I’ll be frank in admitting that I’ve never really understood the immense popularity of old Hondas. Cars like the NSX are one thing – clearly, anyone can see that they are something special – but a front-wheel drive hatchback with a noisy naturally aspirated engine and cheap interior isn’t really what I’d call desirable.
Given the internet memes surrounding the behaviour of Honda owners and, of course, the infamous “VTEC just kicked in, yo!” tripes, it all just comes across as off-putting to someone like myself who’s far from a hater, but rather an outsider. It feels just like being someone who isn’t a Tool fan and fails to understand the hype surrounding the band’s new Fear Inoculum album. There’s a lot of noise being made about it, but I’m just not quite sure why.
But when a friend of mine recently purchased an Integra Type R – seemingly never referred to as such by Honda fans, but rather as a DC2 – my ears quickly perked up. While failing to be taken by cars like clapped-out old Civics, Honda’s coupes have always stood out as real lookers to me – not just these, but Preludes and Legends, too – and given he’d managed to get his hands on a coveted Type R model, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out what that noise was all about by spending a day getting to grips with it.
I won’t disclose what he paid for it, but I will note that he picked up this Type R at a better price than what many are going for with even higher numbers on the odometer – although Australian asking prices are nothing compared to what these cars are worth in the US. Sure, the chalky paint needed hours of attention paid to it – which was handled by Drive Section‘s friends at MPF Detailing – but it did help bring the price down to a realistic figure.
With it restored to the shiny state you see it in here, it’s a real looker, the Integra, and especially so in Championship White, one of the four colours it was offered in. It’s proportionally long wheelbase lends to a sleek and handsome side profile which is accentuated by its big rear wing to prove that it isn’t your average Integra. It espouses some real presence at the rear, too, with those wide taillights.
Although I must admit to preferring the more closely-matching fascia of earlier examples, the quad headlights of this 2000 build produced near the end of the DC2’s lifespan does give it a determined look – especially when you see it out on the road. Certainly, it garnered plenty of looks and even a thumbs-up from a cyclist of all people while I was out driving it through the Adelaide Hills, so it gets a definite tick in the good-looks box.
The interior compliments the exterior nicely, too, especially with the optional red Alcantara-clad Recaro racing buckets this one had specified – the rear seats remain clad in black Alcantara, it’s worth noting – while the multi-coloured weave on the carpets and cloth door trims, and surprisingly well-padded dash definitely helped the interior feel on par with what many European manufacturers were producing at the time.
Turning the attention back to those seats briefly, it’s worth mentioning just how tight they are. I know Recaro seats are intended to be, but the ones in this have to be some of the tightest I’ve felt. People my size – 6’2″ and a little heavier than they’d like to admit – will find the leg bolstering to be the main culprit of the tightness, but you’ll quickly get used to it the longer you spend in them, with them never feeling uncomfortable. Plus, when you’re driving it like a Type R should be driven, they definitely do the trick of holding you in place.
Thankfully, the Integra you see here was a relatively stock example – which is what I like to look for when trying out classics like this, as much as I do love modified cars – but there were a handful of tasteful and practical modifications made that I feel most owners would be inclined to do to theirs. On the inside, the aftermarket touchscreen head unit is unsurprising to see given what would have originally been there in its place, the tall metal Mugen shift knob is a tasteful addition, and the black Recaro-branded leg-bolster protectors you’ll see in some shots (as we forgot to remove them at first, and I wasn’t too keen on crawling back into the tight rear seat to retake some photos) are a sensible addition given the unsurprising wear they were covering, although they are really designed more to be fitted to the standard black seats.
It’s under the bonnet that the other changes are – an AEM intake and Mugen exhaust headers that both help to enhance the noise it makes – but aside from these minor additions, the red-topped engine remains relatively standard.
The power plant that’s under there is the B18C which, despite being just a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre four-pot, produces a relatively hefty 141kW all the way up at 7900rpm, although a comparatively low torque figure of 178Nm at 6300rpm.
While the power might come on surprisingly high, the plucky little 1.8 isn’t at redline until it hits the screaming 8400rpm mark, while the rev limiter itself is set at 8500rpm, and this is where the magic of the now memed-to-death VTEC comes in.
Although it’d be easy to write off VTEC as just being a fancy name for a variable valve timing system – something every manufacturer fits to its engines at this point – no system is quite as pronounced as that seen in old Hondas, and the Integra Type R is a perfect example of just how it works.
