Honda Integra Type R (DC2): PH Heroes

Though they have been altered to some extent, certain PH Heroes have seen their fundamentals continued in successive models. A BMW M5 is still a V8 supersaloon, for example. The next Audi RS4 will have a turbocharged V6, just like the original. The MX-5 remains a small, light roadster with a revvy twin-cam in it. And the Lotus Elise is, well, a Lotus Elise.

Well you're not buying it for the looks...
Well you're not buying it for the looks...
The same cannot be said for the Honda Integra Type R. Indeed, sacrilegious though it may sound on these pages, it's hard to think of a recipe for a less popular car in 2017. Think about it: peak torque of 131lb ft delivered at 7,300rpm; dorky looks with a less than prestigious badge; front-wheel drive and manual only; air-con and a CD player on the options list. 1998 was a while ago but it's not that many years really - driver focused cars weren't exactly desperately popular then, let alone now. There's no way that something like the Integra Type R could make production now, making its existence all the more important.

Want proof that this sort of car doesn't work anymore? Look at the GT86 and BRZ, a pair of Japanese coupes that are unapologetically driver focused with naturally aspirated engines, limited-slip diffs and slender kerbweights. And how many of those do you see compared to Audi TTs, VW Sciroccos and BMW 2 Series?

One of a kind
So while there's no chance of a car this raw and this uncompromising being produced again, the fact that the Integra Type R was made - and was so very, very good - is absolutely cause for celebration. Particularly with Honda having recently acquired a fantastic Championship White UK car.

On the right road the Integra is incredible
On the right road the Integra is incredible
This is a better driver's car than a GT86. It just is. And yes, that's despite the front-wheel drive and the Toyota having 20 years of technology in its favour. We'll deal with exactly why that is shortly, but even before dropping into a red Recaro - mind that bolster! - there's reason to believe the Integra will deliver.

The Japanese Integra Type R was first launched in 1995, the first bespoke Type R after the NSX launched the brand in 1992. The UK car arrived in 1998, the first Type R for our market and one hell of a way to introduce racy Hondas. Think of how this must have looked in a late 90s Honda showroom, before the S2000 and before Civic Type Rs: it was Accords, Legends, CR-Vs, that type of thing. 'Mad' surely doesn't even come close.

And even for those entirely ignorant of the whole Type R fascination, the Integra's spec gives cause for considerable excitement. Peak power? 190hp at 7,900rpm. Top speed? 145mph, having reached 62mph in 6.7 seconds. The kerbweight is 1,125kg, or around a quarter of a tonne less than a current Civic Type R. The spec sheet makes special mention of the helical LSD, the "aerodynamically balanced" chin spoiler and the short shift titanium gearknob. Driver focused is a throwaway term in a world of AMG SUVs, two-tonne Porsches and the M4 Convertible, but it's the key tenet of the Integra's considerable appeal. And why it didn't prove all that popular, ironically enough. Fripperies and gratuitous adornments simply don't feature anywhere. Call it 106 Rallye syndrome, where stripped out road cars are only really appreciated once they're no longer on sale.

Great engine, great chassis, great car
Great engine, great chassis, great car
Just kicked in...
We have to talk about the engine, don't we? The B18C is a legendary Honda VTEC engine, and for very good reason. It's a legendary engine full stop, up there with the Porsche Mezger, BMW's S54 and the M159 AMG V8. Yes, even though it's four-cylinder. You'll probably know this already but for response, for excitement and for noise, this absolutely must rank with the best.

It's not some peaky, obstreperous mess of an engine, either; the Integra Type R will bimble around town at less than 2,000rpm like your Granddad's Civic, entirely benign and pleasant in that famed Honda tradition. It will cruise without fuss too, albeit not far off the redline of a diesel...

Get chance to extend the engine, though, and the VTEC magic - this is the yo moment, right? - explodes to the fore. Engines simply don't behave like this in 2017, and more's the pity. It reacts to every tiny flex on the throttle and, when it passes 5,800rpm, takes on a fierce, thrilling, wild character that four-cylinder cars so rarely do. The noise is savage, the performance addictive and the whole experience completely intoxicating. Matched to a gearbox of rare quality and precision, the way an Integra Type R accelerates really is spectacular.

Here's the thing, though: the Integra genius doesn't simply hang off an incredible engine, as certain - and to remain unnamed - Type Rs have. While the engine is a highlight, it doesn't shine markedly brighter than any other element - that's how good the whole car is. It's Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects, the leading role in what is a magnificent cast.

