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Retro Drive: Honda Accord Type R. Image by Honda.

Retro Drive: Honda Accord Type R
At the wheel of the ‘forgotten’ Type R, which absolutely does not deserve to be carelessly overlooked.


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Retro Drive: Honda Accord Type R

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: Mighty 2.2-litre engine, four cylinders rarely sound this good, limited-slip diff gives it classic Type R Honda FWD sharpness

Not so good: It doesn't feel quite as rapier-sharp as a contemporary CTR or ITR, gearing allows engine to drop out of VTEC on full-bore upshifts, seating position too high

Key Facts

Model tested: Honda Accord Type R
Price: Accord Type R used prices start from c.£5,000
Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder VTEC petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 229/km (VED £520 per annum)
Combined economy: 29.4mpg
Top speed: 142mph
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Power: 212hp at 7,200rpm
Torque: 215Nm at 6,700rpm

Our view:

For a performance brand that's only just gone past 25 years old, Honda's Type R has built up quite a reputation amongst the driving enthusiast fraternity. And it's done so over quite a narrow spread of models - chiefly, the Civic Type R (now on its fifth generation), the Integra Type R (two generations in 1995 and 2001) and the NSX Type R (again, two generations, in 1992 and 2002). And most of these weren't even available here in the UK: the original 'EK9' Civic Type R, either iteration of focused NSX, the second-gen Integra Type R, the absolutely blinding FD2 Civic Type R, which in Japan stood in for the striking-looking but not quite as dynamically talented FN2 (otherwise known as the CTR Mk3 here in the UK, and the last of the normally aspirated hot Civics)... all of these were denied to Hondamentalists in Europe.

However, there's one car missing from this list and, at first glance, it doesn't quite seem to fit the mould. Where all of the above were either coupes, hot hatchbacks or mid-engined supercars (OK, you could get Japanese domestic market ITR Mk1s as saloons, while that aforementioned FD2 CTR was also a saloon in Japan, using the four-door Civic Hybrid body), and therefore most Type Rs have been ostensibly sporty to fit in with the idea that the R stands for 'Racing', the exception to the rule was the Accord Type R. So weird a conflation of Honda's evergreen, pragmatic family saloon and the Type R legend was this thing that, in the company's native Japan, it wasn't even called a Type R - instead, the CL1 Euro R was the basis for this European model.

Indeed, the Type R is the solitary 'hot' model of Accord ever made, across ten generations of the saloon (we 'lost' the Accord here in Europe back in 2015, with the passing of the Mk8). But what a creation it was. Built from 1998-2002 using the Mk6 Accord as its basis, it used the 'H22A' red-top 2.2-litre VTEC engine, delivering what were, at the time, healthy outputs of 212hp at a giddy 7,200rpm and 215Nm. The latter of these didn't even hit until the rev counter was showing 6,700rpm and the ATR was well into the VTEC zone. So by today's turbocharged standards its performance delivery is what you might kindly term as 'peaky'.

But there was more of a steely focus to the ATR than merely a potent engine in a humdrum shell. Weight was stripped out of it so that it tipped the scales at just 1,306kg, while the rear bulkhead was reinforced with a high-pressure aluminium casting to hike up torsional rigidity by 40 per cent, compared to a regular Accord. A five-speed, close-ratio (more on this in a bit...) manual gearbox with a performance clutch drove the front wheels on an axle equipped with a helical Torsen limited-slip differential. A set of handsome 17-inch alloys hid 16-inch front, 14-inch rear discs that were fitted with high-friction, anti-fade pads. The ATR was equipped with a free-flowing exhaust system with spaced twin exits at the rear, an interior spruced up with some Alcantara front seats and a Momo steering wheel, and the (in the main) subtle body kit, which only loses the Honda full Q-car sleeper status courtesy of a huge, hooped spoiler perching on the Accord's bootlid.

It didn't sell, of course. Sitting in showrooms alongside the racier Civic Type R 'EP3' - the Breadvan, as it was affectionately known - and the official UK models of the DC2 Integra Type R, considered to be one of the finest front-wheel-drive performance cars ever bolted together by any manufacturer, the hotted-up repmobile didn't stand a chance in the eyes of punters. And so the ATR slipped out of production in 2002, following a modest facelift in 2001, and the formula was never repeated again.

Yet you overlook the Accord Type R at your peril. This represents one of the most fascinating and affordable ways into ownership of a hot Honda, and not only that but it remains a truly sublime steer in 2017. We'll bypass the interior, which is a classic example of how quickly car cabins move on. Not even the Momo wheel, comfy but a bit-too-squidgy bucket seats and a set of white dials make it feel particularly special, while the seating position is just too high and saloon-like to make the ATR portray a sporty air before you've turned the key in the ignition.

We love the looks, though. This car, belonging to Honda UK's heritage fleet, is a facelifted 2001 model in Milano Red and it is plainly gorgeous. It's so delicately proportioned, so neatly stanced atop its 17-inch wheels that thoroughly fill the arches, so achingly retro cool that you can't help but adore it. Pop the bonnet and the ATR also shows off its saucier side with an engine bay view that's tantamount to car porn; there's no boring sea of black plastic shielding to gaze upon here as you'd find in a modern car, instead the Honda rewarding with a bright red, 'DOHC VTEC'-emblazoned cam cover and its exhaust manifolds proudly on display. Ooh la la.

