Fans are talking about the 2017 Honda Civic Type R like it’s the second coming of Jesus, or at the very least, Honda itself. This is partially because so many test pilots have heaped praise on it, but also because it’s only the second Honda to earn a “Type R” badge that’s made it to America. We went back to the first, the Integra Type R, to see how far the R has come.
(Full Disclosure: Honda provided the Civic Type R for this video. SW2 Heritage Cars, a small SoCal automobile broker, provided the Integra Type R and its proprietor wanted me to tell you he “focuses on the sale and facilitation of factory original, unmodified, low-mileage Japanese sports cars.” He was a nice guy, so I’ll also disclose that the Acura is for sale.)
The 2017 Honda Civic Type R is as bad a beast as you hope it is. But a big part of this car’s magic is its pedigree. The Type R badge has only been worn by next-level sport compact cars, and here in the United States, it’s only been worn by one.
The Acura Integra Type R as we knew it stateside was sold in extremely limited quantities from 1997 when the Integra was refreshed here to 2001 when the “DC2” bodystyle was finally discontinued and replaced with what would be called the RSX in America. (There was a Type R version of that car in other markets, but we did not get it.)
Only about 3,000 Integra Type Rs were built for the U.S. market, and since 1999 was oddly skipped, that means an extremely small selection were ever available here as-new in total. And far fewer remain in decent shape today. (If you want to hunt for them, IntegraTypeR.org keeps a registry.)
I’m sorry to say our brief encounter with these two cars didn’t allow for track time or instrumented testing, so don’t get your hopes up for a scientific shoot-out. But driving both these incredible cars back-to-back does help us appreciate Honda heritage, how much things have changed in 20 years, and how legends get their start.
Doing It With The R
Today’s Civic Type R is the most expensive version of the car, with an MSRP of $33,900 and dealer markups pushing the price even higher, but it was never really meant to be consumed as its “top of the line.” A Type R is supposed to about purity; focus.
Historically, Honda Rs have been stripped-down raced-out fire-starters that answer the question: “Hey, what if we made this cute compact car as freaking fast as possible?” With the exception of the Japanese-market NSX Type Rs, I guess, which were never exactly humble commuters even if they were physically small.
These are high-strung Hondas, not Mercedes AMGs. They made be relatively modest in power, but Honda Rs are bred for driver involvement over everything, not high-speed luxury. Honda Rs are unforgiving, lean and extremely aggressive.
I’m happy to report that’s still the case with today’s U.S.-spec 2017 Civic R–the thing is rough in all the right ways, and true driver’s machine even if it doesn’t let you forget it’s front-wheel drive. Honda claims the car’s 2.0-liter turbocharged VTEC engine makes 306 horsepower and an impressive 295 lb-ft of torque, which starts coming on at just 2,500 RPM.
That in of itself is a huge step for Honda, which has traditionally turned out cars that need to be squeezed high into their rev ranges to make pulling power... cars like the Integra Type R.
The new Civic’s about 500 pounds heavier than the old Integra with a claimed curb weight of 3,117 pounds, but that’s really remarkably little bloating considering how much bigger and safer the Civic is.
Here in the United States, the Type R badge comes with an extra sprinkle of “special” because it’s been denied to us for so long. Before The Fast And The Furious, before AutoZone ever thought of stocking aluminum wings and enormous exhaust tips, we read and fantasized about the ’95 Integra Type R, ’97 Civic Type R and ’99 Accord Type R. Affordable compacts with supercar personalities, within reach, if only we lived on the other side of the oceans.
The only taste of Type R we ever got stateside was the ’97, ’98, ’00 and ‘’01 Integra Rs I talked about earlier. As it landed on American soil, the Integra was powered by a 1.8-liter naturally aspirated VTEC engine rated to an earth-shattering 195 HP. You had to kick the car all the way to 8,500 RPM to get the benefit of all that energy, and the engine topped out on torque at 130 lb-ft, but pushing this car toward its distant redline was part of the fun.
The Integra Type R was only available with a five-speed manual transmission and weighted in right around 2,600 pounds, and once ripped through an Edmunds slalom at what was described as a “scalding” and “stunning” 71.8 mph, bested only by exotics and the Corvette ZR1.
It’s still remembered as one of the fiercest front-drive vehicles ever cut lose on the road, and a lot of people want to claim it’s more hardcore and “pure” than today’s Civic Type R could ever be.
The Civic’s Most Significant Improvements
Where the old Integra had relatively subtle styling cues you had to be looking for to notice, the Civic slaps you in the face with an explosion of angles and bright accents that only intensify as you find your way into the driver’s seat.
Some will say this is a downgrade, but I’m inclined to disagree. The Civic Type R feels fast when it’s sitting static and that’s kind of the whole point. Get the Si if you want a reasonably snappy and unoffensive looking sport compact. The Type R tells the world it’s here to fuck shit up and that’s a pillar of its appeal.
Styling aside, the Civic’s real advantage over the Integra is its powerband. Its fat, juicy, delicious powerband. The Integra needs to be balanced like a bird on a wire between 6,000 RPM and its screaming 8,500 RPM redline to exhibit the over-caffeinated whiz-bang performance that earned the car its place in history.
Put your spurs in the Civic from almost anywhere above 3,000 RPM and it will happily storm ahead, then step back down to civilized speeds with just as much eagerness thanks to its massive Brembo brakes.
What I Still Miss About The Integra
Love for the DC2-era Integra is strong for me. A ’96 Integra LS was the first car I owned and in the brief months I had it, that thing taught me a lot about driving. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way and the little coupe was totaled the second time I crashed it.
But climbing back into the smooth and simple cockpit, which was almost identical in the Type R as it was to my old modest-model Integra, felt just as good as it did when I was a freshly-minted 16-year-old dreamer.
The car has aged well and its design still feels classy, inside and out. I doubt we’ll be saying that about the Civic in 20 years.
Even with its aggressive tune and red valve cover (worth 10 horsepower at least), the Integra Type R is downright docile at low and medium RPMs. Its primary advantage, from the standpoint of driving excitement, is how small and light it feels.
Compared to the sensation of sitting in the four-door Civic, driving the Integra almost feels like you’re sitting on it.
The directness, “oneness” with the car people are always prattling on about with this thing, are absolutely not overstated. Even if the Integra feels a little slow these days.
How Much Better Is The New Type R Really?
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, but 306 turbocharged HP hits even harder.
While the Integra Type R is a well-made car that’s a ton of fun to drive, the Civic Type R just blows its doors off while being easier to live with and feeling like just as much of a precision-instrument as the old R.
Some of the weight in the Civic’s steering may be artificial, and there’s a lot more traction control tech looking after you in the new car. But after driving both cars back to back I have to say that the Civic Type R really has ported all the best aspects of the Integra Type R without losing what made the OG special.
I’m stoked Honda’s running red badges again, and glad to be saying they still mean something.