Want luxury? Look elsewhere!
Want luxury? Look elsewhere!
Torturous analogy aside, there simply isn't a bad element to the Integra's dynamics. Well, apart from the iffy tyres it was delivered on, a hangover from the previous owner. It's gloriously simple too, a good reminder that the contemporary fascination with modes, settings and configurability really cannot match a well set-up and well engineered car. The dampers are fixed-rate, though of course dealing with such little weight means they don't have to be rock solid. The tyres have a chunky 195/55 profile too. The steering is hydraulic. The noise - that glorious, glorious noise - is there whether you like it or not, without any alteration possible. That means it requires commitment from you, basically, but the rewards are more than worth the effort.

Best of the best
The chassis complements that engine perfectly: it's intense and absorbing, unlike anything modern you care to mention, but possessed of real quality too. With so little torque - 131lb ft is less than a 1.0-litre Civic now - the diff is not overwhelmed as it is in so many turbo hot hatches. The sensation is subtle, delicate almost, the car's line tightened precisely under power rather than wrenched towards corner exit. Well, as far as the tyres allow at least. And the steering tells you so much about this behaviour too, again in a measured and lucid fashion that many hyper sensitive modern systems simply don't replicate.

Being so light means the Integra almost glides across the ground, rather in contrast to a Civic Type R and, again, so many new cars. There's so little inertia to the way it moves and such involvement from the seat and the steering that confidence grows quickly, with no need to second guess inputs or reactions. A lift here, a brake there - the car responds exactly how you would hope, the Integra sweeping you along in its every movement like the very best driver's cars. It remains absolutely brilliant to drive.

We won't see the badge again - try one now!
We won't see the badge again - try one now!
It's enjoyable at less than ten tenths too, even if it's less relaxing than anything contemporary on the motorway. The seats are fantastically supportive, the wheel a joy to hold and that titanium gearknob absolutely perfect. The nerdy details - look at the rear screen, with 'LSD VTEC DOHC' written across it - aren't those to impress the average fan, but they're wonderful little touches for the committed few.

How many constitutes a few? Well just 961 Integra Type Rs are recorded on HowManyLeft, which is half the UK peak of a decade ago. Furthermore, while those who truly appreciate the dorky little Honda may be small, the market is beginning to wake up to its significance: where not so long ago Β£5K would have bought a really good car, that's now the entry point for cars typically with more than 100,000 miles. The best ones are beginning to breach Β£10K, which looks like an awful lot for a 1.8-litre Honda that's 20 years old. But for one of the most rewarding, exciting and iconic driver's cars of the 1990s? Worth every penny.

: 1,797cc, inline-four
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Power (hp): 190@7,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 131@7,300rpm
0-62mph: 6.7sec
Top speed: 145mph
Weight: 1,200kg (EU with 75kg driver)
On sale: 1998-2001
Price new: c. Β£23,000
Price now: c. Β£5,000 - Β£13,000





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Comments (108) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Thunderhead 30 Apr 2017

    I miss mine, was a superb car that was massive fun to drive. Completely at odds with the modern approach of massive power and torque that can rarely be exploited unless you have a track completely to yourself.

    It was the attention to detail that set it apart as well, all the way down to thinner windscreen glass, every component was engineered to aid performance, a rare little beast for sure.

  • MDMA . 30 Apr 2017

    I'd love to find a mint one of these, with an EK9, to put away for weekend blasts smile

  • SidewaysSi 30 Apr 2017

    Great car but not as brilliant as some people make out IMO. I truly loved mine but the steering in particular was poor. And once you learned it, it didn't provide the challenge of the best sports cars.

    I ran mine alongside my Elise and Seven. If the opportunity arose to go for a blast, the only time I would pick the Honda was if the roads were salty and wet.

    A great car and as good as any FWD hatch/coupe but not as well resolved as something truly focused. As you would expect.

  • ZX10R NIN 30 Apr 2017

    A friend had one of these while I admired it with its sweet handling & manic engine but compared to the R5 GTT I had it just seemed like hard work & noisy but on the upside he never had to play Russian Roulette as to whether it would start once he'd filled up with fuel biglaugh

  • Mike1990 30 Apr 2017

    Always liked them, but i prefer the EK9, give me a OE example and i'll be one truly happy chap!

    Its just a shame that 'most' the DC2/EK9's that are left are stripped out sheds.

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