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VTEC legends: driving Honda’s most iconic machinery

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Honda’s range of classic cars is long and varied – and Jack Evans headed to Barcelona to see what some of the models from the brand’s history are like

Honda has produced some incredible cars over the years. These vehicles have been able to combine performance, reliability and exceptional driver involvement at a not-so-scary price. Though many modern Hondas continue to impress, the brand’s reputation was built on a series of iconic classics – and we’d be driving them.

We were invited out to Barcelona to test out some of Honda’s legends, taking to the Spanish roads to see just how these old-school motors perform in the modern age.

1976 Honda Civic

The original Civic is surprisingly spacious (Honda)

In order to know where you’ve got to, you have to go back. That’s why we started with a 1976 Honda Civic – the model that kicked off one of the most popular vehicles in Honda’s line up. It’s a joyous little thing this car, with a thrummy little 1,169cc engine under the bonnet endowing the Civic with a surprisingly brisk turn of pace.

These original Civics are an infrequent sight on UK roads (Honda)

The brakes aren’t too bad, though take some getting used to as they require far more input than a modern car’s. The steering, meanwhile, is bristling with feedback – it’s a stark reminder of how little connection we get with today’s cars.

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There’s a fair amount of space inside, though the front pillars are spaghetti-thin and look like they’d be less use in an impact than a chocolate kettle. It was approaching 35 degrees, though, so we hopped out of the non-air conditioned Civic and on to the next car.

Honda NSX

The Honda NSX is one of the brand’s most iconic cars (Honda)

Wow, talk about legends. The NSX is arguably one of the most iconic Hondas to ever be produced, and the pop-up headlights of our test car were more than enough to keep us initially occupied. However, there’s more to the NSX than just motorised headlights – with a 3.2-litre V6 pushing out around 280bhp, it’s got a whole lot of performance up its sleeve. There is a drawback here, however, and that’s the gearbox.

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The NSX looks futuristic even today (Honda)

Though the NSX was available with a slick manual gearbox, our test car came with a clunky automatic. It blunts the car’s performance immeasurably, and though it was hugely exciting to get behind the wheel of such a classic, we were left thinking that a manual would have provided a far more involving experience.

Honda Integra Type R DC2

The Integra is one of Honda’s iconic hatches (Honda)

Honda fanboys listen up – here’s the one you’ve been waiting for. The Integra Type R is one of the all-time greats, and has gained legendary status among Honda aficionados. We can understand why – it’s an electric car to drive.

Type R models are a hallmark of Honda’s performance side (Honda)

The 1.8-litre VTEC engine under the bonnet requires you to drive it hard, and it rewards commitment too; this isn’t a car to potter around in. Though a 0-60mph time of 6.5 seconds may not be fast by today’s standards (many average diesel hatches will crack the sprint in the same time), it feels far quicker than the numbers would lead you to believe. It’s a hugely involving experience, and one we didn’t want to leave.

1995 Honda Civic

The Civic’s ride is impressively comfortable (Honda)

It’s funny to see how things change over time. There’s little to connect this 1995 Honda Civic with the 1976 model we drove earlier, other than the fact it has four wheels, a steering wheel and three pedals. However, it turned out to be one of the best surprises of the day.

You see, the way this car rides is quite astounding – it puts many modern cars to shame. It manages to absorb all of the bumps in the road, while the 1.6-litre engine feels remarkably silky. Yes, it may not be the most electrifying of driving experiences, but it’s still a stark reminder of how well made these early cars were – everything feels tight and solid despite the Civic’s years.

2010 Honda CR-Z

The CR-Z has a manual gearbox, despite being a hybrid (Honda)

Moving closer to the present day, we arrived at the CR-Z. In truth, it looks just as fresh as it did when released back in 2010, and the hybrid system on board makes sense in today’s eco-conscious motoring world. The styling is certainly eye-catching, and we find out how well balanced the CR-Z’s chassis is. It’s a bit of a giggle to drive, in fact, and this is mostly down to the car’s manual gearbox – a feature relatively unheard of in hybrids.

The CR-Z features a multitude of unique styling touches (Honda)

It’s also – thankfully – got air-conditioning, which comes as a welcome relief after a series of hot and sweaty classics. It may sound trivial, but funnily enough Barcelona in June is pretty warm, and a short break from this heat is a great relief.

1997 Honda CR-V

The CR-V incorporates a fold-out picnic table (Honda)

Crossovers are hugely popular at the moment, with nearly every manufacturing producing a compact, lifestyle-orientated model. But Honda was somewhat ahead of this trend, thanks to the 1999 CR-V. It was designed to be as car-like as possible, and therefore less intimidating to drive than a traditional SUV.

It’s incredibly spacious inside, and it packs a hidden feature too – a picnic table located underneath the boot’s floor. Wouldn’t cars nowadays be better if they had these sort of touches? We certainly think so.

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