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Front wheel drive issue Three fabulous FWD cult cars tested

Mugen Civic Type R › Skoda Fabia vRS › Peugeot RCZ 200


06 20



ost of us born in or after the 1970s started our motoring life in front-wheel-drive cars. For many, the thrills, spills and grins of a car pulled, not pushed, are too strong to resist, and folk often stick with the cheeky inside rear wheel cocking FWD cars over RWD and 4WD for life. And why not? Sure, there are some who argue driving purism can only be achieved leaving the front wheels to steer and rear for power delivery. And others claim 4WD, push and pull, is the way forward. But with developments in tyre technology and suspension geometry, the power limit for what a FWD car can handle has risen and risen, along with the fun. I remember Saab saying the maximum power a FWD car could ever put down effectively was 200bhp, but that’s all changed. Ford’s last Focus RS special, the 500, put down 350bhp! This issue, we’ve gathered and road tested three modern FWD-ers with cult followings: Honda’s focused Civic Type R, fettled by Mugen, which Travis drummer, Neil Primrose drives over 1,000 miles to the ‘Ring. Then we’ve got Skoda’s fast and frugal turbo and supercharged Fabia vRS and Peugeot’s stunning, slick RCZ 200 coupe. Let the torque steer begin!


mugen m Type R on

Travis drummer, racer and Road tester, Neil Primrose tak 1,000-mile trip from the Lakes to the Nurburgring, to test

missile: n steroids

kes the rare, ÂŁ39K, Honda Civic Type R Mugen Edition on a the Mugen engine, suspension, brake and aero tweaks...


t’s around 9:15am and I’m out walking on the moors on the tip of the scenic Trough of Bowland – great views and good exercise for legs and cars alike. The phone rings and it’s the wife telling me the nice man from Honda has arrived early with a rare (just 20 made) Mugen Edition Honda Civic Type R in Championship White... Magic! I call my pal David, photographer for the Lakes day and it’s arranged for us both to get our skates on! The main reason for getting it on the tar so soon is that this Summer’s weather has been total pants, I’m sure you all agree, and it just happens this day is resplendent in blue sky and warm sun for once. I mentally pick the road test route from the A65 near Ingleton onto the excellent B6255 up to the wonderful world of Wensleydale cheese in Hawes. This road is mega: It shows up any cars faults and misgivings, no matter how good the powers that be claim a car can be – its a proper blast with stage bumps and yumps and

cambers galore. And, unless you know it, can spit you off into a field of sheep before you can say Gromet. But first things first, I meet David and over a cuppa we plan the day out and get the car ready. I decide to run some higher tyre pressures with more in the rears – ala FWD club racing. This accents the chassis’s feedback and will show up any problems in the handling, given that we are about to go on some proper roads. It also allows me to try a different range of inputs into

the car to see what sticks best. As some of you will be aware, the older model Civic had excellent independent rear suspension, whereas the Mugen has a solid rear beam in place, so it will be an interesting comparison. At nearly 40k this car has already had its detractors and I am keen to disprove that. The main issues have been the car’s price, plastics and power compared to it’s cheaper, but less exclusive market rivals – Ford’s Focus RS and the Megane

Renaultsport range; tough to beat. We get some nice running on the local lanes to enable us to take some pictures (see right). The throttle gets wide open and it’s now apparent that this is no normal Type R with some magic Mugen tuning mods under the bonnet, taking power to 237bhp @ 8300rpm. The weather is staying nice and after some cool shots with the moors in the background, it’s time to get on the test route towards tea and cake.

Once you drive around Ingleton and head onto the road to Hawes you begin a small ascent which brings you onto a sequence of long straights with very fast corners with a fair slice of bumps and yumps: And it’s these which really push the dampers and begin to unsettle the car if not driven smoothly. The Mugen suspension modifications soak up all the road has to offer, but under a dab of the uprated brakes at high speed over the yumps, it is very twitchy with a touch

of yaw in the air. Blowing up the tyres magnifies the chassis for sure, but if it’s excitement you want then you need to push hard to get the feeling you crave: This Mugen Edition begs to be pushed and you need to be relentless with it to make it come alive and get some heat into the tyres and brakes. Through the fast sweeps, a touch of lift on the throttle induces a cracking, controllable drift, thanks to excellent chassis control. The Mugen tweaks work well here. As we get near to Hawes, the road changes character to more of a special stage on the Monte Carlo Rally and it’s these tightening corners where we discover the car just loves to be trail braked into the Apex. It’s so good that if you have

gone in too hot, you can lift off quick and flick the car round like Ragnotti. With a selection of rally prep, this car would be mega on tarmac stage events. A lot of cake gets eaten at the stop and some cracking coffee sets us up for a blast home via more great roads through Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale. We drive hard the whole way, sliding and screeching on the bends and getting air over the few remaining yumps. It’s hard work and tiring, but the Mugen rewards you... if that kind of driving is what you are in the mood for. Tomorrow, a long schlep to the Nordschleife will put the car in a real road environment – nearly 1,000 miles of it. Just as well, because today, Honda and Mugen gave us a real blast.


