Honda Integra Type - R (1997 - 2000) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

If you've ever watched the British Touring Car Championship on television and thought it looked like fun, a used Honda Integra Type-R is the closest road going approximation to a proper touring car. Although Integras only campaigned in the less prestigious Class B, much of the important stuff under the skin has a lot of similarities with the mechanicals used in the company's racing Accords. Just be prepared for some racing car-like compromises. Therefore, you'd expect a used Integra Type-R to be noisy, frenetic and incredible fun on the road and there are no disappointments on this score. Still reckoned to be the finest handling front-wheel drive car ever built, the Type-R has come to symbolise the screaming performance of Honda's VTEC valve technology. The Integra Type-R is like the first BMW M3, Nissan Skyline GT-R32 and Peugeot 306 Rallye; whilst not being the most beautiful cars around, they nonetheless receive nods of respect from those who know about serious performance.

Models

Models Covered: (3 dr coupe 1.8 petrol)

History

The Integra Type-R had a rather strange birth in the UK. Introduced in 1997, it revitalised the Integra name that most associated with blue-rinsed pensioners but which had disappeared in 1989. The appeal of the Type-R branding was anything but geriatric. Available initially in one colour only - Japanese Racing White - the lightweight Type-R was an instant hit and with a retail price just below £20,000, the order book of 400 cars that Honda had planned to import to the UK filled rapidly. The car has changed little since its launch. The key change that has been made was to widen the choice of colours to include red and black. Still hardly kaleidoscopic, but enough to attract new buyers dissuaded by the gleaming white version. UK sales of the Integra were helped by a lukewarm public reaction to the Prelude, although sales tapered off due to Honda's sporting range being augmented by the introduction of the Accord Type-R and the S2000 roadster. The Integra Type-R was finally axed in late 2000 as Honda looked to spread the Type-R brand across newer cars in the range.

What You Get

If you travel on motorways, a stress migraine. You'll struggle to recall a coupe with higher internal noise levels than an Integra Type-R. This is due to a lot of the sound deadening material being stripped away, especially around the engine bulkhead and transmission in order to save weight. The lightweight windscreen has been known to 'sing' at certain harmonic frequencies as well, adding to the racket. Don't try to drown it out with a stereo either. Not only was one never fitted as standard, it probably wouldn't be audible anyway. If this sounds like fun, you'll love the Type-R; if not, take a test drive first. Whilst there may not be a long list of standard equipment, there are electric windows and you do get a couple of rather cramped rear seats, but that's about it. Still, a wonderful set of grippy Recaro racing seats makes up for the lack of gadgetry, although those who are slightly, ahem, broad in the beam, will definitely need to try before they buy. Besides, who wants to listen to a stereo when you've got an engine like that anyway? The car itself is based around a three-door version of the Integra. You get a skirts n' spoilers kit of course, with an obligatory mirror-filling hoop spoiler reminiscent of an Impreza or a Toyota Supra. And twin peek-a-boo headlamps like an Alfa GTV. But this car isn't about looks any more than it's about gadgets. Honda describes the Integra R as a kind of four-wheeled motorbike. Indeed, the importers think that the car will appeal to buyers with upper range superbikes who want a car for when the weather gets nasty. You wouldn't expect a spare wheel on a Honda Fireblade, so why expect one in an Integra Type-R?

What You Pay

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What to Look For

One thing will come as a solid-gold guarantee. At some point the Honda Integra Type-R that you are considering purchasing will have been driven to within an inch of its life, engine screaming at 8,000 rpm, tyres howling for mercy. That, after all, is what the car is for. As long as you are aware that it will have been driven hard, you can comfortably check the car for necessary wear and tear. Saggy suspension and fried tyres are the most usual suspects. Bounce the car to check that the rebound damping is still up to the job. Similarly ensure that the car feels right at the top off the rev band. If the car fails to accelerate cleanly above 6,500rpm, then the VTEC system is inoperative - a rare but costly problem. Also check that the car is a proper UK model. An add-on rear foglamp, square rear number plate or dials measured in km/h are the usual signs that the car may well be a Japanese import. Check the documentation to make sure. Bear in mind that you'll pay less for one, but receive less upon subsequent resale. Also check that all the necessary paperwork is in order, that the car has had its speed limiter removed and fuel filler neck modified. Finally inspect the interior for evidence of race work, such as four-point harness and rollcage mountings, or fire-extinguisher installations. There are other Type-Rs out there - but unless you intend to go racing or are being offered an amazing deal, you won't need to buy an ex-track car.

Replacement Parts

(approx prices) As many of these spares are sourced from the 'regular' Integra range sold in Japan, they aren't horribly expensive. Priciest item is the exhaust system at around £330. A clutch assembly, which can easily be sizzled in traffic light derbies, will be around £185. Front brake pads are £55 a set, and a new radiator is £160. A new starter motor retails at £250, whilst a replacement headlamp is a not inconsiderable £200. The relatively skinny tyres worn by the Type-R have pluses and minuses. Although they may not cost so much to replace as a wide, low profile number, you will spend more time spinning and sliding them about in a generally heroic manner. A case of swings and twenty laps of the roundabouts.

On the Road

On the right road, the Integra Type-R is one of those few cars that seem to telepathically anticipate the road ahead. A slight roll of the shoulders will send it cornering flat and hard through bends, all the while accompanied by that stirring soundtrack. Despite being noisy and hot, it's not as bad as you'd imagine in the urban sprawl and crawl, its power-on-demand and narrowness giving it excellent zipping and jinking abilities. Although genuinely hard to fault as a driver's car, the rock-hard ride and constant sonic barrage become wearing at those times when you are just not in the mood.

Overall

The Honda Integra Type-R is a very specialist item. It's unlikely to be bought by anyone who doesn't know exactly what they're getting. That is a very quick, very noisy and wonderful handling car that should be largely trouble free. Consumables such as fuel, tyres will cost a fair bit if the Type-R is used as designed, but if you can search out a tidy used car, it's sure to guarantee maximum driving thrills.