1998 Honda Accord Type-R Mk6

1998 Honda Accord Type-R Mk6

The Honda Accord Type-R is one of the most undervalued and under-ratedperformance cars of its generation. We take one to Exmoor for a proper workout


Words: Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

Pictures: Simon Thompson


STRIKING ACCORD

The destination is Simonsbath, in the heart of Exmoor, a 50-mile drive from my starting point on the north-western fringes of Dartmoor. Setting the sat-nav to ‘as the crow flies’ mode, I could be enjoying a flat white at the Exmoor Forest Inn within the hour. But thanks to the unique way in which the road network of Devon is constructed, following a crow to Simonsbath is almost impossible without the aid of wings. On a good day, it’ll take 90 minutes. Chuck a tractor, milk tanker or caravan into the mix, and you could be looking at a couple of hours. None of this worries me as I make myself comfortable in the hip-hugging Recaro seats of the Honda Accord Type-R. The more time I spend behind the Momo wheel, the better. This isn’t a car for crows.


1998 Honda Accord Type-R Mk6


1998 Honda Accord Type-R Mk6

What is it that makes the Accord Type-R such a joy to drive? Is it the engine, the steering, the suspension, the LSD, the soundtrack, the gearbox or the seats? It’s all of the above, with the added irrational appeal that you can’t quite put your finger on.

1998 Honda Accord Type-R Mk6

It always seemed like an unlikely marriage. Honda had been churning out road-going race cars under the Type-R banner since 1992, but sales of the NSX, Integra and EK9 Civic were restricted to the Japanese domestic market. All that changed in 1998 with the UK arrival of the Integra Type-R DC2, a car still lauded today as one of the finest front-wheel drive cars of all time. Reviewing the car in 1998, Russell Bulgin said: ‘No European car, irrespective of price, matches the sheer intensity of the Integra Type-R.

Free from the shackles of roadside hedgerows and fences, entering the open moor is like a detox for the soul. Leave the car in third or fourth and allow the torque to work its magic.

1998 Honda Accord Type-R Mk6

This car redefines middle-management performance machinery as a product light on department and heavy on thrills. But beware. Type-R is, above all, addictive. At about five-seven [revs] you might just decide R stands for religious. Ready to rock-and-roll. And definitely raw.’

Tough boots to fill, especially for a performance car based on something designed to appeal to fleet managers but loved by, how can I put this, a more mature clientele. R for retirement, not for racing. This reputation betrays the fact that the Mk6 Accord was a deceptively good platform for the Type-R makeover.

1998 Honda Accord Type-R Mk6 - engine

Drive a standard Accord with a VTEC engine and a manual gearbox, and you’ll discover a family car with a convincing balance of precise handling and supple ride comfort. As CAR magazine said in 1999: ‘This is one impressive chassis.’ Perceived quality might have been lower than the Germans, but actual quality was a match for the car’s rivals from Ingolstadt and Munich. Witness the number of factory-fresh Mk6 Accords for sale on Auto Trader. It’s a good car.

But a Type-R needs to be more than good. R for remarkable. R for really effin’ fast. R for are we really going to ignore the Integra Type-R, NSX, Accord Coupé, Prelude and, latterly, the Civic Type-R in the Honda showroom?

First impressions are excellent. Your eyes are drawn to the huge rear wing, a delete option that looks relatively tame by today’s standards. Without it, the Accord Type-R is a classic Q-car; a less is more transformation that is bordering on anonymous, especially in Nighthawk Black or Satin Silver. The clues are there: 17-inch alloy wheels, low-restriction exhaust system with twin exits, subtle Type-R badges on the front, rear and flanks, and a general sense that if you know, you know. It’s all the better for it. The Accord is the most understated and under-rated member of the Type-R dynasty. That’s half its appeal.

If my senses are awakened by the sight of Honda UK’s almost immaculate Milano Red example, they’re positively wired by the time I’ve settled in to the green and black Recaro seat. The door closes with Honda’s typical blend of lightness and solidity, and I’m greeted with a trio of off-white dials, a red Honda badge in the centre of the Momo steering wheel and an alloy gear knob, patinated by countless shifts through the five-speed ‘box. Adjust the backrest, pump up the lumbar support, lower the steering wheel (there’s no adjustment for reach), and twist the key in the ignition. Talk about lowering expectations. While the sight of the 7500rpm redline hints at fireworks, the Prelude-derived 2.2-litre DOHC VTEC engine fires up with all the drama of a bonfire left to smoulder overnight in the rain. A bowl of Rice Krispies produces a better soundtrack than an Accord Type-R at idle.

