Back in the 1980s, when Acura was just a babe in the woods, Honda's upscale brand sold its cars with the simple tagline "Precision crafted performance." But the ad campaign wasn't merely playing up the epistemological attraction of an invented name (Acura brings to mind accurate, which inspires pleasant thoughts of technological sophistication, superlative fit and finish, and bulletproof reliability). Acuras really were well-honed tools for the driving enthusiast-Honda greatness turned up to eleven, if you will. And although Madison Avenue is a fickle place, and "Precision crafted performance" long since has gone the way of "Fahrvergngen" and "This is not your father's Oldsmobile," the engineers at Honda are anything but fickle. Acura automobiles-from the most exotic offering, the aging NSX, to the most affordable, the RSX Type-S on these pages-are still paragons of mechanical precision and fine craftsmanship.
Introduced in the summer of 2001, the RSX is the successor to Acura's beloved Integra. It was met with some wariness (by us, at least), mostly because it eschewed a model name that had been around just long enough to achieve historic resonance. But at least the new car remained true to the mission of the original 1986 Integra: Provide a thoroughly engaging driving experience in a frugal-albeit premium-package.
The Integra's three generations saw, variously, two-door and four-door hatchback body styles as well as a traditional three-box sedan, but the RSX showed up as a hatchback coupe only (although Acura since has revisited the premium four-cylinder sedan market by way of the TSX). The base RSX rolls with a 160-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed manu-matic, but we chose the hotted-up Type-S model for our Four Seasons test. Following in the tracks of the screaming Integra Type-R, the Type-S packs a 2.0-liter four that uses Honda's i-VTEC variable valve timing to produce 200 horsepower at 7400 rpm and 142 pound-feet of torque at 6000 rpm. It is paired only with a six-speed manual transmission.
From the outset, we knew we'd made the right choice. Tipping the scales at a trim 2740 pounds, our test car clocked a 6.5-second sprint to 60 mph and ran the quarter-mile in 15.3 seconds at 94 mph. (That's about as quick as a V-8-engined Ford Mustang GT, but, very much unlike the GT, the Type-S will return an exemplary 24 mpg in town and 31 mpg on the highway.) During performance testing, technical editor Don Sherman noted, "Hints of torque steer are evident, but that's inevitable with so much energy going through the front tires."
Without exception, the six-speed gearbox was loved by everyone who used it. Although the engine's torque is modest, a 7900-rpm redline means the driver isn't constantly stirring the shifter to get things moving. Throws are slightly longer than those of Honda's similarly high-strung S2000 roadster, but they are accomplished with stupefying ease. So delicate were gearchanges that Sherman-perhaps a bit too accustomed to punching Corvettes and Vipers into gear-forecast an ugly future for our tester's first- and second-gear synchros. And yet after twelve months and 31,309 miles, his dire prediction failed to transpire. The RSX's gearbox was as light and tight on its last day as it was on its first. Associate editor Joe DeMatio summed it up in one word, "lovely," and road test coordinator Tony Quiroga asked, "Could this be the best shifter in a front-wheel-drive car?" Yes, we found, it could be. And it is.
The torque-sensing, variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering was appreciated, by and large, for its BMW-like heft and quick ratio (quicker than the last Integra's) but nonetheless inspired some grousing for its questionable feel. Sherman: "Nervous on center; requires small but constant corrections to maintain a straight path." Executive editor Mark Gillies, who initially anointed the RSX "the heir to the Honda CRX," later tempered his praise by writing: "As a steering fetishist, my biggest letdown with the RSX is the steering's poor on-center feel and nasty dead spot." Senior editor Eddie Alterman, never one to mince words, noted: "I'd like to point out that this car's steering sucks. Oh, it feels good when you've got it pointed straight, but it's completely artificial in quick evasive maneuvers."