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Type R retrospective: What if gold really can stay?

We compare a new Honda Civic Type R with a pristine Acura Integra Type R to see if the goodness of Honda's Golden Era is still alive today.

Two decades separates these two sports cars.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Earlier this year, a US-spec Acura Integra Type R sold for upwards of $50,000 in an online auction. Don't get us wrong, the Integra is a special vehicle, and there are good reasons for it to be spoken about by car nerds in hushed and reverent tones. But that's a crap-ton of money for a late-1990s Honda, which got us thinking.

The 2020 Civic Type R has 306 horsepower and is so, so, so much fun on a twisty road. A brand-new Honda Civic Type R starts just under $40,000, and the new Limited Edition arrives in the mid-$40K range. So with old Type Rs and new Type Rs commanding similar prices these days, it's worth asking: How much of that original magic is still baked into today's modern formula, and which one is the better buy?

To find out, we borrowed a 2020 Civic Type R and put it up against a stunning example of performance past. This 2001 Acura Integra Type R is completely stock with around 5,000 miles on its odometer and lives in Honda's private collection. It's the kind of ITR that could easily fetch $50K or more on the auction market. In other words, it's perfect.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Acura offered the Integra Type R in the US from 1997 to 2001 and it sold less than 4,000 examples during that time. It's powered by Honda's legendary B18C5 engine -- a handbuilt, 1.8-liter inline-4 that produces 195 horsepower at 8,200 rpm -- and weighs around 2,600 pounds. It's got a five-speed manual transmission and a simple interior with a few creature comforts. It's sports car purity at its finest, and a shining example of what we know as Honda's Golden Era -- Phoenix Yellow paint and all.

So many characteristics of Golden Era Hondas are apparent before we even start the engine. The thin pillars and door cards, the super-simple center stack, the comfy cloth seats and expansive view out the front all bring back fond memories of '80s Accords and '90s Civics. We fell in love with Honda because the cars were just so approachable and friendly and easy to use, and we feel the same way about this 2001 Integra Type R. The feeling is amplified because of how overly complex and customizable sports cars are these days. But damn, this Integra just makes us miss the old days. No drive modes, no settings within settings, just straightforward fun.

The other Golden Era traits come through on the road. Honda (and Acura) convinced us that front-wheel-drive cars can be solid performers, and the Integra Type R proves that point, leaving no room for argument. The steering is crisp and accurate, offering tons of feedback about the coupe's front-end grip. We can rev the bejesus out of this engine and know it's thrilled to play along, hanging out around 6,000 rpm on long stretches of canyon roads to keep the power on boil without fear that something catastrophic is about to happen. And now, 20 years on, the Integra Type R is still a benchmark for how a front-wheel-drive car should handle.

Simple, clean and easy to navigate. The Integra's interior is great. 

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The Integra is never difficult or intimidating like some older sports cars, and it's super involving to drive. The chassis encourages you to work the wheel with vigor, and there are no sophisticated drive modes or stability control, so when the rear moves around as you drop throttle, you're brought into that experience, as well.

This car is blissfully light and nimble, full of feedback and eager to be driven hard. It's as close to a platonic ideal for a front-drive sports car as we've found in a long time. No wonder people are paying massive bucks for one of these.

If you would've told us in 2001 that someday a front-wheel-drive sports car could perfectly manage 306 hp, we wouldn't have believed you. Yet here we are, enamored with the new Civic Type R. Sure, the sophisticated differential tech takes a lot of the credit here, as does the modern suspension hardware. But in a time where many folks think you need all-wheel drive to make a properly fast hot hatch, Honda once again proves that FWD is A-OK.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Compared to the Integra, the Civic Type R is a hefty boy -- about 500 pounds separates these two. Then again, who (other than Kevin Smith or John Goodman) isn't heavier now than they were 20 years ago? The Civic also has all the modern conveniences you'd expect for a $40-50K car made in 2020, including adaptive cruise control, a decent infotainment system, lane-keeping assist, traction control, drive modes, etc.

No, the Civic Type R doesn't feel quite as light or playful as the Integra, but it's an agile car. So many of the Integra's best traits carry over to the Civic: Crisp, responsive steering, an engine that's happy to rev and a manual transmission that's engaging to use.

The Civic Type R also feels more like a weapon than the Integra. The Acura is certainly no slouch when driven hard, but it's much more of a momentum car than an outright performer. The Civic Type R, on the other hand, constantly feels like it wants to bait supercars and take corners at speeds that leave you speechless. It's rowdy and raw and entirely too much fun. It's a wonderful car, and feels like it comes from the same general mindset as the Integra, albeit with more of a dad bod and the automotive aesthetic equivalent of a post-boxing career Mickey Rourke.

We'd be thrilled to own either one of these.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

We do wish the Civic Type R didn't look so ridiculous. It'd be hard to park one of these in the driveway and look at it with a straight face every day -- even in Championship White, aka The Good Color. Even with its bright yellow paint and big wing, the Integra is a more sophisticated stunner, and that's a design trend we miss. Thankfully, its rumored that the next-generation Type R will have a much more refined approach.

Are the teachings of Honda's Golden Era still alive in today's Civic Type R? Definitely. The Civic is built with the same great-driving, super-involving ethos, and it comes with modern safety technology, two more doors, a quieter cabin, better seats and all the other things that make today's sports cars so much more livable.

The bottom line? We'd be happy to have either in our garage. The Integra brings so much joy to the driver without asking much in return, and even 20 years on, it's going to be relatively reliable. The Civic is a practical hatchback that's utterly unhinged when you run it hard, and it's got that intrinsic Type R goodness running through its chassis. New or old, any Type R is a hell of a buy.