The rational and the emotional are two experiences that traditionally have no confluence in most spheres, and the realm of motoring is no exception to this. There is no doubt that speed, for example, is a constant and objective criteria experienced between cars. The feelings and instinctive reactions unearthed by a well set-up, generous chassis can both expose your talents and magnify your errors. Few things can prepare you for the sensual and psychological attack that a spellbinding road and rapid sports car can bring.
If you’re used to the same car, your inputs and reactions become attuned to the chassis, engine and drivetrain at hand. My BMW, whilst not the quickest point-to-point, follows a formula of assertive grip which, when pushed, will result in a playful, controllable and predictable slide.
Not so Andrew’s 1998 JDM-spec Honda Integra Type-R.
Readers of magazines such as evo need no introduction to the featherweight Japanese coupé that has repeatedly been lauded with honours, such as the aforementioned magazine’s best-handling front-wheel-drive car of all time. Andrew’s ‘Teg is in the best possible spec, being in Championship White and coming equipped with grippy Recaro buckets as standard. Coupled with the legendary VTEC 1.8 engine and the incredibly talented LSD, this DC2 provided the perfect introduction to the performance front-driver.
Tipping the scales at just over 1000kg, this Integra is a Japanese-market model with significant weight losses. Airbags; standard on UK-spec Type-Rs, have been removed to keep the excess weight to a minimum. Such a focus on driving performance underlines the car’s FIA homologation roots, as the lithe and nimble Honda was designed for Group N and Cup racing.
Andrew and I took the Integra for an evening blast along the winding, undulating roads that parallel the River Dee. These roads (experienced in a post made earlier by myself this summer) combine sweeping corners with endless straights and tight s-bends.
Corners which would have necessitated a full lift of the throttle in the Three were dispatched ruthlessly by the Honda. What must be remembered is that the mechanical group on offer gives the driver the confidence to press on, whilst crucially still being well within the operating limits of both the chassis and the tyres. The experience – so hard to express in raw figures – was nothing short of mesmerising.
Whilst in the driving seat, the Recaros held me tightly. The light clutch was not hard to operate. A special mention has to go to the gorgeous, billeted titanium gearshift of the Type R. The ratios, being closer-stacked than a Jenga tower, were slotted sweetly home by the shifter. It’s no coincidence that all the controls are driver-centered in this car, as the tiny MOMO steering wheel jinked in my hands and broadcasted every little bump, rut and smooth flash of tarmac on the road straight back to me.
Once I’d gathered some confidence, I pressed on. Seeing a 9000rpm redline is a sight normally reserved for drivers of racing cars, but such inviting rev counters have become a fast Honda trademark. There are some things in your motoring career that you will not forget, and I can safely say that hitting 5800rpm and then experiencing the surging VTEC is one of these things. The car exploded forward as if it was fitted with some form of forced induction, with the steering wheel dancing in my hands. Such scintillating performance positively encourages you to rev the engine in order to experience the full breadth of the engine’s powerband. Whilst not as torquey as my Three’s straight-six, the zizzy four-cylinder is plenty rapid once up and running.
Experiencing such a sea change in chassis first-hand was nothing short of a revelation, as my comfort zones were exceeded but in a forgiving and educational way. After tonight, that’s one car off of my ‘Must Drive’ list, precisely because not of what it produces on paper but from the way it feels inside the cockpit.