Versus the competiton:
Every once in a while, a car comes along that sets the standard on its ear, readjusts the bar, rewrites the language and reduces normally verbose, easily unimpressed critics to this:
Wipe your brow and buckle up. Acura’s got it down cold with its new RSX Type-S. It’s so hot it will have you wondering how you ever navigated the small-coupe universe without driving gloves and a smile. It will leave you wondering what car it replaced.
Integra? Integra? Who remembers the Integra, anyway?
The Japanese automaker didn’t just break the mold when it switched from the old staple (Integra) to the new staple gun (RSX). Acura cracked it, smashed it, recast it, then unleashed it.
So long, Integra. Glad knowing you. Glad we’ve met your next of kin.
Now don’t get us wrong. The Integra was an amazingly successful car whose seven-year run included large doses of crisp handling, decent acceleration and even a penchant for a little pizzazz.
Acura’s move to the new RSX label was a direct result of the company’s desire to polish its luxury vehicle image – a name (and marketing) switch to compete with Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, which use alphanumeric names for their cars.
ABCs aside, the new RSX is so much more.
For 2002, there is just one model and two trims – the RSX and the RSX Type-S, our tester. A four-door model will not be offered, and the race-bred Type R version has been put on hiatus (industry types say to expect a return in 2003 or 2004). The RSX effectively takes the place of the Integra LS and GS, while the sportier Type-S (a trim level also found on the Acura CL and TL) fills in for the Integra GS-R.
Truth be told, dimensionally, the RSX is similar to the Integra coupe.
Truth be told, it’s nothing like it.
The replacement is an impressive improvement in more ways than one: more power, more refined and more of what you look for in a car with an impressive fun quotient and a hatchback. (Not always a direct correlation.)
Like the Integra, the RSX is based on the Honda Civic platform, which was updated for ’01 with better handling, response and ride thanks to a substantially stiffer chassis.
Unlike the Integra, both the base RSX and upscale RSX Type-S sport a little new muscle. Two new 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder aluminum engines feature Honda’s new i-VTEC system, which is the largest ever in this line of small sedans.
What does that mean? More zoom.
Just when you thought Honda, or Acura, couldn’t squeeze any more juice out of the orange, along comes the ultimate juicer. For years, the mad scientists in Honda’s laboratories have gone into their dark-windowed garages with a four-cylinder engine and emerged with rocket ships. The rev rolls on.
The base RSX puts out 160 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 141 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm – 20 hp and 17 lb-ft of torque more than the Integra LS. For the Type-S, Acura tunes the engine to bring horsepower up to 200 (at a mind-blowing 7,400 rpm) and torque to 142 lb-ft (at 6,000 rpm).
How does that feel? Like riding a miniature stallion.
Just like its Honda S2000 cousin, you feel every kick in each of the 200 ponies while racing out to 60 mph in a tick over six seconds.
Rev it up . . . then rev it a little more. Again, like the S2000, the RSX demands you unleash all its guts and gusto.
Mated with a short, crisp five-speed manual transmission on the base model, and a six-speed on the Type-S (the only option offered), the RSX screams for speed and tight corners. Like the Civic, the RSX digs in by giving up on Honda’s control-arm front suspension, opting instead for a simpler strut setup. That only means tighter turns.
Steering is crisp and braking is hard, thanks to a four-wheel disc system with standard anti-lock.
Inside, Acura did a good job of keeping up the redesign theme with an interior that is larger and plusher than any previous Integra. Front seats are firm and sporty, the cockpit is constructed with the driver in mind. There are contemporary materials, easy-to-use controls and large metallic-faced gauges.
Items like automatic climate control, sculpted sport seats, a power moonroof, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an in-glass radio antenna are all standard. RSX Type-S cars get leather seating materials and a premium Bose audio system. More upscale items like traction control, stability control, heated seats or 17-inch wheels aren’t on the options list, however.
What’s also not in the cards is a relaxing Sunday drive. Basic transportation this is not – especially with the high-strung four-cylinder that acts like an anxious puppy in search of a snapped leash.
Rear-seat head and body room is cramped for adults and the cargo area is useful, but not generous. With the hatchback design and easy-fold split rear seatbacks, it is a versatile carrier, but a high liftover is a negative. As is interior noise over 4,000 rpm and overall visibility.
Nonetheless, it is 2,800 pounds of pleasure – a high-energy, well-controlled ride that handles potholes with ease and responds to every command.
Though sport coupes equipped with V-6 engines, such as the Eclipse GT and Volkswagen GTI GLX, produce significantly more torque, we’ll settle for the RSX.
So what will this joyride cost? Less than you think. Compared to other small coupes in its class, the RSX comes in fairly competitive. At $19,950, the RSX is more than a base Mustang, Camaro or Ford SVT Focus, but less than an entry-level Benz or BMW. At $23,170 for the Type-S, it starts to move into another territory.
But comparisons in this case are tough. In many ways, the RSX Type-S stands alone.
The Acura has grown up without growing too stale. For that, we don’t have enough thanks.
2002 ACURA RSX TYPE-S
High Gear: Rev, rev, rev. The new Acura RSX demands a pedal-to-the-metal approach. Pluses include a volatile engine, tight handling, crisp steering and an interior that has “fun quotient” written from stem to stern.
Low Gear: Rear-seat body and head room is limited, as is cargo volume in this smallish two-door coupe. Interior noise can also get excessive at high rpms. Some extra options are not available.
Vehicle type: Front-wheel drive, front-engine, two-door, four-passenger coupe.
Standard equipment (Type-S): Six-speed manual transmission; dual front airbags; front side airbags; anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes; air conditioning with automatic climate control; interior air filter; power steering; cruise control; split folding rear seats; power mirrors, windows, locks; keyless entry; Bose AM/FM/cassette with 6-disc CD changer; power sunroof; theft-deterrent system; sport suspension.
Competition: Toyota Celica, Ford Mustang, Volkswagen GTI VR6
Eng ine (Type-S): 200 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Torque: 142 foot-lbs. @ 6,000 rpm
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 172.2 inches
MPG rating: 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway
Manufactured: East Liberty, Ohio
Warranty: Basic warranty is four years/50,000 miles; powertrain warranty is four years/50,000 miles; rust perforation warranty is five years/unlimited miles; roadside assistance is four years/50,000 miles.
Base price: $23,170
Price as tested (Type-S – includes options, destination and delivery charges): $23,170