Before I begin this review, I need to take a short second to apologise if it sounds like I’m gushing at any point. Our drive in the Honda Integra Type R might have proven to be a pretty revelatory experience.
I will preface this with a note that I am not a JDM master, someone who worships at the altar of Rising Sun motoring. I have always been able to understand why people love Japanese cars, but not the absolute exultance that some have begun to spray over certain models from the last thirty years.
So, it was with somewhat of a dismissive nature that I set foot in Honda’s heritage fleet Integra Type R in sunny Catalonia. I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready to be convinced of this white machine’s credentials. It’s got a kinda silly-looking rear wing and is powered by nothing more than a 1.8-litre four-cylinder motor. The modern hot hatch isn’t going to be overawed by 187bhp and today’s fast coupes would raise an eyebrow at the knowledge that it’s front-wheel-drive.
But you cannot take the Integra at face value. That 1.8-litre engine revs like a madman, and the very peak of its powers arrives at a mighty 7,900rpm. Unencumbered by all-wheel-drive systems, modern mod-cons or anything unnecessary the Type R also weighs just 1,200kg. Suddenly those paltry specs don’t look quite so weedy. Get it out on the road and it all seems to come together, in a way that sort of doesn’t make sense.
There’s absolutely no way a front-wheel-drive coupe should be this much fun. Get that engine revving and it’s going to haul you along, but not in a modern hot hatch batsh** way, and absolutely pierce the ears through the higher limits. The steering, delivered through a deliciously late-90s wheel, is quite exquisite, communicating all you need to know as the front somehow manages to do everything it’s asked with aplomb. Hustle this little piece of Honda heritage through some twisty stuff and the whole car comes alive, the front gripping up on turn in and the rear eager to join in with an encouraging lift. The slide is always in control though, with that excellent steering almost telepathically linking to you, it’s probably because the chassis is so good I can’t think of any way to describe it other than blinding.
That screaming motor is controlled by a transmission with a slight aftermarket feel. Which isn’t a description born of dislike. The ‘box is excellent, coupled with pedals that are positioned in near heel’n’toe heaven. It’s the stick itself that feels very un-factory. It feels like something you added in to make everything a bit better than Honda could manage themselves. But, of course that’s not the case, the stunning metal knob is a standard piece of kit, and feels so perfect in your hand it might as well have been machined from a mould. The slot from ratio to ratio is short and satisfying, rewarding you with a gentle snick through the gate and the feeling of accomplishment that any well-slotted manual brings.
Perhaps it is the absolute focus on laser precision in modern fast cars that leads us to enjoy the older brethren so much, it certainly isn’t a wallop of nostalgia, not in my case. My only real memories of the Integra Type R from my youth are of not wanting it to win the BTCC again (in its later form of course). But this drive was something of an eye opener. A car that was so blindingly good I had to reconfigure my view of an entire period of automotive history. It isn’t ridiculously fast from point to point, rather it is a ridiculously good way to get from point to point. When I arrived in Spain the Honda Integra Type R looked to me like something that I would have expected to see round the back of Tesco in the early 2000s, but when I stepped out of the car it was a thing of wonder, something I would gladly spread my wallet for.
We’re not going to go into detail about things like interiors here, because no one cares do they? It’s plasticky and was made very much in the 1990s, but the Recaros are excellent and hold you in no matter what you do. All you actually need care about is the things that matter, anything else, as any reader of Max Power in the Integra era knows, can be added in afterwards. The Integra is a full-blown giggle machine (“wibble-inducing” is how one of my colleagues described it) and a sure-fire bona fide classic. If you can find a good one, grab it, hold it and spend the rest of your life just grinning.