here.
Interestingly, the up/down shift indicator on the tacho has nothing to do with performance, rather fuel efficiency – a constant reminder that you’re still sitting in Honda’s base Civic ‘eco’ model.
Off boost, the engine feels as small and economical as you might expect, but before long you learn that tight, low-RPM corners require full throttle well before the apex to ensure proper power delivery at corner exit.
Once on boost, the Spoon FK7 felt every bit as quick as the FK8 Type R. The power was delivered in a sudden rush, which then sustains itself all the way to redline.
My time with the Spoon FK7 coincided with a period of drenching summer rain, which meant the narrow roads were not only wet, but in many cases covered with sticks and leaves that had washed down from the forest floor above.
The RE71-R is not at its best in these conditions, and traction under power during an uphill run was laughable. Seriously, I was giggling like a schoolgirl wrangling the wheel straight, lighting up the front tyres after every second gear corner. It was plenty of fun, but not terribly conducive to going fast.
It was downhill that that Spoon FK7 really shone in these conditions. The drivetrain inertia took care of the laggy engine, and it was much easier to link the corner exit to corner entry in one continuous flow.
There is a race car-like stiffness to the Spoon-tuned chassis that makes every input, especially those through the steering wheel and brake pedal, feel incredibly direct. Finding the limits of the brakes on these roads would probably only be done before finding yourself in a bush, but the monoblock calipers and braided lines contribute to that braking response and can be used handily to tighten the line mid-corner if needed.
It was a decidedly old school driving experience. This might once have been a criticism of a car, but in 2019 is an honest compliment of the highest order. Here I was in a new Civic, as focused on the task of driving as much as I would be in an ’80s 911 Turbo. Pure enjoyment.
Although the FK7 handled like a small car, it ultimately can’t escape the reality that it has grown in size and weight compared to previous generations. I can’t really criticise Spoon or Honda directly on this point – it’s just the nature of the modern motor car.
I’m a Honda fan, but my interest really only extends to 2009 – the year the S2000 last rolled off the production line. Pre-2009 Honda was about smartly engineered affordable cars, but like many Japanese manufacturers they fell into the bad habit of only building financially viable models and losing what made them special.
Plenty of new cars will give you tactile interiors with big screens, plentiful speed and a completely uninvolved driving experience. But as enthusiasts we ask a little more. I think there’s a glimmer of hope within Honda. The new Type R is a genuine hoot to drive and this seems to filter down to the economy models, just waiting for a company like Spoon to awaken the sleeping beast within.
Spoon and other tuner companies depend on OEMs continuing to develop and sell vehicles that customers are comfortable modifying, and that give some dynamic reward for the tinkering. Good products will be copied almost immediately, so it’s with new vehicles that a market-leader like Spoon can demonstrate why they deserve the hype.
To me, that’s the core of the appeal of the Spoon FK7. It represents an evolution of a car that a young enthusiast can buy brand new from Honda without breaking the bank, then enhance over time as funds and their driving skill allows. Just what the old Civic was about, albeit with a modern, boosted twist.