Project Car Diaries: How I Made My Civic Type R’s Excellent Shifter Even Better

A few choice aftermarket parts from Acuity and Hybrid Racing went a long way in upgrading the driving experience in my FK8 CTR.

byChris Rosales|
Project Car Diaries photo
Ekaterina Gorbacheva
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It’s often unwise to mess with perfection. It’s usually even more unwise to start modifying cars without really understanding what it is you’re doing, but here I am, tinkering in all sorts of directions with my 2019 Honda Civic Type R. And I’m changing what is arguably the most perfect part of the whole car: the shifter.

A shift lever does not make the shifting experience, but the CTR has nailed everything about shifting that other cars just miss. The revs drop almost immediately between shifts, the clutch pedal is short but has plenty of feel with the grab point in the exact middle, and the throttle responds perfectly during that crucial area of tip-in and clutch release. All of that is much harder to tune and optimize than a short-shift kit.

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But I am not doing a short shift kit, I’m just optimizing what Honda already has going on. Not to mention, my shifter parts have 90,000 miles of enthusiastic use on them—It’s time for a refresh. And there are lots of parts out there to crispen up the shifting experience. You may accuse me of blaspheming, but I think you can actually improve upon the perfection of the CTR. What I was really searching for was an increase in shifter effort while maintaining the same throws, and tightening up some of the play that has developed in the plastic shifter assembly.

Project Outline

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Steps

  • Open hood
  • Remove battery and battery tray
  • Locate shifter cables and remove cotter pins holding them to gearbox
  • Lift shifter cables and pry out old shifter bushings
  • Install Acuity shifter bushings with C-clips
  • Locate two 12mm bolts that house gearbox detent springs (use this video from Hybrid Racing)
  • Remove one 12mm bolt at a time, carefully replacing the spring within each with Hybrid Racing springs
  • Re-install 12mm bolts and torque to 16 lb-ft
  • Close hood and go inside
  • Remove center console (use this video from Acuity to help you)
  • Remove side-to-side lever on shifter assembly and replace with Acuity part, making sure to grease the new side-to-side lever and installing shifter centering spring with it
  • Reinstall center console
  • Go for a test drive

Parts

Tools and Supplies

Improving on Perfection

For this, I cooked up a recipe of my own mix of aftermarket parts from Acuity Instruments and Hybrid Racing. Since the feel of a shifter is so subjective, it’s tough to research a kit to find what you like, but I didn’t want to start off by going with a full-blown aftermarket shifter assembly. Acuity makes some shifter bushings, a new side-to-side lever, and a shifter centering spring that will tighten up clearances. Meanwhile, Hybrid Racing had some interesting detent springs that replace the ones in the gearbox that I thought could achieve what I was looking for.

Chris Rosales

The install is pretty simple on all the parts, so I started with the shifter cable bushings that live on top of the gearbox. The hardest part of this job is getting the old bushings out in a clean way. You can use a screwdriver to pry the old bushings out, but you run the risk of bending the cable end like I did, causing a major headache. For me, it caused a bind on the side-to-side shifter cable, making the shifter stick side-to-side. A quick email to Acuity explained this problem to me, and I had to bend the cable back into shape with a screwdriver. I adjusted the bend until the shifter no longer stuck, no harm done.

Otherwise, it’s a straightforward install of the bushings into the cable ends, using the supplied circular clips to secure the bushing to the cable.

The slightly more complicated install is the side-to-side shift lever, which requires the entire center console to come out. It’s simple, but has a few more steps.

The Hard Part

In the FK8 Civic, it starts with unclipping the trim pieces either side of the HVAC panel, unscrewing the shifter surround and unplugging the drive selector and parking brake, removing the shift knob, unclipping and unplugging the HVAC panel, removing the USB and 12v socket under the dash, then finally removing a few 10mm bolts around the center console. The worst part is unclipping the wire harnesses from their retainers, which I used a 90 degree pick to do, when removing the rear panel of the center console from the rear seats, unclipping the harness hidden beneath that panel, then unplugging the USB in the center console. Finally, you can lift the center console up, and pull it toward the rear of the car.

Unfortunately, as this is a huge pain in the ass, I didn’t get great photos. But the install is straightforward once the console is out. From there, the stock lever comes out by removing the centering spring with a pick, then compressing the end, allowing it to slide out of the tube. Reinstalling the Acuity part is simply the reverse of this.

The stock shifter rocker. Chris Rosales

More on the Acuity side-to-side lever—Not only does it claim to remove play in the shifter, it also narrows the horizontal gate spacing of the shifter. This was a calculated risk as I didn’t really want to mess with the gate spacing in any direction, but I actually did think that the width of the gates was a little too much. It doesn't change the throw length in the forward-back direction.

The Acuity shifter rocker. Acuity

After reinstalling the center console, at considerable cost to my back and arms, I could finally feel the first stage of my shifter parts with just the Acuity side-to-side lever, bushings, and shifter centering spring. It was a definite improvement, but the increase in centering force was relatively small and I desired more. The gate spacing worked well, but the shifter just needed more effort for my hands. But the parts worked as advertised and removed the majority of the shifter play in gear. I call it a win. For posterity, I also ran a before and after experiment on the solid Acuity shifter base bushings and couldn’t find much of a difference, but I left them installed anyways.

The Hybrid Racing detent spring. Chris Rosales

So returned to the engine bay to install the Hybrid Racing detent springs, which is extremely straightforward. All you need to do is locate two 12mm bolts that house the shifter-centering detent spring, and the forward-back detent spring. Remove those, taking care to note that the stock springs are different for each location, and reinstall the bolts with the Hybrid Racing springs. 

Yes, It Did Get Better

The detent springs made up the real difference. Now the shifter centered strongly and didn’t flop around in neutral, and the actual shifting action had a more obvious effort curve. It wasn’t notchy at all, but had more a satisfying action than before, all while maintaining the signature Honda smoothness of before. It feels less cable shifted than ever, and is one of the most satisfying gearboxes I’ve ever used. And it’s mine to drive every day.

You can indeed improve on perfection. But don’t try to improve it too much. I suspect I would’ve hated a normal short-shift kit because I didn’t want something incredibly stiff and notchy. Though Acuity’s adjustable shifter assembly looks mighty good for what could be the next step in improving my shifter. 

But still, there are less-perfect problems to solve on my CTR. Those are for next time.

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Project Car Diaries