The dream of every musician is to have a big hit. An enduring tune that leaves its mark for a generation or more. Well, the same goes for car companies. And, for Acura, that enduring hit has been the Integra. Despite being introduced way back in 1994, the Integra remains the benchmark for rowdy, front-drive sport compacts. But you know, after eight years, Honda’s luxury division was forced to give its entry-level song a complete rewrite. So say goodbye to the Integra, and say hello to the more powerful, more refined 2002 Acura RSX. But can the smoother RSX stay at the top of the charts?
Only time will tell. But a look at the 2002 Acura RSX’s spec sheet does give us a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Built on a modified version of the latest Honda Civic platform, the RSX is 1.2-inches wider, and a substantial 3.2-inches taller than the tight fitting Integra. But, all other dimensions are basically the same, including the 101.2-inch wheelbase.
Style-wise, the coupe-only RSX is sleeker, and less controversial than Integra, with a pronounced Acura look. Especially in the CL-style front end, with its shield of a grill and arched multi-reflector headlights. The taller roofline drops smoothly to a sharply defined rear deck lid, not unlike the rival Celica’s, finishing with multi-lens lamps that echo those on the front.
To make sure that the RSX is as fast as it looks, Acura has equipped it with two versions of an all-new 2.0-liter dual-overhead-cam, 4. The base version puts out 160 horsepower, and 141 pound-feet of torque. That’s 20 horses and 18 pound-feet more than base Integra power. For the more potent RSX Type-S, output rises to an even 200 horsepower, and 142 pound-feet of torque. That beats the GS-R by 30 horsepower and 14 pound-feet, and the race- inspired Type R by 5 horsepower and 12 pound-feet. Both engines use Acura’s new I-VTEC “intelligent” variable valve timing. Valve timing is now continuously variable, working on the intake side of the base engine, and all 16-valves on the Type-S.
Transmission choices for the base RSX are either a standard 5-speed manual, or an optional 5-speed automatic with Sequential SportShift capability. The Type-S gets a short-throw, close-ratio 6-speed manual. With it, 0-60 flashes by in only 6.9 seconds. The quarter mile in 15.4 seconds at 94 MPH. That’s a hair faster than the race- inspired Integra Type R we tested in ‘97.
Like the new Civic, the RSX dumps double-wishbones for a front MacPherson strut suspension, a subject of some controversy among the Honda/Acura faithful. The rear suspension is a new, more-compact double-wishbone design. A setup that not only acquitted itself well on our test track, but also on challenging California switchbacks.
Put your foot down in the Type-S and the first impression is not so much of speed, but of refinement. Where the Integra Type R was a raucous, stripped-out street racer, the RSX Type-S is smooth, solid, and remarkably quiet. Coming out of a corner, the Type-S 200-horsepower 2-liter winds up fast! But unlike the hottest Integra, power is less peaky up top, far more spread out across the rev band.
And while the Acura hardcore may not like the idea of a strut front suspension, this one really works! The RSX turns in in a lightning-quick manner, but with less front plow than the Integra. You can drive with both wheel and throttle, and overall balance rivals better rear-drive cars. It’s very impressive! As is the variable torque-sensing power steering, with its high speed 15.1-to-1 ratio, and plenty of feedback.
The RSX’s more refined feel is also reflected in a much more refined, and very well equipped, interior. Even though the driver-oriented dash has a much more austere look than those of its more luxo CL and TL siblings. The driver settles into a body-hugging sport seat with side airbags and integrated belts, all covered with leather in the Type-S. Squarely in front is a large, racy, white-face analog gauge package. And to the right is a center dash which houses user-friendly automatic climate controls up top. But we think the standard CD-stereo, in-dash CD changer on the Type-S, should trade places with the climate controls. Still the Type-S 7-speaker Bose system does sound sweet no matter where it lives, including under the trunk floor, where an amplified subwoofer sits in the spare tire.
The rear seat is typically coupe tight, despite the taller roof. But it does offer a standard 50/50 split folding seatback, while the trunk holds a healthy 17.8 cubic-feet of cargo space.
It’s a big step forward for this Integra successor. Of course all those improvements will cost you a few dollars more. Base price for the hardly-basic RSX is $20,430. The exciting Type- S starts at $23,650.
After eight years of Integra popularity, the RSX has some very big, very hot, shoes to fill. And while it may or may not be a perfect fit with its target market, we have no doubt that Acura’s most youthful driving machine has its track shoes laced up tight. They’re just a bit more comfortable than before.
Engine: 2.0-Liter Dohc 4-Cylinder
Torque: 142 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.4 Seconds @ 94 MPH
EPA Mileage: 24 MPG City 31 MPG Highway