The Acura Integra Type R Lives Up to Every Teenage Dream

There’s no love like teenage love. Our brains are maturing, our personalities crystallizing. Thanks to a glut of hormones, everything seems extremely, painfully important. Science shows that the music we listen to during our teen years gets folded into our neurons, the notes sending shivers down our spines decades later. Having seen my coworkers’ faces as this Phoenix yellow Integra Type R buzzroared down the straight at Lime Rock Park, I can tell you those feelings never fade.

This is an excerpt from our recent article, “The Search For the Greatest Sports Car of All Time,” where we rounded up eight of the most important enthusiast cars ever made, track-tested them at Lime Rock Park, and declared one ultimate winner. Enjoy this chapter on the Acura Integra Type R, but be sure to read the entire eight-part story here.

Road & Track’s senior staff averages 33 years old—impressionable youths when the Type R landed on these shores. As obsessive young gearheads, we were doomed to be forever smitten. And unrequited—we were too young, too light of wallet, our parents too uncool to give us a leg up into a fitted Recaro seat.

But in this all-star crowd, the Type R had a lot to live up to. The Gullwing and Cobra were already legends before we were born. The F1 defined our childhoods, but it was never meant for us. The big-wing Integra was the car we all daydreamed about driving to high school, a fervent first crush. It was a sign of automotive taste to pine for a 195-hp front-driver with notoriously paltry torque.

Senior editor Zach Bowman summed it up with reverence: “This was the only thing I wanted when I was 17.”

That legendary engine: the B18C5, a pedestrian four-cylinder elevated to hero status and burned into the minds of a generation of car enthusiasts. Honda fire-hosed every drop of its engineering skill and racing prowess at the Integra’s 1.8-liter, turning a pliant and durable workhorse into the peaky baby brother of every racing engine that ever put a tapered H badge on a podium.

1.8-liter inline-four
195 hp/130 lb-ft
five-speed manual
2560 lb
WHEN NEW: $24,000

It was the hard work of a thousand tiny changes. The intake and exhaust ports are hand-polished. The connecting rods are so precisely machined, assembling them required a special tool designed by Honda to minimize bolt stretch, more accurate than a conventional torque wrench and only given to dealership service departments on special request. The intake valves are 12 percent lighter, a weight savings you’d undo by losing a few french fries under the seats, but one that helped the Type R sing to a screaming 8400-rpm redline. Gone was the clever dual-plenum intake that gave the lesser Integra GS-R a nice nudge of midrange torque. The Type R’s big-bore single-port unit knocked seven pounds of mass out of the engine bay and actually weakened the engine’s output in the crucial 3000-to-5000-rpm range.

What happens at 5700 rpm makes it all worthwhile. That’s when—say it with me now, the invocation of the elders—VTEC kicks in. The engine pops over to its high-RPM cam profile, the one with the radical advance and crazy lift that sends the engine blaring to its 8500-rpm fuel cutoff. When it’s on the cam, the Type R accelerates maniacally, all economy-car associations left in the dust as the tach needle magnetizes itself to the far peg. All this in a car that was seam-welded, braced, and lightened by nearly 100 pounds straight from the factory.

Whether you’re strapped into the driver’s seat or leaned up against the pit wall, the sound is hair-raising. It’s not just the exhaust note, a surprisingly throaty bellow emanating from a slash-cut tip that, Acura was proud to point out, looks just like the ones on that year’s NSX. From behind the wheel, you’re swept into a tidal wave of intake noise, gallons of air honking through that straight-shot plenum. At redline, the Type R’s pistons are covering distance faster than any Honda F1 or IndyCar engine of the time. The result: 108 horsepower per liter, a benchmark for naturally aspirated production four-cylinders that’s only been beaten once—by another deep breathing, high-revving, VTEC-enhanced Honda engine, the one in the S2000.

Two decades after our infatuation began, the car lives up to expectations. Driving the Type R is the best kind of hard work. Honda put all the power way up on the top shelf and gave you a close-ratio gearbox and a dainty, precise shifter to help you climb up there. All those jokes, memes, and corny movie scenes about the VTEC sensation? They weren’t wrong. The rush that begins at 6000 rpm (and lasts another 2500) feels like another overused car cliché of the early new millennium: the surprise shot of nitrous. “This engine is a bottle rocket,” senior editor Kyle Kinard said, wide-eyed after his first stint at the wheel.

Like that manic engine, the suspension works best when you’re absolutely bum-rushing it. The Type R came from an era when Honda wasn’t afraid to build daringly neutral performance cars. In the Integra, that means big spring rate, major roll stiffness in the rear, and a propensity for stepping the tail out. Show it some confidence, and the Type R will razor into a corner and grease its back tires in joyous oversteer. It’s one of the best-handling cars ever made, no front-drive caveat needed.

The Integra Type R is an object of love, and a product of it. Its blueprint is covered in the fingerprints of one man: chief engineer Shigeru Uehara, whose résumé includes the original NSX and the S2000. Before he retired from Honda, his final project was the S2000 CR, a sharper, more direct version of a car already known for sharp directness.

Crushes fade, bands sell out. We loosen our grip on teenage passions, replacing them with practical thoughts and milder tastes. Uehara retires. Today, Honda’s wildest hot hatch, the Civic Type R, runs out of breath at 7000 rpm, tuned for midrange. But the buzzroar is still folded into our gray matter. The Integra Type R may have been the only front-driver at the rodeo, the car with the humblest roots, but it proved itself worthy of every minute of those two decades of adolescent yearning.

To find out which car won our “Search for the Greatest Sports Car of All Time,” click here.

Headshot of Bob Sorokanich

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