Honda engines’ domination of Formula One has generated great respect for the make, but the Integra used to be a car more for mum and dad than the enthusiast, unless the latter borrowed it to drive down to the newsagents to buy MOTOR SPORT.
But since the large, well-arranged 1.5-litre four-door hatchback-type saloon has been given, in EX16 form, the 16-valve transverse four-cylinder 125 bhp fuel-injection engine from the CRX coupe, the Integra has been transformed into a notably quick (117 mph, and 0-60 in 8.6 sec) 1500cc conveyance.
All the convenient features of the older model have been retained, which means controls and instrumentation can hardly be faulted — all neatly labelled, sensibly contrived and including remote releases for the lockable back panel and the fuel-filler flap (even among mostly-alike modern family cars, national characteristics have not quite vanished).
There is little need to describe these controls in detail, since the Integra already has many friends, but the massing of lamps and front and rear wipe/wash controls on the two steering-column stalks is convenient, the steering rake adjustable, and the horn can be sounded with any of the three spoke-buttons. Stowages, if less generous than in some cars, include a cubby, door-bins and a coin-container. Four-speaker stereo is standard equipment.
The EX16 has power-steering, asking 3.6 turns lock-to-lock, but lacks central locking and anything more than a tilt-up removable sun-roof panel. Nor has it electric window-lifts, while the external mirrors have to be set manually. But interior space, boot capacity, fuel range (a 10.3-litre tank) and appearance (enhanced by pop-up headlamps) are all first-class.
The performance of the twin-cam power-unit is impressive, but suspension and steering do not quite provide as much secure enjoyment as might be expected; on slippery surfaces there is some torque-steer, on rough ones some quite vicious bump-thump at times. The gear-change is smooth and light, in true Honda style (so few makers seem able to manufacture truly good gearboxes nowadays); there is the slightest trace of whine in overdrive fifth gear, in which this Integra cruises at under 4000 rpm at 70 mph.
Wind and road noises are notably low, and the increase in power has been met by larger tyres (185/60 x 14 Japanese Dunlop SP Sport D6), bigger and rather over-servoed disc brakes all round, a rear spoiler and deeper front air-dam.
The test-car had an annoying hesitation, caused either by a sticking throttle or by an error in the programming of the Honda PGM-F1 fuel-injection system, which marred slightly the otherwise smooth pick-up (the engine peaks at 6500 rpm, runs to 7000 rpm, and produces 103 lb ft torque at 5500 rpm). A pity, as this is a sophisticated engine with alloy block and head, five-bearing crankshaft, electric fan and, of course, electronic ignition; under-bonnet inspection reveals gold anodised rocker-covers, the ignition distributor driven off the end of the inlet camshaft, and great accessibility of the oil-filler, dipstick and Yuasa battery. There are twin exhaust tailpipes.
A split rear seat adds to the load-carrying ability of this Honda which, with its flush glass, recessed door-handles and concealed headlamps, is a smooth production. I would have liked a bit more “sure-footedness”, a proper sun-roof and central locking; demisting was ineffective unless one used full heat to the windscreen, and there was a metallic rattle from the region of the rear seat of the test-car, which had already covered more than 19,000 miles.
I would, however, rate the Honda EX16 as a very companionable car, especially on an urgent journey. The interior is bland, with big unbroken expanses of plastic to match the velour upholstery, but the price (£9450) is right and fuel thirst came out at a most commendable 35.6 mpg. WS