After 12 days, 1500 miles and £300 in fuel later, I’ve decided that at £3000, the Accord Type R is the best performance saloon money can buy!
Here’s a little story. It’s a hot Monday in June, I’ve just had the pleasure of posing around town in Honda’s NA1 NSX for a week before swapping it for the Milano Red Accord Type R that resides in Honda’s heritage warehouse. This is a car I’ve wanted to drive since its arrival back in 1999, so I was fairly excited to get behind the wheel.
I hop in, start her up, and head straight off for a drive… and I don’t like it. Imagine waiting years to drive something and your initial reaction is “this is rubbish”, it’s pretty gutting. I’ll tell you why I’ve wasted a minute or so of your life reading that though. The Accord simply doesn’t make sense half of the time. Low-down power is non-existent, the interior is shod with plastic and the looks are both ordinary and in-your-face depending on whether you can see the spoiler from your angle or not.
Fast forward 12 days though, and I can’t stop telling people how they need to buy one before people realise how good they are, and prices go up even further. So, what happened in between? I’m pretty sure that I rediscovered my love of driving.
A jaunt up to Scotland for a classic car auction has taught me much more about driving than the last few years of testing all sorts of cars. I’m getting creative here, so bear with me. It’s 6am, me and a colleague are still fighting the daylight through our eyes while we set off for the Cairngorms. The Cairngorms is essentially a mixture of mountain range and forestry, with the A93 running directly through it… and by directly through it I quite literally mean a road that peaks and troughs through the mountain range, before diving through the forest parallel to the River Dee. It’s like something out of a fairytale, but I digress.
Reach for second, pin the throttle and nudge into third. Dab the brakes, blip into second and dive into the apex and hold the throttle before opening it up on the straight. Nudge the limiter but keep it in second as we steer left, over a crest. The rear becomes a little unsettled as we snatch right for the next corner. Pin the throttle, hit third, then fourth, and brake hard for the next set of corners. Blip the throttle into third, keep the revs above 6k and hammer out of the next set of corners. We fly by motorhomes parked up for the night enjoying the scenery as the crack of the dawn sunshine starts to peer through the blinds with an overtone of VTEC bouncing off the mountain range. This, my friends, is driving.
The amount of confidence this car gives you through levels of grip is Honda incarnate. The standard helical limited-slip differential allows you to not only be much harsher with your throttle inputs, but also adjust your line mid-corner to pull you into the bend and grip on the exit. Thanks to little (or possibly no) torque, you aren’t leaving a cloud of smoke, either. The power is fed in gently.
There are negatives, though. The biggest of all is the gearing, which is far too tall for a car of this nature. You’re just about on the money with first to second and can get away with second to third, but with changing from third to fourth you’re left outside of the VTEC zone; in truth it feels as if the brakes are being applied, which halts progress considerably while you wait for the revs to build and the second cam takes over. It’s disappointing as it alters the cars ability greatly and leaves you frustrated. There are a few solutions to the problem though, so don’t be put off. The first is of course a remap to bring the VTEC in lower down the RPM range, another is to swap out the final drive for shorter ratios.
This car truly is bipolar. The moment you’ve had enough fun you can slot it into fifth and travel in relative comfort. The spring rates aren’t too harsh on long journeys. The seats hug you nicely but aren’t so thin that you get backache. The engine does get noisy travelling at motorway speeds thanks to the five-speed manual, rather than a shorter six, with revs sitting at just a nudge over 4500rpm at 80mph. But that’s no real drama, is it?
First and foremost, this is an enthusiast’s car, which can be both good and bad if you’re thinking about buying one (and you should be). On the one hand, the car you’re looking at will have been treated to regular servicing over the years without any expense spared. On the other, you have a car that has been driven hard most of its life. Naturally, we’ve come to expect this from Hondas, so it shouldn’t put you off too much. So long as it drives right, isn’t hiding any nasty history and has been serviced correctly, the Accord Type R should continue to sing for years to come. Watch out for rust and fifth gear synchro problems though.
As a daily driver; the Accord is one of those cars that just works. OK, you’d be left frustrated when the going gets tough in a straight line, but once you find the B-road route to work, you’ll never take the A-roads again. It’s where this car comes alive; it forces you to focus and press on rather than do all the work for you. Leave it in a high gear and try and carry the speed and you’re going against everything this car stands for. It’s designed to be rung out, to be leant on, so work with it, rather than against it and you’ll be rewarded with a properly fast saloon.
Best of all? For around 3K you’re getting a saloon car fit for the family, a 2.2-litre VTEC engine with 210bhp, a limited-slip differential as standard and a car that’s set up to do the daily duties while dropping your jaw on the B-road blast.
It’s a forgotten hero alongside the Integra and Civic, but from where I’m sitting, the rarer, more practical Accord Type R takes my money. A genuinely rare performance bargain.
With the right mods, this family car can be turned into the super touring car it once was!
An increased final drive will improve acceleration by forcing the engine to rotate faster. MFactory do a 4.64 final drive (4.23 stock) which will help you stay in VTEC for longer. It should transform the Accord’s behaviour no end. Top speed is dropped around 10mph to just over 140.
Yep, the Accord already handles brilliantly thanks to a low weight and limited slip diff, but if we’re honest, it is a bit soft when you’re seriously chucking it about. BC Racing’s street/circuit RH coilovers will stiffen things up, but not too much that you start to skip across surfaces.
You just can’t beat the sound of VTEC, so why not unlock it further with a manifold-back exhaust? There’s quite a few off-the-shelf offerings out there, but we’d be tempted by a custom job from the likes of EMP Performance to control exactly how loud the system is. You don’t want to go silly.
To help that engine breathe alongside a decent exhaust upgrade, a K&N air intake will help enhance that VTEC even further while unlocking a few hidden horses at the same time. The best thing about one of these of course, is that fitting is an easy job you can do yourself.