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Retro drive: Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.

Retro drive: Honda Integra Type R (DC2)
Is this really the best front-wheel-drive performance car in history...?


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Honda Integra Type R (DC2)

5 5 5 5 5

For: it is everything you've read about it, and a little bit more besides

Against: UK-spec models have fussy quad headlights and slightly less power

What is it?

A Honda Integra Type R, DC2, UK specification. Quite an intoxicating combination, as the 'ITR' - as it's known - is something of a legend. It featured a high-revving (7,900rpm peak power, 8,500rpm redline, 9,000rpm rev-limiter and 10,000rpm on the clock) 1.8-litre VTEC engine that went under the codename 'B18C Spec-R'. Ported, polished, treated to uprated pistons, conrods, intake valves and a larger throttle body, and hand-assembled with its famous red-top cam cover, this raucous four-cylinder engine was a serious piece of kit.

As was the rest of the car. The motor was mated to a five-speed, close-ratio manual gearbox, which drove the front wheels by way of a torque-sensitive, helical limited-slip differential. Weight was stripped out of all corners of the ITR, most notably in the sound-deadening department, while the suspension and bodyshell were given a good going-over - the structure was reinforced, strut braces and stiffer bushes were bolted in, and the car was lowered 15mm compared to any other Integra.

Why are you driving it?

It was part of a Honda Heritage event in Barcelona, featuring ten varied models from the Japanese manufacturer's back catalogue. And it looked like the Integra was, even in this most exalted company, going to be the most exciting of the lot. What with its Championship White bodywork and alloys, and that hooped spoiler, and the red Recaro bucket seats in the interior, and the promise of high-revs fireworks...

It's also representative of many types of cars that are dying, or already extinct, breeds: front-wheel-drive affordable coupes; naturally-aspirated screamers; cars that are stripped of bulk; fast machines which have absolutely no concession to the environment. This thing coalesces all of the above into one 1990s package, making its allure almost impossible to resist. So, did it drive well, or was it a let-down?

Is it any good these days?

Oh, good grief, yes. In fact, it'd still show up most of the stuff that we think is brilliant in 2018, because it has that singular focus of intent that marks out the truly great cars from the merely very, very good ones.

At very low revs, the Honda feels gutless and sounds grumbly, but as soon as you're clambering past 3,000rpm on the tacho, the B18C (and, by extension, the whole car) comes alive. Such is the 'Teg's lightness that its thin peak torque of just 178Nm isn't an issue - you can short-shift the Honda at 5,000rpm, without even entering VTEC, and it will be decently brisk. However, you don't want to do that. You want to wring its neck to 9,000rpm and hear that metallic, four-pot yowl as it engages its spikier camshaft at 6,000rpm and rips out to its redline in a frenzy of wonderful revs.

Do so, and the Honda becomes not just 'decently brisk', but actually 'pretty bloody fast'. Barrelling up through the gears in one of the slickest-shifting, most beautifully-machined manual transmissions in the world - complete with its glorious little titanium teardrop of a shift knob - you'll have a ball extending the ITR right out to the redline, while it's equally as good at shedding speed, heel-and-toe being something of a doddle in a vehicle with a throttle and flywheel combination as razor-sharp as this.

In the corners, it's a case of 'pick your line at will'. Charge in hot and lift the throttle abruptly, and the Honda will segue into neat, controllable oversteer. Get on the power nice and early and the Torsen diff has no problem apportioning 178Nm out in the smoothest possible manner, giving the Integra otherworldly traction for a front-driver. Keep it clean and load the outside tyres up to juuuuuust about the slipping point, and the ITR will show you precisely what 'mechanical grip' really means. It's sublime. It's majestic. It's as close to a faultless on-road driving display as you could wish to get. From any car, never mind a front-driven old Honda with sub-200hp.

Is it a genuine classic, or just some mildly interesting old biffer?

Well, what do you think? It's a genuine, cast-iron classic. Drive the ITR DC2 on the most thrilling roads and it should reward you to such a degree that you will not once wish you were driving something else instead. Even better, values seemed to have bottomed out in recent years and ITR prices are on the climb. It's a slow and sure process, but it should mean that investing in one now will see you reaping the financial rewards in years to come.

But don't buy the ITR as an investment piece. Buy it because it's chuffing bloody brilliant. Buy it because you still want to go out for a drive on a given Sunday, no destination necessary. Buy it because you can't get anything remotely like it in 2018. Buy it because it genuinely might be the best front-wheel-drive car ever built, and also because it might be one of the greatest performance cars - of any ilk - that has yet been constructed. Magnificent.

The numbers

Model tested: Honda Integra Type R (DC2, UK-specification)
Price: when new in 1998, 20,345 (circa 34,000, inflation-adjusted for 2018); good used examples starting from 8,000-10,000 at the time of writing
Build period: 1995-2001
Build numbers: exact build numbers unconfirmed - 3,822 sold in USA, 641 in Australia, 29,995 in Japan, 250 in Canada and 1,596 in UK; circa 36,304 globally, excluding other markets to those mentioned
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder VTEC petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive with Torsen helical limited-slip diff, five-speed close-ratio manual
Body style: two-door coupe
Combined economy: 32.1mpg
Top speed: 145mph
0-62mph: 6.7 seconds
Power: 190hp at 7,900rpm
Torque: 178Nm at 7,300rpm

Matt Robinson - 12 Aug 2018    - Honda road tests
- Honda news
- Integra Type R images

2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.

2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.2001 Honda Integra Type R (DC2). Image by Honda.


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