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Honda launches new Integra

R for racing: it's heavier and more refined but Honda's Integra Type R is still the front-wheel drive sports king

Honda has refined its Integra for a fresh attack on the sports car segment

29 Aug 2001

AN all-new Honda Integra Type R is ready to assume its predecessor's title of world's best handling front-wheel drive sports car with the release of the fourth generation Integra model range today.

The range continues as a two-model line-up - the GSi has become simply Integra, while the Type R nameplate has been carried over.

After an extended life cycle of eight years, Honda has given the Integra a thorough overhaul so it can tackle its fresher-faced competitors head on - the base model is pitched squarely at the Toyota Celica, while the Type R will be gunning for Nissan's 200SX.

Despite design and specification improvements that Honda values at around $5000, the new Integra range is priced lineball with the third generation models it replaces.

On sale from August 30, the base Integra is unchanged at $37,950 for the manual and $39,950 for the automatic, while the Type R has risen by just under $700 to $43,990. Air-conditioning is a $2000 option in the Type R though, while it is standard on the base model.

The styling of the new car is unmistakably Integra, sticking closely to the notion of evolution rather than revolution.

The distinctive front and rear treatments, with their matching dual teardrop lights, stamp it as a new design but the overall profile retains styling cues familiar to the Integra family.

Vehicle length has been increased by 5mm over the previous model but the wheelbase remains the same. Width is out by 15mm while height has increased by a substantial, in sports car terms, 65mm.

Other significant dimension changes include the hip point being raised by 40mm to allow for easier entry and exit, and an increase in leg room of 25mm.

Central to the fourth generation Integra range is an all-new, 2.0-litre, i-VTEC LEV engine - the first of Honda's new series of engines to be sold in Australia.

i-VTEC is an evolution of Honda's renowned VTEC system, combining it with VTC or Variable Timing Control. The previous generation of VTEC in the Type R controlled camshaft timing and lift on the intake and exhaust valves, but with with one-stage timing. The new i-VTEC system features continuously variable camshaft timing - both for advance or retard of the intake cam.

Honda has developed two versions of i-VTEC for the new Integra model - a streamlined version for Integra and a high performance variation for the Type R.

Unlike the previous VTEC systems, the Integra uses only two roller arms per pair of intake valves instead of three and operates on intake only, while the Type R continues with a three rocker arm system it shares with the NSX.

The base engine powers the Integra, producing 118kW at 6500rpm and peak torque of 191Nm at 4000rpm, up from the GSi's 1.8-litre engine with outputs of 107kW and 172Nm. The Integra has received the greatest benefit from the new engine setup, as the GSi's engine did not feature VTEC.

An advanced, high output version of the engine sits under the bonnet of the Type R, utilising a high efficiency intake manifold to lift power to 147kW at 7400rpm and torque to 192Nm at 6000rpm. The previous generation Type R made do with a 1.8-litre engine that developed 141kW of power and 178Nm peak torque.

The Integra is available with a choice of two transmissions - a five-speed manual or a new five-speed sequential shift automatic - while the Type R is only offered with a new six-speed close-ratio manual transmission.

The auto features a gated shift pattern, very similar in design to the one in the current Subaru Liberty, although with a second plane to the right of the "Drive" position for manual upshifts and downshifts.

An LED display located between the tachometer and the speedo shows gear selection when in manual mode.

Honda has managed to keep the new six-speed manual in the Type R to the same weight as the five-speed manual it replaces, while the shift stroke has been shortened to just 45mm.

A host of other improvements over the old transmission are said to produce quicker shifting, reduced vibration and improved feel, with Honda also claiming it has managed to reduce the gear rattling that is common in six-speed transmission designs.

The front suspension has also undergone some major changes with a MacPherson strut system replacing the previous double wishbone set-up. However, Honda's MacPherson strut design also includes an additional link to control toe angle through the suspension's range of travel. The double wishbone rear suspension has been revised for a more compact design that has provided a wider rear cargo area and flat floor.

The bending rigidity and stiffness of the Integra's body has been improved by 35 per cent in the re-design process, while Honda claims torsional rigidity to be up by 116 per cent on the previous model. As a result, kerb weight has increased by around 20kg for the Integra and 80kg for the Type R.

Standard equipment in the Integra now includes an airbag for the front passenger, remote central locking, climate control air-conditioning, CD player and 16-inch alloy wheels. The front seats are also much closer in design and support to the Recaros in the Type R than was previously the case.

The Type R picks up these features as well (except air-conditioning is optional), while also gaining bigger brakes and lighter weight aluminium body components. The old car's trick helical limited slip differential has been retained.

Honda Australia expects to sell at least 120 Integras per month, which would be an increase of 64 per cent on the car's sales performance last year and a massive 172 per cent increase on what it has been able to achieve to date this year - although it has been on run-out for the past few months.

In Honda's favour are statistics that show each new generation of Integra outselling its predecessor. Honda also claims to have its sights set on capturing the number one spot in the sports car segment with the new model.

But Nissan's high-flying 200SX may have something to say about that as it has achieved sales in excess of 200 units in three of the past five months and is averaging 183 sales per month for the year to date.

Even Mazda's MX-5 has managed to record the figures Honda is talking about, albeit only in the peak summer period, while Toyota's Celica and MR2 are no slouches in the sales department either.

So the Integra is unlikely to be given a red-carpet ride to sales glory by its competitors, but with the expected price rises not eventuating there is sure to be buyers over and above those who have been holding out for the new model.

The first few months may well produce the boom that will give Honda a temporary hold on the top spot.

THE Integra has well and truly grown up as it moves into its fourth model life. The US market's influence in wanting a car that fitted somewhere between the previous Integra and the to-be-discontinued Prelude has produced the model that we'll see for the next few years.

The new car is quieter, more refined and a little heavier, but with more performance from the new 2.0-litre engine to compensate.

The move to a cheaper, less advanced front suspension system doesn't feel like it's to the detriment of handling while the body rigidity improvements have made the car a distinctly more solid, stable proposition.

Fit and finish inside and out are up to the usual Honda standards, although some of the plastics in the rear cabin area threw up frequency vibrations from time to time, courtesy of the coarse chip bitumen of our country roads.

The Integra has plenty of equipment and some nifty storage areas like the combined tray/cupholder in the centre console.

The back seats are supposed to have benefited from the increase in head and leg room, but they are still only suitable for children or small adults.

The engine lacks torque down low but that is nothing new in performance-orientated Hondas. The new sequential-shift automatic transmission is one of the better units out there and offers smooth, quick shifts.

The Type R continues to be the front-wheel drive weapon of choice for any racetrack excursions and while it has been softened slightly during the re-design process, Honda has managed the transition without detracting from the overall experience.

The good points remain like snug-fitting Recaro seats, aluminium gearshift and pedals and a thick-rimmed leather steering wheel, as well as the things you can't see such as a spine tingling engine/exhaust note, beautifully weighted steering with oodles of feedback and sure-footed, infinitely adjustable handling.

Like a fine wine, the Integra is improving with age. The Type R remains a benchmark front-drive sports car, one of motoring's most rewarding drives. Though it mightn't be as raw as before, at least now you won't lose any fillings when the smile on your dial cracks open.

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