Son-of-Integra-GS-R has racy personality
The Acura Integra is arguably the most popular imported sporty compact car in North America, and replacing it with an all-new model was eagerly, and nervously anticipated by Integra enthusiasts in Canada and the U.S.
Its replacement, the 2002 Acura RSX, is not likely to disappoint Integra fans. Though it has all-new styling, a new platform and front suspension, two new available four cylinder engines, three new available transmissions, new brakes and new interior features, it retains the same formula that made the Integra so popular: it’s a fun-to-drive, compact front-wheel-drive coupe/hatchback with a high-revving four cylinder engine, enjoyable short-throw manual transmission, hatchback versatility, and the same projected bulletproof Acura/Honda reliability.
The bad news for Integra fans is that the price has gone up a bit and the Integra nameplate has been discarded. Personally, I don’t understand why Acura threw away a perfectly good name like Integra after they spent fourteen years building its reputation into the acknowledged leader in the import sporty compact class. Acura marketing executives explained to me that they wanted to promote the ‘brand’, ie Acura, more than the model, ie. Integra. They also wanted to change the name to the same letter-based series as other Acuras, such as EL, TL, CL, and RL. It may be just a matter of personal preference, but I think ‘Integra’ is much more memorable than ‘RSX’ – time will tell.
Base RSX model only in Canada
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In Canada, there are three RSX models: a base RSX model which starts at $24,000 (not offered in the U.S.), a mid-range RSX Premium model for $27,000, and a performance-oriented RSX Type S for $31,000. When compared with the pricing for the 2001 Integra, increases are approximately 7 to 9 percent higher – not unreasonable for an all-new model.
Integra enthusiasts will notice the absence of a high-performance RSX Type R model. A new Type R, which has already been introduced in Japan, is expected to arrive here in 2003.
Distinctive headlights, taillights
The new styling of the RSX is quite sporty, but its low nose, sleek profile, and high tail are typical of compact sporty coupe/hatchbacks. What makes the RSX stand out is the styling treatment of the headlamps and taillights � notice how the outline of the headlights and tail lenses extends beyond the curved perimeter of outer lenses creating a distinctive, if slightly gimmicky, appearance.
The easiest way to tell the three RSX models apart is by the wheels. Base RSX models have steel wheels, Premium models have bright alloy wheels and Type S models have dark alloy wheels.
The RSX is about the same length as the Integra, but it’s 65 mm taller and the body is 15 mm wider, which adds headroom and hiproom, particularly in the front seats. As well, the front seat hip-point has been raised 40 mm to make getting in and out easier. The two rear passengers have 20 mm more legroom, but rear headroom is still minimal and the rear passengers sit directly under the rear window glass and the heat of the Sun.
New engines, transmissions
The base RSX model and the RSX Premium model have a new 160 horsepower 2.0 litre DOHC 16 valve i-VTEC four cylinder engine which replaces the previous 140 horsepower 1.8 litre unit. The new i-VTEC with VTC (variable timing control) is an improvement over the previous VTEC system because it continuously adjusts valve timing, maximizing torque at low speeds while improving fuel efficiency and exhaust emissions.
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Base and Premium models have a new 5-speed manual transmission with improved shift feel, and a new, optional 5-speed automatic ‘Sportshift’ transmission with manual sequential shift mode (replacing the previous 4-speed automatic).
The top-of-the-line RSX Type S, this week’s test car, has a 200 horsepower 2.0 litre i-VTEC engine which replaces the 170 horsepower VTEC engine in the Integra GS-R. The Type S engine has a more sophisticated continuously-variable valve timing system that uses variable timing on both intake and exhaust valves.
As well, RSX Type S models come with a new, standard 6-speed manual transmission – an automatic transmission is not offered on the Type S.
Replacing the Integra’s front independent double wishbone suspension is new MacPherson strut front suspension and a more compact rear wishbone suspension. Both suspension designs are more compact which saves space � as a result, the RSX’s cabin is 6% larger and the trunk is 33% bigger than the Integra’s.
Other notable changes to the RSX include a quicker steering ratio, larger 15 inch tires on base models and 16 inch on Premium and Type S models, and larger disc brakes – but as before, anti-lock brakes are not available on base models.
Sporty, well-finished interior
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The RSX Type S has a sporty interior, highlighted by racing-style leather front bucket seats with perforated inserts and integrated side airbags, a thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel with cruise control function near the hub, metallic-finish dish-type round gauges and metallic dash trim, an attractive textured dash material.
The instrument panel protrudes forwards towards the driver, making it easy to reach the controls. Three dials for the standard automatic climate control are on the top of the centre stack while the AM/FM/cassette/6-disc CD changer is centrally positioned and easy to operate. Tucked away under the lower dash are seat heater buttons for both front seats and a 12 volt outlet for charging cell phones and what-have-you. On the left side of the dash are buttons for the power moonroof, cruise control and power mirrors – all within easy reach.
Just ahead of the gear lever is a unique two-level storage tray with one level for a tray and another level for two cupholders. Even the shift knob is cleverly designed – it has a textured rubber surface on the front side where the fingers grip, and a smooth, plastic surface on the rear side where the palm contacts the shift knob. Just behind the shift lever is the handbrake, a small open storage tray, and a cupholder for the rear passengers.
