Every car has a purpose (besides the obvious one, which is to make money for car companies). Some are made for families with multiple children. Some are for convertible fun on a good back road. But the purpose of the Acura Integra Type R was incredibly singular: the business of giant-slaying.
Today you can pick any number of YouTube videos where you can watch this happen. There’s one where an Integra Type R goes after a Subaru WRX STI on the track, or another where it holds its own against a Skyline GT-R. A warning: these videos may leave you fists clenched, on the edge of your seat, marveling at how a front-wheel drive compact with economy car origins and just a tiny 1.8-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine can somehow still brawl with turbocharged, all-wheel drive machines.
That’s when you may start lusting after an Integra Type R in your life.
Unfortunately, if you want one now, the few specimens that were sold ended up modified to death, crashed or stolen. So it’s become virtually impossible to find a clean, unmolested second-hand Type R.
And yet I found one and took it out for a spin. It was modified with Mugen parts, but still turned out to be epic in all the glorious pre-2000-Honda-VTEC ways you could imagine. The hype of the Integra Type R as a machine so pure, loud, and focused that it makes modern sport compact cars feel soft and weak by comparison is completely founded.
(Full disclosure: The opportunity to drive an original Acura Integra Type R came from a Canadian Jalopnik reader who has owned one for over a decade. He was tired of seeing us reviewing boring, modern sport compacts, so he sent me an email to review his.)
What Is It?
Sold between 1993 and 2001, the third-generation Acura Integra (called Honda Integra in other markets) was a lightweight, front-wheel-drive, compact two-door coupe or sedan largely derived from the Civic’s platform. For the North American market, all Integras were powered by a 1.8-liter four, which was larger than what you’d typically find in your average Honda Civic back then.
Before the Type R was a thing, the Integra GS-R was the hot Acura to buy after the NSX. Thanks to VTEC, Honda’s signature variable valve timing technology it used for over a decade to give power to its engines, the little 1.8-liter churned out 170 horsepower, which was already impressive for a naturally aspirated four back then.
Really though, and excuse the pun; the GS-R was nothing more than a prelude to the almighty R. Introduced in 1997 (and 1995 in Japan), the Integra Type R kicked off where the GS-R stopped. Honda figured the 1.8-liter could take a little more abuse, so it gave it a bunch of race-inspired technology like a higher compression ratio, high-strength but lightweight connecting rods, reshaped intake valves, high-lift camshafts, a larger throttle body, a high-volume exhaust manifold and molybdenum-coated aluminum pistons.
Even if you don’t know what those things do, they sound cool as hell.
The end-result was a claimed 195 HP and 130 lb-ft of torque. No turbo. No supercharger. All motor. Makes the new turbo Civic Si look kind of a copout, doesn’t it?
And get this: the engine’s maximum power in the Integra Type R peaks at 8,000 RPM. The rev limiter was set, from the factory, at 9,200. When going all out, those pistons are moving at 80 feet per second, similar to what you get in an IndyCar engine, but a lot more reliable, unlike most race motors that wear a Honda badge these days.
But the Type R was much more than just a kickass motor. The five-speed manual gearbox, taken from the GS-R and the only transmission available for the car, was given shorter gear ratios. A Helical limited-slip differential was fitted between its front wheels, and the car inherited a full weight reduction and chassis rigidity treatment, revised springs, dampers, brakes and larger sway bars.
Maybe it all seems quaint 20 years later, in our current era of insane forced induction power. But in the 1990s, the Integra Type R was some serious shit. Back then, Acura claimed a 0-60 acceleration time of 6.5 seconds. That’s almost as quick off the line than the current, more powerful Ford Focus ST.
Like I said: giant-slaying.
Why Does It Matter?
Well, not only was it considered to be one of the best-handling front-wheel-drive cars ever built, its engine held the record for the highest specific output per liter for any naturally aspirated piston engine produced for the North American market.
I mean, that’s typically the kind of stuff Porsche and Ferrari brag about, but here it was coming out of a puny little Honda coupe.