fter the joy of thrashing around on proper Lakes roads, it was time to make the epic trip to Germany and my VLN race in an old shape Civic R. We’d also pre-arranged to meet up with Ron Simmons at RSR Nurburg for a quick refresher course, and some RSR hire cars lapping. But first, it was a daft ‘O’ clock drive to the Eurotunnel to get across the Channel. The Mugen is always functioning at a buzzsaw Db level, so I decided to bring along some top classic rock to drown out the revs and try and stay calm over the long drive. Post cake and coffee, we disembark and

are met with great sunshine in France, so it was cool to get the pedal down – unlike the M20, where we were aquaplaning a wee bit in a heavy rainstorm! At the end of the long schlepp, I get some kip and meet my pal and VLN co-driver Marcus and get ready for a day taking shots of the Mugen around the locale while also getting some laps and tuition in a Megane R26R from

“It’s hard work and tiring, but the Mugen Edition rewards you”

RSR. As usual, RSR Ron gives us some great tips and we also manage to get some wet time on the Ring in Ron’s Renaults, which turns out to prove useful at race weekend. We learn yet again that the Ring evolves massively with the changes in weather – so your carsetup and driving approach need to be flexible. Unluckily for us, the Mugen is too rare a beast for the insur-

ance bods to let Honda UK and us take the car round, so we will never really know if it really cuts the Mustard... It certainly is hard work on long trips, so if you want comfort it’s not ‘that’ kind of car. But it is a real laugh to drive hard, and would be fun on a track day. We get some lovely shots with local ‘Ring snapper, Jochen from Frozenspeed and a great refresher course

with RSR Nurburg Ron, who really knows his onions. Overall, the Mugen has been impressive. It’s certainly one of the best front wheel drive road cars I’ve driven. It just needs a lot of revs to get the best from it. And £40K? Mmmmm. Stop press: Lo and behold as we go online, it’s announced that a new 2.2 Mugen Special has been created – more on that soon!

VLN 6-Hour The weather was typically Eifel-ish for the VLN Championship 6-Hour race in our Saxon Motorsport Mugen Honda Civic Type R. Jochen from Frozenspeed must have got soaked getting these excellent race images! Sadly for us, the race was a bit of a damp squib too, as one of our team drivers, Farquini Deot, chucked the race car into the barrier, under braking at Metzgesfeld. Doh! See him making his walk of shame in front of snapper Jochen below... good old Jochen, always in the right spots! That’s racing! So... a long revvy drive home in the Mugen Edition Type R. It’s not all bad news... Neil, out!


super & turbocharged pocket rocket

At £16,415, with a super & turbocharged 1.4-litre TSI 178bhp engine, 140mph performance potential and 50+ mpg... Skoda’s new Fabia vRS defines frugal fun


he first generation Skoda Fabia vRS is a bit of a cult car now. On the plus side, it offers 228lb ft of torque, 130bhp and is also massively tuneable (google Jabbasport Fabia vRS!). The Mk1 vRS also had special stage cred, with a chassis homologated for the much missed WRC car. But, on the downside for petrol head purists, it has an old school 1.9-litre VAG diesel lump. Frugal?

Yes... it could offer 60mpg. But fast? Not really... 0-60 in 9.6 seconds hardly set your pants on fire. The obvious thing for Skoda to do at the time to fight the then massively popular Impreza and Evo was release a WRC special, with 4WD, a huge Garrett turbo two-litre petrol and fancy diffs. But, sadly, it never materialised. Wind the clock forward to 2011 though and the Skoda

Fabia vRS is back, in Mk2 form... with its cool ‘Mean Green’ TV commercial, showing the engine being filled with snake venom and the car being constructed by burly blokes’ teeth. Sadly, first impressions are a bit Tonka toy. It’s too cute to be a hairy hatch, right? And a look at the stats initially creates the same impression. The 1.9-litre oil burning engine has gone, but it’s replaced by a

tre TSI lump. Mmmm. But, hold on... it’s twincharged, having both a super and a turbocharger. Now you’re talking... ice cool Lancia Delta S4 territory, sort of. The twincharged TSI develops a decent 178bhp, but torque is down from the old diesel lump at 184lb ft. Performance is up however, with 0-60mph coming some two seconds faster, at 7.3 seconds, and a higher top speed too, of 139mph. So it is quick. Part of its pace comes via the new vRS’ slick, trick DSG seven-speed, multiclutch transmission, which is well mapped to suit the twincharged engine – extracting all the performance in Sport mode, whilst offering mid-50’s mpg in an extra urban environment. So, the new vRS is fast, and

mightily frugal too. The ride and handling is excellent too: Comfortable, yet spirited. And the interior is marginally more lavish than the Mk1 version, marginally. Equipment levels are good, as you’d expect from Skoda, and it is fabulous for the money. You get a ‘Swing’ radio 2DIN single CD (which can play MP3 recordings), nice 3-spoke multi function leather steering wheel with controls for

