Motegi, Japan - Watch enough TV commercials, and you'd think the only way to have fun with an automobile is to bound up muddy hills or tear across sand dunes. What about the forgotten joys of a perfectly executed heel-and-toe downshift? The growl of a high-revving engine? A chassis that dives for the apex of a corner?
If any of this sounds like fun to you, allow us to reacquaint you with the high-performance sports coupe and, more specifically, to introduce the Acura RSX, which just may be the best of an underappreciated breed.
The name may be unfamiliar, but this is essentially the replacement for another well-known funster, the Integra. The new moniker does not reflect a personality change, merely Acura's fetish for disposing of familiar names in favor of meaningless letter combinations. The RSX, strictly speaking, replaces the two-door Integra only; there is no RSX four-door (as buyers of premium-priced, four-cylinder, subcompact sedans proved unsurprisingly scarce). For now, there are two iterations of the RSX: base and Type-S. The Type-S corresponds to the Integra GS-R, not the hardcore Integra Type-R. Acura product planners suggest that a Type-R-style version might join the party in the future.
The RSX is a clean sheet of paper, although, like its predecessor, it has some under-the-skin commonality with the Honda Civic, chiefly in its floorpan (here modified for hatchback duty) and its suspension architecture. The engine, an all- aluminum, 2.0-liter, DOHC four, is a new design and features a new, more complicated version of Honda's VTEC variable valve timing, lift, and duration control. Honda has added continuously adjustable camshaft phasing (confusingly called Variable Timing Control, or VTC). In the base engine, VTC combines with VTEC for the intake side to create i-VTEC and, more important, 160 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 141 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. The high-performance version, found under the hood of the RSX Type-S, uses VTEC for the exhaust valves as well and musters 200 horsepower at a stratospheric 7400 rpm, along with 142 pound-feet of torque at 6000 rpm.
The lower-horsepower engine comes with either a five-speed manual transmission or a five-speed Sequential SportShift manu-matic. For the 200-horsepower engine, Honda has crafted a new, close-ratio, six-speed gearbox, which is the only transmission offered in the Type-S.
Blasting out of pit lane at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi road course, the Type-S engine snarls to its 7900-rpm redline. With more power and torque than even the racy Type-R version of the old Integra, the new 2.0-liter pulls strongly. (Honda engineers figure an aggressive driver could beat their quoted 6.8-second 0-to-62-mph time by about a second.) Compared with the Integra VTEC fours, the RSX engine builds speed in a more linear fashion, without the pronounced bump in power delivery when the valve timing switches from low lift/short duration to high lift/ long duration. Still, as with all Honda VTEC fours, those who play in the upper rev ranges will have the best time; north of 4000 rpm is where you want to be.
Happily, the six-speed transmission's closely spaced ratios mean you never have to let the revs drop. Its short throws aid fast shifts, and all forward gears use double- or triple-cone synchronizers for slick shift action. Well-placed pedals make anyone look like Fred Astaire during heel-and-toe downshifts.