Still a great coupe in spite of its age.
by Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief
Base Price (MSRP) $19,300
As Tested (MSRP) $22,680
Price, performance, and refinement aren't always compatible attributes, but Acura has successfully combined all three in the Integra family of coupes and sedans. Smart-looking, comfortable, and fun to drive, any Integra represents a satisfying choice.
Our favorite is the GS-R: sport coupes don't come much better than this. The GS-R makes any driver feel like a hero, almost anticipating your wishes, filling your senses with delicious sounds and seat-of-the-pants sensations. Open the throttle, and the twin-cam engine growls with authority and revs like there's no tomorrow. The taut suspension helps it slice through corners with precision.
Buyers who prefer a less frenetic driving experience can save thousands by choosing an Integra LS or GS, in coupe or sedan styles. The former makes the most of the Integra's slashing-wedge shape but a four-door offers more practicality, and some drivers even prefer the handling balance of the Integra sedan.
Integra hasn't changed much lately, and an all-new model designed to replace it is just around the corner. Little more than some new color choices and new carpeted floor mats distinguish the 2001 models from the 2000s. Be on the lookout for special pricing and financing offers.
The Integra lineup comprises coupes and sedans in various levels of trim and tune.
Three-door coupes include the LS ($19,300), GS ($20,950) and the high-performance GS-R ($22,200). There's also a limited-production club-racer coupe called the Type R ($24,350). Four-door sedans are offered in LS ($20,100), GS ($21,500), and GS-R ($22,500) trim.
Even the LS comes fully loaded. GS just adds leather upholstery to the coupe and sedan, plus a spoiler for the coupe and a special console, armrest, and interior woodgrain for the four-door. LS and GS Integras share a 1.8-liter dual overhead-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine rated at 140 horsepower. It comes with a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic ($800) transmission.
GS-R models get a 170-horsepower VTEC version of the same engine. The GS-R is available only with a close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox that's optimized for its more narrow powerband.
Stripped down and near race-ready, the Type R deletes weight-adding luxuries such as cruise control and the otherwise standard power moonroof in favor of a modified, 195-horsepower engine tuned to rev over 8,000 rpm; along with bigger brakes, high-performance tires, its own unique close gearbox ratios and a torque-sensing helical limited-slip differential.
The Type R comes in any color you like, as long as you like Nighthawk Black or Phoenix Yellow.
Controversial when it was introduced, the Integra has aged well, and has now become familiar. Yet its wedge profile, highlighted by those four small projector-beam headlights and that graceful roofline, still looks as handsome and contemporary as any coupe on the market today. The four-door sedan remains unusual, if not unique, in its ability to so comfortably wear the same lines as its sibling coupe.
Like most 2+2 sport coupes, the Integra has plenty of legroom up front, and hardly any in the rear. Sedan versions, with their extra two inches of wheelbase, offer more than four inches more rear legroom; that's just enough for a couple of adults, provided they have a little cooperation from the folks up front. Cramming five people into an Integra sedan is not comfortable or practical.
The seats are slightly firm, above average in lateral support, nicely adjustable, and superior for long distance comfort. Instrumentation is clean, simple, and uncluttered. All controls are well marked and easy to locate without taking your eyes off the road: Just reach out to adjust something and it always seems to be right where it should be.
The top portion of the instrument panel falls away from the driver and passenger, an unusual design which does wonders for forward sightlines. Seeing is the first step in active safety, and Honda ranks with the best for giving drivers a good look at what's going on.
As for passive safety, the Integra inventory is only average: dual airbags up front, with good crash protection built into the unitbody. For 2001, Acura has added an emergency inside trunk release for four-door models. We expect to see side airbags in the next generation. Antilock brakes are standard on all models.
The Integra steers crisply and always feels connected to the road. With only 2,600 pounds of car to propel, the standard power plant delivers decent performance. But we love the urgency--and high-tech sound--of the wonderful VTEC engine. That's why we chose a GS-R for this evaluation.
The GS-R claws to 60 mph in a little more than eight seconds, emitting a determined, high-tech snarl in the process. The five-speed gearbox shifts precisely. The foot-pedal layout encourages heel-and-toe downshifting and the variable-assist power steering provides just the right blend of effort and road feel.
Like all Acura and Honda automobiles, the Integra employs Honda's control arm suspension system, with common spring and damping rates right across the board. Handling response is quick and precise. Yet the ride quality is comforable. That may be one of the reasons for the Integra's ongoing popularity: It is sporty, without being harsh. The suspension compliance that goes with a relatively smooth ride, by sporty car standards, shows up as body roll in really hard cornering, and we know from driving at the limit on various race tracks that the GS-R isn't quite as agile as the Honda Prelude.
On a race track the Integra tends toward understeer, but this is easily managed by lifting off the throttle or trail-braking into tight corners, to transfer grip to the front tires and allow the rear end to rotate outward. Body roll limits cornering potential to just below that of the Prelude. The payoff for this concession is superb ride quality. The suspension feels firm, but never jarring. The steering strikes an ideal balance between power assist and sufficient road feel. Your daily rounds probably include a lot more commuting than autocross maneuvers, and feeling every pothole and tar strip isn't really that much fun.
Yet when it's time to let the tachometer wind up on a sinuous country road, the GS-R gives a great account of itself with performance that is superior to what most sport coupes in this size class offer. That it's able to do so without making the owner suffer in everyday driving is a tribute to the suspension engineers.
If you dislike these compromises, there's always the Integra Type R. Add 25 hp to the GS-R package, take away most of the compromises generally made for passenger comfort, and you have an almost-race-ready screamer that's just born to be wild. Integra Type R's torque peak comes on at 7500 rpm (that's torque, not horsepower), while horsepower, all 195 of it, tops out at a dizzying 8000 rpm. That's a high-revving motor. That output works out to more than 108 horsepower per liter, a power-to-weight ratio no other normally aspirated car can match. The Type R rides harder as well, on a uniquely tuned suspension that's lowered 15 mm.
The slightly outrageous Type R is just about the hottest thing going in this class, but it's not for everyone. Carefully consider the compromises it demands before signing on the dotted line.
Not surprisingly, the essential strengths of the Integra have made it a favorite with a new breed of young enthusiasts who modify compact performance cars--instead of the time-honored approach involving small block Chevy V8s. This is a remarkable trend, one that has launched magazines and a major aftermarket industry that supplies all sorts of go-fast and appearance goodies. While hot-rodding may not be your goal, being a hot-rodder's favorite speaks positive volumes about the Integra. Show-car builders like it as a starting point because its basic styling will look contemporary for a long time. Street racers are attracted to a driveline that just won't break, no matter how much horsepower they add.
What does this have to do with you? Maybe nothing. But it does suggest that Honda has created something special here. And with or without the endorsement of the new breed of hot rodders, we still think this is a great buy in a small sporty car.
In a class of cars that places a premium on fresh styling, the appearance of the current Integra--though still attractive and distinctive--has become a bit familiar. On the other hand, the Integra has matured into one of the best small sporty coupes (and sedans) in the business. Consider price and value and it all but stands alone. Press coverage has been minimal lately, because there's been little change from year to year, and a new design is around the corner. Until it arrives, however, the current Integra GS-R is still one great sports coupe.
Whether you choose the coupe or the sedan, you're buying value and you're going to have fun.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.