How the Honda Integra Type R DC2 brought VTEC to the masses
Road tests of the time proclaimed the Integra Type R to be the best handling front-wheel drive car of the day, but how does it stack up now? We took this VTEC coupé for a spin to find out.
Prior to 1991 Honda was best known for producing a variety of well built, if slightly dull, cars that appealed to the masses. Its reputation for reliability made Honda cars a popular choice for families in need of a dependable workhorse, but they held no appeal for enthusiasts.
In '91 Honda made a bold move to change its humdrum stigma by producing a Ferrari beating supercar – the NSX. It even turned things up to eleven with an ultimate performance variant dubbed Type R.
It proved to be an exciting demonstration of what Honda engineers were capable of, but how could this momentum be translated into a product that the everyman could buy? Enter the Integra Type R.
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Japanese cars have never been particularly overt with their designs, instead favouring more understated shapes, but this Championship White Type R began a process that ultimately lead to the in-your-face FK8 Civic Type R of today. Its long slender shape is narrated with punchier bodywork including a substantial rear wing. White alloy wheels with contrasting red ‘H’ logos stamped in the centre suggests to passersby that this isn’t your grandmother’s Honda.
Under the skin you’ll find numerous changes over the standard Integra, which ultimately comes to define the Type R as something a bit special. Tauter suspension, larger brakes, added bracing, and a focus on removing weight results a car equipped to tackle challenging B-roads or a track in equal measure.
And then there’s that engine… The 187bhp naturally aspirated 1.8-litre dual overhead cam VTEC unit was ahead of its time in 1995, and still impresses today. Honda’s ingenious Variable Valve Timing & Lift Electronic Control effectively change the cam timing to enable strong performance at both high and low rpm. However, this engine’s most distinguishing feature is its 8400rpm redline.
You need only climb into this Type R’s bolstered alcantara sports seats and start its engine to feel how eager the car is. A flurry of revs settles into a fizzy idle, the car’s 10,000rpm tachometer suggesting that this is only the beginning.
Bumbling around at low speeds the engine is pleasingly responsive, something that is often lacking in modern turbocharged cars. Your throttle inputs are met with immediate action even at low revs. It is a perfectly civilised thing to use around town with power assisted steering, surprisingly supple ride comfort, and excellent visibility. However, you always feel that the car is simply humouring you until you eventually set it free.
Eyes front, foot down. The yellow needles in the instrument binnacle race each other as momentum rapidly builds and the pitch of the engine increases. Higher and higher into the rev range, surely it’s time to change up? You can actually feel a small kick as the cam timing changes and the car continues to surge towards that stratospheric rev limiter. Acceleration is strong throughout and once you eventually grab a gear from the gratifyingly mechanical five-speed manual box, the party starts all over again. Honda claims the Integra Type R will crack 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds and go onto a top speed of 145mph.
The VTEC engine is a unique experience when compared with its contemporaries and in many respects it is the thing that defines the Type R experience, however, this Integra promises more. It is just as impressive through a complex sequence of bends as it is charging through the gears down an arrow straight.
The well-weighted steering allows for good accuracy and the limited-slip differential does a good job of reducing understeer. There is some body roll, but it does serve as a good gauge for how the weight is being transferred around the car. Trail the brakes into a sharp bend to shift the weight over the front wheels, maximising the driven tyres bite, turn-in aggressively and a lack of weight at the rear enables the car to freely pivot around the bend.
It is a car that rewards those who relish driving through the seat of their pants, although it will also punish the ham-fisted. Charging into a bend with reckless abandon will ultimately result in understeer and potentially an untimely meeting with a tree. Feeling the car interacting with the world around it, exploiting its agility, and letting that VTEC engine sing is what the Integra is all about.
These DC2 Integra Type Rs are prized amongst enthusiasts and hardcore Type R fans alike, making them sought after today. Values of this modern classic are rapidly increasing with the later European 1998 variant commanding a premium over its JDM counterpart.
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