For many people it was the first time they had seen that badge. It looked like a Honda badge, but it had a red background. Despite models like the CRX and NSX, in nineties Britain Honda was still known for selling cars to people who liked metallic beige and storage areas for boiled sweets. In other markets such as the US and Japan Hondas were seen as young, cool cars but alas not here. Then along came that red badge, and it was attached to the nose of a small coupe, with quad headlights, called the DC2 Integra.The badge on the back said ‘Type-R’, and it was the beginning of a cult.
Available in only three colours - black, red or white - the Integra Type-R may have looked like a pretty two-door but the reality was it was so focused, so hardcore, that we may never see anything quite like it again. It cost £19,500 when it came out in 1996 which, considering a new Civic Type-R costs less than 18K today, seems expensive, but what you got was something very special.
You only have to look at the red front Recaros. They contrast against the grey stock rear seats as if someone’s switched them just to go hill-climbing at the weekend. The car was single-mindedly focused to a point where most other manufacturers, bar perhaps Porsche or Ferrari, would not bother to go. Up front was a 187bhp, 8,400rpm redline screamer of an engine, featuring witchcraft known as VTEC, pushing the car to 60mph in 6.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 145mph. It was a hand-finished 1.8-litre that performed best above 5,500rpm and, due to the fact that Honda had ripped out most of the sound proofing to save weight, you could hear every single one of those revolutions.
You just knew that those small wheels had been selected because they would best suit the handling, and because they were light. The gear knob was made of titanium and was small and precise , matching the neat shift. The bodykit was kept to a minimum, with just a purposeful-looking rear spoiler bolted on to the back.
I’ve heard big things about the Integra Type-R and today I am heading to Bagshot to see if what I have heard is true. PHer Zak Sexton has kindly offered us a drive in his mint 41,000 mile example – UK car #205 – which he has owned for over eight years. The car only comes out for the occasional weekend and holiday driving so we are particularly grateful to get behind the wheel, especially as, in true PH Heroes style, the heavens look like they are about to open up any minute. The car is totally standard and in perfect condition, and I can’t wait to find out what all the fuss is about.
The interior feels a little old fashioned and inside, especially with the big bucket seats, there feels like there is no more room than a small hatchback. Driving along suburban roads the Integra is noisy and hard, and if I’m honest not all that nice to drives. At low revs, with just 131lb ft of torque, the engine doesn’t feel particularly perky and I start to wonder if I am going to be a little disappointed. Then the traffic disappears and the road in front of me is straight.Mindful that this is someone else’s pride and joy I tentatively squeeze thethrottle, letting the revs rise towards 5,000rpm, and as the engine spins it sounds like I should have a heart and ease off. Then it happens. The engine note changes in an instant and all hell breaks loose.This is where Doctor Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde. The motor no longer sounds strained, it is now howling manically, making the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It is shifting too, magically pulling more acceleration out of thin air, sounding like it will rev forever.
Even though the suspension is hard, body control is impeccable thanks to well-sorted damping and a rigid bodyshell. Everything is starting to make sense. As I power out of a roundabout I discover another of the great tricks up the Type-R’s sleeve. It feels like a rear-drive chassis, instantly adjustable at the back, but incredibly planted to the tarmac. To be honest, below a point the Type-R never feels that fast, but keep the revs up and when you change you’ll be back in the sweet spot and progress becomes very swift indeed. All the time the steering is perfectly weighted and full of feel, and because of the car’s lightness it brakes well too.
I can’t believe I doubted the Integra, while its rawness is addictive its simplicity of purpose is charming. It really does feel like a race car for the road, as if Hondas designers have made a car for enthusiasts, and screw the rest. There really is little else that feels like this, it is a unique experience, and after a few miles I realise I am smitten. You want to drive harder and faster, revving it to 6,000rpm just one last time. After a couple of hours it’s time to take the Type-R back unfortunately. As I drive back into the urban crawl, with lines of slow moving traffic and speed bumps, I realise the Integra doesn’t feel so bad anymore. In fact I’m glad that it doesn’t feel all that refined at low speeds, because that would mean it wouldn’t do the other stuff half as well.