“On paper, the new vRS blitzes the old one”

gaiter) and stainless steel pedals. It’s all typically VAG quality and well thought-through, if a tad dull, especially compared to the exterior, with its crazy green and white paint job (love the white roof juxradio and also DSG padtaposed with black pillars), dles, an air conditioned big shiny rims, low profile glovebox, electric front rubber and vRS badging. windows, height adjustable On the road, the vRS is driver and passenger sports pretty quick and the whinseats with vRS logo (aling supercharger and whisthough the driving position tling turbocharger give the is way too high), height ad- rough-sounding 1.4 TSI justable headlights (manual), character. It does corner MDI (Multi device interface quite well too, with a fair bit for connecting MP3 playof body roll. And the brakes ers, ipods and audio equip- work well, if over-assisted. ment), a small leather pack The nagging problem is (handbrake, gearknob and the X Factor. Nothing to do

with Gary Barlow or Louis Walsh. It’s that missing link... On paper, the new vRS blitzes the old one. And petrolheads were chuffed to hear the diesel engine had been replaced with a twincharged unleaded guzzler (or sipper in this car’s case). The new vRS just loses something of the charm of the old car, which looked meaner, had rally roots and just worked. Fitting the DSG, as good as it is, took some of the fun factor and crucial involvement way from the vRS, which is a shame. So, so nearly a great car: The 4WD petrol turbo WRC they never built!



The ice cool Peugeot RCZ 200 coupe is stunning, fun, quick and a fabulous drive... snow joke!


he first snowfall of the year... a light dusting covers the ground in the far North of the UK. And we’re not sure if it’s just the cold getting to our heads, or the fact that everything looks cool in snow, but we’re falling for the sexy, stylish, swift Peugeot RCZ 200. Big time... Well, those of us travelling the long journey north in the leather front sports seats are. Not so sure about my poor sister-in-law in the back... neck twisted, head banging off the roof lining and with zero legroom. But this is a stylish coupe, a 2+2, not a family hatchback... so maybe she should have got the train! Take two on a run and you’d have no cause to complain. This RCZ is a bit of a shocker: A true return to

roots and form by Peugeot – style, fun and handling – after quite a few misses. Front end aside (which looks too much like the stock 308 for my liking), the RCZ is a great looking car, from any angle, especially in profile. And the subtle and handling-enriching touches, like the rims, curvaceous aero roof and pop-up rear wing really make the RCZ stand out from the masses. The engine in this rangetopping, £25,050 model

is an in-line four-cylinder, 1598cc, turbocharged lump, like that found in the MINI Cooper S. It produces 197bhp @ 5500rpm, with a useful 206lb ft from as little as 1770rpm, thanks to the twin scroll turbo technology. 0-60mph isn’t that impressive at 7.6secs, but the top end is, at 146mph, and the mid-range punch, perfect for overtakes is great. It’s got just enough power and torque to be used at will, making it an approachable,

chuckable, fun thing to drive spirited. The chassis is the best bit though. The ride is a tad firm for ultimate comfort, sacrificed for handling ability, which the RCZ has in droves. It feels settled, planted, adjustable and is a lot of fun to hoon about in, particularly on these fast, sweeping, joyfully empty and Gatso-free roads up north. The grip levels are impressive too, for a front wheel

driver, even in these slippery conditions. The wide track and excellent dampers make it one of the best handling FWD cars on the market today. But don’t be expecting 205 levels of hilarious lift-off oversteer. The standard set-up is dialled in for safe understeer and a distinct lack of rear involvement, which is a shame. But, with the right suspension geometry set-

up, this could be altered, and the RCZ would be a solid drivers car. The RCZ is cheaper than the equivalent Audi TT, is a more alternative choice, looks as good, is as fast and handles and stops just as well too. Only the interior finish and functionality are better in the Audi, which is £1500 more. And that money could be re-invested in a suspension alignment, stainless exhaust system

and ECU re-flash, giving you a razor sharp, rorty, 230+bhp RCZ, with only rear interior space, dashboard design and practicality as downsides. The RCZ is a lot, lot better than you might think. And it’s great to see Peugeot back on form, doing what they do best: good looks and handling, affordably. One final thing worth mentioning... the ladies dig the RCZ, a lot. Go figure...

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ROAD 19: Front wheel drive special  

This issue of Road looks at three, new, fabulous front wheel drive cars. Travis drummer, racer and Road tester, Neil Primrose takes the hard...

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