Put the bonnet back down, dab at your forehead with a handkerchief to regain your composure and then climb aboard to fire up the 2.2, and it churns into life with a rather industrial, anodyne grumble. You might be disappointed with that, but as soon as you get the ATR rolling, its machined, engineered genius starts to shine through. The throttle response is as crisp as you could possibly want, the gearlever snicks through its gate with a solid, precise action and the Honda rides with a fluency and comfort level that's quite astonishing for something wearing the red H badge. Without ever once passing 4,000rpm, it feels like a tight, well-sorted machine with plenty of performance in reserve and it also boasts a day-to-day civility that'll have you soon racking your brains to think of ways of funding the meagre £5,000 needed to bag a good one. Genuinely, on a motorway, the Accord Type R is more composed and capable than it has any right to be, especially with that high-revs torque figure.

But that's not what a Type R Honda is about, of course. Like any powerful VTEC, there's a schizophrenia to the Accord that means it's a totally different animal once the tacho needle swings past 5,800rpm. The engine note transforms from docile thrum to rabid snarl, and it just pulls so sweetly and cleanly out to its 7,500rpm redline that you soon forget the paucity of Newton metres in the middle of the rev range.

However, while the four-pot engine is a gem, it's that rapier front-end which dominates. With a Torsen diff, the Accord bites into corners eagerly and, thanks to that 215Nm not appearing until 6,700rpm, you can also get on the gas at the apex and not worry about push-on understeer or the wheels ripping you this way and that over any adverse cambers in the road. The suppleness in the Accord's old-school damping means it flows over uneven surfaces with a grace that many modern cars lack, and while we're not about to say it would keep a well-driven 2018 hot hatch honest, it's certainly a lot quicker across ground than you'd ever give it credit for, looking at the 7.5-second 0-62mph time.

What's more crucial, though, is not that the ATR is the fastest thing in the world nor the most rock-solid in the corners; it's that it engages its driver across a wide range of speeds, proving an entertaining vehicle whether you're working it as hard as possible through VTEC in each and every gear or not. Even the brakes, normally a weak spot on older cars, stand up to the rigours of rapid driving on the roads and its general lack of mass makes the Accord nimble, lithe and poised. As sporting saloons pre-2010 go, it's exquisite.

If there's one black mark on the ATR's kinematic record, it's the gearbox. No, not the action; that's marvellous and the titanium shift knob in the cabin is ergonomically superb, even if it is very cold to the touch in the depths of winter. Instead, it's where the rev counter falls to when you upshift as close to the redline as possible. Honda usually gears its Type Rs to stay in VTEC if you do this sort of thing, but despite being tagged as close-ratio, the Accord's five-speed transmission is necessarily longer than the six-speed items fitted to some other Type Rs, meaning it drops out of VTEC when you go up a cog. Not a major deal-breaker but, if you've driven something non-Type R but decently quick - like an S2000 - then you'll know how much faster a Honda can feel when the spikier cam is permanently engaged in each and every gear. It's occasionally frustrating to hear the H22A singing its glorious VTEC melody, only to bang in an upshift and then wait for 5,800rpm to hit again.

That's a minor gripe, though. And our love for the ATR is strong, mainly for the lost performance car epoch that it represents. Like so many sub-brands and out-and-out automotive marques, Type R is being forced into a change by emissions laws and customer demands, and - in the case of this particular lineage - it's a paradigm shift. Don't misconstrue us; the current, turbocharged Civic Type R is a truly storming machine, possibly the greatest hot hatchback on sale right now -amidst a cosmos of glittering talent in this particular market sector - and it's a resolutely healthy new breed of Type R, one with loads of midrange muscle and a fabulous balance between comfortable cruiser in one driving mode and ferocious track monster in another.

But it never has that high-revs zing of an old normally aspirated Type R, never quite matches that feeling you get as a driver when you string it all together in one of these classic fast Hondas - when you're nailing the upshifts, and getting on the power as early as possible out of the corners, and standing on the brakes at the last possible minute, providing rev-matching blips of the throttle as you come down the snickety-snick 'box. They're hard work, old Type Rs, no doubt about it, and for some people, they are simply not compatible with their driving style. But if you like a bit of challenge to your back-road blast, then the ATR can provide it in spades.

So if you want a car from this bygone era of Honda performance, the Accord Type R might be the smartest investment of the lot. Prices are at rock bottom now, as the sort of investors and knowledgeable car types who'll ask you silly money for an eight-out-of-ten 1998 Integra Type R simply haven't got on board with the ATR, keeping values low. And, dynamically, aside from its too-widely-spaced ratios in the gearbox, this four-door Honda is a blinding steer. It handles with a zest and tenacity belying its age and front-drive status, and it can also operate as a pliant, amenable everyday motor for the vast majority of times when you can't mercilessly thrash it. In short, it has a cult, cool status that other, more feted Type Rs - the NSX models perhaps excepted - just do not have. And that's why we absolutely love it: the forgotten Type R it may be, but the Accord remains a shining example of this Japanese company's blazing engineering brilliance.

Matt Robinson - 14 Dec 2017    - Honda road tests
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2001 Honda Accord Type R retro drive. Image by Honda.2001 Honda Accord Type R retro drive. Image by Honda.2001 Honda Accord Type R retro drive. Image by Honda.2001 Honda Accord Type R retro drive. Image by Honda.2001 Honda Accord Type R retro drive. Image by Honda.

2001 Honda Accord Type R retro drive. Image by Honda.2001 Honda Accord Type R retro drive. Image by Honda.2001 Honda Accord Type R retro drive. Image by Honda.2001 Honda Accord Type R retro drive. Image by Honda.2001 Honda Accord Type R retro drive. Image by Honda.


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