The Knowledge: The EP3 Civic Type-R is a sure-fire hot hatch classic in the making
Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.
Few modern hot hatches need as little introduction to aficionados as the Honda Civic Type R. And for many of those aficionados, it’s the EP3 version – the first to be imported officially to the UK – that counts as the definitive Type R.
With its monobox styling, high driving position and unusual dashboard architecture, it’s fair to say that the seventh-generation Civic was an unlikely basis for hot hatchery. In fact, when it was announced that the Type R was on its way to Europe, the news was greeted with more curiosity than excitement by many people.
However, those that knew, knew. Honda had proven with the Civic Jordan that it knew how to build an exciting hot hatch, while the few EK9 Type Rs that had been unofficially imported had offered us a taste of what could be.
And when the EP3 arrived, it didn’t disappoint. At its heart sat the wild 2.0-litre K20A engine, its rev limit set at an hilarious 8,250rpm. Its power peak of 197bhp was all the way up at 7,400rpm – and peak torque at 5,900rpm; on paper, then, this was clearly a car that loved to rev.
That was the case in the flesh, too. In fact, few cars have come along since to top the Type R’s frantic nature; driving one today, in a world in which the low-rev torque of a four-pot turbo has become the norm is like scoffing a lemon sorbet after a hearty stew.
But it isn’t just the engine that makes the Type R such a joy. Its chassis is terrific, too; deft, mobile and light on its feet, with excellent body control and just enough suppleness to ride mid-corner bumps with ease. As a result, it gives you the confidence to get the power down early without drama and blast away as the corner opens out, riding a soaring wave of frenzied noise and frenetic high-rev acceleration.
There’s more: that odd dashboard layout means a high gear stick that sits just centimetres from your left (or right) hand; it operates a satisfyingly short, purposeful change, too.
And when you aren’t caning it down a back road, that bread-van styling hides a very practical interior with lots of space in the boot and back seats.
A facelift in 2003 made the Type R even better, with sharper suspension and quicker steering. You can tell these cars apart by the projector headlamps that also become standard at the time.
Why you should buy one now
Quite simply, numbers are thinning. Not quite as quickly as you’ll find with some of the Civic’s contemporaries, mind you; being so well built, the Type R is pretty durable. But still, there are fewer EP3s around than there were, which means if you want to own one, it makes sense to get in on the act sooner rather than later.
For now, you can still buy an EP3 Type R at reasonable, if not quite bargain basement prices. £2,500 is around where shabby but usable examples start; £3,000, meanwhile, gets you a tidy car with reasonable miles, and from there prices run up to around £7,000 for one of the best.
What to look out for
The Type R’s engine is, as you’d expect, very strong, providing it’s been well maintained, so be sure to look for evidence of fastidious servicing throughout the car’s life.
Also listen for a metallic rattling on start-up, which could be a sign the timing chain’s about to give out. It needs replacing, along with its tensioners, every 75,000 miles, which costs upwards of £600.
You might not need to worry about a light tapping noise when the car’s running, though; the tappets can go out of adjustment, and resetting them is part of the 72,000-mile service.
One other potentially large area of expense is the steering rack, which is especially prone to wearing on pre-facelift cars. Listen for creaking as you turn the wheel, and watch for a wheel that doesn’t return to centre too readily.
Avoid these pitfalls, though, and the Type R’s combination of legendary reliability and tingling excitement make it a sure fure future classic – and one you can enjoy for relatively little outlay.
If you do decide to snap one up, why not grab a Type R hoodie to go with – click here to order yours now.