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2013 Honda Civic Si vs 1998 Acura Integra Type R
In search of front-wheel drive greatness.
By David Pratte, Photography by Chris Blanchette and Adam Wood. Video by Chris Blanchette and Adam Wood, Jul. 19, 2013

If you’ve already watched the video review, you may be thinking to yourself that we were a little hard on the 2013 Civic Si, considering that it was never meant to be a replacement for the far more performance-focused 1997-2001 Acura Integra Type R. And to some extent, you’d be right. But with the Civic Si being the only high-performance model in its lineup these days, it does present an interesting opportunity to reflect on where Honda stands in relation to its high-performance history, and more specifically how the current Si stacks up against one of the greatest front-wheel drive performance cars ever built.

FAST FACTS: 2013 Honda Civic Si

1. 2013 updates for the entire model range include revised styling, significantly improved interior materials and more responsive handling.

2. Standard equipment now includes Bluetooth, a rearview camera, text message functionality, an iPod interface and Pandora functionality.

3. Si models come in a single trim level that includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a 201-hp 2.4L engine and a 6-speed manual transmission.

And before you assume this is going to be an exercise in Honda bashing, keep in mind that I’ve owned 8 Hondas and currently have two in my driveway including a 2007 Civic EX sedan with over 150,000 miles on the odometer that still runs like a top. It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve owned a DC2 Integra Type R, raced in the Canadian Touring Car Championship in a Honda Civic with a K24 engine very closely related to the one in the current Si, and that I was the President of a local Honda/Acura motorsports club. So believe me when I tell you, few people have more respect or admiration for the engineers at Honda than I do.

WHAT’S IN A BADGE?

 

We’ve all seen (and snickered at) Chevy Cavaliers or base model Honda Civics with faux Type R badges stuck to them. For Integra Type R owners, this is both horrific and confirmation of the dream car status their limited-edition pocket rocket still possesses. It’s one of those rare examples of a machine that’s greater than the sum of its parts, not to mention redefining what’s possible from a 1.8-liter engine that sends its power to the front wheels.   

FAST FACTS: 1998 Acura Integra Type R

1. One of the highest specific outputs (108.51 hp/L) of any naturally aspirated engine.

2. Ride height has been lowered and shocks, springs and sway bars revised for track-ready handling.

3. The weight reduction strategy included less sound insulation, a 10% thinner windscreen, and lightweight wheels.

The magic that is the Integra Type R can’t be boiled down to one or two things, either. It’s tempting to think that it’s helical limited slip differential or close-ratio 5-speed transmission were the keys to its domination of the front-wheel drive performance world, but those are just small pieces of this masterpiece of engineering. Few automakers obsessed over the details the way Honda did with the Integra Type R, which shares a chassis with the lesser DC2 Integra model variants (including the LS and GS-R) but very little else.

The list of tweaks and upgrades the Integra Type R was equipped with is too long to list here (vist the Type R Registry for all the details), but key changes included larger calipers and rotors on 5-bolt hubs, heavily revised shock absorbers and spring rates as well as larger diameter sway bars, chassis stiffening in the form tie bars and reinforcement of the sheet metal in key structural areas, lightweight wheels wrapped in super sticky Bridgestone RE010 120-treadwear rating tires, a ride height 15mm lower than standard, and functional aerodynamic upgrades (including that iconic rear wing) that reduce lift by 30% and drag by 1%. And of course there’s also the weight reduction you’d expect from a track-focused machine like the ITR. Honda’s engineers having removed almost 100-lbs in all sorts of interesting places (including using thinner floor mats!) and in the process further centralized its weight for a lower polar moment of inertia and thus a car more willing to change direction.

And of course there’s the B18C5 1.8-liter DOHC engine that screams its unmistakable VTEC song all the way to its 8500-rpm fuel cut, thanks to high-lift camshafts, a hand-ported cylinder head, free-flowing exhaust system and a revised air intake system. Fifteen years on, our 1998 Type R test mule, with over 220,000 km on its original motor, still felt remarkably fresh and willing to deliver the sort of driving excitement that few other road cars have ever achieved.

APPLES TO ORANGES

 

1998 Integra Type R vs 2013 Civic Si red and white

But you’re right, comparing the 2013 Honda Civic Si to an Integra Type R really isn’t a fair head-to-head matchup, given just how uncompromising all of Honda’s Type R models have been (which include several generations of the Integra and Civic as well as the NSX).

Out on the race track it’s easy to forget how harsh the Type R’s ride quality can be on public roads, something my kidneys remember well from the daily commute I did in my own ITR for several years. And then there’s the lack of sound deadening, which means you arrive at your destination just a bit more fatigued than you would be in a less hardcore machine.