The Integra Type R was basically a race car for the road. It was sold for homologation purposes to meet FIA certification in order to compete in the N-series and World Cup Racing. It mostly competed in Japan and Europe.
But what you really need to know about this car is that it appeared right smack in the midst of a sports compact car boom, which Honda was basically dominating with all the modified Civics, Preludes and Integras battling it out on the public roads back then. It was a halo car for the street racers.
Let’s Get The Sunroof Story Out Of The Way
Alright, so you’re looking at the photos and you’re wondering why the car has a damn sunroof. Obviously, if you know about the ITR, you also know that part of Honda’s weight reduction strategy for the car was to remove the top glass. No real Integra Type R has a sunroof.
So what gives? Before you burn me alive in the comments, check out the car’s serial number:
Notice how it starts with DC2? That means it’s a two-door Integra fitted with the Type R engine (B18C). The number three that follows stands for two-door with a five-speed. And the one, well it stands for Type R. If this was a GS-R, that number would be an eight, or a nine if it had been a GS-R with leather seats.
This is a very real Integra Type R from Canada, folks. It’s number 50 out of only 197 built. As for the sunroof, Craig, the owner, bought the car second-hand from his local Acura dealer when he was 18. Imagine owning a car like this when you’re that age. Like all immature teenagers at the wheel of a Honda Type R, he did a few stupid things with it. He also crashed it. Thankfully, he was OK.
But the car was beaten up pretty badly and needed an entirely new roof. The problem was that the only roofs that were readily available at the time were from an Integra GS-R, which all came with a sunroof. Craig could have waited for a real Type R roof section, or one from an Integra GS, but that would have taken weeks or even months.
He was 18. The kid wanted his car back, fast, so he could get back to racing the other kids with it. Plus, he figured a sunroof would be a cool creature comfort on his Type R. I mean why not, right? So he went with it.
He admits regretting his decision ever since and has plans to delete the glass.
Taking It All In
Shortly after a “what’s up bro?” handshake at his doorstep, Craig’s garage door slowly opens. That’s when I immediately spot the Type R’s Championship White paint job.
I had forgotten how understated it actually looks. On the trunk sits the classic basket handle rear wing. We’ve all grown tired of seeing that thing hanging out the rear of fart can Civics, but since this is the Type R’s signature trunk ornament, it feels totally legit here.
As I gazed at the totally immature red Type R lettering, Mugen aftermarket exhaust, and JDM headlights complete with a Mugen aftermarket front bumper, I was reminded at how far away the 1990s suddenly feel.
Craig’s car has a few mods, as any Japanese survivor of the time would. The car is also tiny as hell sitting there next to me. Either I’ve grown enormous since I was a teen, or compact cars have grown abnormally large. Maybe it’s both. The new Civic Type R is a crossover next to this.
Walking alongside the thing, I spotted the classic Integra double concave dashboard through the passenger window. This Type R was telling me bad things would happen if I drove it. And I wasn’t sure if I was turned on by that or scared shitless. All I knew is that I want to take it for a spin.
I squeezed my way into the cramped interior and into the red stitched GS-R sport bucket seats. North American Type R’s never got Japan’s bitchin’ Recaros. I was sitting low to the ground, my knees to my elbows. I peeked over the aftermarket steering wheel, also Mugen, and spotted the renowned Type R tachometer. It reads 10,000 RPM. I’d only seen those numbers on a motorcycle’s gauge cluster before.
I started the Honda engine. Like in your mom’s Accord, it doesn’t hesitate to fire up. The clacking valves are a familiar sound. There’s very little noise insulation in there, so the engine felt like it was sitting in my lap.
Still, at this point, nothing told me it can scream as loud as a Ferrari V8.
I pressed the clutch. It was heavy, mechanical. This is a rod-actuated transmission, so I can actually feel and hear the cog being moved in the gearbox - click - because I’m the one who just pushed it in, not a computer or some cable.
I lifted off my left foot, the clutch bite is low. The throttle pedal was hyper sensitive. Off I went, in one of the coolest Hondas ever built.
Not many. The car feels sort of cheap inside, but that’s mostly due to the excessive weight reduction treatment and because I’m used to driving new, quieter, more refined cars. By comparison this feels like a tin can.
