The Morning Call and's view

When I saw this little rollerskate of a car — the new Acura RSX sports coupe — I immediately thought I was too old for the car. I’ve seen many small sporty Japanese cars screaming down the road with fat tires, chrome wheels and darkened windows belting out a funky beat. The new RSX certainly caters to this buyer.

But then I got in it and drove it, and I was transported back to when I drove a Japanese sports coupe during the first Bush administration. And I must admit it: I’m hooked.

Like the Acura Integra, which is the model the RSX replaces, this is Acura’s entry-level model. Just like the larger Acura TL shares a lot with the cheaper Honda Accord, the RSX shares some of its underpinnings with the Honda Civic. Unlike the Civic, the RSX gives its driver thrills from carving through corners rather than cutting the fuel bill.

There are two versions — the base RSX has a 160 horsepower 16-valve double-overhead-cam 2-liter four-cylinder engine, while the sporty Type S gets a screaming 200-horsepower of similar specs. The base car is available with a 5-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic Sequential SportShift. The latter feature allows you to shift manually without a clutch. The test vehicle was a base car with the 160-horsepower mill.

Power is strong and keeps on coming through the 6800-rpm redline. The sound is riveting and sure to please RSX drivers. Ditto the speed, which is well managed.

Despite the front-wheel-drive chassis, the car exhibited little torque steer. Handling is typical small sports car: agile and nimble, but you’ll feel every little wrinkle on PennDOT’s roadways. The suspension is Macpherson strut up front, double wishbone in the rear.

Exterior styling is modern and sleek. The vehicle looks smaller than the outgoing Integra, yet it is about the same size. The front headlamps look like they were taken from a Chrysler 300M, and are every bit as sporting. The tail lamps pick up on the headlamp’s styling.

Inside, the front bucket seats have aggressive bolsters that won’t feel comfortable if you’re broad of beam. The rear seats? Fold them down to expand this hatchback’s cargo capacity.

The dashboard has a metallic-like feel that expertly matches the feel of the exterior. Gauges have a neat 3-D-like feel, yet remain easy to read. Three rotary knobs work the automatic climate control, and show once again how Honda is a master of designing complex multi-function controls in an easy manner.

Like past Hondas, there was a struggle to cool the interior. Two large round air ducts manage air flow, but don’t do a very good job of it. This is style over substance.

The center console has only a little space for storage. A novel sliding door has two buttons. Hit one and it becomes a tray; hit another and a cupholder emerges. The audio system was a bit tinny, but you’ll replace the audio system anyway.

Standard equipment includes a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system, four-wheel-disc brakes with anti-lock, theft deterrent system with engine immobilizer, power mirrors, windows and locks, automatic climate control, tilt steering wheel, power moonroof, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, and a clock among others.

Fuel economy was good, returning 22 mpg despite some lead-footed driving. The base RSX runs on regular and the Type S on premium.

The new RSX enters a sport coupe market that is shrinking in size daily. Still, the car feels modern and is certainly fun to drive, no matter which President Bush is in office.

Engine: 2-liter DOHC I-4
Transmission: 5-speed manual or automatic
Tires: P205/55R16
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 172.2 inches
Width: 67.9 inches
Weight: 2,769 pounds
Cargo volume: 17 cubic feet
Ground clearance: 6 inches
Base price: $19,950
As te ed: Not available
EPA rating: 27 city, 33 highway (estimated)
Test mileage: 22 mpg
Fuel type: Regular
Built in: Japan/Ohio

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