Honda Civic Type R FN2 vs Ford Focus ST Mk2: which one deserves to be your next car? Well, here’s how they compare to each other.
The hot hatch market in Europe was going through something of a purple patch in the late-2000s, and here we’re comparing two of the very best: the FN2 Honda Civic Type R, and the Mk2 Ford Focus ST. Two cars that approach the same idea from very different angles: fast, practical, fun, affordable, tuneable, and thoroughly entertaining. So which would suit you best? Read on to find out…
What are they?
One’s a rev-hungry screamer, the other a big-displacement bruiser.
Honda Civic Type R FN2
The FN2-generation Civic Type R launched in 2007, following in the footsteps of the widely celebrated EP3 and repackaging its engine and transmission in an all-new and spaceship-like body. There was a certain amount of hand-wringing among enthusiasts at the time that the new model offered no more power than the older one, while also replacing the multi-link rear suspension with a simpler beam rear. However, this perception as a ‘lesser’ Type R has diminished over time, and having extensively test-driven and owned numerous EP3s and FN2s, I can assure you that the FN2’s simpler rear suspension setup doesn’t hamper the fun factor!
The 2.0-litre K20 engine revs to an astonishing degree (honestly, if you haven’t experienced VTEC you should give it a go, it’s addictive) and, while the VTEC crossover isn’t as pronounced as it is in the EP3, that iconic engine never fails to put a smile on your face.
Ford Focus ST Mk2
The Focus delivers its thrills in an entirely different manner. Launched in 2005 (and you may remember Clarkson driving it on Top Gear and immediately dubbing it ‘the ASBO’, a nickname it’s enjoyed ever since), its power comes from a mighty Volvo-flavoured and turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine. With 225bhp to play with, we’re talking about the sort of power you’d find in the legendary Escort RS Cosworth, all wrapped up in a civilised hatchback that’s also happy to trundle to the shops.
The Mk2 Focus ST wasn’t just about dumb horsepower either: this chassis can really handle. It’s well documented that the Mk1 Focus was a heck of a mover even in base-spec form; the Mk2 took that suspension setup and wrapped it up in a bodyshell that was markedly stiffer, with a lot of attention paid to the quality of the materials and the fit-and-finish.
What are they like to drive?
They’re both excellent, they really are.
Civic Type R FN2 driving traits
The Civic’s K20 motor is unmistakeable in the way it revs, and the gearshift is absolutely sublime. The FN2’s cabin was a massive step forward from the basic EP3 too – supportive seats with chunky bolsters, a tastefully designed and tactile steering wheel, and a dash layout that still looks futuristic today.
Now, I know what forum ‘experts’ say: the FN2 is inferior to the EP3 because the rear suspension’s more basic. To be fair, I’d always believed the anti-hype and sidelined the FN2 for that very reason… until I drove the mint FN2 kept by Honda UK on their heritage fleet. An hour of zipping down B-roads in heavy rain was enough to totally change my mind (and go out and buy one myself). Having owned EP3s and driven thousands of miles in them, I can honestly say that the more ‘basic’ suspension setup of the FN2 doesn’t make a noticeable difference on the road. Yes, you’d probably spot the difference if you were doing a lot of hard track driving, but for everyday road use it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
The K20 is one of the all-time great engines, and the way it delivers its power is addictive. The sense of anticipation goads you on – it gets on with the business of spiriting you along pleasingly rapidly, and then the VTEC kicks in at 5,750rpm and suddenly you’re hanging onto the wheel with white knuckles. Hit the redline, knock it up a gear, and you’ll still be in the VTEC zone so things just keep on getting more and more hilarious. You work to unlock the power like a video game, and the rewards are immense.
Focus ST Mk2 driving traits
The Focus is rather more direct in the way it trebuchets you up the road. Turbo technology had moved on sufficiently by the 2000s that it’s not a laggy trudge, you’re not waiting around for the boost to come in. It’s a huge engine with a lot of love to give right from the off, and with that turbo chucking in yet more drama, the ST accelerates with the sort of vigour that makes the ‘ASBO’ nickname eminently appropriate. The cabin design has perhaps not aged as well as the Civic’s, but there’s still a lot to love here – not least the excellent Recaro seats, the trio of auxiliary gauges on the dash top, and the pleasing girth of the steering wheel.
Indeed, steering is a defining factor of the Focus ST driving experience. Ford absolutely nailed the steering feel in this car; while the weight of the big engine is evident it never feels like a hindrance, as the Focus is the sort of car that you can point straight at an apex and know it’ll place exactly where you want it to. This is all backed up by a tight and stiff chassis that feels entertainingly sporty when you’re pushing on, without compromising the ride quality when you’re just nipping to the shops. It’s an excellent Jekyll-and-Hyde setup.
Any buying tips?
Civic Type R FN2 Buying Advice
There are a few things you’ll need to look out for with the Civic. Most importantly, check the oil level, and interrogate the seller about how often they’ve checked it and kept it topped up. These are really strong motors, but they do use a bit of oil and if they run dry it’ll be bad news.
Timing chains are something else to think about – you won’t get any warning when it’s going to let go, so if you’re looking at a higher-mileage FN2 then factor a new timing chain (around £600) into the deal. Transmissions are generally robust, although you may get a graunching going into second gear, while some 2007 cars had an issue with the synchro in third which causes it to jump out of gear. So check that everything’s engaging smoothly.
Externally, you can expect to find a lot of stonechips on the nose (the paint is soft), and check the leading edge of the roof for corrosion.
