by: Mike Ginsca
Take an ordinary Honda Integra coupe (or Acura Integra as it’s called in North America) and give it a screamer of an engine, a limited slip differential, and take away weight, and you end up with the Type-R. It’s a special edition of the Integra with a limited production run of… well no one really knows how many examples of this car were made. For the US market there are approximately 3500 units but for Canada, UK, and Japanese markets, it’s not certain as to how many there are. But one thing’s for sure, it has become a fan favorite among keen drivers. Here’s why…
Performance – 8,400. That’s how many rotations the crankshaft is doing per minute at the redline. For a motorcycle, that’s easy. But for a car, it’s almost unheard of at the time. Apart from Formula 1 cars, the only street cars that could reach those insane RPMS were Ferraris. And this was back in 1996 when the Integra was first launched (as a 1997 model). This engine is like a wailing banshee, it loves to scream at the top when VTEC kicks in. Yes I said it, “VTEC kicked in” and you really do need to take it all the way up the revs because peak power of 200hp is at 8000 rpms. You don’t feel much of the engine’s power below 3000 or 4000 rpms which makes driving around a city a bit tricky when you want to overtake someone or get off the line without having the car behind you tailgating you like no tomorrow. Thankfully the engine is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission that has very short gear ratios. It makes for quicker acceleration but there is a drawback and that is cruising. On a highway at 100km/h, the engine is revving at almost 4000rpms. Now that may not be a problem if the car was as quiet as a Range Rover, but it’s not. To make the Integra better around corners, engineers made it lighter and they removed various sound insulations throughout the car. Coupled with the custom made exhaust on this Type-R, it is difficult to have a normal conversation in the cabin without raising your voice.
But the engineers didn’t stop with the removal of sound deadening materials and continued with removing the air conditioning and stereo system (which became optional features), cruise control, rear wiper, vanity mirrors, and a few other smaller things that you normally don’t see. They also gave it a lighter flywheel, lighter wheels, a smaller intake manifold, a lighter aluminum radiator, and a compact battery. All these changes helped make the ITR one of the best handling front wheel drive cars of all time. It also has a limited slip differential and stiffer suspension to help the Integra accelerate hard out of corner apexes. The front end turns into corners almost instantaneously thanks to the stiffer chassis and wider tires compared to a standard Integra. If you can find a road that is made up of strings of corners one after another, the car will reward you with an analog driving experience. Something that’s missing from today’s thoroughly modern cars.
Comfort – As mentioned earlier, the Honda Integra Type-R is not a car made for the open highway. The loud custom exhaust makes it difficult to have a conversation and the continuous droning at 4000rpms will take it’s toll on your ears… maybe even your sanity. Thankfully it is a bit better to live with in a city. While the suspension may be set up more for handling rather than outright comfort, it’s not back breakingly bad. It can absorb small potholes but you still have to drive as though you’re dodging landmines for the bigger potholes. The seats also add to the level of comfort although these are not the seats that originally came with the Integra. Originally Integras came with bright red Recaro seats but the owner of this particular car wanted to change them so that the black would better match the yellow exterior. The back seats are typically too small for an adult to fit in and the rest of the interior looks pretty much like a normal Integra.
Odds and Ends – As you can probably tell from the photos this is probably not the very best example of a Honda Integra Type-R. The body has a few nicks and scratches here and there and during my test drive there was a noticeable noise coming from the front due to the front upper control arm bushings being worn out. But despite that, the Type-R is one of a very few front-wheel-drive vehicles ever made that is as much fun to drive as a rear wheel drive car. But don’t take my word for it, just have a look at how many times it’s made the top of the “Best front-wheel-drive car of the year” list from motoring journalists all around the world. And to this day it remains a favorite among sports car drivers for not only it’s fun to drive characteristics, but also for it’s practicality, reliability, and inexpensiveness.
Thank you to the owner for providing the vehicle for the review and photoshoot.
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.