From the March 1997 issue of Car and Driver.
At a blaring 8400 rpm, the Acura Integra Type R’s pistons are pedaling at about 80 feet per second—much higher than the commonly accepted threshold of 67 feet per second. That’s close to the piston speeds in Formula 1 and Indy-car engines, which have much shorter strokes than the under-square Integra powerplant. Still, you don’t think much about piston speeds at full throttle. It’s the sound you think about. That intense, fervent bellow radiating from the engine absorbs every bit of your attention.
Most drivers do not know this sound, but sport motorcyclists, accustomed to redlines of 11,000 to 14,000 rpm, are intimately acquainted with it. And with the rush of power that accompanies it. When the Type R’s tach hits 5700 rpm (or even less, depending on throttle position), the VTEC system switches over from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde with an audible blare, and the engine sets about scaling its 195-horsepower peak at 8000 rpm with alacrity. Yes, that’s almost 200 hp from a 1797 cc engine, but before you reach for that calculator, we can tell you that it works out to a specific output of 108.5 horses per liter. The fabulous Ferrari F355 produces just 107.3 horses per liter from its five-valve V-8.
It’s also 25 ponies up on the already energetic GS-R engine, thanks to some careful twiddling back at Honda R&D by various motorsport veterans. First, they replaced the GS-R’s twin-runners-per-cylinder intake manifold with a single wide-port version for higher gas velocities, then they dropped in higher-lift, longer-dwell camshafts and lighter, thin-stem valves. They also hand-polished the ports, a task that restricts production volumes but speeds and smoothes airflow into and out of the engine.
Stainless-steel exhaust headers converge toward the collector on the Type R engine and feed into a revised muffler that has slant-cut internal pipes and flared tube ends to increase exhaust-gas flow out of the big-bore tailpipe by 30 percent. The bottom end of the engine benefits from a balanced eight-counterweight crank with trick metallurgy to increase the bend-fatigue limit by 25 percent. Connecting rods are specific to the Type R and are hand-torqued for better quality control. Those flying pistons are molybdenum-coated lightweight die castings that have extra wrist-pin lubrication paths, a new crown shape for a 10.6:1 compression ratio, and deeper valve pockets to accommodate the greater valve excursions.
The result is a screamer, but one that has surprisingly good torque at normal traffic speeds. That’s the beauty of VTEC, and you can see it in the good top-gear acceleration times, which are also helped by a fairly short final-drive ratio. The more-flexible power delivered by the moderate cam profiles makes midrange performance quieter and more economical and holds the top-end frenzy in reserve.
To make the most of the full fury of its hot-cam performance, the Integra was trimmed of 140 pounds of not-so-necessary avoirdupois. Part of the diet was a lighter flywheel, a smaller intake manifold, and the removal of the polypropylene spare-tire deck and some sound deadening. So was the disappearance of the air-conditioning system, the sunroof, the vanity mirrors, the cruise control, the rear wiper/washer, and a few items you’re unlikely to notice.
Then the engineers added a few things they felt were important. An oil cooler, for one, and a limited-slip differential for another. To stiffen the structure, a larger aluminum shock-tower bar replaces the GS-R’s steel unit, two “performance rods” brace the rear crossmember and tail section, and there is thicker metal at the roof rails, the rear pillars, and the suspension mounting points. Finally, bigger brakes and five-lug wheels with 195/55VR-15 tires were fitted onto a suspension beefed up with higher-rate springs, thicker bars, and more tightly valved shocks. The rear wheels have larger, stiffer bearings for better camber control and are pinned by a stabilizer bar increased in thickness from 13 to 22 millimeters. That put some pounds back on the car, but it’s still 89 pounds lighter than our last GS-R coupe.
Naturally, aerodynamics also came under scrutiny. A new chin spoiler and rear wing contribute to a 30-percent reduction in the coefficient of lift and a one-percent improvement in drag. Out on the test track, all this translates to an appreciable improvement in the GS-R’s performance, trimming the 0-to-60-mph time by a half second to 6.6 seconds, the quarter-mile performance by three-tenths of a second to 15.2 at 93 mph, and increasing the top speed by 9 mph to 143.
Numbers aside, this high-performance stripper is a blast to drive. The leather-wrapped wheel swivels the nose with surgical precision, and the generously sized tires hang on like barnacles. Because of the taut undercarriage—particularly the roll-stiff rear-the Type R turns in much sharper than its softer siblings. In fact, on the wet surface of Thunderhill Park Raceway in Glenn County, where the car was introduced to the press, we had to control how much rotation we allowed or risk backing off the track. But the track is nonetheless one of this car’s favorite places. According to Acura, it runs three seconds a lap faster than the GS-R at Honda’s Takasu proving grounds.
The high rev limit gives the car long, furious blasts of power in each gear before you squeeze the strong brake for the corners and dance on the pedals to find lower gears for the exit. The stubby shift lever is as light and accurate as ever, assisted during double-clutch downshifts by quicksilver throttle response. Drivers can match revs so easily that they can look like experts. Still, trackworthiness has its price. The Type R is a rather noisy highway cruiser, even if the standard radio/CD player does a good job of upstaging the road roar and engine drone. And the car is suspended firmly enough to produce vertical bobbing on corrugation, although bump-impact harshness is extraordinarily well contained by the expensive suspension and superstiff structure.
Last, air conditioning can be dealer-installed, adding some $800 to the estimated $24,000 list price. Is any of this a major impediment to the acquisition of a Type R? Hell no, buddy, the limited availability (about 500 a year) is the only thing standing in your way.
1997 Acura Integra Type R
front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 2+2 passenger, 3-door coupe
PRICE AS TESTED
DOHC inline-4, aluminum block and head, port fuel injection
110 in3, 1797 cm3
195 hp @ 8000 rpm
130 lb-ft @ 7300 rpm
Wheelbase: 101.2 in
Length: 172.4 in
Width: 66.7 in
Height: 51.9 in
Curb weight: 2560 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.6 sec
100 mph: 17.9 sec
120 mph: 32.0 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.1 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 8.9 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 8.8 sec
¼-mile: 15.2 sec @ 93 mph
Top speed (drag limited): 143 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 164 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.88 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 22 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/highway: 25/31 mpg