(Today’s My CC is by Steven Libby)
Reliable and economical. Two words that come to mind when you think of Honda. That begs the question “what two words come to mind when you think of Acura?” Oh, I know…a fancy Honda. Although true for the most part, there is an exception to every rule.
In a time when domestic auto dealers were buried up to their necks in badge engineered vehicles, Acura released a redesigned Integra that, on the outside, was nothing like it’s Honda brethren. With bug eye headlights, frameless windows on the sedan, and a hatchback variation, the third generation Integra was worlds apart from any other Honda on the market.
Introduced to America in 1994, the third generation Integra was produced until 2001. It was available as a four door sedan and three door hatchback for most models. Throughout its seven year run, it was available in six different trim levels: base model RS (through 1999), mid-range LS, high end SE (1995-1996) and GS (1997-2001), high performance GSR, and race-inspired, three door hatchback Type-R (1997-1998, 2000-2001).
Though sized like a Civic, the Integra was priced closer to a comprable Accord. In 1994, the base model RS sold for around $14,000. GSRs ran for close to $20,000 or more and about $24,000 for the Type-R. It was a high price to pay but as Acura is a luxury brand, buyers paid the luxury price. Unfortunately, the closest thing to luxury available as a standard feature on the Integra at the time was a CD player, leather seats, and a moon roof.. Even keyless entry was an option on these cars, and a rare one at that!
All third generation Integras were available with a 1.8 liter engine. While the RS, LS, SE, and GS came with a 142 hp DOHC cam engine, the GSR and Type-R, however, were available with the more powerful VTEC engine. But, with great power comes get responsibility…in this case, the responsibility is the requirement of premium fuel. The GSR and Type-R were only available with manual transmissions.
In 2007, I was in the market for another car. My 1995 Dodge Dakota had been nothing but a financial burden. More and more, I began to long for the 1993 Honda Accord LX it had replaced in a fit of youthful foolishness. So, when my parents said I could start looking for another car I had four criteria: I wanted a sedan, I wanted a stick shift, and I didn’t want leather. Oh, and it HAD to be a Honda. What did I end up with? A two door, automatic with leather. But you don’t complain when you get a 10 year old Honda with 48,000 miles.
That was five and a half years ago, and 98,000 miles. The Integra truly speaks to Honda’s reliability. In all the time I’ve owned it, I’ve done nothing but routine maintenance: spark plugs, tune-up, timing belt service, tires, oil, rear trailing arm bushings, and a radiator. In 1994, an Integra commercial said “not since Hot Wheels has a car been this much fun.” I fully believe it.
There is absolutely nothing special about a 1997 Integra. It’s the last year before the typical Honda mid-generation facelift and it was the first year they used the “mesh” wheels. What makes mine special, though, is that it’s one of the few that remains relatively unchanged from the new. No performance mods, it’s not lowered, and it still has the original muffler.
I’ll admit, I haven’t been easy on it, either. I moved myself to college in it, helped move my friend several times, and in the early days I drove it like a young man would drive a sporty-ish car. It had a hole put into the rear quarter panel when a friend backed into it with his 1972 Mercedes 220D, and one night in college I managed to fit six people into it…one of whom voluntarily rode in the trunk.
And yet, the little car keeps on ticking. And I’m not just saying that because of the typical old Honda valve tick. But with 146,818 miles on the clock it promises me many more miles of adventures and driving pleasure.
Wonderful cars! I miss my 90 (same engine) still and I sold it six years ago after college. Bought it in 98 with 32k miles in Houston, sold it with 173k miles in Boise. Replaced with a new Outback which has served well and we have a new Accord. They just aren’t the same as that little Integra. All I replaced, outside of regular maintenance, was a clutch, muffler (due to trail excursion), and radiator. Drove it all over the country and enjoyed every minute of the car!
I’ve always liked the old Integras and think they’ve aged better than some of the other premium makes of the same vintage. It’s nice to see one without all the mods too!
Thank you. I take great pride in my lack of modifications. The closest thing to a “performance” modificaton are the Hawk brake pads.
This was just a glorified version of the Honda Civic much like the Toyota Corolla is to the Lexus IS at least from 1998 though 2002.