1998 Honda Accord Type-R Mk6 - interior

It's the calm before the storm. I’m reluctant to use the ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ cliché, but that’s the best way to describe the ‘H22A7’ redtop engine to anyone unfamiliar with the Accord Type-R. It produces 209bhp at a heady 7200rpm, with the maximum torque of 164lb ft coming in at 6700rpm. Officially, it’ll hit 62mph in 6.9 seconds before howling its way to a top speed of 141mph. It’s essentially the Prelude engine with the compression ratio bumped from 10.6 to 11-to-one, low-friction pistons, hand-finished ports, and precision-balanced cam and crankshaft assemblies. Without question, the engine is the Accord Type-R’s party piece: surprisingly docile at rest, but disarmingly rabid when provoked. You will like it when it’s angry.

There are precious few opportunities for me to provoke the VTEC into action as I begin my journey to Exmoor, but this gives me a chance to experience the other side of the car’s character. On the two-lane A30, which skirts its way around the northern perimeter of Dartmoor, the Accord Type-R feels soft and comfortable. The firm suspension, which can feel a little harsh in town, is supple and compliant on faster roads, where the noise of the 215/45/R17 Bridgestones is the only genuine complaint. It’s also the only time you’ll wish for a sixth gear.

Turning off the A30, I’m forced to follow an articulated lorry up the A3124, a line of cars along the A3072, and a van on the A377 out of Copplestone. Playtime will have to wait, but I’m surprised by the Accord’s willingness to take it easy. While some performance cars can feel like a terrier straining at the leash when forced to behave, the Type-R is prepared to wait for its turn. A thousand words into my review – and a frustrating 45 minutes behind the wheel – and I haven’t told you what a riproaring gem of a car this is. Spoiler alert: it’s magnificent.

That much is clear from the moment I fork off the A377 at Kings Nympton, saying goodbye to the back of the van. Following the course of the River Mole, the B3226 is a tight, technical and, at times, narrow B-road where a car the size of a Honda Accord could feel out of place. But cars have grown over the past 20 years, so the Accord Type-R is actually narrower and barely any longer than the current Civic Type-R. At 1330kg, it’s also 52kg lighter than the Civic, which is something I can feel as the car rides the crests and undulations of the back road to South Molton.

This is fun. Minutes earlier, the engine felt as tepid and tranquil as the River Mole twisting its way through the fields alongside me, now I’m experiencing the full bore of the VTEC. At 5700rpm, the system’s electronic sensors change the cam profile to gulp on a larger dollop of fuel and air. In musical terms, it’s like an unexpected key change in a Metallica song. In boxing terms, it’s like landing an even heavier blow on your beleaguered opponent. Don’t be lured into thinking that there’s nothing before the engine hits the 5700rpm mark. The power starts to build long before that, while the soundtrack gives the sense that something good is gonna happen. Playing with the VTEC zone is akin to watching your favourite movie for the umpteenth time or playing your favourite track on repeat: you know what’s about to happen, but the sense of joy is never diluted. At full chat, it’s as though the engine has broken through the firewall to join you in the cabin.

Forget having a conversation with a passenger because there’s no point. Besides, nothing they could say would be worth hearing above the symphony of the VTEC. Like an addict, you’ll yearn for the hit, time and time again.

I tip-toe through South Molton like a driver of a regular Accord returning from enjoying a slice of carrot cake and cup of tea at a garden centre. Even with that rear wing and lustrous Milano Red paint, the Accord Type-R manages to blend in with its surroundings. A ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ performance car that’s all but invisible to anyone beyond car enthusiast circles. Nobody would know that I’d spent the last 15 minutes racing the Mole through the Devon countryside. There are no prizes for second place, Mole.

Simon the photographer is running late for our rendezvous in Simonsbath, so I take the opportunity to recce locations for the shoot. I don’t have to look very far. The B3223 from Simonsbath to Hillsford Bridge is one of the gems in Exmoor’s crown: six miles and 10 minutes of perfection flanked by open moorland and far-reaching vistas. An epic Scottish or Welsh road distilled into a bite-size chunk for West Country drivers. Prime Type-R territory.

