2001 Acura Integra Type R
195-hp, 1.8-liter I-4
Five-speed manual transmission
MSRP: $24,450 (2001)
Wait. You spent a week with an Integra Type R? That’s awesome.
No. I spent the better part of three days with one. One of those days was at Road America, in September, where I drove an Integra Type R on the track, in dry and rain, with a bunch of other ITRs. Also with some NSXs.
Hey! It says WEEK WITH A CAR up there. False advertising! I wanted to read about a week with a Type R!
Well, I mean, this whole Week With a Car thing I started seems to be doing well here. A brand is a brand, I guess? And ITRs are cool enough that it seemed worth fudging. Partly because the WWAC layout is easy to read and fun to write. Partly because it seems to work. And partly because it lets me engage in extensive dialogue with the voices in my head. The joy of which cannot be overstated.
I can’t decide if this is lazy or brilliant.
I feel like we need to make up a new word for that. The intersection of both. Lilliant. Brazy. Braz . . . illian? No, wait, that doesn’t work.
Speaking of wait . . . This isn’t 1997. How the hell did you end up on track with a bunch of other ITRs?
This wonderful event called Type R Expo. Which used to be called Integra Type R Expo, before they opened the doors to other fast Hondas. Which was a good thing to do, because fast Hondas are great. The Expo takes place at the same time as the fantastic, traveling, cleverly named NSXpo. Which is, as you’d expect, an event for NSXs.
But that’s semantics. The whole thing is really just a bunch of Honda/Acura people getting together to drive the hell out of their cars, look at their cars, have fun around their cars, do neat things related to their cars. Listen to VTEC kicking in, etcetera, yo, and so forth. The event’s location changes every year; 2017 was Road America. 2016 was Orlando, with track time at Sebring. 2015 was Palm Springs, with track time at Thermal Club.
You should go. Everyone was friendly. The cars were fantastic. It’s great.
And somebody just gave you their old Acura for this thing?
It’s my car! Although it wasn’t mine then. At the time, it belonged to Colin Comer, the Milwaukee-based R&T contributor who wrote this. It’s yellow, a 2001. But, confusingly, not the yellow 2001 in that story. That car has 4500 miles on it. Mine looks identical but has 125,000 on the clock. Colin bought it last year, from the original owner, a nice Midwestern lady who used it as primary transportation for a decade and a half.
Yeah. The back story is fun: Fall of 2015, Colin wrote that story I linked to. It’s a buyer’s guide of sorts. Weeks later, he gets an email from said nice lady asking if he wants to buy her car. She said he sounded like a good home for it. They’d never met; she just read the story, dug up his email, and dropped a note. Back in 2001, she waltzed into an Acura dealer. She had no idea what a Type R was. They wouldn’t let her test drive the car, but she liked it, so she bought it. She drove off with the yellow thing because “it was cute.”
You read correctly.
An 8400-rpm, 1.8-liter, homologation-special track Honda with almost no sound deadening. Widely agreed to be the best-handling front-drive car in history. A chassis dialed in by the same man who did the S2000 and NSX.
Shigeru Uehara. Chief engineer for those cars, and the ITR. One of the titans of Japanese performance. Liked his cars daringly neutral–understeer or oversteer if you want it, but if you’re not sharp, it’ll bite you. (You know how early S2000s have a rep for ending up backwards off the road? That.)
I met Uehara once, at the American-market launch of the S2000 Club Racer, at Mid-Ohio. The Club Racer—a.k.a. CR—was the last car he worked on. Focused, lighter. No convertible top, just a hardtop, to save weight. Quicker steering rack, significantly more spring and bar and damper, extra body bracing, aero changes. Just 699 sold for the 2008 and 2009 model years. Factory scuttlebutt held that the CR project was essentially the company’s gift to Uehara at the end of his career. When he retired, he had spent more than three decades helping engineer some of Honda’s greatest fast cars.
Sounds like a good dude.
I had lunch with him in the paddock at Mid-O. He spoke softly, through an interpreter, and laughed every time I told him how much I loved the CR, which was often. In a telling bit of humility, he said, with no small amount of grace, that the CR was his gift to Honda. A thank-you for letting him have such great years at the company. I forgot to ask him what it was like to be friends with Ayrton Senna. (He was.)
Quick side-track: The CR is this legendary thing. What was that like?
