Cutting the Mustard in a White Hot Screamer - Honda lets loose a classic of the future by Dick Suter
Every so often, the more creative of the mainstream car manufacturers wheel out a short-run production model to fill a particular niche or to create a new one
Sometimes these niche models prove so popular that the production run is extended and they continue far longer than originally intended. Such a car was the Cooper version of the biscuit box-like Mini all those years ago. Or more recently, the Williams Renault Clio. Others go further and produce a whole new car for a specific market segment.
Such a car is the Honda Integra R. Although it's been built as a 'limited edition', the reaction in every country in which it has been introduced has been so positive that, logically it should continue to be produced for some time.
The Honda Integra R is not for everyone, that's for sure. It's an aggressive looking and noisy piece of machinery. But if you're a car buff, that noise is sweet music and the machine is a masterpiece of engineering. A clue to its character is that the engineers who developed it have Formula 1 backgrounds, so roadholding, driveability and engine performance are at an eevated level. It covered thousands of miles on the demanding Japanese Suzuka circuit, the tortuous Nürburgring track in Germany's Eifel mountains and at Honda's Takasu test track as part of the development.
Enthusiasts will be wowed by its looks, but it's engine, the beautifully designed cockpit and, most of all, the driving experience that puts it into a special league and transports you, if you love race-bred machinery, into a kind of seventh heaven.
Its heart is a 1.8 litre 16 valve double overhead camshaft VTEC engine, the variable valve unit developing 190 bhp. Coupled with a close-ratio, slick 5-speed gearbox, it cantake you from 0-100 km/h in a shattering 6.7 secs.
On a race-track or German autobahn it will take you to 234 km/h (146.25 mph) before running out of steam. And it has brakes which are fully up to the task of stopping it in super quick time, too.
Although its engine capacity is under 2-litres and it's neither turbo- nor supercharged, it achieves this kind of performance partly because everything that could be lightened has been, including a special lightened windscreen. Carbon fibre is used in the cockpit while the beautifully positioned gear lever is in titanium.
The pedals are straight in front of you - not slightly offset as in some sporty cars - and with the adjustable, small leather covered steering wheel and the ultra comfortable, body hugging supportive, lightweight Recaro competition seats which you sit in, rather than on, you have the perfect driving position.
One of the problems with many powerful front wheel drive cars is that they suffer from torque steer - when the car seems to want to head in a direction different from that which you are trying to guide it as you put your fut down hard coming out of a bend. But this Honda doesn't suffer from it: yet another facet of its inovative engineering. A specially designed differential terminates torque steer, making it one of the best handling cars in the world.
When the revs reach 6000, the engine note changes dramatically from a powerful purr to a high-pitched scream as the engine races upwards and onwards to its 9000 rpm limit. At those engine speeds, you might think you're in a race car and you would not be entirely wrong for many of those bought are and will continue to be, used for racing.
At the time of writing, the Honda Integra is the joint leader of the Belgian Touring Car Championship after 10 of the 14 rounds. Although the car was equipped with a perfectly capable hifi radio/cassette player, the music from the engine often proved the greater attraction. Like so many great GT cars, it's fine on motorways butit's even better on B-class, twisty roads where its fabulous and confidence inspiring roadholding capability is something to be reckoned with. It's a no-holds-barred kind of car: you love it or hate it. Believe me, there's much to love with this one.
Although it is a genuine 4-seater, rear seat space is limited and for those over 1m 80, that can be cramped. The boot space is larger than you might imagine for a car of this type and for a couple, or two adults with two youngsters, this has got to be a sports saloon to be considered. One of the biggest surprises about the Integra R is its price, which is a snip at BEF 949,000 (VAT included). It's available in a choice of just three colours - championship white, Milano red or strarlight black.
Try one and you'll see why it's a revelation. That's probably what the 'R' stands for .........
©Dick Suter - 1998 - (images source - Internationals in Belgium)
Original article appearing in "Internationals in Belgium" Dick Suter was an editor of the magazine and contributor and Ginny Suter was a regular contributor in the late 1990's and 2000's - The magazine had a circulation of 10,000 Please note that this article was first published many years ago and telephone and fax numbers are likely to be out of date and email addresses have been removed.
Source of images, unless otherwise stated - Suter family archives