The first generation Acura Integra was bland.
The second generation Integra was blah.
But the third one is a blast.
Yet one wonders if it will it be enough to breathe some life into Honda’s faltering luxury-car division.
In 1986, Honda kicked open the door for Japanese luxury cars with its Acura brand.
But since then other makes, such as Toyota’s Lexus and Nissan’s Infiniti, have come along and yanked the rug right out from underneath Acura.
Despite the flashy Ferrari-like NSX supercar and the mid-priced Vigor, Acura has seen its sales decline.
But Acura hopes to remedy that situation – the new Integra is the first of a bumper crop of new Acura products on the way.
There’s also said to be a sport-utility vehicle, a minivan and a V-8-powered, Lexus-like luxury sedan somewhere in the pipeline.
But back to the here and now. Acura desperately needs the new Integra to be a smash. After a one-week, 425-mile test drive, I think the new car stands a fighting chance.
If you like lightning-fast small cars that handle well, come packed with creature comforts, and offer unique styling, you’ll probably find the new Integra GS-R to be right on the money.
The GS-R features Honda’s powerful F-11.8-liter, 170-horsepower VTEC engine.
VTEC is Honda-speak for Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control. This innovation, also found in Acura’s high-performance NSX sports car, ”automatically adjusts the engine’s valve timing, lift and duration to achieve low rpm torque and high rpm power,” says Acura spokesman Mike Spencer in California.
What that means is that the engine runs at peak efficiency nearly all the time.
Acceleration is consistently strong and powerful all the way to the engine’s 8,000 rpm red line. However, the engine gets a bit rough and loud when it hits 7,500 rpm or so.
In any case, you don’t pay much attention to the noise of the engine when you acceleratehard. You are more concerned with making sure the car stays straight and that no police are in the vicinity.
The GS-R comes with a five-speed manual transmission. The short, stubby shifter clicks into gear with a minimal amount of movement, making quick, precise shifting a smooth and natural action.
Despite my heavy foot and constant use of the air conditioner, the car delivered 22 miles per gallon on premium unleaded.
The Integra GS-R is the best handling small car I’ve driven in the year since the ’93 Toyota MR2 Turbo, a car that ranks very near the top of my list of best-ever sports coupes.
As with the Toyota, the GS-R’s superb handling lets you explore your own skills as a driver.
The Acura’s suspension is firm, but not punishing, over rough pavement. The car’s body is stiff and rigid, allowing the suspension system to absorb bumps without the shock waves affecting the driver.
And the power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering i s tight, precise and nicely weighted. It turns a circle in just more than 34 feet.
The GS-R has a strong set of disc brakes, front and rear, and is equipped with an advanced anti-lock system that monitors the braking action on each wheel.
Some ABS setups monitor the front and rear wheels as a pair. But if just one of the Integra’s wheels locks up, the ABS system engages and prevents that wheel from skidding.
FIT AND FINISH
The rear area of the Integra is impressive.
With the rear seats folded forward, the Integra can be used as a cargo-hauler. You can easily slide three golf bags or a dozen grocery bags inside.
Though the car is small, the interior can hold four people fairly comfortably. Average-sized passengers likely will find acceptable legroom in the rear, though the sloping roof might make the Integra a tight fit for 6-footers.
The front bucket seats are firm and a bit narrow. The cloth-covered seats take a little getting used to. At first, you feel as if the front part of the seat is too low. But once you get acclimated to the car, you become comfortable with the seating arrangements.
Our test car came with just about every option Acura offers.
It had an electric sunroof, power windows, mirrors and door locks, a superb AM/FM radio and cruise control. The 1994 Integra also comes with standard dual air bags.
The best word to describe the Integra GS-R is fun. This car was built for those who just love to drive.
Truett’s tip: The all-new Acura Integra GS-R is a fun-to-drive, fast sports coupe that is designed for aggressive driving.