Following a lengthy climb out of the village, the road snakes left, then right, before meandering its way to a cattle grid at Hoar Tor. Free from the shackles of roadside hedgerows and fences, entering the open moor is like a detox for the soul. Leave the car in third or fourth and allow the torque to work its magic. Up here, it’s the steering and not the engine that’s doing all the talking, with the rack continuously relaying information from the Bridgestones. While some performance cars require a firm hand, the Accord Type-R rewards a light grip on the Momo. On a road ravaged by the worst of the Exmoor weather, there’s plenty for the steering to talk about, but you wouldn’t know it from the supple suspension. How can something so composed be so entertaining?

I’m trying to think of an answer as I reach the stone bridge at the foot of Shilstone Hill. The first of the two tightest corners on the road, this is where the helical Torsen limited-slip differential can pull the strings. Braking late for the corner, I change down to second and get back on the gas before the back end has followed the front. The tyres dig into the road like a climber’s ice axe on the side of a mountain; it inspires so much confidence. The grip is astonishing – and there’s not even a hint of torque steer or understeer. It doesn’t make any sense: how can a front-driven, 209bhp performance saloon feel so limpet-like when exiting a tight bend? That’s a rhetorical question; sometimes it’s good to be under the influence of LSD.

The moorland section ends with a cattle grid at Scoobhill Gate, no doubt named in honour of another four-door performance car of the 1990s. Maybe Honda hoped that the Accord would ride on the coat tails of the Impreza, but it wasn’t to be. Production ended in 2002, just a year after a subtle facelift, as seen here. At its peak, there were around 1800 Accord Type-Rs in the UK, but there are thought to be fewer than 300 on the road today, with around 500 listed as SORN. Few will be as well maintained as Honda UK’s fully restored example.

Having helped (hindered?) Simon with the photoshoot – and come to terms with the fact that our visit to Lynmouth for static shots coincided with closing time for the fish and chip shop – I make my way home on the empty roads of Devon. It was to be one of those drives that will live long in the memory, even with an empty stomach.

It’s odd that the Accord Type-R has lived in the shadows of other performance cars for so long. Without the media fanfare of the Integra Type-R, or the universal appeal of the Civic Type-R, the Accord has spent the past two decades as a car you might recall at the tail end of a conversation. ‘Oh, yeah, the Accord Type-R – I’d forgotten about that car.’ It must have been a hard sell for Honda dealers. Would a buyer who was interested in a Type-R really leave a showroom in an Accord? Remember what Russell Bulgin said about the Integra: ‘Because the IT-R propounds a strictly emotional appeal. There’s nothing rational about a loud, firmly sprung car that will annoy eight passengers out of 10. The Integra Type-R exists at one remove from rational. It’s selfish.’

The Accord is just as selfish, which is an odd thing to say about a four-door saloon with a large boot. My wife loathes the car, claiming it turns me into a boy racer. She also says it’s terrible for passengers and must be driven hard to get the best from it. I can’t argue with the point about passengers, but her final point is wide of the mark. On the journey home, I rarely ventured into the VTEC zone, but the car was no less satisfying to drive. The cam profile changes at around 45mph in second gear, 62mph in third and 80mph in fourth, so squeezing the best out of engine might result in a conversation with a less than friendly police officer. Enter the zone at your own risk, etc.

What is it that makes the Accord Type-R such a joy to drive? Is it the engine, the steering, the suspension, the LSD, the soundtrack, the gearbox or the seats? It’s all of the above, with the added irrational appeal that you can’t quite put your finger on. Over the course of my day on Exmoor, I ticked all of the boxes related to feeling at one with a car. Hairs on the back of your neck. Butterflies in your stomach. Unconscious grinning. Talking to the car. Even patting the dashboard at the end of an immensely satisfying drive. I formed an emotional attachment with the car, so I apologise if this review comes across like a stream of consciousness. Driving an Accord Type-R on Exmoor takes me to a happy place, which is why three days later, I set the alarm for 5am and did the whole thing again. Crows don’t know what they’re missing.

Thanks to Donovan at Honda UK for the loan of the car. Let me know when you decide to sell it.

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