Editor’s Note: Rob here, and I’m excited to present this peek behind the curtain, a rare opportunity for MotorTrend readers to finally understand a bit about how the sausage really gets driven. Please send thank-you cards to my publicist, Sam.
Per normal protocol, an editor gives a writer notes aimed at improving a story. A second draft is written, and the process repeats until that word-turd transforms into a turd-butterfly, flying on wings of gracefully plotted ideas and sentences. But there exists a class of elite magazine writers, car journalists in our case, who have evolved beyond this rubric, those with the experience and skill to dazzle in their very first draft. Those with the guts to use the word rubric, even if somewhat improperly. These are the untouchables, and they are a feared bunch, free to operate beyond an editor’s busy red pen.
His British modesty would never permit him to agree, but my Top Gear America co-host, Jethro Bovingdon, is of those vaunted few, a genuine one-percenter. With rare, naturally aspirated air filling his lungs, Jethro writes real stories about cars. The kinds of stories that tickle our prehistoric lizard brains and satisfy our predetermined need to read about heroes on a journey.
And guess what? As MotorTrend‘s guest editor, I’m Jethro’s boss! So, let’s get down to the business of abusing some power and redline the ever-loving crap out of this privileged scribe. Not only will you have access to what would be a typical set of first draft notes, but Jethro himself might have the pleasure of reliving his salad days when he was a young apprentice at Evo magazine in the U.K., getting coffee and waiting for some keys to be tossed his way. But probably not. I hope you enjoy this exercise as much as he won’t.—Ed.
It’s tragic in some ways, but the simple truth is, I think a lot about cars: I scrutinise specs, comparing the newest model to established rivals in my head; I fret about ever-spiraling mass and how technology is being thrown at problems that don’t really exist just because, well, who knows? Much of my time is spent looking at classified ads for cars I have zero hope of affording. And when I drive a new car, the way it steers, rides, the nuances of its balance and traction and gearshift all get referenced against an accrued knowledge of thousands of vehicles I’ve driven and reviewed on roads and racetracks. Then I try to make sense of all that info and turn it into a compelling story that really conveys the joy (or otherwise) of the experience.
Great intro, Jethro. Really super-duper! (Effective notes should start with a compliment. Then let the hellfire rain down.) Firstly, let’s get out ahead of what I predict will be a big problem in this piece: I don’t have time to translate odd Euro-spelling. I’m about to start work on a Porsche 911 RSR Lego set that has, so far, not built itself. Pro tip: If you set your spellcheck to “location-based,” you’ll discover there’s a good ol’ American Z in scrutiniZe. And that’s zee, not zed. OK, no more spelling notes, pal. You’re doing great.—Ed.
My colleague and esteemed guest editor, Robert Ernest Montgomery Corddry III, sends me links to various cars he’s found at all hours of the day, too. He has a similar affliction. However, it strikes me pretty quickly that his ‘process’ is a lot simpler than mine: He judges a car purely on how it makes him feel. Pretty smart. Today is one of those days where we have real, physical cars to play with rather than simply pinging classified ads between ourselves, and I sense Rob is in a very good place. After three corners in an immaculate 1990 Acura Integra Type R straight out of Honda’s California museum collection, his pithy, casually delivered conclusion is about as perfect as one I’d spend hours deliberating over and many thousands of words to reach. “This is a great car!” he grins. You know what? He’s right. It’s bloody fantastic.
I was so flattered you were charmed by my gurulike simplicity that I read this section to my therapist to combat her constant refrain that I’m in a very bad place. But she got totally obsessed with your single quotation marks around “process.” “It’s an impressively subtle burn that only an accomplished wordsmith could pull off. This guy is being edited by you?” She went on to say that while the definition of “pithy” isn’t as ugly as the word sounds “in the context of the rest of the paragraph, well … ” Then she laughed for a long time and asked if you were single.
I see what’s happening here. Someone tipped you off, so you’re baiting me. Sneaky stuff, but as your superior, I’m taking the high road. I’m even thinking about taking the article’s title from this very paragraph.—Ed.