Focus ST Mk2 Buying Advice
The Focus’s engine is strong, but you need to check for a persistent misfire coupled with mayonnaise around the oil filler and white smoke from the exhaust, as that’s a sign of split cylinder liners. This failure occurs in relatively few Focuses, but there’s no way of knowing whether your car will suffer; several aftermarket tuners offer what’s known as a ‘block mod’ as a preventative measure, for around £800.
If the needle on the boost gauge dances around at random or struggles to get over the halfway marker, the boost solenoid is failing. A split oil filter housing diaphragm is another common issue – if the car’s making a whistling noise at idle, pull out the dipstick and see if it stops; if so, that’s a problem that needs fixing. A new unit is around £250. Seat bases can be prone to cracking, and you’ll know if this is the case as they’ll creak when you sit down.
How’s their modifying potential?
Civic Type R FN2 Tuning Potential
Perhaps the most significant alteration you can make to an FN2 is to dial in a fast-road chassis setup. Various settings are spoken of, but the common consensus is on 1-degree of negative camber all round, 1mm toe-out at the front and 2mm toe-in at the rear. The FN2’s dampers are notoriously creaky, which is all the impetus you need to swap in a set of coilovers from MeisterR (£879) or BC Racing (£899).
There are various induction options, one of the best being ITG’s carbon-fibre Maxogen – it’s not the cheapest at around £350, but the gains in terms of throttle response and sound are superb. Or if you want to go all-in, the HKS RSK (standing for ‘Racing Suction Kit’) is unbeatable, but weighs in at a hefty £500. When it comes to exhausts, a non-res Milltek cat-back (£750) is a great option, or for raucous rally car mischief there’s the supremely noisy Martelius option (£550).
While remapping the older EP3 was a faff and involved installing a Hondata piggyback, it’s much easier with the FN2 as it goes in through the OBD-II port. The advantage of remapping the K20 isn’t in the peak power gain; on a stock motor you’ll only achieve about 215bhp. No, the point is to thicken up the mid-range power and to lower the VTEC crossover point. It imbues the car with a fresh sense of urgency – more usable power.
For some further inspiration, check out Fast Car’s own FN2 project car series!
Focus ST Mk2 Tuning Potential
The Focus ST has been lovingly embraced by the tuning aftermarket, to the extent that it’s not all that common to find a standard one these days. An exhaust and a remap is the ideal starting point: a Milltek 3” cat-back system is £650, and when this is allied to a Revo Stage 1 remap (£299) you’ll be north of 260bhp. An Airtec Stage 2 Gen-3 intercooler (£299) is a no-brainer; Airtec also makes an excellent Group A air filter with cold air intake for £159, and downpipe/de-cat packages start at £259.
Stage 2 is the next step – along with an upgraded exhaust, induction and intercooler, a Revo Stage 2 map takes you beyond 300bhp. At this level, it makes sense to carry out the aforementioned block mod; it’s also a good idea to upgrade to the clutch from the Focus RS, which is around £950 fitted.
In terms of chassis mods, KW V3 coilovers are highly regarded at £1,470, with a full Powerflex bush kit (£470) and Whiteline anti-lift bushes (£177). K-Sport’s monster 8-pot front brake setup with Ferodo DS2500 pads comes in at £1,200; SCC rear discs and Ferodo pads to match the fronts are £320, and Goodridge braided lines are £75.
Any specs or special editions to be aware of?
Civic Special Editions & Model History
The FN2 was facelifted in 2008 – and while the changes weren’t immediately visually obvious, these revised cars came with improved sound deadening as well as HID lights and headlamp washers.
FN2 Civics built after March 2010 came with an LSD as standard, and this is a very important detail as it transforms the driving experience.
Notable special editions include 2008’s Championship White Edition, which had an LSD and white wheels; the super-rare Type R Mugen had a raucous 240bhp thanks to uprated pistons, cams and ECU, as well as model-specific bodykit and suspension tweaks – these cars command big money! But don’t confuse the Type R Mugen with the more mainstream Type R Mugen 200 from 2010, which mated the stock engine to Mugen styling, white paint and an LSD.
Focus Special Editions & Model History
The Focus was significantly facelifted in 2008, with enthusiasts referring to earlier cars as ‘PFL (‘pre-facelift) and later ones as ‘Mk2.5’. Almost every panel was revised; the nose had new headlights and trapezoidal grilles, the wheelarches were beefed up, the tailgate was re-contoured with differently-shaped glass, and there were new rear lights and a different rear bumper.
The swansong of the PFL cars was the ST500 special edition of 2007; the ‘500’ in the name referred to the number of examples built, and these came in Panther Black with silver stripes, and red leather trim.
From late-2008, Ford officially sanctioned upgrades from Mountune. The Mountune MP260 kit cost £1,120 plus labour and included a bigger intercooler, K&N panel filter and a remap, elevating power to 256bhp.
You will see cars advertised as ST, ST-2 or ST-3. These were the different spec levels offered: the base ST came with the bodykit and boot spoiler, air-conditioning, Recaro seats and front foglamps; the ST-2 level added Xenon headlights, a heated windscreen, ESP, a single-disc Sony stereo and more speakers; ST-3 also provided leather trim with heated front seats, a sculpted rear bench that made it a four- rather than five-seater, and a six-disc Sony stereo.
How much are they?
Neither of these cars are available to buy in the US, but in the UK it’s possible to find usable examples of the FN2 Civic Type R for under £3,000, but we’d suggest treading carefully at that level. Very good examples start from around £7,000, with the best commanding £9,000 upwards.
There’s a lot of variety in the Focus ST market. Base-spec STs are rare; PFL ST-2 and ST-3 models start around £4,500, with good facelift cars from £6,000, and £9,000 for very good ones. ST500s start at £8,000.