Honda's Firecracker- Honda Integra Type R (DC2)

Car Specifications
Engine: 
1797cc, 16-valves
Cylinder Layout: 
In-line 4-cylinder
Top Speed: 
approx. 180km/h
Transmission: 
5-speed Manual
0-100km/h: 
approx. 6.5 seconds
Power: 
200bhp at 8000rpm
Torque: 
181Nm at 7800rpm

It was curious to see what Honda was planning as a counter measure to the remarkable success of the Subaru WRX. Honda, a company that prides itself in engine technology, seemed for a time to concentrate too much on trying to satisfy the mass market with popular models like the Accord and Civic. However the company has seen a resurgence of its former self, the persona that helped it to seven consecutive Formula One championships and a string of Indy Car wins.

It has thankfully put aside the numerous findings of consumer clinics clamoring for more and more generic products. It has decided to follow its own instincts and go ahead with recent winners like the Odyssey and more recently the CR-V, notably model types already in existence but showing that the added Honda touch can still win over consumers. With the exception of the NSX, Honda has not produced anything as sporty as the WRX, not even the exceptional Civic SiR could match the all conquering prowess of the WRX.

Perhaps it was in this light that the engineers sat down one Saturday afternoon after all the work had been done and discussed what Honda has been missing all this time while it focussed on the daily chores of mass production.

A small but dedicated team had already worked on the NSX, strengthening, lightening the Aluminum chassis and blueprinting the V6 engine. The product of the task force was called the NSX Type R. The thinking behind this limited production model is not unlike that of the Porsche 911 RS.

However these two products place the price well out of reach of mere mortals. Perhaps Honda could do the same with one of their more affordable models and at the same time address the WRX entity.

Type R which incidentally if you have not already figured out stands for Racing and the white the car is painted with is Honda’s traditional racing white complete with red emblems and lettering. So it was decided that team Type R would begin with the Integra platform and it’s already high-powered 1.8-litre VTEC engine. As you read this, Type R projects would have included the Civic and perhaps in future, the Accord as well.

Like all good engineers, they first began work on the chassis. Two diametrically opposed requirements needed to be met, one of lightening and the other, strengthening. Well the first part was easy, the engineers merely deleted all that they thought was unnecessary weight. So out went the stereo, carpeting, soundproofing, air-conditioning, sunroof, airbags and front seats.

The next part was far more involved and could not be done by merely deleting or selecting options from the parts list. Thinner and therefore lighter glass was specified for the windshields. Chassis strengthening usually means adding and this means more weight. So more weight is jettisoned than is necessary in the beginning before beginning on the strengthening.

The Integra chassis is basically the same except for the use of high strength steels in strategic areas and increasing the number of welds. This unfortunately is one part that the aftermarket cannot duplicate and enhances the value of Type R bodies.

The other strengthening bits include cross bracing over the top of the front strut towers, the front cross members in front of the engine, the bottom mounting points of the rear suspension and the rear cross members nearest the tail of the body after the spare tyre which is of course a space saving one. The tyres and wheels also came under scrutiny so forged alloys were chosen and the tyres though not the lightest had to fulfill strict performance criteria.

After the strengthening is done, they reworked the suspension. Since comfort is not a high priority, the soft rubber bushings are done away with and very hard bushings are used to control the geometry to within small tolerances.

This also gives the chassis a response sharpness not unlike a racecar. Surprisingly for all those who have ever tinkered with nylon or Teflon bushings, you’ll find in the Type R a degree of comfort never before associated with this level of car preparation, perhaps even better than what the EVO IV and WRX STi can achieve.

Make no mistake about it, the suspension is set at stiff-hard and so too is damping but with Honda’s progressive valve technology, they have managed some comfort for the occupants that approaches the level in their NSX. The only difference here is the noise level which is a corollary of the missing sound damping material.

The Integra R is significantly noisier than the normal Integra but it is not unpleasant because it has much to do with the VTEC engine. The other source of noise however is less welcome, that of tyre roar. A set of super quiet Dunlop SP9000s will help but sacrifices outright grip and handling.

The tyres chosen for such an arduous tour of duty are a set of 195/55 VR 15, Bridgestone Potenza RE 010, incidentally the exact model chosen for the WRX Type R and EVO IV. These are really superb tyres for their given size and we believe price point as these are supplied as OE tyres to the manufacturers. The only drawback is the noise.

