Honda Civic Type R or Acura Integra Type S: Who Does It Better On Track?
We pit the two performance hatches against each other to see which one comes out on top
Feature Image credit: Steven Siovan (Instagram: @_siovan)
As an automotive journalist, I’ve taken every opportunity to talk about the Honda Civic Type R—and by extension, the Acura Integra Type S—even on more exotic based forums such as this one. But here, they have relevance.
That’s because they’re such great cars. I’ve always found it remarkable how consistently they punch above their weight in meaningful settings like the racetrack, where I’ve had many first hand accounts of this taking place.
I’ll never go as far as stating that the latest CTR or ITS are going to be the benchmark car at your typical HPDE or competitive time trial event, likely dominated by a healthy variety of Cayman, 911, and all manner of race car. However, they will surprise—and probably humble—a lot of people driving much more capable and expensive sports cars.
Just a couple of days ago, I had the chance to compare both cars at our local motorsports circuit. More on that, below.
More Than Words
Perhaps all this talk and admiration, for the CTR in particular, was also a self-fulfilling prophecy for myself becoming an owner of this impressive hot hatch. Well, here we are today, and there’s an “FL5” sitting in my garage.
My friend, Chris, also happened to have picked up a brand new Acura Integra Type S recently. Chris has owned his Type S for almost 3 months now and has completed a couple of track days with it, including the one we did for our comparison.
On the date of our track day, I had owned my Type R for a little over a week, racking up a solid 150 km of street driving in the process. This would also be my first day with it at the circuit, so it’s safe to say that my becoming acquainted with the car is being fast-tracked (pun intended).
Match In The Making
Surely, Honda and Acura are targeting two different types of customers, as there is the expectation that they will be choosing one or the other, and not both. Even though these cars can play multiple roles with almost indistinguishable versatility, they still have to be different somehow. We set out to find out at what levels this was the case, at a racetrack.
To begin with, neither of us wasted much time doing the bare minimum needed to make the cars more suitable for a track day, which included higher-temp brake fluid and a more aggressive wheel alignment. Safety first, right?
Chris told me that he had not upgraded to a higher-temp brake fluid for the first track day with his “DE5”, and that this would eventually require a midday intervention when severe fade began to set in. Luckily he got that sorted out then, as this meant that our “Best Motoring Canada” episode could go on without a hitch. This also gave me the impetus to get that stuff sorted out sooner than later, for my own sake.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of what was observed that day, let me preface this with some considerations regarding each car’s settings and the conditions during our comparison.
Event: Privately-run HPDE with standard open-lapping format (passing only with point-by or signal, no “racing”, etc.).
Disclaimer: This club also enforces a strict safety policy when taking a passenger—any “incidents”, including a spin, and you’ll be sent home for the day.
Chris and I each took one passenger during our two lead-follow sessions, of which the second had video footage (embedded below) when I was in the lead car. We felt that it was appropriate to take these particular passengers along as they’re both very familiar with Honda/Acura platforms—especially when it comes to tracking and working on them, making them an invaluable source for information and feedback.
That being said, neither of us were solely focused on lap times, nor did we intend to discover our car’s absolute performance limits on this day. Rather, we both drove at a pace and in a manner which provided ample opportunity to make insightful observations and gather data, while being respectful of the event organizer’s rules.
I think everything mentioned in this section is important as some readers/viewers may be confused as to why there’s no dive-bombing, actual racing, or anything flamboyant taking place at any point during our sessions. Nothing about what went on that day will be going viral on social media—and frankly, that’s part of the goal.
Given that the CTR and ITS share the exact same engine—and considering that the latter outputs 5 hp more due to a redesigned exhaust system—you shouldn’t expect a world of difference between the two cars in real world situations.
While this certainly does ring true on the circuit, there were still perceptible differences in acceleration out of corners, particularly when I was following Chris’ Type S. When I was close enough behind, I noted that Chris would gain around ¾ of a car length on my CTR after certain exits.
As we were both sporting different brake compounds, it’s much harder to make any determinations from a stock vs. stock perspective here. However, we can still speak about the dynamics of each car under braking (while employing different driving styles), and how these played a factor into how both cars ultimately behaved.
This was my first time tracking a front-wheel-drive car (that I’ve personally owned), and with respect to the OEM brakes on the Civic, I already knew that they lacked the bite and precision that I’m normally used to when driving on the track (or even the street). With this in mind, my strategy throughout the day was to get on the brakes earlier and more gently, but ride them longer—the “safe method” for learning a new car at the circuit.