You probably don’t need to know much more, but the Integra is also a fantastic way to explore some of those things I obsess about and to chart the progress of Honda’s Type R performance brand. I know it’s badged Acura, but as a Brit, the Integra (and the NSX, folks) is and always will be a Honda. Parked beside the very latest 2021 Civic Type R Limited Edition in matching Pheonix Yellow here at windy, sun-bleached and gently dilapidated Willow Springs Raceway, it looks almost toylike, so slim and petite are its crisp, simple lines and so tiny its seven-spoke 15-inch wheels. It looks lithe and lean where the new Type R Limited Edition is all muscle and swagger.
I said I wouldn’t do it again, but I know you put a praemium on writing oeconomically, so it’s an aenigma to me why you and your countrymen insist on worshipping at the altar of the Ancient Greek Diphthong. It’s spelled “Phoenix!” I’ll admit, this one made me so mad, I actually punched my own fist. Yeah, I balled up both of my hands and violently swung one into the other. Careful, Jethro, this is America, we are a litigious people. I could have you arrested and charged with second-degree fist-assault.
OK, done for real. You dodged a monologue about Acura/Honda badging, but it won’t happen again! No more spelling talk.—Ed.
Five corners in, and Rob is still beaming. The idea of today was to give Corddry a chance to do some real “car journalism” away from the pressures of the Top Gear America cameras and the ever-present likelihood of Dax crashing into him just for giggles. I’m here to stop him listening to Howard Stern on the radio for 7 minutes and make him think about steering response and agility and suchlike. But Rob is right: You don’t need to think about those things in cars as infectiously enthusiastic as the Integra. Just feel the joy. “Oh man,” he says. “It feels so, so light. It’s really unbelievable. And the steering is perfect. Wow.” The Integra Type R makes everybody a car journalist, it seems, and it’s really cool to see a car really get under the skin of somebody else from the passenger seat. What’s he going to say next? Something about fluid damping or throttle adjustability? I feel so proud. Rob shoots me a serious look. Here we go. “I have a hard out at 4 p.m.,” he says. Hollywood people, eh?
I HAD A THING! What, I’m supposed to cancel a Zoom with the assistant to one of CBS’ junior junior vice presidents? “Sorry bud, can’t make it. Jethro wanted me to take a sixth corner.” No way, pal. Because I’m not a Hollywood Person … I’m a Hollywood gentleman. Bababooey!
Otherwise, Dax does love crashing into people, huh? At first it scared me, but I’ve grown used to hearing the sound of metal and fiberglass bending and breaking, followed by barking, Midwestern laughter.
Oh! And re: the Integra, I forgot to mention I liked the fluid damping adjustables or whatever. And the throttle stuff you said. Top notch.—Ed.
The Integra and Civic are separated by nearly a quarter century, more than 600 pounds, and while they share the Type R tag, the philosophy shift from the normally aspirated, torque-light screamer in the coupe and the boosted 2.0-litre in the hottest hatch on planet Earth is seemingly vast. The Integra was all about extracting maximum revs and the purity of an atmospheric motor. That’s why its 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine has hand-polished ports, lightweight molybdenum-coated pistons, a trick crank to resist bend-fatigue at high rpm, and, of course, Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing. Sounds great … but the numbers are very vintage set against 2021 expectations. The Integra Type R makes 195 hp at 8,000 rpm and, wait for it, 130 lb-ft at 7,300 rpm. Luckily it weighs just 2,560 pounds, and back in the day we got it to 60 mph in 7 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.3 seconds at 93.4 mph.
The congregation will kneel for a reading from the writer’s bible …
“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words … [like] a machine no unnecessary parts. “
—paraphrased from Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style
You must be messing with me, but I can’t tell because I’m hitting deep REM sleep before I get to “hand-polished ports.” If I somehow make it to “VTEC variable valve timing,” it’s because my mind has wandered somewhere more fun. I do, however, get a kick out of you following “wait for it” with “130 lb-ft at 7,300 rpm.” What a reveal. You’re the M. Knight ShyamaYAWN of car journalism!
