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1997 Acura Integra Type R

  • Driver

Some critics (who, me?) complain that Japanese cars have no

character.

Hey now: say hello to the Acura Integra Type R.

From its beady-eyed front end, to the World Sports-Car-like

profile, to the insane rear deck spoiler, to an engine whose

torque peak looks like the Matterhorn well, you can say a lot

of things about this coupe, but "it lacks character" isn't one

of them.

To create the Type R, Acura started with the already-hot

Integra GSR.

Then it followed the race-preparation strategy: make it go

faster, handle better, stop quicker; make the body stiffer,

weigh less and look cooler.

The Type R's creators dialled the most outrageous mechanical

bits into the 1.8-litre, four-cylinder VTEC engine, which sports

twin cams and 16 valves.

You get high-compression (10.6:1) pistons; hand-finished

intake and exhaust ports; hand-assembled connecting rods;

highlift cams; lighter valves; wilder timing.

The result: an astonishing 195 horsepower, 25 more than the

GSR, at an equally astonishing 8,000 r.p.m.

That torque peak? Try 130 poundfeet at an — here's that word

again — astonishing 7,500 r.p.m.

Without looking it up on the Internet (yes, I can so do that

now), I think this is the highest specific output (horsepower

per litre of displacement) of any naturally aspirated (i.e.,

non-turbo, non-supercharged) engine you can buy for the street.

This urge is fed via a torque-sensitive limited-slip

differential to the front wheels by a five-speed gearbox which,

if it isn't the absolute best I've ever tried, is certainly in

the top three and clearly the best in a front-wheel driver.

Short, crisp throws, light action, perfect precision. The quick

yet light-weight clutch helps, too.

All Integras start with sophisticated double wishbone

suspension front and rear. The Type R spring rates have been

increased moderately, the damping radically.

Sway bars are thicker, and the front one is located by ball

joints rather than the less precise rubber bushings.

The most critical part of any suspension package is tires. The

Type R's Bridgestone Potenza RE010s, of relatively modest

195/55R15 dimension, provide excellent grip even on the wet

pavement that, sadly, afflicted much of my test period.

Larger brakes are managed by a revised anti-lock system,

which, unlike Honda's usual fare, doesn't give up the moment you

glance sideways at the brake pedal. The seatbelt will be

pressing stoutly on your breastbone before it starts to pulse.

All the chassis magic in the world is wasted if the body is

flaccid. Under the hood, a handsome aluminum bar connects the

tops of the front struts, a necessary evil in a light-weight

front-drive car unless you want random variations in camber

during hard cornering.

Less obvious is a reinforcing bar on the rear trunk wall an

odd place for such a thing; I can only assume they discovered

some flexing back there plus other stiffeners throughout the

body.

Despite the added metal, the Type R is 42 kg lighter than the

GSR, thanks to the pruning of non-essentials like sunroof,

vanity mirrors, cruise control and some sound insulation.

Air conditioning is an option, although power windows, mirrors

and locks remain standard.

On the outside, you can't miss the wicked rear spoiler that

can hide a Kenworth truck at 100 paces. You can't see anything

out the back anyway, so maybe that's why they dropped the rear

window wiper, although Acura claims it's part of the weight-loss

regimen. (Bad idea, guys put it back in.)

The Type R is offered in only one colour, which Honda calls

Championship White, to commemorate the company's first Formula

One race victory (Richie Ginther, Mexico, 1965).

Inside, the car stays with Honda's imitation-German

black-and-charcoal colour scheme. Deeply contoured sport seats in a

lovely, tough-looking and very grippy cloth upholstery are

accented by red stitching. You also get carbon fibrelike trim

bits, logo-embossed floor mats, a serial number plate on the

centre console and leather-trimmed shift knob and steering

wheel.

If you belong to the quart-from-a-pint-pot school, the Integra

Type R is your car. I generally favour the large-displacement

engine concept: better performance, less cost, less fuss. But if

you have a millilitre of enthusiast blood in your veins, you're

going to find this car a screech to drive.

Hit 6,100 r.p.m. and the VTEC opens the valves according to a

new cam profile. It's like somebody welded on two more

cylinders. The exhaust note gets harder, more metallic, and the

car leaps forward with added urgency.

The red stripes on the tach start at 8,200 r.p.m., and you get

there in a fine hurry. Catch the next gear, the engine drops

precisely back to 6,100 r.p.m., the entrance to the VTEC zone,

and your rocket ride continues.

The rev limiter rains on the parade at 8,500 r.p.m., or so I'm

told even professional drivers should not try this at home.

Problem: by the time you've redlined in second gear, you're

already breaking every speed limit in the land. There aren't a

lot of places where you can utilize this car's potential while

keeping both your licence and the fenders in good shape.

While you don't get the best out of the engine unless you rev

it, it's not totally comatose under six grand.

And it has amazing flexibility. Wide-open throttle, fifth

gear, 1,600 r.p.m.: smooth, no shudder, no shake. Young

enthusiasts who have only driven fuel-injected cars can't

appreciate this. Try it in a car with a multiWeber carburetor

setup some day, and you'll see what I mean.

There is a hint of throttle tipin bobble: rocking back and

forth in city driving when you get on and off the gas. It is

exacerbated by the aircon clicking itself on and off, but it's

never a serious problem.

One hundred km/h translates into 3,400 r.p.m. in top gear. The

raucous exhaust note and the reduced sound insulation mean the

Type R might not be your first choice for a cross-country jaunt.

The handling isn't quite as sharp-edged as the engine, but it

certainly gets around corners well. The steering is light, yet

direct.

The ride is surprisingly comfortable. Firm, true, but never

harsh. It handles bumps big and small with aplomb. Some

boyracer hooligans, for whom the Integra has displaced the VW

Golf GTI as the freeway-intimidator vehicle of choice and who

give sporty driving a bad name, may actually find it a bit too

soft.

The Type R label is being used by Honda/Acura the way BMW uses

M, as in M3 — a subbrand, designed to reflect and advertise the

company's motorsport heritage.

And who has a greater right? How many F1 or IndyCar

championship races has BMW won lately?

Honda has also launched a 180 horsepower Civic Type R in Japan

and Europe; it is being considered for North American sale, too.

I can't wait.

If you're a weekend slalom racer, or want to pretend you're in

the Le Mans 24 hour race on the way to work, the Integra Type R

is your ride.

It will only appeal to a select few, but that's the point.

Only 190 or so of these are being imported to Canada, so you

won't see yourself coming down the street every day.

The Integra Type R may not be quite as good a car as the BMW

M3, which many car freaks me, anyway rate as the best

all-rounder you can buy.

But it's way more than half as good for about half as much

money ($30,000). If grins per dollar is your sports car

criterion, the Integra Type R takes some beating.

Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on

driving experiences with a vehicle provided by the automaker.

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