Yeah, they’d hated the same basic chassis components and some Civics shared the same engine family as Integras. But the Integra was not tuned as economy compact like the Civic (was).
First off, the IS has nothing to do with the Corolla, completely different platform. The IS was a Toyota model in Japan, but they didn’t sell it here, so it wasn’t really badge engineered. They didn’t have Lexus there anyway.
Second, even to this day I do not notice any shared panels between the Civic and any same generation Integras. I do not even see the same belt lines, hard points, etc. Honda did a really good job hiding the roots. They also used different engines, different suspension tuning, wheels, seats, dash, etc. All they shared was the platform, and it was an excellent platform. I don’t mind badge engineering done this way.
I thought the Civics were SOHC engines, though.
The original Integra was more closely related to the Accord, believe it or not.
Perhaps things like the turn signal and windshield wiper stalk may be the same, as they were identical to my 93 Accord. But I’m pretty sure all major components were strickly Integra…at least when I’ve looked for parts.
From under the hood you will see the same structure, motor mount and battery placement. One part I know they share is the windshield. Suspension basics are the same too.
I worked with a guy who had two of these. A red 94 and a green 97 (I think). Both stick shifts, and the green one had leather just like this one. He never had a lick of trouble with either of them.
He later traded the green one on a Honda Accord coupe – and hated it. After a couple of years in the Accord he traded it on another Acura – this time an RSX Type S.
I always liked these. Fun to drive, good looking and with that Honda reliability.
If it was a 97 with leather, it would have had the meshes like mine. That was, I believe, the first year of them and both the GS and GSR had them.
98+ GSR got distinct wheels and the midgeneration facelift changed the front and rear facias.
It’s a blast on country roads. When I first got it, I’d be pulling 70 going towards the mountains in Virginia and it always felt confident.
Here is a Japanese ad for this car by that well-known Japanese actor, Brad Pitt-san:
I typically bemoan anecdotal evidence but in my life I’ve owned 2 Toyota’s. 3 VW’s, 1 Volvo, and 4 Nissan products and I don’t recall anything but regular maintenance on each of them…including the VW’s, though the ’90 GLI once required some computer adjustment.
Yet, it is inevitable when one discusses Honda products that “reliability” is a given component.
Are Honda’s really superior in that regard? Still?
Or are they resting on a fabulous marketing scheme born 30 years ago when it was probably more accurate?
I’ve heard that in recent years, yes, there has been more of a reliance on older Hondas and their reliability. But Toyota and Nissan follow the same trend, I’m sure.
It can be said, from my experience, that at least 15 years ago they were still making reliable cars. I’ve had complete strangers come up to me (and even a customer service agent from Safelight over the phone) and tell me that they had one and it was nothing but amazing.
Perhaps there may not be a scientific study to back it. Maybe it’s just luck, but I can’t say I’ve always treated this car well. I was 20 when I got it, and drove it like a young man would. Maybe I never drove it through a field like I did my Accord, but it takes a beating and begs for more.
Hmmm…still just a fancy little Honda…just kidding!
These weren’t bad cars at all, considering what was available back then. Hondas did impress me, even if I wouldn’t buy one – yet.
Nissan 240? Dodge Avenger/Sebring coupe? Hyundai Tiburon? Others I haven’t mentioned? I don’t follow imports as I have little interest for sport coupes for reasons beyond fixed windows – I need passenger room as I often carry a carload in some of my activities. Plus I’m not a kid anymore…but I love Corvettes!
A good friend has a 1997 Nissan 240 he leased new and bought it when the lease was up. He still has it, keeps it garaged and now has over 40K on the clock. His daily driver is a decrepit 1997 Civic sedan…
What I think we’re all finding out that as cars have gotten very reliable and basically have become appliances, the cars have lost their souls. I’m torn on this because does it HAVE to be that way?
I will admit, I did NOT want a coupe as I missed the sedan days of my Accord. I would have killed for an Integra sedan, but they’re hard to find. And you really don’t complain when you get a 10 year old Honda with 48,000 miles.
I often wonder myself about cars losing their souls. Maybe some would think even by the 90s that were true, but my Accord definitely had it’s own personality as does the Integra. I name my cars, talk to them, fuss when they misbehave…to me, it’s not an appliance. It’s a friend. That one you can always rely on, good or bad, and will never look down on you for whatever stupid things you do.