But I’m sure you’re having fun with me, so I get pleasure only from knowing you enjoyed writing this literary schematic as much as I enjoyed reading itjne2[[j / ..j/z.FmsdkMioe fw
Sorry, fell asleep again.—Ed.
This is no ordinary Civic Type R. The Limited Edition is recognisable [stop] by that colour [please stop], but the real magic is harder to spot and proves how incremental gains add up pretty fast. Weight is the enemy, so sound deadening has been stripped, the rear cargo cover is gone, and the rear wiper has been junked, too. I guess the idea is that what’s behind you isn’t coming past anytime soon. More crucial, though, is the reduction in unsprung weight and rotational inertia with forged BBS wheels (a handy 4.5 pounds lighter per corner) and gummy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres [BEGGING YOU TO STOP] that save a further 4 pounds in total compared to the standard car’s Continentals. The suspension and steering have been retuned to suit, and to make the Type R even more of a focussed [double-begging you to stop] drivers’ car. Just 600 will come to the U.S., priced at $44,990.
Nice try, pal, but I found this paragraph compelling! In a world of baffling re-engineering for its own sake, and for all the ink spilled over redesigned quarter panels, I’m all in when a company commits to the risky patience of incremental gains. A little here, a little there. Sound deadening? Bye. You’ll want to hear this car, anyway. I love this stuff, and you should know that! Oh wait … OK. I see. You do know that. Right. Got me again, Bovingdon. I do not appreciate being putty in your dry, British hands.—Ed.
Rob and I have some Civic Type R history already. In the first season of Top Gear America [new episodes are streaming now on the MotorTrend app, just sayin’], we pitted the standard car against the rabid little Hyundai Veloster N, and we loved them both. Some people will never quite get the concept of a front-drive performance car, but I love how aggressive they are, the speed they can generate, and the sharpness you have to build into the chassis to fend off understeer. Nothing short of, say, a 911 GT3 feels as agile as a really dialled-in hot hatch.
No notes. Except to say I can already spot the word “dialled” in the paragraph below. Come on, that can’t be real! I’d look it up, but your spelling exhausts me. I have no fight left.—Ed.
For my good friend and colleague, this truly dialled-in LE is close to a religious experience. “What hasn’t been said about the Type R?” Rob says in my direction after a couple of laps. Before I can answer, he continues. He does this a lot. I guess he’s used to rhetorical questions from his Shakespeare days and has adopted them into everyday life. “That it’s so good it’s almost unfair to label it a hot hatch?” Nope, I believe I’ve said that, Rob. About five minutes ago. You can’t just parrot back my words.
Oh, but I can! I can, I do, and I will! Understand this, JB … I am an idea vampire, and you made a big mistake inviting me in. Get used to it because I get stronger feeding on your every thought, and, I quote the bard himself, “You are a rare parrot-teacher. “—Ed.
“OK, well, what about that I had dreams about it where I was just shifting its oh-so-satisfying gearbox (but it was a dream and I was in my house, which, I guess, is a six-speed)?” Nobody has said that, I assure him. He cracks a boyish smile, looks wistfully over the scene of chewed-up racetrack before him, howling wind whipping fine sand into his face, begins to apply lip balm, and then starts to describe other lurid dreams. I back slowly away and jump in the Type R Limited Edition for a few laps of my own. This is one reverie that can stay personal.
True. I was shifting my three-bedroom, six-speed home. One note: It reads here like you DON’T enjoy listening to my dreams, which I’m sure is not the case. Speaking of which, I’ve got a few sexy corkers for you next time we’re together. In a car. That you can’t leave.—Ed.
