“Keep the pedal down to the floor, go for 8000!”. The palpable exaltation in the owner’s voice in my right ear left me no time for questions. The Honda NSX car has an 8,000 rpm redline for a reason and that reason is to reach it every time you use the car. As a VTEC novice, I couldn’t ask for a better place to experience the marvels of a Japanese dual-overhead-cam-variable-valve-timing engine. As I floor the throttle through the narrow roads between the Lago d’Idro and Garda, the subtle and unassuming idling sound of the car changes into an intoxicating yet very well educated, six cylinder snarl.
The NSX is a large, low and capable supercar, possibly the quintessential 2 seater from Japan, even 26 years since it was introduced on the market. Despite tiny mountain roads are claustrophobic for such a machine as it doesn’t have sympathy for tight, narrow turns, the accuracy and traction are stellar. Sure that wasn’t enough to keep the white Integra Type R that seemingly without any particular effort was glued to the back of the NSX.
Flick the short throw, rifle-like gear lever into first, floor the throttle and the red honda will slide the rear tires, exiting the corner steering by the inputs on the throttle. Predictably, a grin on my face appears as I reach the magic VTEC zone at 5000 rpm, countersteering.
However, the satisfying feeling of showing the wonders of oversteer to the Integra behind me lasted only for few hundreds of a second, as the Type R is still occupying the visual of my rear view mirror. Whoever calls front wheel drive cars “wrong” has no idea about what a properly sorted differential put out on the front can do.
The long gearing of the NSX and the constant changing of the tarmac really didn’t help and made the car trickier than it is in normal driving conditions. While approaching the middle of the corner, the back lifted and opened the line, which got the back of the car worryingly close to the guard rails. “That’s the thing with the NSX, it lures you into a false sense of security and then it strikes!”. Porsche enthusiasts know what I am talking about.
On the other hand, the Integra never surprises you with a difficult behavior. It rather amazes you with neck-snapping quick direction changes and remarkable precision. It never feels like a front wheel layout. Both cars could be regarded as milestones in car making, and possibly the best interpretation of Honda’s VTEC technology. Seeing both on the road is a rare sight nowadays. Driving them both gives the unique opportunity to experience Honda potential from two different points of views both remarkable.
The north-western region of Brescia and the Lake Garda is the perfect testing ground for car tests and always provides the perfect landscape for a one day Escape. With the autumn colors blossoming, and the colder climate is the perfect time to take out your favorite shenanigans companion and drive to the very tip of the mountains.
For this escape, the roads in the wild valley between Garda Lake and Idro Lake, favors the NSX first and the Integra second.
In 1990, Honda introduced the first ever performance VTEC, giving car enthusiasts another thing to fall in love and put their money in. A transversally mounted 3.0 V6 with 270 hp and variable valve timing shook the world for its smooth, consistent and effective power delivery. Although at the time when the NSX was launched the Japanese government imposed a limit of 280 hp on cars manufactured on National soil, the acceleration is very consistent. With the original cast iron intake replaced and a few mods on the exhaust and firing order, power can increase well over 300 hp. 8000 rpm maximum are guaranteed by ultra light titanium connecting rods.
As it is, the NSX is simply perfect and hardly needs any mods. It’s just a little taller than the Ford GT40 and this doesn’t force the occupants into the absurd contortions getting in and out just like other supercars. Visibility forward and backward is possibly the best for any sportscar we’ve ever tested and it gives the driver a sensation of the width of the car: a great advantage indeed when driving.
The driving position is laid-back and was inspired by the unique ergonomics of the F16 Falcon fighter jet. You sit as low to the ground as possible with the controls perfectly laid out. Steering height and depth and seating position are fully and electrically adjustable: it’s a feature that was quite rare for cars at the time.
The real strength of the NSX was its low cost of operations and its user-friendly attitude: nothing ever came close for a long time and maybe nothing still doesn’t nowadays. It was the first mass-produced aluminum monocoque supercar in history and its chassis was 50 percent stronger than the one used in the Porsche 911 at the time. Honda engineers made large use of extruded aluminum parts in the shell to improve the handling and the structural rigidity which was a weak point during the initial stage of developing. The decision of making the car more rigid came after an unassuming Brazilian F1 driver by the name of Ayrton Senna, gave his own precious contribution during the development years.
The car has a surprisingly plush ride and the handling is perfect thanks to lightweight suspension (20kg lighter than the competition), and great weight distribution. When pushed to the limit, the NSX becomes quite ruthless, expressing all its potential at once: it requires skills well beyond most drivers of today.
On the other hand, the Integra is the real piece of cake: predictable, sharp, and with handling skills from the Gods. It isn’t a hot hatch and most who don’t know what it is will easily be fooled by its humble looks and 15-inch tires with a super tall shoulder. It sure doesn’t play the part of a 40.000 + Euro base (original) price performance car but in the end, it’s a lot of performance.
Originally presented in 1995, the Integra Type R DC2 was only available for the Japanese market for the first three years of its life. Each one was numbered and was only avaliable in white, black and red
At 1225 kg with liquids and driver, the 8600 rpm redline and the lovely red Alcantara Recaro seats the promises are huge. Don’t make the mistake of under estimate the Integra: with 200 hp it’s blisteringly quick.
The DC2 (the official model name of the car) was based on parts coming from the Civic hot hatch, like the chassis and the gearbox, although it was modified for close gear ratios.
The stiff Showa shock absorbers working together with the Torsen differential and roll bars are effective in making the car change direction as quickly as a F1 car.
The driving position is perfect, with the controls perfectly positioned and easy to reach. The only flaw is the pedalboard, which is not suited for a sports car at all: the lower and far away position of the throttle pedal from the brake make heel and toe very difficult. The tighter the road, the better. The Integra is a voracious animal which eats the tarmac meter after meter, never sliding the tires of going into understeer. The differential works so good that the more throttle you apply in corners, the more the car closes the line. It’s a thing of true beauty: it’s not a case that Evo magazine nominated it the best Front wheel drive car of all time back in the early 2000’s. In many ways, it is still the benchmark.
In many ways, this Japanese sportscar is the most surprising modern car I have ever driven. An unassuming performance which is perfect for everyday use: it’s the Japanese supermodel dressed in ordinary clothing that will make your eyes eater and your heart burn with desire.
It’s these cars who only have plastic in the dashboard that is the most desirable. Hondas may not be noisy or sexy as Italian supercars, but their beauty lies for what they’re made for: Driving.