Otherwise their handling prowess is excellent. To use the tyres to the maximum of their ability, the FWD chassis of the Integra is tuned differently from the 4WD machines. Track based cars favour a distinct bias toward oversteer and more so in the case of a FWD car which has a natural tendency toward understeer.

The 4WD machines use their power to go neutral but in the Integra’s case, the car has to be powered into neutral as power off begets oversteer. With a helical type LSD the power can be utilized fully in the long sweepers and indeed the tight corners as well.

Usually a track tuned car suffers on the road but Honda uses Nurburgring as a test site and their cars are definitely set up for that track, which for all intents and purposes is a real-world road with off cambers bumps and elevation changes.

Most racing tracks are billiard-table smooth and cars set up for such tracks fail to impress on the road. Honda has tuned the Integra R with a high degree of rear roll stiffness which encourages oversteer. The rear centre of gravity is also higher at the back than the front also promoting oversteer.

Enter a corner near the limit and the car goes in with minimal understeer and as the corner is fully engaged the rears move out without provocation to gain a neutral stance. But this is a meta-stable state thanks to power because a mild dose of throttle is required to keep the car’s speed up. Back off and the tail goes wide immediately and predictably. This can be used to get through the tight, low speed corners which usually promote understeer in all cars.

In faster bends one can really get on the gas pedal and keep powering through, the amount of front-end push constantly negated by rear end drifting. This last technique is best kept for track use or roads where the entire corner and its exit are clearly visible because backing off at this extreme is going to result in a pretty big tail swing. To sum up the Integra R’s handling in a word- wow! This is a serious car for equally committed drivers.

The piece de resistance was left for last- the 1.8-litre VTEC engine. It is not merely a blueprinted Integra engine. Sure it uses the same block and head but many pieces are changed to achieve the 200 Bhp making this engine the king of normally aspirated production engines in terms of specific power outputs.

The camshaft has a different profile for the hot centre lobe; it lifts even more, snaps open faster and has greater overlap, which creates its own set of problems. The high lift compresses normal springs so much that it will bind so Honda uses springs with an oval cross section , allowing higher spring tension to prevent valve bounce and at the same time eliminate full-lift binding.

The valves are also thinner and lighter especially at the stem and base. The inlet valve face is radiused with a small curve and the seat area is very thin. The exhaust valve face has a broader radius for flow and also thinner stems. The valve seat area is broader for better heat transfer.

The head is actually hand ported and polished and it seems a thinner gasket is used. Not much is said about the pistons which must have deeper cutouts for the valves and it may have a higher dome area to help bump the compression ratio to a rather high 11.1:1 from the usual, already high 10.4:1. The pistons are balanced as is the special eight-counterweight crankshaft which must survive daily doses of 9000 rpm runs.

So balanced is this engine that even when it is mounted almost directly to the chassis without the normal engine bushings, it seems as smooth as the 1.6 VTEC motor of the SiR. Of course the noise completely defies comparison but the dynamic balance of the Type R motor is remarkable. Strangely there are no Titanium conrods, instead high strength forged steel billets are used and they manage to hold up in the engine which has the worlds fastest mean piston speed thanks to its long stroke design and 9000 rpm rev limit.

The inlet manifold is a custom made item with a straight tract design optimised for high speed ram effects between 5700 rpm and 8500 rpm, the exact point where the hot cam takes over under heavy engine load. The throttle body is also 2mm bigger for increased air-flow.

Most of the airflow is a straight path and the anti-noise resonators are missing so there is a sonorous note as the engine hits the meaty part of its torque band. This engine sounds more gruff and mechanical than the NSX and at the same time more exciting. It is ever willing to charge up into the red zone with tremendous zest.

The torque curve has two distinct peaks. One from the normal cam and the other of the hotter cam. The extra ram-tuned plumbing of the normal Integra which helps cover the torque dip is not good for high rpm breathing. Instead, Honda uses an even simpler solution.

Lower gearing. The final drive is as low as Honda has, 4.40 to 1 and 1st and 2nd operate just within the VTEC operating range of 5700 rpm to 8500 rpm. This also achieves 100 kph in 2nd but one will certainly hit the rev-limiter. Our result is a scorching 6.5 seconds for the run. On a cool and dry day, claims of a sub 6 second run have been reported.

The advantage of such low gearing is the amazing acceleration and the ability to zip right past the torque dip and keeping the engine in the fun zone and what a blast it is. As soon as the revs cross 5700 rpm, the Integra goes into warp speed with a musical accompaniment better than that in a NSX. The drawback is, 6-speeds are needed because 5th gear is a short functional gear for power delivery and it actually accelerates well in 5th . At 80 kph the revs are hovering near 3000 rpm and that is a busy sounding engine though not an unpleasant one.

