December 8, 2006
Washington, D.C. – One of the defining moments in my driving life remains the first time I got behind the wheel of an Acura Integra Type-R. From the outside, it looked like a mildly worked-over Integra, with special white paint, lightweight wheels and a big spoiler. But it was so much more than that: at the time, there was no other car on the road – including exotic sports cars – that brought you so close to the feeling of driving a race car. The Type-R was raw, it was stiff and it was unbelievably precise and direct to drive. On the right day and in the right mood, it was pure magic.
It was, also, a bit too racy for the daily grind. And given Acura’s upmarket luxury-technology positioning, the Type-R was also a bit at odds with the brand image Acura was trying to project. Hence the introduction of the CL Coupe Type-S in 2001 and TL Type-S in the 2002 model year: they still gave you a taste of a race car with high-revving V6 engines and sports suspensions, but also came with all of the luxury and high-tech goodies Acura had become known for. Almost at the same time, Acura also introduced an RSX Type-S, which featured an engine and chassis almost as crazy as the Integra Type-R’s in a package that was also refined and easy to drive.
Since the departure of the RSX from Acura’s line-up a few months ago, the Type-S brand has remained dormant, but no longer: into showrooms this fall sail two new Type-S models, based on the compact CSX and mid-size TL four-doors. They both conform to the Type-S ethos as we know it: they’re fully equipped, luxurious sedans with a surprisingly racy edge when being driven hard. And like all Acuras, they are also pretty amazing value for the performance and equipment that you get. What’s interesting, though, is that they also both have very distinctive personalities.
Let’s start with what the two have in common. Both the CSX and TL Type-S feature several cosmetic upgrades to hint at their increased performance potential. Both boast larger, more aggressive wheel-and-tire packages (17 inches with a multi-spoke wheel design on the CSX; 17-inch five-spokers on the TL with the option of 18-inchers). Both have aerodynamic body kits featuring deeper front bumpers, sill extensions and rear wings. Both have big exhaust pipes (four in the case of the TL). Inside, you’ll find upgraded seats with bigger bolsters, upgraded audio systems on both cars and an extra load of equipment on top of the already-generous Acura standards list. Trim materials are deliberately high-tech: perforated leather with silver stitching, rubberized plastic, carbon-fibre and brushed aluminum set the mood for a sharper, more involving drive.
Both the $33,400 CSX and $46,300 TL Type-S pack significantly upgraded engines compared to the vehicles they’re based on. In the CSX a high-performance 2.0-litre, 197-hp four-cylinder engine (similar to the one used in the Honda Civic Si) replaces the 160-hp four from regular CSX models; it produces 139 lb-ft of torque and revs to 8,000 rpm with an astonishingly aggressive sound. The TL Type-S upgrades the base TL’s 258-hp 3.2-litre V6 to a 3.5-litre unit that produces 28 more horsepower (up to 286); torque rises to 255 lb-ft. Like the CSX Type-S, the TL Type-S comes standard with a six-speed close-ratio manual transmission; unlike the CSX Type-S, you can also get the TL Type-S with a five-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel.
As such, the TL Type-S is pretty much what you would expect: it’s a faster, more capable, more dynamic version of the TL, offering more speed and more handling without any real sacrifice in refinement. A new three-spoke steering wheel faces a serious-looking set of gauges with red illumination; the dashboard features metal and carbon-fibre trim alongside the expected leather seats with French stitching.
Taking its inspiration from the TL-R endurance-race car created by Acura’s engineers in 2004, the TL Type-S features much-improved chassis tuning that reduces body roll in corners and features increased rear roll stiffness for reduced understeer. The double-wishbone suspension offers significantly improved roadholding, but with very little reduction in overall ride quality; the Type-S still rides quite smoothly when you’re cruising. Commensurate with the 30-hp upgrade in power compared to the regular TL, the Type-S’ braking has been upgraded, too: four-pot Brembo brakes are standard. It all comes together in a package that’s entertaining but stable, lively but confidence-inspiring at the same time.
