But early-noughties-era Honda - in the midst of a purple patch populated by the Civic Type R, S2000 and NSX - made a pretty good fist of it. The DC2's successor would be larger and more practical, but also with extra tech to make it arguably a better all-rounder. Honda proceeded to gather a team of ex-Formula 1 engineers and build a new 'teg with chunkier styling, an expanded 2.0-litre engine and a six speeds rather than five.
At the heart of the newcomer was Honda's fresh K20 1,998cc engine - some 200cc bigger than the DC2's B18C engine. Despite this, the new powerplant was actually 10kg lighter. As ever, Honda threw all sorts of clever (and definitely non-turbo) tech at the engine, including a short 'isometric' intake manifold, dual exhaust manifolds, variable-valve silencer, plus a high-strength crankshaft and con rods.
The K20 also boasted a revised version of VTEC called "i-VTEC" (that's 'i' for 'intelligent'). This basically added VTC (Variable Timing Control) that could advance or retard the valve timing, in contrast to previous VTEC incarnations that merely adjusted the lift and duration.
The new Type R also benefitted from a completely new six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox. Compared to the previous five-speeder, the more compact 'box (shorter by 20mm) helped drop its weight by 2.5kg. And how's this for a claim: the DC5 Type R was the world's first 2.0-litre car to use multiple synchromesh cones for all gears (triple-cone first and second, double-cone third to sixth). Ooh! And a forged chromoly flywheel reduced inertia for sharper response and acceleration.
There was substantial body strengthening throughout the Type R, with torsional rigidity up 116 per cent compared to the DC2. Lots of aluminium bits (for instance the bumper beam, front strut bar, front lower arms and rear brake callipers) helped lighten weight, as did the dearth of sound-deadening trim, particularly in the boot area.
Despite all the weight-saving measures, there was no escaping the fact that the DC5 did weigh more than the old DC2. Although it had exactly the same wheelbase and overall length was no bigger, the DC5 was both taller and wider, and overall 60kg heavier (albeit still a relatively light 1,180kg).
Jaunty - a bit like a Ferrari...
The DC5's chunky shape was in sharp contrast to the DC2's lithe curves. Honda's "sharp and solid" design ethos translated, in Honda's words, to "highly aerodynamic 'aero-cabin' styling with a distinctive personality, and an unusual kind of solidity that skilfully integrates a sense of jaunty nimbleness with a strong presence."
Yeah, right. 'Aero-cabin' translated as cab-forward (a style much favoured at the time), and the shape was the work of Hideaki Uchino, who had recently finished a stint at Pininfarina. He cited the success (in his view) of the Ferrari 360 Modena's higher stance compared to the old 355, so the DC5 could be viewed as 'Uchino's 360'. Four multi-reflector headlights set in pairs into the V-shaped nose were echoed at the rear with cylindrical taillights.
Update or die
When it was launched in 2001, the DC5 was officially the replacement for not only the Integra DC2 but the Prelude as well. At least, it was in Japan: the DC5 Type R was only ever a JDM offering (in 220hp guise, that is - an Integra Type R was also sold in New Zealand but it only had 200hp). Honda UK declared that the DC5 would be too similar to the new Civic Type R EP3 to import it here - possibly disingenuously as the 'teg had a totally different body style and far superior performance.
There was just one major upgrade in the DC5's lifetime, in September 2004: a front- and rear-end restyle featuring new squared-off lights, redesigned bumpers and revised air intakes and grille. Inside were new white gauges and titanium-coloured trim, plus new keyless entry, HDD sat nav and auto-levelling HID headlamp options. Under the skin, the suspension was improved with harder bushes, tougher mountings, and there was a larger brake master cylinder and tougher pedal mountings.
At the time of its launch in 2001, the DC5 may very well have been the fastest front-wheel drive car on sale. Compared to the DC2, there was a lot more low-down torque. The raw figures were a peak output of 220hp at 8,000rpm and torque of 152lb ft at 7,000rpm. The v-max was 150mph and 0-60mph was somewhere around the 6.5-second mark - in other words, slightly quicker than the DC2 - while Honda claimed a quarter-mile time of 14.3 seconds, nearly a second faster than the DC2.
The new six-speed gearbox was fantastically precise and had a light, short throw between gears, although (as I once found out on Llandow circuit) it's all too easy to slot it into the wrong gear. I didn't see exactly where the rev counter ended up, but Honda's bulletproof engine simply dealt with the screaming abuse I'd dealt it.
So what about handling? The question of whether the DC2 or DC5 has the better chassis is hotly debated. Personally, I would contend that in fact the JDM Civic Type R FD2 probably marked the pinnacle of Honda's FWD chassis development arc, but the DC5 runs it very close. Yes, there is some body roll, but in terms of precision and dialling out understeer, it's just so right and helped no end by the limited-slip diff. Grip is definitely better than the DC2's, especially at the rear end. The '5' can be made to oversteer if you're really hooning it, and if the road is wide enough a dab of the jolly old oppo will bring it neatly back into line.
End of an era
Japanese market sales of the DC5 Type R totalled a modest 12,247, with most of those being shifted in the first two years (4,875 in 2001, and 3,431 in 2002). In the final year on sale (2005), just 997 Type Rs were sold.
When the Integra DC5 was axed in 2005, it was the end of the Integra line. Japanese enthusiasts were pushed towards the new Civic Type R FD2, which, when it finally arrived in 2007, was described as the replacement for both the 'teg Type R and Civic EP3 Type R.
Want a DC5 now? Of course you do. The obvious colour of choice for the Integra is Championship White like the one pictured, kindly supplied by owner Aaron Houghton and currently on sale in the PH Classifieds for £13,450. That's top whack, reflecting its condition, but you can find them for less and in a broader, if rarer, range of colours including red, blue, black and silver. Whatever you end up spending, for one of the best-handling cars ever - and one with, let it be said, an almost perfect reliability record - that's a price many will find well worth paying.
Thanks to Integra owner Aaron Houghton; the car pictured is for sale, see the ad here.
Photos: Tom Begley