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New Car Review

Ha'R Ha'R Ha'R

Acura/Honda Integra Type "R"

Nicholas Frankl

European Corrspondent

SEE ALSO: Acura Buyer's Guide

"I'm the King of the World" roared a certain sea-fairing actor. Well, yes Titanic may well be a smash hit. But, Leonardo old chap, - I am afraid someone else is about to steel your thunder. Actually, I lie, because it is not a one but a thing of steel, of components, motors, valves and shafts - in fact a lot like a boat. The only difference being that it's made as light as is physically and economically possible and it doesn't float - oops!

Now if I told you that the two greatest driving machines in the world (my world at least) are the McLaren F1 and the Lotus Elise - you would probably not think me a fool. If I told you 3rd on the list was a Honda, you might begin to wonder - but surmise, after due thought and consideration, that the NSX was worthy of an opinion. Rightly so, but I'm afraid the vehicle under scrutiny here is the "lowly" 20,000 Type R Integra.

Light, balanced, ably powered and poised for action. The "R" is the first of a new breed and most likely new brand from Honda's die hard racing dept. Stripped out with lighter doors, bonnet, interior, exhaust system plus - a trick borrowed from the RS Porsche, - thinner windscreen glass, the white hot magnesium coupe is seriously outstanding fun and embarrassingly good value for money.

As soon as I sunk into the fire red Recaro seats, placed my feet on the drilled alloy pedals and cranked the 190bhp VTEC 1.8 into life, I knew this car was beyond all the hype I had encountered. As I accelerated up the hill outside TACH HQ I was aware of the gawking bus queue disappearing in the rear view mirror all craning to get a look at what on God's earth was blasting into the distance. As the needle peaked at 9,000 (not a typo) I grabbed the stubby chrome gear lever and wheel spun into second the engine now screaming, reminiscent of wild jungle noises, my surroundings blurring rapidly.

Based on the standard car, the "R" represents Honda's most determined attempt yet to drag their engineering excellence into the next millennium and dispose of the old men in hats tag that has "dogged" them and the range for at least half of there mighty 50 years. The "R's" are coming. In Japan you can have a Prelude Type "S" which I tested last year and was impressed with front wheel drive/ rear wheel feel of the car. It may now be coming to Europe officially. The new SSM will also feature an "R" as will most of the new models- probably sold through dedicated dealers or at least "hotted up" forecourts. The result - they hope - will be to stimulate the baby boomers into new models. The good news for enthusiasts should be more exciting motoring at reasonable prices.

The Integra is already there. With pin sharp steering, literal go-kart handling and an engine tune right up there with the exotica. Despite all this, none of the traditional Honda virtues have been lost. The NVH characteristics are good, with a supple suspension, comfortable ride and great radio to drown out the wind noise when above 80mph! The chassis is a gem, too, with incredible levels of grip, feedback and response. The whole car is extremely stiff - not surprising as it has four crossbrases - but the ride remains composed and comfortable.

The result is one of the most enthralling entertaining and enjoyable cars I have ever driven of any power, price or size. I would have one, but for two "if's". Firstly although the white is the traditional Honda racing colour of the 60's- it might look better in yellow or red, and secondly I would have larger diameter wheels, as they appear a little puny under the wheels arches. Despite that I urge you to try it- although I hear that there is already a six-month waiting list!

Engine          4-cyl, 1797
Power           190 bhp@8000rpm
Top Speed       137mph
0-60            6.2secs
P/W             176bhp per ton

Price           19,500 / $32,000 - not on sale USA