Cars

How the Acura Integra Started the Type R Legend

Some automotive badges have become short-hand for high performance. BMW’s M, Mercedes’ AMG, and Nissan’s GT-R. There’s also Honda’s Type R. In addition to sports cars like the S2000, in the 90s and early 2000s Honda offered stripped-down, souped-up versions of cars like the Civic and NSX supercar. Unfortunately, the US didn’t receive a Civic Type R until a few years ago. But we did get one Type R from Honda’s luxury division, Acura. And the Acura Integra Type R helped kick-start a JDM craze that continues to this day.

The Acura Integra Type R’s incredible features

By 1997, the front-wheel-drive Acura Integra was already leaving a mark on the import scene. Now in its 3rd-gen, it offered independent double-wishbone suspension, 4-wheel disc brakes, and Honda’s signature VTEC. As Donut Media explains, this changed how long the engine’s valves stayed open at different RPM, letting the Integra be efficient at low RPM, but generate a lot of power at high RPM.

2001 Acura Integra Type R
2001 Acura Integra Type R | Acura

But, as Road & Track explains, Honda wanted to take the Acura Integra racing. And in order to homologate the race car, it would have to sell a certain number of road cars. Thus, the Acura Integra Type R was born. And, as R&T and Jalopnik explain, in many ways the ITR truly was a race car for the road.

2001 Acura Integra Type R interior
2001 Acura Integra Type R interior | Acura

The Integra Type R came with no A/C or cabin sound-deadening. The ITR also had a limited-slip differential and a large wing. Various chassis components were welded to make the car stiffer; the suspension was also upgraded. In Japan, the car also got Recaro sport seats. But perhaps the biggest changes were to the engine.

Engineers reworked the 1.8-liter four-cylinder with lighter valves, molybdenum-coated pistons, and lighter throttle bodies and intake manifold. The result was 190 hp and 130 lb-ft. That doesn’t sound like much, but it made the Acura Integra Type R a world-record holder. That was the most horsepower per liter any engine produced at the time, besting even the McLaren F1.

And speaking of sound, it redlined at 9200 RPM.

What’s it like to drive?

The ITR is often called one of the best front-wheel-drive cars ever made. Around town, at casual speeds, its stripped-down nature makes it somewhat difficult to live with. It also doesn’t make much low-end torque, meaning you have to let the engine rev to get meaningful acceleration. But that’s exactly when the ITR shows why it’s an icon.

VTEC kicks in at about 5500 RPM, Jalopnik reports, delivering “an instant kick of power.” And the power keeps climbing all the way to the redline. The 5-speed transmission arguably helped pioneer the bolt-action rifle cliché. The steering is fast and very communicative. The whole car is extremely nimble, which is helped by roughly 2640-lb curb weight.

And of course, there’s the sound.

How the current Type R compares

The current Honda Civic Type R, according to ITR owner and veteran auto journalist Sam Smith, is more livable, he reported on The Smoking Tire podcast. The video’s below (NSFW language warning). The Acura Integra Type R really wasn’t designed for long highway drives and doesn’t have the same level of creature comforts.

However, once the road gets twisty, the ITR can hold its own. With less equipment—including safety structures—the Integra has better visibility. It’s also lighter; it’s unfiltered and raw. Even the new lighter limited-edition Civic Type R can’t really compare. The Civic Type R is still an incredible car—Motor Trend didn’t want to give its long-term example back—but the Acura Integra Type R is in a league of its own.

However, even with dealer markups, a new Honda Civic Type R would likely be significantly cheaper.

Getting an Acura Integra Type R

As with quite a few 90s JDM icons, the ITR is rising in value.

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Original OG. ‘98 #IntegraTypeR

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A one-owner, 6000-mile example sold in 2019 on Bring a Trailer for $82,000. Admittedly, that was an extremely well-kept car: it was stock, and it still had its original engine. The ITR was frequently the victim of engine theft in the early 2000s, which is why VIN-matched cars command a premium. But even gently-used stock ones, Hagerty reports, are valued at $40,000-$50,000.

To be sure, a car like the Acura Integra Type R probably couldn’t be made today. It’s just a bit too hard-core. But that’s also why it’s so revered.

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