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I’m sorry, but the moment ‘stripped-out’, ‘basic’, ‘hardcore’ or ‘bare-essentials’ feature in a car’s description, I’m in. And the Honda Integra Type R was, for many of us, the first time we had really come across these concepts wrapped up in a contemporary car that wasn’t a historical oddity with no roof or doors. Hell, even the choice of colours was limited; you could have black, red or white, as though being burdened with too wide a choice of paint finishes might add weight and interfere with the infinite precision and razor-edged sharpness of the car. It even looks serious: pinched and kind of waspish, it doesn’t want any flabby silliness from you, fatty, so walk smartly past the plain, no-nonsense nose, and hop in.

This wasn’t a marketing exercise in stripping out a car to satisfy young bucks in need of a boast; it really is stripped out. The windscreen is made of thinner glass, the spare wheel cover has been ditched and so has most of the sound-deadening. Which means it might only bear a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine up front, but it makes its presence felt as soon as you fire it up.

Raspy, is the word, right from the get-go. And it does sort of keep on going; the clever variable-valve technology stuff means peak power really is at the peak, right up at 8,000rpm, before it runs out of puff at 9,000rpm, having first chucked out a healthy 187bhp - plenty of shove in a car weighing just 1,100kg. Zero to 60mph takes a nadge over 6.5secs, and the Integra Type R will go on to a perfectly achievable and plenty bracing 143mph. It’s more than a bit special, that little engine.

The intake ports were hand-polished, so Honda could only build 25 cars a day. Come on, that is priceless bar-room boast ammo right there. Yes, it’s front-wheel-drive, but no, that in no way curtails the fun to be had here. It’s a superbly stiff chassis, and with a limited-slip diff, there’s all manner of lairy, lift-off oversteer fun to be had, even for a muppet like me.

I felt like a proper driver in this thing, so we certainly know it flatters. And it feels tough too - there’s an overwhelming sense, as you brutally cane the backside out of it, that this car was built for just such treatment. As long as you’re doing it with serious driving in mind and, preferably, not round a supermarket car park after dark, it’ll happily let you get on with it, and do all it can to respond quickly, and with very well-honed accuracy, to your commands.

It feels as stripped-out, special, focused and serious as it looks on paper, which is a good thing really, because these were not cheap when they turned up in 1998. For the price, just over £20,000, buyers would have had to have a good long look down a lengthy list of alternatives before settling for the Honda with its modest, weight-saving spoiler, complete absence of bulging arches and macho muscularity.

This was one for the purist, the serious enthusiast. It was a bit too rich for boy-racers, certainly, which means while any example you can find will almost certainly have been thrashed to within an inch of its life, the driver administering the thrashing won’t, at least, have been wearing a naff hat while doing it.

An altogether cleverer thing, I reckon, than the usual hot-hatch fodder and every bit as practical, tough and usable too. As clever a choice now as it was 15 years ago.

Photography: Justin Leighton

This article was originally published in Top Gear magazine

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