As you rev the B18 up to 5700rpm, you hear its tone turn aggressive as quickly as if you’d said something about its sister during a drunken conversation. It pipes up like a whiskey-filled Irishman as it lets out a bellowing howl, the revs shooting up quickly to the redline – quicker, at first, than you’ll be able to shift.
Given the precisely-tuned gearing of it’s five-speed manual gearbox, you’ll want to take it all the way up to the redline though, as when you shift right at the top, the next gear will be perfectly aligned to keep you right in the VTEC band.
The gearbox, it’s worth noting, is a good one. Although the shift knob may have been different, there was no short shift kit or anything similar fitted to this example, so it’s relatively long stock throws but tight gates mean it’s easy to tell just which gear you’re shifting to, which is important when you’re shifting as quickly as it demands you do. The clutch, while a little tricky to navigate at first given how short its travel is, is fairly easy to operate as well, and is easily stomped on and released when you’re giving it the beans.
Being front-wheel drive, it’s a good thing that it also has a helical limited-slip differential helping to channel the power to those front wheels, as even with that, some torque steer can be felt on the exit from corners if you get a bit throttle-happy, and that points to what is the tip of the iceberg that is the need to be devoting full attention to driving it when you’re really going for gold.
If everyone drove one of these, texting and driving just wouldn’t be a thing, as very few road cars demand such focus. Between timing every gear change perfectly, modulating the balance between the touchy throttle and brakes, and keeping it pointed in the right direction by making countless minute adjustments to the steering through the corners, it’s a bit of a workout both mentally and physically trying to get it all right.
That’s not as if to say it’s challenging to drive all of the time – quite the contrary, in fact, as it’s far from the hardest car to drive in traffic which is evidenced by the high mileage of most examples you’ll see for sale which have been daily driven – but given a lack of any driver aids at all, it means you are the only thing that’s keeping it out of a hedge. Or a guard rail. Or a ditch.
In one respect, this is great as it is delightfully communicative – every movement of the wheels can be felt through the tiller and the seat of your pants – but it can almost be off-putting when you feel just how close to the limit it can get while still managing to hold on, with lift-off oversteer being the most common thing you’ll feel it tending towards, particularly through sweeping downhill bends, which I was thankfully forewarned of by the owner.
Given how quick the steering is once you get past its initial on-centre vagueness that’s typical of older hydraulically-assisted racks and lean on the brakes without fully letting off until you’re right at the apex of a corner, it’s easy to prevent it from coming unstuck, no matter how much it may try to rotate given that it’s proportionally long wheelbase for a front-wheel drive car won’t suddenly begin to defy physics without some intervention from you, the driver.
Clearly then, the Integra Type R is like the girl who really makes you work hard for their love, but makes it all worth it in the end. Well, the Integra feels as though it is, at least – I can’t guarantee the same when it comes to your love life.
On flat or uphill winding roads, it displays incredible poise, with not a hint of nose dive or body roll – thank the double wishbone suspension on all four corners, along with a set of Spoon lowering springs fitted to this example that only aided that trait even further, even if they do make the already sporty ride that bit sportier – even if you may have to tidy your line constantly to keep it composed, and when you finally get it into that top end of its power band, the incredible noise alone is enough to bring a smile to your face, let alone the way it slings you forward.
Yet even when you keep it below the VTEC threshold, particularly between 3500-4500rpm, it still pulls surprisingly well when you just want to turn things back down from 11, which is exactly where third gear lets you keep it when driving at the speeds you would on the Hills roads I put it through its paces on.
It’s very good, then, that it still feels great to drive at such speeds as you really need a racetrack – or a death wish – to fully explore what VTEC can do beyond the odd second gear pull when the surface is right and the road is straight enough.
But even though the time spent under the influence of VTEC was eclipsed by the time spent keeping things sensible out of necessity, was it enough to make me ‘get’ the whole Honda thing? Well, yeah, I think it was.
I get the appeal of the top end power, the high-revving zing, and that addictive intake honk. Is it technically what you want? Not really in the real world, as the mid-range turbocharged torque we’re becoming used to these days will be more enjoyable on a chilled-out Sunday drive, but this is far more fun when you really want to scare not just your passengers but yourself.
Pick one up for a good price like my mate did and you’ll be laughing. Overpay, and I feel like you might want a bit more car than you’re getting. Objectively though, it’s a pretty phenomenal machine whichever way you look at it – be it as a technical accomplishment, or as a driving experience to remember.
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