2013 Honda Civic Si rear angleAnd that’s exactly where the Si shines brightest – as a totally civilized and modern road car, and a fun one at that. Not nearly as hard-edged as the Type R, the 2013 Civic Si still has some zip to it, thanks primarily to its torquey 2.4-liter engine and ultra-slick 6-speed gearbox. The Si also soaks up the bumps superbly, its cushy seats sized perfectly for my average American waistline (this generation of the Civic was designed specifically for the North American market).

And with the freshly revised 2013 model you also get a much nicer interior, with higher quality materials throughout and some attractive carbon fiber accents. I’m still not a big fan of the double-decker dash design, but the list of standard features has grown to include Bluetooth, a rearview camera, text message functionality and iPod integration. Our Si model also came equipped with the optional navigation system with voice controls, satellite radio and real-time traffic updates, making it an even more appealing companion during the bumper-to-bumper daily grind.

2013 Honda Civic Si wheelsAs I’m sure you’re aware, the exterior of the 2013 Civic has been given a facelift, too. The front fascia has received a tasteful nip and tuck reminiscent of the new Accord, and the rear taillights (and surrounding sheet metal) are also new and help differentiate the car more strongly from the previous generation. Sitting next to the Integra, the Si does look like a much bigger car, though, not to mention taller and with more wheel well gap. The numbers bear this out, with the ’13 Si coupe (with optional navi) weighing in at 2,966 lbs, while the Type R is a serious lightweight at 2,600 lbs in its single trim configuration (weight varies around this number depending on the year and the market). 

But the Civic Si is also bigger in some areas that are advantageous, including its 2.4-liter iVTEC engine, which not only makes 6 hp more than the Type R but more importantly makes 40 lb-ft of torque more than the Integra and does so 3,000-rpm sooner (170 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm vs. the Type R’s 130 lb-ft at 7500 rpm). The Civic also has a tire width advantage, 215/45R17’s as compared to the Type R’s standard 195/55R15 tires (though our test mule is equipped with Japanese domestic market 16’’ wheels), but this advantage was more than negated by its relatively low grip all-season compound compared to the Integra’s worn out but still pretty sticky Toyo R1R 205/50R16 tires.

R STANDS FOR RACING

 

1998 Acura Integra Type R

During testing at Toronto Motorsports Park, it only took a corner or two to tell which car was designed for the race track and which car was designed for the street. Even during an impromptu drag race down the front straight, the Type R was the quicker and more visceral of the two, pulling away from the Civic once the rev count passed 7,000 (which just so happens to be the Civic’s redline).

1998 Acura Integra Type R spoilerBut the magic really happened in the corners, where the Integra Type R still reigns supreme in the front-wheel drive segment, offering a handling balance and willingness to rotate that even the recently tested Ford Focus ST can’t touch. It’s really that good, and it’s achieved with good old-fashion suspension and chassis tuning, rather than using any sort of newfangled torque vectoring or other types of electronic intervention. This gives the Type R’s at-the-limit handling dynamics a predictability and immediacy that simply hasn’t been surpassed, not even by the supercomputer-controlled Focus ST and others like it.

1998 Acura Integra Type R badgingThe analog driving experience is only amplified by the Integra Type R’s rev-happy naturally-aspirated engine, a motor that punches way above its weight class while providing the kind of instant throttle response that its legend is built on. It delivers far more acceleration than you’d expect from 1.8-liters of displacement, pulling with a kind of urgency that you’d normally only experience from a race-prepared motor. You know, the kind of motor that’s built with high-compression pistons, hand-polished cylinder heads ports, high-lift camshafts and a high volume exhaust manifold. 

Our test mule did show its age a bit, though, its 15-year old suspension bushings taking some of the precision out of this fast-twitch corner carving machine. The doors also closed with a rattle and a clank, and the rear hatch release was disconnected to protect this very limited edition sweetheart from being stolen (just 3,822 DC2 Type R’s were sold in North American during its 4-year production run).

SI STANDS FOR STREET

 

2013 Honda Civic Si on track

By comparison the Civic Si feels a bit ponderous, a bit out of place out on the race track. It has a lot of body roll, especially compared to the lighter and flat-cornering Type R, though it does feel slightly more composed than the 2012 Civic Si. Clearly Honda has done some minor but appreciated recalibration of the suspension package as part of their 2013 refresh, but it’s still far too soft to be considered a serious track-day machine.

2013 Honda Civic Si vs 1998 Acura Integra Type R closeThe brakes are excellent, though, far better than the 2012 model, both in terms of fade-resistance and pedal modulation. I suspect most of this comes from a brake pad compound change, but perhaps they’ve tweaked brake bias or master cylinder sizing a bit as well. Whatever the case may be, the 2013 Si’s brakes inspired confidence and deliver braking performance around the race track on par with the much lighter and comparatively over-braked Integra.

