Photos: Honda/Acura. Click image to enlarge
by Laurance Yap
Sometimes you forget how much you like a car.
It’s been almost a year since I’ve driven an Acura RSX, and I have to say that it just about blew me away. Looking back at stories I’ve written about it before, it’s clear that I always thought it was a great car, but time (and a lot of other cars in between) had dulled my recollection of it to the point where it was just another sporty coupe in a shrinking segment. Not so: this car is darn-near a masterpiece.
What is most significant about the RSX is how it manages to combine so many seemingly disparate characteristics into a cohesive whole. It’s a practical car, with lots of space, and a big trunk. But it’s as extreme a coupe as you’ll find for less than $40,000, with a screaming engine, the best six-speed shifter ever fitted to a front-wheel-drive car, and road-tearing handling. It’s easy to use, and simple to drive, but has all of the feature content you could hope for. It’s an Acura that’s genuinely exciting.
Among front-drive sports coupes, the RSX is the dominant force in a field of cars that is slowly shrinking. Its major competitor, the Toyota Celica, will die after the 2005 model year, while sales of the current-generation Hyundai Tiburon aren’t up at the same level as its predecessors. Rather than giving up on the segment, however, Acura sensed an opportunity to grab up some sales and increase its market share. Thus, the 2005 RSX, while fundamentally the same car it always was, has received a number of revisions to keep it ahead of the pack that it already leads.
You’ll notice the exterior revisions first. While the car’s shape is unchanged, the front and rear bumpers and lights have been given a sharper look, with pointier edges and more aggressive detailing. The front headlamp units and rear combination lights have a sort of gatling-gun appearance to them, while the new air intakes at the front are hard-edged rather than softly defined. New side sills toughen up the RSX’s look and also make it seem lower to the ground; the ride height has also been lowered, by 7 mm. 16-inch wheels are now standard on the base model, while Premium and Type-S trims receive new wheel designs; the Type-S now has 17-inchers, up one inch from before.
Click image to enlarge
The Acura’s more aggressive looks go with a more aggressive driving experience as well. The lowered ride height, modified suspension, revised brakes, and quicker steering ratio add up to a car that’s even more responsive than it was before. The RSX spears so cleanly and eagerly into turns you can barely tell that it’s driven by the front wheels; the razor-sharp steering is always alive in your hands, the suspension clearly communicates the road conditions without beating you up, and the brakes are superb, with a much more linear pedal action than before. Hard stops now require far less pedal effort, and like the other major controls, there’s more linearity engineered into their response than previously. This car is a superb driving machine, so precise and measured and predictable in its responses that even in a downpour – as was the case during our road test – it’s remarkably easy to drive fast and hard.
All of which is even more true of the Type-S version of the car, which sports all of the same revisions plus a functional rear spoiler that reduces lift by 50%, stickier tires, and engine and exhaust modifications that raise horsepower output to 210 from 200 in the 2004 model. The primary source of the 2.0-litre four’s extra power comes from extra revs: you can now crank it all the way up to 8300 rpm before needing to shift, up from 7900. And though you will do this at every possible opportunity – the engine is that keen and eager – its top-end power does not come at the expense of low-end torque and mid-range flexibility. Even if you never venture far beyond 5000 (where the VTEC variable valve timing switches over to its more aggressive setting), the Type-S never feels anything less than fast in any condition.
One area where the RSX seems to have regressed from its former glory is inside, where there has been small (but noticeable) evidence of cost-cutting. While the overall design and quality of the interior is still easily at the top of its class, pieces like the door caps are now made out of hard plastic, and the coin tray no longer has a rubber liner like it used to. Instead of the expensive painted-silver finish that used to grace the door handles, dash trim, and window switches, a titanium-beige colour has been moulded in, and neither looks nor feels as good as before. The Alfa-like air vents now feel kind of flimsy, and the deep-dish 3-D gauges are gone, replaced by a set of attractive, but generic-looking readouts that are not only less elegant, but also more difficult to read.
On the plus side, the RSX’s superb seats have been further improved with better shoulder and thigh support, the level of standard equipment is as high as ever, and practicality remains undiminished: there’s huge space up front, a giant trunk, and two rear seats which are usable for short journeys, if not for long drives.
Acura has played around a bit with RSX trim levels for 2005. The 2.0-litre 160-hp base model now starts at $24,900, with cloth seats, a fine CD sound system, automatic climate control, and all of the power goodies you would expect from an Acura. The Premium model – with alloy wheels and a sunroof – now comes in two versions, a cloth-seated edition at $26,900 and a leather edition at $28,500; both are available with an automatic transmission for an extra $1200. The 210-hp Type-S comes only with a six-speed, and its price has gone up by $1000 to $33,000, which seems like a lot until you realize that the soon-to-be-defunct Celica GT-S costs over $1000 more, while a Mini Cooper S with a John Cooper Works upgrade to match the Type-S’ power would cost $40,000.
Much as I like the lesser RSXs, the Type-S is clearly the way to go if you can afford it. While the slower, less-exciting models are beautifully balanced, attractively-priced cars, the Type-S is the best small sports coupe on the market.
Technical Data: 2005 Acura RSX Type S
|Price as tested||$34,150|
|Type||2-door, 4 passenger compact coupe/hatchback|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.0 litre four cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves, i-VTEC|
|Horsepower||210 @ 7800 rpm|
|Torque||143 lb-ft @ 7000 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed manual (5-speed automatic/Sportshift optional)|
|Tires||215/45R-17 all-season high-performance|
|Curb weight||1288 kg (2840 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2570 mm (101.2 in.)|
|Length||4380 mm (172.4 in.)|
|Width||1724 mm ( 67.9 in.)|
|Height||1394 mm ( 54.9 in.)|
|Cargo area||453 litres (16.0 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 9.7 L/100 km (29 m.p.g.)|
|Hwy : 6.9 L/100 km (41 m.p.g.)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|