Oh, hell. One of the all-time greats. They had a line of base S2000s there, next to a handful of CRs. Driving them back to back—especially at Mid-Ohio, one of the great testing tracks—was wonderful. The base car was fun, fine, roly-poly. Knifed into corners but felt generally soft; had a little entry and mid-corner understeer unless you trimmed it with the brake pedal. (Note: This was the AP2-generation S2000. Not the AP1, the first-gen car, more glorious in balance but known for putting doofuses in ditches.)
Boring answer. I don’t care about understeer. Car-nerd talk; shut up.
Fine. You want hyperbole? Hyperbole is more fun anyway. The base S2000 was a razor. The CR was distilled Uehara, a track special, a razor with a bunch of razors glued on top. People complained because it rode harshly. Countless road-testers didn’t drive it right and called it a plowy pig in corners. I once worked at a magazine where a well-respected editor type said the car was “too loud, too hot, too brutal” to be loved.
I loved it anyway. If I had the world’s largest garage, I’d buy one tomorrow.
That headline at the top of this page . . . we should really get back to the ITR.
Eh, it’s related, because it’s Uehara. The man’s legacy is important. The stuff he built is tied together.
So the Integra Type R is basically the S2000 CR vibe plus . . . Front-wheel drive?
Ding ding ding!
And a lot of hype. Everyone says the thing is good. Best this and that. Honda’s last great whatever. The car to end all front-drive cars. It can’t possibly be that good.
Perhaps. The S2000 CR plus a little more aggression. Uehara once said the S2000 CR sat between the S2000 Type S and a “hypothetical” S2000 Type R. Type R Hondas are basically the nuttiest thing they offer. The R stands for “Racing,” because someone, somewhere, was once not very creative. (At least it’s obvious.)
Until the arrival of the 2018 Civic Type R, the Integra was the only Type R Honda to be officially sold in the United States. It was built as a homologation special and saw massive success pretty much anywhere it was legal to be raced. It dominated Speedvision World Challenge racing, among other things.
First of all, read this. The factory tech guide on the car. It’s great. But other neat bits:
A relatively long stroke and high redline—8400 rpm in the American market—meant that the Integra Type R’s pistons were capable of extraordinary speed. In 1996, Honda said the car’s peak piston speed was higher than that of the company’s championship-winning Formula 1 engines. (This, for the record, is what Honda used to be good at. Now everything is turbocharged, and outputs are up, and rev limits are lower, and engines don’t sound as nice or offer as much feedback, and we’re supposed to be happy, I guess?)
Peak power came at 8000 rpm, but the car held a 10,000-rpm tach. Even today, that number is rare on a dashboard. It looks the business.
The intake and exhaust ports were hand-polished at the factory. This supposedly limited production volume, because the polishing took time not normally included in Honda’s assembly-line engine production.
In 1996, when the 1997 ITR was launched, the car had a greater specific output—more horsepower produced for every liter of displacement—than any other naturally aspirated car on the market. This includes the 1994–1999 Ferrari F355, a fact referenced by virtually every story written about the car since. And you can’t blame the authors of said stories, because it’s a neat reference. One of the all-time cool Ferraris! A Honda! More ponies per inch! How cool is that?
The ITR was built on the bones of the relatively ordinary Integra GS-R. It had a lot of factory-deleted bits, for reduced mass, including vanity mirrors, cruise control, air-conditioning, sunroof, cockpit sound-deadening, rear-window washer. Some mass was added back in through strategic chassis-reinforcing welds and strategically placed thicker steel. Next to the GS-R, which produced 170 hp at 7600 rpm, the Type R got neat tricks like lighter valves, a new intake manifold, a new header, new forged connecting rods, and new moly-coated pistons. Plus a helical limited-slip differential.
It weighs 2560 pounds. Roughly as much as a 2005–2015 Mazda Miata. While making the power of a first-generation BMW M3.
But . . . the ITR doesn’t make any torque! Front-drive cars don’t turn! They drive themselves! Honda-bro stereotype!
You are incorrect about a lot of things.
Okay, yes, fine, there isn’t much torque. The ITR makes its peak grunt, 130 lb-ft, at 7500 rpm. A new Miata makes more than that. At low rpm, the Acura could be out-grunted by a hamster on a wheel. A small hamster. Perhaps with a few legs missing. Even in the Nineties, it was not a torquey car. Every last bit of the car’s speed is made above 6500 rpm.
What about that turning thing? Front-drive cars don’t turn, or slide, or something. Reddit told me so.