It’s larger 2.4-liter engine has great pull down low in the rev range, but it lacks the frenetic high rpm power delivery and soundtrack I find myself wanting from it (or any high-performance Honda, for that matter). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful engine for slicing through traffic or blasting down your favorite winding road, but around Toronto Motorsports Park’s 1.8-mile, 11-turn road course it feels a bit lazy in comparison to the Type R’s engine or even the previous generation Civic Si’s 2-liter engine (which revved very happily to its 8300 rpm fuel cutoff). Its 6-speed transmission is a real upgrade compared to the Type R’s 5-speed, though, both in terms of shifting precision and gear spacing.

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The Civic Si struggled to use its front tires as efficiently as the Type R, partly because of its all-season tire compound but also because of the limitations of a MacPherson front strut design (which doesn’t gain any camber in roll/compression, while the Type R’s double wishbone suspension does, thus keeping its front contact patches better mated to the road). As a result of this and the Si’s overall suspension tuning, it does have quite a lot of understeer at the limit, meaning it tends to scrub off too much speed getting to the apex of each turn, though its limited slip differential does an excellent job of combating this from the apex to corner exit.

ENGINEERING VS. MARKETING

 

2013 Honda Civic Si vs 1998 Acura Integra Type R close

After turning a half dozen timed laps in each car, it was the Integra Type R that posted the fastest time with a 1-minute 27.0-second lap, while the Si managed a best of 1-minute 28.9-seoncds. To put the Type R’s lap time into perspective, that’s less than a second off our best time in a 2013 Mazdaspeed3, which is to say the Type R is still a seriously quick car even when measured against the fastest front-drive machines on the market today.

And really, it should come as no surprise that the Integra Type R is still a world-class front-wheel drive performer, given that it was designed to be a road-legal track car when Honda was at the very top of its game. The Type R was clearly an engineering-driven project that was able to avoid the gaze of Honda’s bean counters. To that end, apparently Honda lost money on every Integra Type R they sold, because of the higher production costs associated with many of its unique and low-volume parts. But because this was viewed as a halo car (and one they wanted to homologate for racing purposes), Honda was willing to accept the loss as a good investment in the company’s go-fast image and racing aspirations.

2013 Civic Si vs 1998 Integra Type R lap times

The 2013 Honda Civic Si, on the other hand, was never envisioned as a homologation special or an unadulterated track-day weapon. It’s really much more of a mass-market endeavor, just like the Si-badged models that came before it. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – automakers have been offering higher-performance model variants as a way of broadening market appeal and injecting a little excitement into the brand for longer than most prospective Si buyers have been alive.

And as a road car that’s more fun to drive than the rest of the models in the lineup, the Si is very well executed. I thoroughly enjoyed driving the 2012 Si on the street and the 2013 model is improved across the board, from its handling dynamics and braking to its interior quality and exterior styling. And as Compass360 Racing continues to prove, with the right suspension upgrades, it can also be a very competitive race car.

THE HEART WANTS WHAT THE HEART WANTS

 

1998 Integra Type R vs 2013 Civic Si angled

In fact, given the success of Compass360 Racing in both Grand Am and World Challenge touring car series, and in light of Honda America’s strong contingency (cash) rewards and parts discounts for Honda brand racers, my heart tells me that there’s hope for Honda to fully rekindle its go-fast spirit and produce another Type R, be it Civic-based or built on an entirely new chassis.

But my head tells me Honda isn’t in the Type R business any more; it’s in the Earth Dreams business, and is more focused on fuel efficiency and green technologies than it is on reconnecting with its rich high-performance road car history and the legion of loyal fans it won with the Type R, the S2000 and the NSX. 

Perhaps all is not lost, though. The 2015 NSX is almost upon us (and already in Jerry Seinfeld’s garage), and maybe it will usher in a new era of high-performance Hondas that’ll make us look at the DC2 Integra Type R as a relic rather than as irreplaceable. But until then, we’ll have to accept that the 2013 Civic Si is the highest performing Honda in the lineup, and as a fun-to-drive road car it does its job very well. It doesn’t have the hardcore performance orientation needed to replace the Type R, though, so for go-fast Honda enthusiasts, the wait continues.

2013 Honda Civic Si

LOVE IT
  • 2.4-liter engine provides plenty of torque
  • Quick and precise 6-speed manual transmission
  • 2013 revisions class up interior significantly
LEAVE IT
  • Too much body roll to feel at home on the race track
  • Too much understeer to rival FWD performance leaders
  • Curb weight has crept up to nearly 3,000 lbs

1998 Acura Integra Type R

LOVE IT
  • 8,400 rpm redline and the soundtrack that goes with it
  • Best handling FWD car of all-time
  • Low mass pays big performance dividends
LEAVE IT
  • Lack of sound deadening
  • Harsh ride quality
  • High theft risk