EXPERT REVIEW

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The 1997 Acura Integra Type R sports coupe is where passion meets absurdity — not because of any major flaw in the car. It’s a hot number, which is the problem.

The Integra Type R is an easy target for police. It’s the motorized version of guilt by association.

You don’t have to go fast in the Type R. It attracts a police escort at 30 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone. And forget “speed packs,” you know, wedging into the middle of a group of cars traveling at higher than posted highway speeds.

Who’ll get the ticket? Look at it this way: The Integra Type R, with its rocket-like nose and high-flying rear wing spoiler, is quite distinctive. It comes in one color, “championship white.” Its rear side panels are emblazoned with the legend “Integra Type R.” But the “R” is the kicker. It’s a big, red, Shogun-looking thing that affects police the way Hester Prynne’s scarlet “A” affected the Puritans.

You’ll get the ticket, of course.

All of this raises questions about the wisdom of owning a snazzy car that runs as hot as it looks. In a truly expressive society, such a car would be welcome, even celebrated. But in today’s uptight world, such a car can be a pain in the buttocks.

Background: The Integra Type R is a flippant, whimsical, almost toy like thing that is a rolling celebration of freedom. It’s the in-your-face car of the Acura Integra line, which includes front-wheel drive coupes and sedans.

The coupes come in base RS, better-equipped LS, upscale GS and sporty GS-R packages. The Integra Type R is the GS-R package with a better engine, lighter weight (about 93 pounds less than the regular Integra cars), lower overall height and substantially higher rear-wing spoiler — an appendage that, in this case, actually helps to improve the car’s aerodynamic efficiency.

The four-door Integra sedans come in LS, GS and GS-R trim packages.

The Type R’s engine is a little beast — a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, 16-valve, dual-overhead-cam job rated 195 horsepower at 8,000 rpm. That is 25 more horsepower than is available in the Integra GS-R.

That horsepower gain didn’t come from just tweaking the engine, although Honda’s engineers did lots of that. To get the rest of the story, you’ve got to check out the Type R’s exhaust system, which is designed to have an exhaust flow rate 30 percent higher than the pipes in the GS-R.

Engine torque in the Type R is rated 130 pound-feet at 7,300 rpm. But thanks to Honda Motor Co.’s Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system, which opens and closes intake and exhaust valves at precisely the right moments, the Type R’s engine is a beast on a diet.

A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the car.

The Type R is a limited edition model into which Honda threw everything to enhance acceleration, handling and control. That also means that Honda left out some stuff, such as some sound deadening material, to help reduce the Type R’s weight.

But the four-seat car has all of the safety stuff most of us will ever need — seat belts, shoulder harnesses, dual front air bags, reinforced unit body construction and anti-lock brakes. You’re supposed to supply the common sense.

1997 Acura Integra Type R

Complaints: That high wing spoiler obstructs rear vision and picks up the Type R’s backlight glare at night. Losing some sound-deadening material means that the TypeR also gained some noise that doesn’t show up in other Integra models. The five-speed shifter is a bit cranky in reverse gear.

Praise: The car is a total hoot to drive — on abandoned air strips and other empty stretches of concrete.

Head-turning quotient: Sinner! Sinner! Motorized witch! Stop, boot and ticket; and shove in the ditch! It gets the emotions going.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Triple aces — on abandoned air strips and other empty stretches of concrete. Braking was excellent.

Mileage: About 24 miles per gallon (17.2-gallon tank, estimated 400 mile range on usable volume of recommended premium unleaded), driver only, running mostly on highway — and on abandoned air strips and other empty stretches of concrete.

Sound system: I didn’t pay much attention to the stereo. Too busy keeping an eye on the police.

Price: The Integra Type R was released this spring. Pricing isn’t firm, but Honda officials are estimating something in the $23,000 to $25,000 range. But it hardly matters. Only 300 Integra Type R’s will be available in the United States this year. Up to 700 will be available for U.S. sales in 1998. That means dealers can charge whatever they want.

Purse-strings note: Hire a lawyer and check with your insurer before buying this car.

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