I recently had the chance to drive a pristine 2001 Acura Integra Type-R, which is sort of the forgotten 1990s Japanese sports car. I say it’s "forgotten" because most people remember the Mazda RX-7, and the Acura NSX, and the Toyota Supra Turbo, and the Subaru SVX, and the Nissan 300ZX, and even a few others, but the Integra Type-R is rarely mentioned in the "1990s Japanese sports car" discussion.
Part of the reason for this may relate to the fact that the so-called "ITR" came out at the end of this Japanese sports car craze, for the 1997 model year, when all the other Japanese sports cars were dying down. By that time, for instance, the Supra, SVX, and 300ZX were winding down, and the Mitsubishi 3000GT was just a few years away from cancellation. The ITR is also likely not helped by the fact that it was based on a regular ol’ Acura hatchback, the Integra, so most people probably don’t think of it as a "sports car" like the Supra and others.
But the ITR is indeed a sports car, and the example I drove proved this. The one I drove was an absolutely perfect Phoenix Yellow example with less than 40,000 miles on the odometer and no modifications, meaning it gave me a good taste of how the car actually would’ve driven nearly 20 years ago. And I have to admit, despite the ITR’s "forgotten" status, it was a pleasant surprise.
Before I explain what I mean, a brief overview. The Integra Type-R was, indeed, based on the Acura Integra, but it had some big improvements: removed components for lighter weight, added chassis stiffness, better suspension, a big wing, and, most importantly, the famed "B18C5" engine, which brought power to 195 horses, up from the standard Integra’s 140 (and the sporty GS-R model’s 170). The result was the only "Type-R" model Honda ever sold in the United States, until the Civic Type R debuted last year.
All of this seemed very impressive on paper, but I wanted to check out the Integra Type-R in person — but the challenge was finding one. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Integra Type-R was famous in the street-racing world for its engine and other parts, and many were stolen and stripped for their valuable components. Many others were modified so heavily they’re basically indistinguishable from the original experience, so finding a stock one was a challenge.
But, eventually, I did find a stock one, courtesy of a viewer in New Jersey, and I spent the day filming its interesting quirks and driving it. And here’s what I realized: although the ITR isn’t quite "modern car cool," it was pretty exciting for 2001. And it’s still a thrill to drive.
I’ll start with acceleration. The ITR doesn’t feel especially quick below 3,000 RPM, but it starts to liven up pretty considerably at that level and beyond, with redline coming at an almost absurd 8,500 RPM — by which point things are moving pretty quickly and, more obviously, pretty loudly. The ITR Isn’t an especially uncomfortable car, as I found it to be fairly forgiving in normal driving — but when you really punch it, removed sound deadening components (for "weight savings") really allow you to hear the engine. And I don’t mean the exhaust, I mean the engine, which really makes a racket on the other side of the firewall. Anyway, if you keep the car in the power band, it moves relatively fast, though I think the noise and low feeling makes it seem quicker than it is.
More impressive than the acceleration, however, is the handling. The Integra Type-R weighs something like 2,600 pounds, meaning it’s just not all that much car to throw around — and throw it around you can, with responsive steering allowing you to change directions very quickly. It’s sporty, it’s fun, it’s exciting, and …
… and the Honda S2000 is just better. The S2000 is faster, it’s more fun to drive, it’s more exciting, and the handling is several rungs above where the Type-R sits. More importantly, the S2000 is now about the same money as the Integra Type-R, as the ITR market has shot up in recent years. Why is the ITR becoming valuable, you might ask, when the S2000 is better? Because the Type-R has that special quality of a limited-edition car, the rarity that also preserves the prices of the BMW 1 Series M, and the North American Specification Land Rover Defender, and the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon. It isn’t the fastest car, no, nor the sportiest, especially by modern standards — but it’s both fast and sporty. And, most importantly, it’s unique. Especially if it hasn’t been stolen.
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