Car reviews - Honda - Integra - Type R 3-dr hatch
Cracking performance, race-car handling
Room for improvement
Firm ride, noise can be intrusive
6 Feb 2001
HONDA'S Integra Type-R is a credible alternative to the likes of the Nissan 200SX and Subaru Impreza WRX.
It may not have quite the same straight-line performance credentials as these two rivals but, as an overall package, it comes close.
The souped-up Integra's character is defined by its superb 1.8-litre engine, which uses VTEC wizardry to deliver 141kW at a dizzy 7900rpm and 178Nm at an equally mind-numbing 6300rpm.
As suggested by these figures, the engine delivers its best in the upper regions of its rev band. Although smooth and reasonably tractable at lower revs, there is no hint of the performance on tap until its legs are stretched.
With just 1087kg to haul, the Type-R is a sprightly performer, accelerating from standstill to 100km/h in around seven seconds and covering the standing quarter-mile in about 15 seconds.
These figures indicate the Honda is quicker than the Celica, but not by a huge margin.
However, while the Celica's power is relayed to the front wheels by a six-speed gearbox, the Integra makes do with just five ratios.
Consequently, it is easier to keep the Celica in the optimum rev range than is the case with the Integra.
In keeping with its sporty character, the Type-R is equipped with a titanium gear knob - equally nice to hold as it is to behold.
The clutch and transmission are light and slick but call for some finesse on the part of the driver to avoid jerky progress.
The best approach for achieving smooth gear changes is to lift off the accelerator minimally during shifts to avoid the abrupt fuel cut-off on a trailing throttle.
Once mastered, the Type-R is a delight to hustle through twisty sections of road.
The VTEC engine produces a pleasing, hard-edged exhaust note when worked hard, constituting ideal musical accompaniment for the agile and communicative chassis.
Although some die-hard performance-car enthusiasts may dismiss the Integra Type-R on account of its front-wheel drive layout - unlike the rear-wheel drive 200SX and all-wheel drive Impreza WRX - it is a very competent handler.
It turns in sharply and bodyroll is minimal thanks to its relatively stiff springs and dampers. Fast, tidy cornering is easily achievable thanks to the absence of any tendency to understeer.
Utilising the car's ample grip is made easy by the well-weighted, communicative steering - which provides plenty of feedback - as well as the strong, progressive brakes.
The Integra inspires confidence even in wet conditions where one would be inclined to tiptoe along in the powerful rear-wheel drive 200SX.
Although the performance and handling of the Integra are marginally ahead of the Celica, it cannot match the latter in terms of refinement.
The overtly sporty suspension settings mean the ride quality is decidedly firm - tolerable for boy-racer types, but a bit harsh for more sedate drivers.
Honda would be well aware of this and has obviously calibrated the suspension to cater to the demands of the target market.
Noise levels are also on the high side and lead-footed drivers will become accustomed to the induction roar and bark from the big-bore exhaust as the engine sings towards its 8500rpm red line.
The Type R delivers a raw, scintillating driving experience not unlike what one would expect from a road-going racing car.
The competition-inspired theme is reflected by the interior, which houses bright red Recaro racing seats in lieu of the standard front buckets.
The low-set, hip-hugging Recaros offer only fore/aft adjustment but are superbly comfortable and provide plenty of lateral support during enthusiastic cornering manoeuvres.
However, they look slightly out of place in an interior that is otherwise all black, including the rear seats.
External modifications are sufficient to set the Type-R apart from more mundane Integras. Go-fast merchants will appreciate the Type-R decals as well as the prominent rear wing spoiler.
Whether or not the rear spoiler brings any useful aerodynamic benefits is debatable but it undoubtedly obscures rear visibility.
Overall, though, the Type R is a reasonably practical package, with enough luggage capacity to swallow a golf bag and buggy or a suitcase and some soft luggage. Folding down the rear seats liberates additional storage space.
In addition to Recaro sports seats and rear spoiler, the Type-R also comes equipped with dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, alloy wheels, leather steering wheel, central locking and power windows and mirrors.
However, it misses out on keyless entry, cruise control and a CD player - all of which are standard in the similarly priced Toyota Celica SX.
In addition to being better equipped and more refined, it could also be argued that the Celica is the better looking car. There is no doubt it is more eye-catching.
However if pure, unadulterated driving thrills are what you seek then the raw, racy Type R might be just what the doctor ordered.
It is also likely to remain more exclusive than the Celica, which is almost guaranteed to sell in large volumes over the next few years.
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