Ah yes, trail braking. Anyone who knows me or has ridden with me in the Porsche, knows that I am a big proponent of it and those who are attuned to driving on circuits are familiar with what this driving style entails. In the videos, you’ll notice during the high speed sector of the course (the first two right handers) that I am scrubbing off too much speed at the end of the long straights. Alternatively, Chris skillfully attacks the corner entries with later braking and a higher entry speed.
However, my strategy of being a bit more gentle on the pedal and employing trail braking during turns, really plays into the FL5’s hands as we enter the more technical sequences of the road course. The first video (below) provides a really good illustration of this, as traffic kept our cars really close together just as we got pointed by—and right as the twisties would begin.
It’s here, where the Civic shows why it owns the Type R moniker and not the other way around, rotating through the corners more gracefully. This allows the car to become settled sooner and rocket through the straighter sections before the next curve arrives. It’s pretty much rinse and repeat, until we hit the front straight again to complete a full lap.
I think it’s good that the video footage we have comes from Chris’ perspective as well, where you can distinctly see (and hear) the Type S struggling for front grip, particularly after the apexes. Whether this is due to the Acura’s softer suspension tuning, or perhaps the extra mid-range power doing more harm than good during cornering, this brings veracity to another popular claim that the ITS by design, is more understeer-y. The second video (below) repeats these observations during a full and clear lap, making our data set more reliable in the process.
Back to the FL5 side of things, one thing I’d like to try next time is the “Pedal Dance” on the Civic. I watched a very interesting video (below) of a driver who does this, and then tracks in Individual or Comfort mode to make the car a little easier to toss around. In +R mode, the steering really firms up and almost resembles that of a car without power steering. Or, I could just lift weights more often—either way, I’m curious to try it out. The required muscle strength aside, I found the car very easy to drive and in accordance with the event rules that day, never once came close to having any “oh $&%#” moments.
Endurance & Viability
One of the biggest issues with the previous-gen FK8 Type R was overheating during track use. Other than the exterior design overhaul, many consider the FL5’s most considerable change to be in this department.
Compared to its predecessor, the new CTR goes pretty far in mitigating the heat factor, and there are already like-for-like tests which prove that the FL5 can do more laps in succession than the FK8 under the same conditions. This is in large part, thanks to a new front-end design and a reimagined intercooler setup. By association, the Type S also benefits from this, though its less-ventilated front bumper design could in theory, mean that it’s not quite as efficient at keeping things as cool as its Honda counterpart.
Nevertheless, neither of us ran into overheating issues on the day. However, given the balmy Fall temperatures (around 20°C), this was likely not going to play a factor unless something went horribly wrong. I recall getting the oil temp up to ~130°C when I was in heavy traffic, though it was easy to get back into the 110°C range with a single cool down lap.
The majority of Honda experts—of which I’m blessed to know many—have reiterated that cooling issues are still likely to plague those who plan to track their Type R, or Type S, hard and often enough. Ultimately, this means that the status quo remains for that particular group of owners, who will, as before, need to consider the aftermarket for more robust oil and coolant management systems.
Nothing outstanding when it came to tire and brake wear for both Chris and I, though we were diligent in managing our tire pressures and tempered our driving to ensure that it was an otherwise uneventful day. Other videos, like the one by @TheTopher above, also remark that tires should wear evenly after a full track day, given that the usual precautions are taken and that it’s doubtful if either car has the propensity for extreme tire wear.
I think that there’s justice in likening the CTR and ITS to Porsche’s 911 GT3 and GT3 Touring. The choice of either car—particularly for the “weekend warrior” crowd—should fundamentally come down to personal tastes, and nothing else.
But is it simply just a matter of your fashion sense? Or is it a bit more nuanced than that? Probably the latter. We all have different expectations from a car—even if it’s the same one in earnest.
Afterall, there are dissimilarities between the Type R and Type S that are distinguishable enough when you begin to look at the more extreme outliers on the bell curve. This is where subtle differences will make all the difference, depending on what your priorities are.
For those who desire a specialist on the track—where fine margins lead to superior outcomes—then it’s the Honda Civic Type R that you want. In this regard, and even with performance aside, features such as LogR, the large rear wing, and superiorly bolstered reclinable buckets in the CTR, make for a much clearer statement of intent. If you require more versatility, luxury and refinement, but with no less athleticism, then the Acura Integra Type S is an all-star all-rounder.
Still, I’m of the opinion that having to choose between either car won’t lead to severe FOMO symptoms down the road. In any case, I’m happy that Honda and Acura have teamed up to provide us with a choice—something that is always good to have, as a consumer and an enthusiast.