Why a New Acura Integra/RSX Won’t Work
Motor City Blogman
Acura's Integra and RSX were the best mainstream models to come out of Honda's struggling premium division (the NSX was best ever, of course). They were probably the best-handling front-wheel-drive cars of their time, and they propped up both the division and its sales channel for the 20 or so years they were offered.
Now, our friends at Car and Driver have published an online story that Acura will launch a new "sport car," presumably much like the Integra/RSX, no sooner than 2017. I have no reason to believe this isn't true. It's much more credible than last decade's on-again, off-again rumors of rear-wheel drive and/or a V-8 for Acura's sedans.
Acura brought its latest flagship sedan to market nearly two years ago with neither RWD nor a V-8, though with optional AWD with torque-vectoring and V-6/hybrid power. But Acura sold just 260 RLXes last month, for a total of 2,955 for the year to-date. The MDX remains the brand's best-seller (for good reason -- it's a very nice premium CUV), with the new TLX on track to become its best-selling car.
The entry-level ILX sedan also struggles, at just 14,472 sold for the year so far, compared with sales of 277,584 of the Civic, its all-too-obvious platform sibling.
And therein lies the problem with a new, sporty, affordable Acura. It would have to be another coupe, to be a true modern Integra/RSX. But it would have to have a unique selling proposition to keep from driving customers back to a Civic Si.
When that original Acura Integra went on sale, you could buy another Civic-based coupe, but it was the much smaller, two-seat CRX. From Acura's 1986 launch all the way through the 1992 model year, the only other two-door Civic/Civic Si on the market was a hatchback. The Integra four-door always had unique sheetmetal compared with the Civic's and was itself a hatchback for the first generation.
Beside the unique sheetmetal, nicer interior, and higher levels of standard and optional (trim-packaged) equipment, the compact Acuras came with twin-cam versions of Honda's fours, while the Civics had single-overhead cam units. By the time Acura launched the RSX, it had gone two-door coupe-only, with the TSX -- actually, a European-spec Honda Accord -- filling in on the four-door side of the entry-level equation.
In those ensuing years, Audi has managed to elevate itself to a full-on premium brand. The Volkswagen Golf/GTI/Jetta/GLI and Audi A3/S3's shared platform poses a similar problem, except the compact VWs aren't nearly as popular as the Honda Civic, and the fancier, more expensive (thus, more profitable) A3/S3 have a clearer path to sales success. And upstream Audis distinguish themselves from their VW counterparts with Quattro all-wheel drive and the unusual longitudinal engine placement. Acura has never offered anything enthusiast Integra/RSX owners could move up to other than the high-priced NSX.
So a 2018 Acura RSX must have been a tough sell to Honda management. Acura could give it the Civic Si's 205-hp, DOHC 2.4-liter, but it can't charge much more than $30,000 base price in today's dollars. It could go with the Euro-spec Civic Type R's 280-hp, DOHC 2.0-liter turbo, though that's likely a $35,000-plus car, and by definition, very low volume. Acura doesn't need another very low-volume car.
Will the interior and features be that much nicer to make it worth $6,000 to $11,000 more than the Civic Si? Not unless it has unique sheetmetal, by which I mean not that platypus nose and not the general shape of the Civic coupe with the panels slightly massaged. Otherwise, Acura will have another ILX on its hands, or perhaps even the FWD-coupe counterpart to the RLX.