I drive my dad’s 2005 Escape, my mom’s 2007 Volvo S40, and my brother’s 2007 Corolla S and they just don’t have the same…I don’t know how to put it…something deeper than mechanicals that I see in my car.
You’re probably aware of the fact that the Acura Integra has (or had, depending on who you want to believe) been ranked as one of the most-stolen vehicles in America for many years. ALL the tuners want that VTEC motor and other assorted parts.
On the other hand, I have a 1991 Volvo 740, which was ranked the least-stolen car in the U.S. at one point.
Quite aware…last I checked it was number 4, I believe.
But I’ve been lucky so far. *knock on wood* The non-VTEC motor in my GS probably helps, and the fact that there’s nothing worth stealing because it’s got an AutoZone air filter and everything stock. People want the GSRs and Type-Rs and modded ones. The only thing on my car that I can feasibly see someone wanting to steal would be the wheels, as people seem to love to put them on Civics.
I always liked the 740…
Enjoyed the article Steven, thank you! I miss the Integra – it’s one of the few Hondas I wish they hadn’t stopped building – as the Civic and Accord got more and more boring, the Integra still embodied Honda to me. We got the 3 and 4 door Integras here in NZ, badged as Hondas (Accura doesn’t exist downunder). As well as the ones we got new, thousands more arrived as used JDM imports, so whatever iteration you want (4-door Type R!), it’s here somewhere!
Nice post, Steven. I always loved the Integras, all generations. This car seemed very smart and cool when first introduced with its round headlights and other nice details, and I wanted one when car shopping in 1995, but ended up with a top-line Civic instead (it was $2K less for a similar content level and a VTEC engine which the lower-line Integra didn’t offer). I had a little regret about that later — not because the Civic was bad but just because it was too common. I’m even more interested (from a classics standpoint) in the 1st and 2nd generation Integras, which are getting very hard to find in unmodified form. I’m on the lookout!
If things go well with this girl I’ve been talking to, I’ll be seeing a first generation Integra five door more frequently that belongs to some friends who live near her. I’ll definitely snag some pictures if I’m up there more.
I also know of someone who has a first generation three door and a third generation GSR, so I need to keep my eyes open for the first generation which he’s been driving much more frequently.
I never could get past the look of the headlights and well, they’re too new for my tastes I guess. I’m posting because a real nice woman I work with bought one new and it’s a sedan, which I find better looking than the 2-door.
She loves her car & says the only problem she had was a knocking engine, courtesy of her son who borrowed it one time. I took these pics today & the inside is as clean as the outside. Any car that looks like this after 309K miles has got to be a good one.
To be honest, the bug eye headlights I never really liked. That was my turn-off to Integras when looking at cars, but I quickly got used to them. I like them now. They’re unique and distinctive, even if when parked right the reflection of light in them can make it took like the car is watching you.
Backside. 309,000 miles…typical for Honda though. My $51 CRX is at 262K now & the car was evidently thrashed pretty hard before I acquired it @208K.
I wanted a sedan so badly. I love them. The four doors, the frameless windows..so classy.
I’d be proud of my little car made 309,000.
309K is an amazing achievement and the car looks good. I like the 4 door of these a lot. The faux 4-door hardtop styling is a very nice detail that made it seem more special than the Civic. IMO the interior didn’t quite offer enough over the Civic, though. It was a bit too economy-car-like, especially in the non-leather cars. Although that certainly didn’t stop it from being a huge success!
One more thing — the cycle for this car lasted much longer than Hondas normally do. 8 model years versus 5 (actually 4 was the norm in the mid-’90s). I wonder why they kept it around so long without a restyle? It was very dated by 2001, and the RSX doesn’t seem to have been as successful a followup (IMO). Wonder why? Maybe it was the general trend away from sports coupes. The 4-door’s spiritual successor was the TSX, at least.
It’s possible that it was the popularity of the design across all markets. The RSX continued as the Integra outside of America.