This is hogwash. Front-drive cars turn fine if they’re set up properly. You have to use the brakes right, and you have to never let off the throttle, except when you sometimes really let off the throttle to make the thing swing taillights. Big spring rate and a lot of rear roll stiffness helps.
The ITR, predictably, has a lot of spring rate and a lot of rear roll stiffness. It rained during the Type R Expo. Started off as a drizzle and then mutated into something else. The paddock got a bit wet, but the weather on the back half of the track was relentless. A rat-drowner. I was lapping the yellow car at the time. The track emptied.
I love rain, so I kept lapping. The Integra was hilariously, wonderfully loose. Castering through corners. We drive a lot of fast cars around here—hundreds every year. I can’t remember the last time I met something so driftable, but also so friendly, with driven front wheels. And it does this in the dry, too, if you treat it right.
Everyone says the ITR is a front-drive version of BMW’s 1988–1991 E30 M3.
That’s not far from the truth. Both have high-strung four-cylinders, nice weight distribution, a focus on feedback. I’ve owned three E30 M3s, driven many more, and loved them all. (Highlight: Group A FIA race car. One of the best things on earth.) The Type R has the same hell-for-leather vibe, minus the E30 M3’s, uh, leather. And rear-drive personality.
Both cars don’t really wake until you drive the snot out of them. Both have been long maligned by torque monkeys who don’t understand subtlety and neat detail. Both are rare among modernish cars, in that they require delicacy at the controls, but they only show their magic when whaled on relentlessly.
You can probably get this one. Take a guess.
This feels like a setup.
(It’s the S2000. To which half of you reading will now go, “Ohhhhhhhh,” and the other half will go, “Um, duh.”)
That was definitely a setup.
Mama Smith didn’t raise no journalist fools. (Well, she raised one kid dumb enough to go into journalism, instead of chasing a real paycheck in something like medicine or lawyering, and who was thus something of a fool, but that’s beside the point.)
This happy little ball of front-drive madness is presumably no longer cheap.
Sort of. Going rate for a decent, unmodified example with real mileage is $20,000–$30,000. Low-mile garage queens start just above that range and go into the stratosphere. Everyone wants a first-year car—a 1997 model, which only came in Honda’s traditional track color, Championship White. Those command a premium no matter their condition.
Which is both nice and a little sad; five years ago, you could still buy a nice, unmodified, low-mile 1997 ITR for $15,000.
Smith’s Prime Law of Buying Neat Cars: If you buy at the right time you don’t have to pay a lot for a good example of anything.
Corollary to Smith’s Prime Law of Buying Neat Cars: Most people are not smart enough to buy a good anything at the right time. (This includes your author.)
The bigger problem is finding a good stock one that hasn’t been screwed with. But ITRs are easily stolen. They’re easily modified. An Acura Integra is basically a same-vintage Honda Civic, so the engines and neat Type R speed parts get boosted to put on Civics. That tail-happy handling occasionally sees people into ditches. An unlike the E30 M3, the ITR has spent much of its life to date at a reasonable price point, with low maintenance cost. So people were inclined to drive them into the ground.
On top of this, they didn’t make many ITRs to begin with. Just 3850 examples were built for the U.S. market, from 1997–1998, and 2000–2001. That’s fewer than an American-market E30 M3 (5115 cars for America), and far fewer than the first-generation NSX (8997 examples sold in the United States). Consider how often you see either of those on the road.
Speaking of Civic: Anything in common with the 2018 Civic Type R?
Not really. Mostly just the focus at the limit. The CTR is fine and quick and communicative, but it’s also turbocharged, far more complex, and somewhat heavy for its footprint. The cockpit is quieter. The CTR is generally grippier and more potent, but it doesn’t feel as sharp at any speed. It really only comes alive when you rail on it.
Limit handling balance is similar in philosophy, though. Not quite as magical, but still rare and extremely focused. No other new front-drive car turns like that over curbs and apexes, or is as composed at the limit. The first time I tracked a CTR, I was too tidy and cautious with it. I had to back up and remind myself to use its strengths. At which point the car began to glow.
So you convinced your friend to sell you his ITR, huh?
I did. I may have been moderately annoying about it. I may have also begged a little. (But quietly, with dignity.) He relented. (But quietly, with dignity.) Possibly because he is a nice guy. Possibly because he knew I would give him first right of refusal if I ever sold it.
I mean, I forgot to tell you one thing: I had never driven an ITR before. I only knew the hype.
It is exactly as good as the hype.