Of the FF (front-engined, front-wheel-drive) cars, first up for me was the Integra Type R. Having heard so many positive things about this car (not to mention seeing its performance in the Best MOTORing series of videos), my expectations were sky high. I've driven the previous generation (DC2) Integra Type R, and I absolutely love that car. I've also driven King Motorsports' US-market 2002 RSX with a full Moton suspension and JDM Type R motor, and that car was simply unbelievable. In that context, the DC5 Integra Type R did not disappoint at all. Everything about it is damn near perfect. Out on the circuit, concerns about which wheels are being driven all but vanish. This car puts down power (and the K20A motor delivers loads of it) with no drama. The engine sounds and feels like a million bucks. You can absolutely muscle the car around the course and it just flat out owns. Grip is superb and the car possesses excellent balance. It's very neutral at the limits and will progressively settle into the perfect amount of oversteer upon lift. On this particular course, understeer is largely an afterthought unless you specifically try to make the car do dumb things. The driving environment is excellent, with superb deeply bolstered Recaro seats, subtle red trim, and fabulous feedback from all of the controls.
Elated with the ITR, I next settled into the Civic Type R. It was pretty much more of the same. The CTR is slighly heavier than the Integra, and I caught a whiff of that added mass, but it's still a serious piece of hardware. At 215ps, the CTR delivers 5ps fewer than the CTR, but acceleration-wise it's virtually impossible to discern between the two cars. The sensation of additional mass was strictly in terms of vehicle dynamics. Both cars were fabulous, but the ITR felt a touch lighter on its feet. The CTR's rear end seemed to hold its ground a little bit more than the ITR, reducing access to intended oversteer ever so slightly. The CTR also seemed to have a slightly higher center of gravity than the ITR, resulting in the sensation of a bit more body roll. Keep in mind that while the ITR takes the edge in these subjective comparisons, the differences are extremely subtle - the Civic Type R is a damn fine car. I'll mention the Recaro seats again because they deserve praise. The Civic Type R, Integra Type R, and the Accord Euro R share the same Recaro designs, and they rank up there with the best seats fitted to any road car. It's unfortunate that such deeply bolstered seats are not offered here in North American-model Hondas and Acuras.
Now with a grin permanently affixed to my mug, I noticed that the beautiful red Accord Euro R was available to drive. Having a 2004 TSX back home in the States to compare it to, I was eager to drive this 220ps beauty. While not a full blown Type R model, the Euro R features the full-tilt 220ps 2.0L K20A (borrowed from the Integra Type R) hooked up to a magnificent 6-speed manual transmission. I was curious to know how well the smaller motor (more power, less torque) would cope with the added heft of the Accord chassis. The answer: amazingly well! This baby has some get up and go! While not as quick as the Integra Type R, the 2.0L didn't seem to be struggling at all to pull the Accord around the track. It builds revs very quickly and smoothly - again the sounds are fantastic. Of course I didn't have any opportunity to time the car's acceleration, but a rough guess would put it around 0.5 to a full second quicker (than a TSX) to 60mph and through the 1/4. As much as I like the 2.4L in the TSX, I can say that I would gladly swap it for the zingier 220hp 2.0L, unless of course Acura can liberate an additional 40hp from the 2.4 (we think they can). From a chassis perspective, the high performance tires fitted to the Euro R obviously provide a huge benefit in grip, but the suspension itself was too soft for this course. At the media launch of the TSX last year (see article here), I was informed by the lead chassis engineer on the Accord project that the TSX's suspension calibrations were around 5% stiffer than even the Accord Euro R's, and I have no reason to doubt the claim. While the Euro R features most of the standard upgrades of the Type R models (Recaros, lightened body, high output motor, LSD, brembo brakes), the suspension falls a little short, making the Euro R a better choice for high speed touring rather than the race track, particularly one as tight as Tochigi's "Winding Road Course". Even with the Limited-Slip Differential, thanks to the body roll of the soft setup, the front tires could be coaxed into howling fairly easily, as demonstrated by the Editor-in-Chief of a well-known US automotive enthusiast publication (continuously for two full laps around the circuit).