A close friend had a 1995 Integra 2-dr. that he loved. It was fast, reliable and great on gas. The only complaint he had was that it was noisy on the highway (like most Hondas) but otherwise it was a great vehicle. It actually got broken into right in front of his house and they almost got away with stealing it, breaking a lot of the interior parts and steering column trying to get it started. It was never quite the same after that and he sold it for a decent price too.
I know what most people are saying about the soul of a car moving you and making you want to get behind the wheel. I have enjoyed Hondas greatly over the years and I know the feeling they can provide. I had a 1993 Accord EX 5-speed wagon that I would love to post on here if I can find a picture of it. It was the best car I have ever owned – 247,000 miles and never a problem! It was a 5-speed so it was fun to drive and you never knew you had a wagon behind you. It was rusting out badly in the suspension so my mechanic advised we sell it. I miss it every day! It was very rare, especially being a stick. I now have a 1996 Accord LX 5-speed sedan that I picked up for cheap money – only $1600 bucks with 188,000 miles. It was a garaged one-owner car, owned by an older man and let me tell you that I love driving it probably as much as the wagon. It is like having a Prelude 4-door! I now have 210,000 miles on it and haven’t put a dime into it besides oil changes. The 5-speed totally transforms these cars and makes them so fun to drive. It is great on gas, too. Compared to the newer cars they lack in interior room but how often do I haul people around? It is great for me!! I am going to get over 300k out of this car if it kills me and I know I will enjoy getting there!
Having owned a 1993 Accord, myself (though a sedan), I completely agree…they are a very special car.
Steve, I’m so glad someone else knows what I mean about the 1990-93 Accords. I know that to the average person it looks like another boring family sedan from the 90’s but to have owned one and driven one for so long the feeling you get from driving them is very hard to duplicate. The big greenhouse, low cowl, overall feeling of the suspension – no new car I have driven feels like them and probably never will.
The closest thing I’ve ever come to reliving those days is the Integra. They’re both so agile, so nimble. I’ll always miss that car. It never let me down.
The low cowl was one of the best parts of it, too. It may not have been entirely fast, but it made it feel like it was going faster than it was…at least according to a former coworker.
When one of my closest friends (who is a girl) wants to get to me, she says “you know what I miss driving? Althie (what we called my Accord).”
Mine was an LX sedan in “Phantom Gray Pearl.” It wasn’t the navy blue, but kind of the grayish color that only came on the LX model. It changed colors based on the light.
My sister traded her ’85 Corvette in on a new Charcoal-colored ’90 Accord 2-door. I was so disappointed then but completely understand why now. She drove it 90K with only one no-start problem. Honda towed the car back & fixed it free of charge.
Unfortunately, a giant tree fell across its roof in a bad storm, sealing its fate. I rode in it not long before it got smushed & it still looked & felt like it was brand new. These were my favorite Accords. Nice, unassuming, & dead reliable.
Didn’t America get the conventional headlight version of that shape? We got them with or without the bugeyes. Here’s a non-bug-eye ’96 Type R on trademe:
No, we didn’t get the JDM front (as it’s called here). People convert them, but we didn’t get them at dealers.
Does `routine maintenance’ also include chassis fixes and engine overhauls? What exactly does timing belt `servicing’ entail? I thought you just had to replace them. And why is radiator replacement routine?
Seriously, looking at the `routine’ list for cars (esp VW, but also Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, even Asian GM/Daewoo, Euro/Asian Ford, you name it) makes you wonder if the increased reliability of modern cars is actually the increased regular behind-the-scenes tweaking/parts-replacement working.
GM got the first part of car manufacture right—engineer every part to its lowest possible cost, with predictable failure after `n’ miles. Who discovered the second part—convince the customer to replace all parts due for failure *before* they fail, thus preserving the aura of reliability? Planned obsolescence for parts, actually. Was this how things were traditionally done in Europe, leading to European cars being much more reliable when actually *in* Europe? With high parts prices and availability limited to dealers, this could work very well for a manufacturer!
Routine maintenance includes: plugs, wires, distributor, air filter, tires, brakes…the kind of stuff you have to replace after a while on every car.
Timing belt service is timing belt, water pump, valve cover gasket, spark plug gaskets, and drive belts. As outlined in the owner’s manual. Plus, most manufactorers recommend replacing the water pump when you replace the timing belt, at least at my last check.