It’s fast, too. The larger engine is similar to the one used in the RL: it’s a torquey, flexible unit that’s as comfortable lugging around town at low revs as it is screaming along at redline on a back road. The new automatic transmission has improved electronics and larger gears and bearings compared to the regular TL; it shifts faster and more firmly, with a delicious throttle-blipping action on downshifts. What you’ll really want, though, is the new six-speed manual, which lets you explore the upper ranges of the VTEC engine’s rev range more frequently and also comes with a helical limited-slip differential that improves traction out of corners. The manual weighs 40 kg less than the automatic and its shorter gears give it an extra delinquent urgency; the delicious VTEC sound that Acura built its reputation on is back, a glorious wail coming from the four exhaust pipes as you pass 5,000 rpm.
The entry-level luxury sedan market is a really active one at the moment, with major new or revised entries from BMW, Infiniti and Lexus. The 2007 TL (which starts at $42,500) has been upgraded as well to keep up with the competition. Changes across the board include a redesigned front end featuring new headlights, foglights, and LED turn signals; out back, the rear bumper features a new lower diffuser and light cluster; the wheels are also new, with a double-spoke design. Inside, the interior has been upgraded with new seats, new trim materials and a redesigned centre console that features a beautiful new high-resolution display.
If you don’t mind the Type-S’ front-drive layout – what driving purity it sacrifices is made up for by increased cabin space and better poor-weather traction – it’s hard to argue with the Acura’s value proposition. Even a fully loaded Type S with automatic lists for under $48,000 – several thousand less than similarly-equipped competitors like a BMW 335i, Lexus IS350 or Infiniti G35 Sport.
While the TL is a refined all-rounder, the Canadian-made CSX is a real hot rod – more extreme and aggressive than its relatively tame exterior styling (save for that rear spoiler) might lead you to expect. Acura’s own internal studies showed that CSX customers were aching for the option of a higher-performance model to round out the line-up and replace the well-loved RSX Type-S. They’ve given it to them with the CSX Type-S. Tires are 17-inch Michelin Pilot HX MXM5 all-seasons; they’re held to the road by an upgraded suspension that features larger front and rear solid stabilizer bars as well as springs that are 17% stiffer up front and 42% stiffer in the rear; understeer during hard driving is markedly reduced, especially on the track at Summit Point Raceway, where the CSX really brought back some of the feeling of the old Type-R.
Then there’s the engine, an 8,000-rpm screamer that features different cams and rockers, different valve springs, a higher compression ratio and a reinforced head gasket. It revs like crazy, sounds amazing and really hauls the Type-S around with authority. Credit also has to go to the new six-speed transmission (whose aluminum-and-leather shift knob is but a hand’s width away from the leather-wrapped steering wheel) and the limited-slip differential delivering the engine’s torque to the road. A feature that Acura first used on the Type-R, the limited-slip diff gives the car great drive out of corners, allowing for higher cornering exit speeds – and impressive traction in any situation. Braking is upgraded as well, with four-channel ABS and stability control as standard; the brake rotors and pads have also increased in size.
While $33,400 may seem like a lot of money for a relatively compact sedan, the Type-S comes with a luxuriously-equipped interior and all sorts of technical goodies that are expensive options on competitors such as the Mazdaspeed3 and Volkswagen GTI and Jetta GLI. It shares with the TL a long list of interior upgrades, including red foot well illumination, embossed Type-S logos on the seats, a power moonroof and metallic trim. Also like the TL, it has a standard navigation system with touch screen and bilingual voice recognition as well as an upgraded audio system with subwoofer. It’s a strong package and one that grows on you over time as you come to appreciate just how much you’re getting for the money.
There is, of course, still part of me that longs for the return of the raw, race-ready Type-R cars to Acura’s line-up, marginal as the market may be for them, especially in Canada. Until then, these new Type-S models will do; they provide much of the same edgy performance in packages that also offer plenty of luxury and refinement for everyday use as well.
At a glance: 2007 Acura CSX Type-S
Engine: 2.0-litre inline-four
Power: 197 hp
Torque: 139 lb-ft
Fuel consumption (city/highway): 10.2/6.8 L/100 km
Competition: Volkswagen GTI, MazdaSpeed3
At a glance: 2007 Acura TL Type-S
Price: $46,300 (manual); $47,600 (automatic)
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Power: 286 hp
Torque: 255 lb-ft
Fuel consumption (city/highway): 11.6/7.3 L/100 km
Manufacturer’s web site