The two rear seats have three point seatbelts and fixed head restraints and are separated by a plastic storage tray. Both rear seats have cupholders in the outboard armrests.
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For 2002, all RSX models include automatic climate control, keyless entry, auto up/down feature on the power windows, power heated mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, dual-stage front airbags and side airbags mounted in the front seats. A keyless remote allows the driver to unlock and lock the doors and the trunk remotely.
Base RSX models have cloth/simulated suede seats while Premium models have perforated leather seats with seat heaters, a moonroof, and cruise control. Type S models add an Acura/Bose 6-disc in-dash CD player and cassette player with a trunk-mounted subwoofer box.
The trunk can be unlocked with the remote keyfob, when unlocking the passenger or driver’s door with the key or by using the door unlock switch on the driver’s or passenger door – however, there isn’t a keyhole in the trunk. There is a latch to open the hatch, and it’s easy to lift. The trunk is roomy with a flat, carpeted floor and the 50/50 split rear seatbacks fold down for extra cargo space. An integral privacy cover keeps the contents of the cargo area hidden with the hatch closed. The large rear window has a standard wiper an electric defroster.
I drove both the RSX Type S with the 6-speed manual transmission and the RSX Premium with the 5-speed automatic Sportshift transmission. There is definitely a difference in the performance, and the character of these two cars. The 160 horsepower 2.0 litre engine in the Premium model is more responsive at lower engine revolutions than the 200 horsepower Type S engine. Though both the Premium and Type S motors develop about the same amount of torque, the Premium model develops it at much lower revs: the RSX Premium develops 141 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm while the Type S develops 142 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm. The Type S engine has to be revved very high to extract its power – the redline is 7,900 rpm! And it makes a raucous noise above 5000 rpm – in its higher rev ranges, the Type S engine sounds like an angry hive of hornets!
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Despite its high-performance nature, the Type S engine offers potentially good fuel economy: 9.8 l/100 km (29 mpg) in the city and 7.6 l/100 km (37 mpg) on the highway � I say ‘potentially good’ because a lot will depend on how you drive this car.
The 6-speed manual shifter in the Type S has light, short, easy throws – and the clutch pedal effort is not unduly heavy. However, there is a slight whining sound from the transmission, which is particularly noticeable in Reverse gear.
With my handheld stopwatch, I recorded a 0 to 100 km/h time of 8.5 seconds for the RSX Type S. The engine is relatively quiet and smooth up until about 5000 rpm, and when cruising on the highway in sixth gear the engine revs at a comfortable 2800 rpm at 100 km/h and 3400 at 120 km/h. The only significant noise intrusion at highway speeds is wind noise.
The Type S tracks very well in a straight line and needs minimal steering input at high speeds. The ride is firm but forgiving when sudden bumps are encountered and handling is superb with a high level of driver control � the new MacPherson strut front suspension removes some of the harshness of the previous wishbone suspension. I experienced minimal lean when cornering, controlled dive under hard braking, and a high level of grip from the Michelin Pilot HMX4 20/55R-15 inch radials. The RSX body is extremely tight � there’s no looseness or flexing in the body when cornering. My one complaint is that steering effort at slow speeds is too firm.
For the driver, outward visibility is better than in many coupes – the RSX’s triangular-shaped side windows help when shoulder checking, and the rear deck isn’t too high to restrict visibility when backing up.
Though the Type S is fun to drive, I found the RSX Premium model a better everyday commuter car because of its more responsive throttle input, quieter cabin, and the superb 5-speed Sportshift automatic transmission which shifts with precision and even downshifts automatically as you brake going down grades. For a sportier driving experience, the Sportshift transmission’s manual shifting feature allows the driver to add more performance by manually selecting gears without a clutch.
In conclusion, if you’re a closet racer, the Type S is your best choice, but if want something quieter and easier to drive, the base or Premium models with the 5-speed automatic transmission would be a better choice.
The manufacturers 2002 suggested retail prices are as follows: RSX (MT) $24,000, RSX (AT) $25,000, RSX Premium (MT) $27,000, RSX Premium (AT) $28,000, and RSX Type S (MT) $31,000.00
Likely competitors for the RSX include the Toyota Celica GT and GT-S and VW GTI 1.8T, Nissan Sentra SE-R, Mercury Cougar, Saturn SC2, and Hyundai Tiburon.
The 2002 Acura RSX is manufactured at the Sayama plant in Saitama, Japan.
|2002 Acura RSX Type S|
|Price as tested||$31,000|
|Type||2-door, 4-passenger hatchback|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.0 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves, I-VTEC|
|Horsepower||200 @ 7400 rpm|
|Torque||142 lb-ft. @ 6000 rpm|
|Curb weight||1257 kg (2771 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2570 mm (101.2 in.)|
|Length||4375 mm (172.2 in.)|
|Width||1725 mm (67.9 in.)|
|Height||1400 mm (55.1 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||504 litres (17.8 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 9.8 l/100 km (29 mpg)|
|7.6 l/100 km (37 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|