America's long gotten stiffed when it comes to Honda's most sought after, performance-based models, despite the 50 states inhabiting more enthusiasts of the brand than any other place on the globe. We pine for anything with a red valve cover, anything with factory-supplied Recaros, anything sold with more power than whatever it is we've got access to here. All of which make lists like this one almost painful to look at.
'97-'01 Civic Type R
The sixth-generation Civic introduced the first Honda badged as a Type R that you could afford but you could never get. At the heart of the original CTR was its B16B engine that featured a hand-ported cylinder head and, with its de-stroked rotating assembly and tall deck height, was more like the company's 1.8L VTEC engines from its B16A lineup—despite its name. Even today, the early Civic Type R's close-ratio gearbox and limited-slip differential make it one of the most desirable Honda drivetrains ever, and its 185hp, naturally aspirated powerplant still places it near the top of the list of most impressive outputs of any production vehicle.
'06-'08 Accord Euro R
Based off of the North American TSX, the Japanese-spec Accord Euro R came with its own K20A engine—almost identical to the Civic Type R's—along with one of the most impressive six-speed transmissions Honda's ever made. Despite the name, the Euro R was sold only in Japan and featured the same double-wishbone suspension as the TSX, only stiffer and surrounded by larger brakes. Here, Euro R evidence lies in the subtleties, like the badges at each end and the honeycomb grille up front and not so much with any bold-red interior bits.
'91-'95 Civic Ferio SiR
Prior to the introduction of the eighth-generation Civic Si, Americans had yet to be privy to a performance-based Civic with four doors. The Ferio SiR was more Integra than it was Civic, though, with its four-wheel disk brakes, twin-cam B16A, and limited-slip differential. It was the answer America never got to a performance-minded Civic for a family of four.
'94-'97 Accord SiR
The Accord has never been a beacon of motoring excitement. Its pussyfoot damping, active engine mounts, and internal engine balance shafts all suggest refinement took precedence over going fast...until the SiR was developed. Sold with a higher compression and slightly more powerful version of the H22A, the sedan was the only SiR of the era available with a manual transmission, hence your not caring about two-door models. The stiffer antisway bars and coil springs made the Accord handle less like an Accord but, more importantly, the twin-cam engine made it the most powerful four-cylinder Honda family car of its day.
Honda introduced its Type R bloodline with the early NSX. The treatment was simple, though, and didn't fully live up to the namesake's heritage until the supercar was revised for the '02 model year. The updated body style ushered in a Type R that cared even more about performance. Here, rigidity was maintained by reverting to the fixed roof of past models, and strategic weight reduction was achieved, in part, by a purpose-driven carbon-fiber hood, rear spoiler, and by simply eliminating all sorts of nonsense like the stereo, air conditioner, and half of the double-pane rear glass. Underneath the engine cover, the same 3.2L engine that every other NSX received was meticulously blueprinted to tolerances and specifications so precise, it's unsure as to how much more power the Type R actually makes (if any) abound more than 13 years after its introduction.
Honda's Beat makes the cut for few reasons beyond being a rear-wheel-drive, mid-engine kei-class car—or a sub-sub-compact that you'd actually want to drive. Its powerplant remains one of the company's most unusual to date. Here, the motorcycle-like three-cylinder engine is augmented with a single throttle body for each cylinder, culminating into what Honda calls MTREC (Multi Throttle Responsive Engine Control). Its toy-like powertrain dishes out no more than 64 hp, but it does so at 8,000 rpm, making all of this look a whole lot less silly than doing the same thing in a Smart car.
'89-'93 Integra XSi
VTEC is synonymous with the North American lexicon, whether you're smart enough to know what it actually does or lame enough to drum up Internet memes poking fun at it. Honda developed it for the NSX, but the technology hit assembly lines first in the form of the original B16A, fitted to top-trim, second-generation Integras like the XSi. In 1992, Acura introduced the GS-R to American car buyers with its longer-stroke B17A1 engine, but it was almost too little, too late, as enterprising Honda fans were already beginning to source Japanese-spec 1.6L engines to take matters into their own hands.
'87-'92 CR-X SiR
It's almost just as well that North American car buyers were never able to get their hands on SiR renditions of the second-generation CR-X. Knowing that a dual-overhead-cam, VTEC counterpart existed across the Pacific that we couldn't have ignited a pioneering spirit of engine-swapping and parts-homologating experimentation that's now three decades strong. American CR-X owners longed for the SiR's 160hp B16A engine but also for its factory-issued limited-slip differential, rear-disc brakes, rear seats, and optional glass roof that nearly spans its way from windshield to hatch.
'07-'11 Civic Type R
It's the most capable Honda with four-doors the company created to date. You may have talked smack about the eighth-gen Civic upon its release back in '05, but with its 11.7:1 compression ratio and 222hp K20A, you'd have been a fool to undermine the company's latest Civic Type R. In typical Type R fashion, the red-on-black color scheme makes its way into the interior by means of Recaro seats, model-specific red floor mats, and a red-trimmed steering wheel that replaces the standardized MOMO pieces of models past. Outside, the bumpers are of Type R-specific pedigree as are the unique wheels and available Championship White paintjob that screams Type R almost as loud as its red valve cover. For those who don't consider the 13,000-unit CTR rare enough, a collaboration with tuning firm Mugen resulted in the Mugen RR, of which only 300 units were made and is good for another 18 hp, among several other rarified goodies.
'83-'86 City Turbo II
Unlike many automakers of decades past, Honda's famous for seldom submitting itself to forced induction when pre-production horsepower targets fall short. All of which makes one of its lone factory-boosted sub-compacts even more special. That and the micro-scooter it's sold with that folds up and tucks away right in the trunk. The Turbo II doesn't even muster up 110 hp, but it also doesn't even weigh 1,600 pounds—an impressive power-to-weight ratio no matter the era. And with its lightweight magnesium valve cover, Honda bestowed it with a bit of performance heritage that few aside from the NSX have ever been blessed with.
'01-'02 Torneo Euro R
That you know nothing about Honda's Torneo is entirely excusable. A derivative of the Accord and exclusive to the Japanese market, Euro R models featured one of the most powerful 2.2L H-series engines, good for 220 hp, and with standard equipment like a tubular, stainless-steel header and a gearbox with a helical-type limited-slip differential. The short-lived Torneo was ultimately overshadowed by Honda's leading sales brute, the Accord, which makes sourcing even the likes of non-Euro R models a challenge.