It’s very noisy, and everything rattles; Craig’s aftermarket suspension and rollcage definitely don’t help.
Infamously, there’s also very little actual low-end torque, so you always need to rev it out to get any kind of hill-climbing or overtaking going on. That can get annoying fast.
Yes, the loudness and bouncing around is irritating. But the car also gets bad gas mileage, because of the way it’s geared. It revs at like 3,800 rpm during highway cruising.
And no, it won’t baby. The rear seat is cramped, and in Craig’s case, nonexistent. The car does have a fairly large trunk hatch, so I guess you can throw a hockey pouch back there. But it isn’t a very practical car.
But the real problem with this ITR, for casual driving at least, is the amount of attention it gets. And not just from enthusiasts, but also from the police.
Despite its age, driving an Integra Type R is exactly the same as if you were carrying a few kilos of cocaine in your car. Let’s face it, any car with a huge wing hanging out the back and red “R” stickers plastered all over it is bound to be the ultimate cop magnet.
Everyone also wants to steal it. Or race it. And because it’s so rare, everywhere you drive a Type R, you’ll be paranoid about idiots scratching or breaking or, yes, stealing it.
Everything you heard is true. The car is visceral and alive. It’s not for amateurs. VTEC hits at around 5,500 RPM. When that happens, there’s an instant kick of power, as if a second engine just joined the party.
This is where life begins in the Type R. As the revs keep climbing, the four-pot shrieks and yelps, louder and louder. With 2,000 RPM left to go, the engine continues to pull strong. Through an audible blare, as the tach needle approached redline, I grabbed the shifter for another gear, until Craig barked “Hold it till nine!” from the passenger seat.
This sounded insane, this car was obviously not stock, but I did as I was told.
At this point, the 1.8-liter was wailing like a super bike. It’s pushing out all 195 of its available ponies through the drivetrain—yet everything was beautifully held together with precision, as if the engine was telling me, “Don’t worry man, I got this.”
I lifted off, dropped the clutch, and shoved in another gear. The five-speed shifter is the reason the awful “rifle bolt precise” autowriter cliché even exists. I blipped the instantaneously quick throttle with a jab of my right foot—bwaap—and all hell broke loose again. The car just wrapped it all up. I’m in love.
As I merged in front of a few crossovers to hit the next highway exit, I could feel everyone behind hated my guts and were judging my car. I felt like a total dick, but I didn’t care. That’s what this car is for—to piss people off. Giant-slaying doesn’t often make you friends.
The Integra is nimble and light, the steering is twitchy, it quickly reacts to the slightest inputs. I felt totally in control as the limited-slip differential allows me to throttle out of the curve, almost as if the car were rear-wheel-drive.
At that moment I felt ready to dogfight Skylines on the track myself.
The cheapest Integra Type R I could find was on eBay with a starting bid of $15,000. Because of their rarity and historical significance, expect owners to typically want to hold on to their cars, or ask ridiculous prices for them.
If you own an original Integra Type R, keep it. This thing is very much a future classic.
At the moment, clean, low mileage Type R’s tend to hang around the $30,000-$35,000 range. Some will even go for $40,000. Be careful of converted GS-R’s.
Like the NSX, the Acura Integra Type R is currently a kickass automotive investment, so no matter how much you pay for yours, it’s probably a good value.
The Acura Integra Type R lives up to its legend, even today. It’s fast, telepathic, and exhilarating in all the ways new sport compact cars aren’t, which says a lot about where our automotive industry has landed 20 years later.
Next to this, today’s cars feel soft and diluted. Many of them try so hard to please everyone that they lost their true identity along the way. The Integra Type R never apologized for what it was. If you find it too loud, it only screams louder. If you’re fed up with the way it bounces you around, just deal with it. This car starts making power when the others ask for a break.
While I’m eager to get behind the wheel of the upcoming and presumably very competent Civic Type R, I fear Honda will fail at delivering this sense of euphoria. Sadly, we’ll need to turn to past to relive this experience.
I guess I can always call Craig if I feel nostalgic.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com.