For many years, the Honda Integra has been well regarded for its build quality, its reliability and its pleasant, if fairly mundane styling. However, it wasn’t really the sort of vehicle to stir the emotions of a driving enthusiast, or one to stand out in a crowd.
Now the 1994-series Integras have come along, that image is set to change dramatically and the particular model that shines is the VTi-R. With its high-efficiency 1.8 litre VTEC engine delivering top performance, a well-tuned chassis providing impressive ride and handling qualities, four-wheel discs (plus ABS anti-locking) giving powerful, effective braking and one of the sweetest manual gearboxes you’ll find in a front-wheel drive car, the VTi-R rates as a genuine sports car that’s simply a delight to drive.
The 1994 Integra’s new “suit of clothes” plays its part in letting the world know that this is a very different new model, with a look that is both eye-catching and dramatic. Honda said that it wanted the new Integra to be immediately recognisable from 100 metres away and the unusual frontal treatment alone, should ensure that.
The GTi-R and the GSi are both powered by a DOHC 1.8 litre engine, but the GSi does without VTEC and dual-stage intakes. Power output in the GTi-R is 125 kW, while the GSi’s engine develops 107 kW. Not surprisingly, the Mazda MX-6’s 2.5 litre V6 engine beats the VTi-R on torque output, but the VTi-R just pips it on maximum power output.
Though much of the mechanical layout such as front wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension and variable power-assisted rack and pinion steering is common to both GTi-R and GSi, there are differences in the brakes, manual transmissions and wheels and tyres.
The VTi-R’s manual transmission has tapered roller bearings for increased durability, different gear ratios to the GSi model and receives its drive through a lighter flywheel. The VTi-R rides on 15 x 6 inch alloy wheels shod with 195/55 tyres, whereas the GSi has 14 x 5.5 steel wheels with 195/60 tyres. As previously mentioned, the VTi-R also has ABS anti-lock brakes.
Other items common to both versions include an electric sunroof, power windows and external mirrors, central locking, tilt steering, four-speaker CD-compatible stereo/cassette, remote releases for fuel flap and rear hatch, tinted windows and a 50/50 split folding rear seat. The VTi-R adds a driver’s airbag, four-spoke steering wheel, body-coloured side mouldings and other items already listed. Neither version comes with air conditioning; it’s a dealer-fitted option.
The performance of the VTi-R is really quite exceptional for a non-turbocharged 1.8 litre engine, and the best part is that it’s not just at the top end. Even when pottering along in heavy traffic, the engine picks up smoothly and eagerly, displaying excellent flexibility over a wide rev range. The most exhilarating acceleration is available around 5000 rpm, but the engine pulls strongly from around 3000 rpm to over 7,000 rpm. At the other end of the scale, the engine will pull from as little as 1000 rpm in the higher gears without protest.
That the VTi-R can perform so strongly without the aid of turbocharging, and at the same time, be so tractable at low speeds, is a convincing example of the value of variable valve timing and dual-stage intake manifolding, particularly when coupled with the latest in electronic engine management and fuel injection systems.
Complementing the engine’s willing performance is the VTi-R’s slick-shifting, close-ratio gearbox. So good is its action that you’re likely to find yourself changing gears just for the fun of it!
Two other things Honda has got “spot-on” are the handling and ride. Some earlier Hondas with double wishbone suspension (the previous Integra included) were choppy due to a lack of suspension travel, but not so the VTi-R. Its ride is comfortable and compliant in all conditions, but not too soft to allow body roll. The handling is near enough to neutral at all speeds over all types of surfaces, making the VTi-R an easy, safe and overall very enjoyable car to drive. The wide. low profile tyres provide excellent grip and the power steering provides better than average feedback to the driver than is usually experienced in Hondas.
The VTi-R is simply a beautifully balanced package that delivers everything and more its specifications promise. In short, Honda has a winner in this class and the opposition now has the job of catching up.