It was only towards the end of the day that we were able to make a break for it. A storm was approaching, the sensible thing to do would be to go south on the Taconic Parkway and head home to New York Citye. But it's hard to give into good sense when you've got two of the best cars on sale today, and a great country road ahead of you. Plus, the asphalt is dry for now.
I'm in the Integra Type S, Acura's new hot hatch. It demolishes the road ahead, carrying speed that supercars would have a hard time living with, and totally engaging the driver (me) in the process. Behind is the Type S's mechanical sibling, the Honda Civic Type R, which looks like a touring car with its low, wide stance getting larger in the mirror. Autoweek's Emmett White is keeping pace behind me. A couple miles further down the road, we get stuck behind a slow truck, so I grab my radio and say, simply "this car rips."
Both of them rip, in fact. We already knew that about the Civic Type R, which quickly has wormed its way into many an R&T staffer's heart since our first time with one last year. It's an incredible refinement of the old Type R, every element honed to perfection. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder sends 315 hp and 310 lb-ft torque to the front wheels via a superb six-speed manual transmission. While the engine is great, the chassis is sublime. Perhaps one of the best front-drivers of all time.
When I first learned about the Integra Type S, I thought "What's the point?" Acura pitched it as a more luxurious version of the Type R, with more creature comforts, a softer suspension setup, and a base price $7105 higher. Sure it had five more horsepower, and I figured that with Type R underpinnings, it would still be excellent to drive, but again, what's wrong with the Civic? This comparison test was designed to suss out why the ITS exists.
You go into these things with expectations. I figured I would come away just saying "the Integra's great, but just buy the Civic." Things didn't turn out that way.
On first impression, driving home through Manhattan, the Type S didn't seem too different from my recollections of the Civic. The interior design isn't identical, but all the buttons and switches are in the same place and the materials used feel similar. Only on the drive up to our shoot location do the extra niceties that come with the Acura badge reveal themselves. The ride is excellent and tire/wind noise is well suppressed. The ELS Studio audio system sounds wonderful, a cut above what you get in a lot of luxury cars these days, and the driver assist systems work without fault.
It's easy to forget you're in something high-performance—the Type S is as good an everyday car as a standard Integra, if not better. The power is always there, though. Get on it, and the Type S surges forward, boost building as quickly as we've come to expect from this powertrain. The shifter, with its retro-style knob wrapped in perforated leather, feels perfect, and the auto rev-match system never misses a beat.
The Type S offers Comfort, Sport, and Sport + drive modes, plus an Individual program that lets you mix and match settings. With the adaptive dampers in either Comfort or Sport, the Integra Type S feels perfect on the road, remaining supple and delivering world-class handling. It's a trick that only the finest performance cars pull off. I think back to time spent in the Lotus Evora, the Alpine A110, the Porsche Boxster Spyder. All cars that remind us that ride doesn't have to compromise handling, and vice versa. Heady company.
Acura said, essentially, the Type S is about one rung softer than the Type R. Meaning Sport+ suspension in the Type S is equivalent to Sport in the Type R, and so on, with Comfort its own setting. But it feels quite a bit more forgiving than the Type R, perhaps two rungs more comfortable—if it's valid to measure comfort in "rungs"—and all the better for it.
White often describes the Civic as being more "aggro." It's a punchy little car, and it more immediately feels special. The seat is maybe the best in any car today, bolstered in all the right spots without feeling too tight, or fatiguing to sit in for long jaunts. The Integra's seats are the same as you get in an A-Spec, and they don't hold you in nearly as well for spirited driving.
That aggressiveness is really prominent in the way the car rides. The Type R bounds around a lot more. It never ever feels out of control on super bumpy roads—of which we found many— but the driver is bounced around a lot more than the Acura. In some ways, that makes the Type R feel more special in spirited driving. What we've always loved about Type Rs is their rough-and-ready touring-car attitude, and this new one has plenty of that. Steering and turn-in are sharper because the car is more tied down.
The Type R's most aggressive mode, +R, is too much for the road. Like the Integra, the Civic has an Individual program, and I found the car best with the suspension set to Comfort. That should be equivalent to the Integra's Sport setting, but I have a hard time believing they're identical. The Type S still felt a bit more supple in this mode.
Otherwise, it's frankly hard to separate the two. White and I both noticed that the power delivery in the Acura is a bit smoother than the Honda's, and it definitely does feel a bit punchier in 1st and 2nd gear. Acura gave the engine a more aggressive tune for 93 octane, whereas the Honda is set to give its maximum with just 91. (In California, the two engines should feel identical.)
The Acura is slightly heavier at 3212 pounds to the Civic's 3183 pounds, but dynamically, it's impossible to notice a difference. You may, however, appreciate the Acura's extra sound deadening. In the Civic, you hear stones kicked up underneath the car and a lot more driveline noise, most of which disappears in the Integra. Where the Integra's extra sound dampening pays dividends is on the highway. The Acura also has a more aggressive exhaust note in Sport+ mode, and unlike in the Honda, the sound isn't digitally augmented in the cabin. So, the Integra wins again here.
While it seems I'm more effusive in my praise for the Acura, it took me some time to come to these conclusions. For the first couple hours of this test, I couldn't find much to compare between the two. It was really that final drive of the day that sold me on the Type S. Running up and down the same road, both cars were superb. But the fact that the Integra could carry a similar pace as the Civic while providing more comfort to the driver made me realize it's the superior road car.
It's that fluidity, plus the other, smaller benefits that should make the Integra worth the upcharge for many. There's nothing else on the market like it. This mix of excellent dynamics, a manual transmission, and everyday usability is unique and of enormous appeal. Anyone who buys either a Civic Type R or an Integra Type S is getting something amazing, but it's the Acura I want. Badly.
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