In the cockpit, it looks pretty bare. A small diameter MOMO steering wheel replaces the original one and there is no sign of the SRS airbags. Two beautiful Recaro seats take the place of the original items and thankfully Honda engineers have actually mounted these racing buckets in the correct position in relation to the pedals and steering wheel unlike the WRX STi. Mock carbon fibre trim adorns areas which on other worlds gets fake wood but the Titanium gear knob is the real thing. It rests atop a quick shift gear lever which is thoughtfully offset backwards for easy reach. There is actually no stereo to talk about but as concessions to the local market, weight bearing items like the air-conditioner and car stereo are added.

Driving the Integra R is a revelation in just how good FWD can get. It sets new standards for FWD handling that previously the Lotus Elan held. We dare say it shows a thing or two to some mid-engined machines and many serious RWD machines too.

In the Honda fashion, driving it is no more difficult than the normal Integra. Perhaps it is even easier as its tracking is like its on-rails and steering is very positive and razor sharp. It may not have a quicker steering rack but it feels so quick to respond, it feels like one. The engine with its high torque starter fires up instantly and settles down to a burbling idle that is felt in the cockpit because there are no soft engine mounts to speak of. This sharpens throttle response and makes the driveline feel positively engaged and precise.

The pedals are even easier to operate, perfectly placed for heel and toe changes. The brakes deserve special mention being far better than the stock ones. It wipes off speed at a dab and has much better stamina. The front uses a two pot caliper and thicker ventilated discs. ABS is standard although it is a deletable item for racing purposes. Clutch action is no heavier than stock and is as forgiving but with more bite and durability.

It is so easy to power off the line, the LSD preventing useless wheelspin. The engine is so energetic it is hard to keep a sane pace and you will always want to hear the wail of the hot cam beyond 6000 rpm. It beckons you to look for curves, corners or junctions.

The chassis is the most adjustable FWD one around, as adjustable as the M-Roadster is with a RWD chassis. Every corner can be approached in either understeer, neutral or oversteer. Every attitude can be achieved by steering, power or brakes. The combination to a corner can be any number of ways but in the end each way always enjoyable.

Having said that we must caution that this is not a car for the masses. It is at one extreme of the chart, catering to a select few who can appreciate. It is a car all enthusiasts have been trying to create from stock models, adding cross bracing, polishing cylinder heads, lowering suspensions, throwing out rear seats, adding bucket seats, changing computer chips and a whole lot of other items that we imagine could make our cars a racer.

SPECIFICATIONS

STEERING Assisted Rack & Pinion
Turn Radius 5.4m

BRAKES Ventilated Discs/ Discs, ABS, Very Good Anchors, Stamina and bite

GEAR BOX Manual 5-speed , Short Shift, Slick and Accurate

ENGINE 1797cc, DOHC, VTEC, 16 Valves, PGM-FI, 4-Cylinder, All Alloy

Power 200 BHP @ 8000 RPM
Torque 181 Nm @ 7500 RPM
Red-line 8400 RPM Ignition Cut at 9000 RPM
0-100 Kph 6.5 seconds
Driven wheels Front, LSD

SUSPENSION f: Double Wishbones r: Double Wishbones with Trailing Link

TYRES Bridgestone Potenza RE 010

Size 195/55 VR 15
Rims 6J x 15 Alloys

BODY 2 Door Coupe/Hatch or 4-Door Notchback

Length 4380mm
Width 1695mm
Height 1320mm
Wheelbase 2570mm
Kerb Weight 1060 Kg, Lightweight body. ABS add 10 Kg

PRICE IN 1998 $120,000 without COE

Summary
Now it comes straight from Honda, all perfectly tailored for the ultimate thrill unlike our trial and error attempts at making the same. Yes, it takes all the fun out of the preparation but if you actually add up all those bits and pieces and the time spent at the mod-shop rather than driving it, the Integra R comes out the better, more sorted out deal with a year’s warranty thrown in as well. Unfortunately this is a very limited edition car. There are just so many engines the technicians at Honda can port, polish and hand assemble. We will get but a few examples, most of which are already spoken for and as you read this I shall be just rolling mine out on the road. You want one? Better take a number and have a deposit handy. - al
Photos: 
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