The racy new RSX coupe from Honda's upscale Acura division has arrived as an early 2002 model—and it's about time.
The RSX replaces the automaker's eight-year-old Integra, which came as a coupe and sedan. The life of sporty cars is generally several years shorter than that of the Integra.
Now that it's here, the front-drive RSX seems worth the wait. It has been revamped so much that it seems as if from a different automaker, although the new model has Acura's traditionally high quality.
The RSX has essentially the same dimensions of the front-drive Integra. But this two-door hatchback has a cab-forward design and minimal front and rear overhangs for better interior space utilization. There's more headroom up front, and a revised rear suspension helps provide a flat floor back there.
Styling isn't especially distinctive, but the RSX does look racier than its predecessor coupe with its broad stance, sharply raked hood and compound-curved window glass, which is thinner than the Integra glass to save weight.
It remains to be seen if trend-setting California hot rodders will embrace the RSX as they have the Integra, which they extensively modify. If so, they'll cause further embarrassment to American automakers on the youth market front.
Pricing is competitive. The standard RSX has a $19,950 base price, while the faster Type-S costs $23,170.
The big difference between the two models is horsepower. The standard RSX has a 160-horsepower 4-cylinder, while the Type-S produces 200 horsepower because it has a beefier, more sophisticated version of the high-revving RSX 2.0-liter engine.
Both versions look the same, which makes one wonder why Acura didn't set the Type-S off visually with more than small items such as "S" badging. The hotter version has such things as a stiffer suspension and more equipment, including an in-dash CD changer.
The equipment level is impressively high, with such things as automatic climate control, a power sunroof, remote keyless entry and power windows, door locks and mirrors.
In fact, the only significant options for the base model are $1,000 leather upholstery, which is standard in the Type-S, and a $900 5-speed Sequential SportShift automatic transmission that can be shifted like a clutchless manual. The transmission for the standard RSX is a 5-speed manual.
The racier Type-S comes only with a new close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission with short throws and optimally spaced gears that make it fun to shift.
And you must shift gears a lot to get the best acceleration from either model because, after all, the engine is small and the equipment-loaded RSX is fairly heavy. It weights 2,694 to 2,769 pounds.
High Revs Needed
Acceleration is rather sluggish at low engine speeds. But the engine comes to life when the tachometer needle hits about 3000 rpm because it has dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves, a free-flow exhaust system and complicated valve timing and control systems.
How fast? The Type-S hits 60 mph from a standing start in 6.7 seconds, with the regular manual-transmission model taking about a second longer to reach that speed. The automatic slows acceleration a bit.
A downshift is needed with the manual from top to third gear for the best 65-75 mph passing. And quick moves in freeway traffic can't be made in top gear.
Surprisingly, Acura didn't give the Type-S larger wheels and tires, which is virtually standard procedure with a higher-performance version of a car. Not that the 55-series tires on 16-inch wheels are small, but larger ones would be appropriate for the Type-S.
Good Fuel Economy
Fuel economy is pretty good: in the low 20-mpg range in the city and in the low 30s on the highway, although the engine revs at a high 3400 rpm at 75 mph in sixth gear.
The RSX is based on Honda's Global Compact Platform also used by the Honda Civic. That results in the RSX losing its race-style double-wishbone front suspension, which is replaced by a damper strut setup.
However, the new front suspension does allow more interior room, and there is a new highly compact double-wishbone suspension at the rear.
Despite the front-strut setup, RSX has sharp handling, although it's awfully nose-heavy; pop the hood and you'll see that the engine is set so far forward in its surgically neat compartment that it almost seems to reach the front bumper.
The power steering is quick and precise, although rather heavy. A supple suspension and fairly long (for a subcompact coupe) 101.2-inch wheelbase smooth out the ride, although the Type-S naturally rides a bit harder with its firmer suspension. The Type-S also has a front tower bar and rear performance rod for more agile handling.
The brake pedal has a nice linear feel and stopping distances are short with the all-disc brake setup and standard anti-lock system. The standard RSX has larger brakes than the Integra, and the Type-S has bigger front brakes than the standard RSX.
A stiffer body structure and good amount of sound insulation results in a quiet interior. The dashboard curves toward the driver and comfortable front bucket seats hug you in corners and contain integrated side airbags. The thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel provides good grip.
But there is no center armrest and the rear roofline hinders visibility; it's a good idea to use the rearview mirrors a lot.
The stylish metallic-face gauges with a backlit design can be quickly read after a driver gets used to the "zero-angle" pointers that, like needles in race car gauges, point straight down to the 6 o'clock position when the engine is off. For instance, the 60-mph reading seems out of place at the speedometer's "9'o'clock" position instead of near the "12 o'clock" position.
The easily reached controls work smoothly and sound system and climate controls are large enough to be used while wearing gloves. The combination tray-cupholder on the front console is cleverly designed and there are shallow door pockets to store small items.
Tight Rear Seat
The rear-seat area is tight and hard to enter or leave. But there's decent room for a medium-height adult behind the right-front passenger. And cupholders are molded into rear armrests.
The cargo area is large, but has a high opening that won't be appreciated when heavy objects need to be put in and taken out. The 50/50 split-folding rear seatbacks fold forward easily and greatly increase the cargo area. A nice touch is the hatch's interior grip, which allows it to be closed quickly without getting hands dirty on outside sheet metal.
While overdue, the RSX has the styling, performance and comfort to satisfy many sports coupe buyers. It makes the decent Integra suddenly seem old-fashioned.