The Integra is still fresh in my memory, and what an experience it is, even today. The 1.8-litre [I let this go earlier, delusional in my hope you’d figure it out on your own: It’s spelled L-I-T-E-R!] engine may lack power down low, but the way it rips to the redline, induction roar tearing great chunks out of the cold air and filling the sparse cabin, more than makes up for it. Very few small, four-cylinder engines feel “exotic,” but this B18C unit is pure race car and defines the Integra’s character. Combined with one of the best gearboxes ever fitted to a road car, it pulls you deep into the process of extracting everything this ball of energy has to offer. It’s not a car for lazy drivers, but it rewards every bit of effort and energy with perfect response.
And, oh my, the balance! The Integra generates so much grip from its tiny little Yokohamas, but it’s what happens as that purchase begins to ebb away that’s truly special. You can feel the steering lighten as the fronts start to struggle. If it’s on corner exit, simply keep the faith and the throttle pinned: The helical diff will lock up and pull the nose back into line and onto the next straight. If it’s midcorner, then it’s playtime. Lift the throttle, feel the nose tuck and the rear axle start to swing wide. If you’ve judged the speed correctly, the Type R settles into a gorgeous, almost slow-mo four-wheel drift. If you’re way too hot, it slips into oversteer but feels easily recoverable. There’s instant response and sharpness, but the edges seem to be so smooth and gentle that the Integra will never bite. It’s magical.
You win. (This was a contest, you knew that, right?) Those last two paragraphs were a beautiful piece of writing. I tried to find something wrong but couldn’t see beyond my face-busting smile. I’m left only with the joy of reading expertly crafted prose. Warning: I will parrot some of this back to you in the future. My only hope is that you might enjoy hearing it again.—Ed.
The Civic will bite. Hard. On cold tyres [I actually like this spelling. It’s absurd, which is my bread and butter] it’s about as stable as a Hellcat on a frozen lake. The front never errs but the rear tyres take an age to get heat into them, and until they do, it wants to swap ends with alarming speed. It’s a side effect of the lengths Honda took to ensure this thing turns right when you ask it. There’s just too much front-end response for the rear to keep up. However, within a couple of laps things settle down and the Limited Edition is sublime. It feels quicker and sharper than the standard car, it’s more neutral through turns fast and slow, and the engine really comes alive. Those lightweight wheels might sound like a gimmick, but the effect they have is wholly tangible. The engine revs so quickly now, and the reduced sound deadening heightens the sense of manic commitment that fizzes through the entire car. It’s a more physical, bruising experience than the tiptoe Integra but no less impressive. What a little monster!
Small thing: I’d cut the word “right” from “ensure this thing turns right when you ask it.” You know, because “right” might be confusing? Because, like, it’s also a direction? Yeah, so …
Screw it, what the hell was I thinking? Guest editor?! It sounded so easy! Jerk. Hey Jethro, I’m in kind of a bad place right now, will you hold on a quick sec while I go hug my kids and weep?—Ed.
I’m smitten after three laps. After 10, I guess I should come into the pits—after 15 people start frantically waving me back to base. I could drive the LE until the fuel runs out or the tyres pop. It’s a fantastic performance car. Rob (and, um, I) was right, this thing almost defies the “hot hatch” label. It’s so well engineered, so beautifully executed, and so damn exciting that it can stand toe to toe with cars costing many times as much and not “cursed” with wrong-wheel drive. The Limited Edition really ups the ante, too. If you’re thinking of a Civic Type R, this is the Type R you need. Rob greets me when I return. “What do you think?” he asks. I reply, “This is a great car!” It’s as simple as that.
What a delight. I used to wonder if car journalism was just a Mad Libs cheat, an industry-approved template with an accompanying list of unlikely adjectives (meaty, chunky, buttery). A lot of car journalism in less capable hands reads like marketing copy for soup. But Jethro transcends the familiar tropes and simply tells us how he feels about a car without pandering to companies or worrying about how it’s normally done. That’s why I asked him to write this article under the ridiculous pretense that I would “note” it. I knew, if nothing else, I would enjoy reading it, and I was not disappointed.
And frankly, if I hadn’t begged him to do it, I’d have to write the damn thing myself, and I know zed about lightweight molybdenum-coated pistons. Also, I have a hard out: There’s this thing I can NOT cancel …—Ed.