2023 Integra captures the value and performance that made Acura a hit

2022-05-27 23:50:23 By : Mr. Maple Chen

AUSTIN, Texas — The 2023 Acura Integra sporty compact hatchback is a delight: attractive, fun to drive and affordable. It’s everything that made Acura a hit when the original Integra helped launch Honda’s luxury brand in 1986.

It’s the kind of car Acura should never have stopped building. It could win the brand a new generation of fans.

Acura was the first Japanese luxury car brand, on the road years before anyone ever heard of Toyota’s Lexus or Nissan’s Infiniti, both of which debuted in 1989.

Acura had modest aspirations compared to Lexus and Infiniti. It debuted with the sporty compact Integra and larger Legend, developed and built with Rover Group under the comically misguided notion that a British company would understand and execute luxury better than a Japanese one.

That was the first of several miscalculations Honda made through a combination of naiveté and arrogance. Unlike Lexus and Infiniti, Acura never launched a direct assault on established European luxury brands. It tried to occupy a tricky middle ground, just north of the mass-market Honda brand, but well short of BMW and Mercedes prices and prestige.

In modern marketing terms, Acura sought to be a "premium" brand, but not full-blown luxury. A Japanese Buick, if you will.

It also abandoned the established and popular Integra and Legend names for a string of anonymous letters. RL, CL, TL, RSX, TLX, TSX. I’d list more, but I’d have to look them up, and the whole point is how forgettable they were.

EyesOn Design car show returns with legendary race cars and designers

I tested 2022 Lincoln Navigator's hands-free driving on 2,200-mile trip: How it went

So, in the minds of Honda marketing execs, the 2023 Integra constitutes both an hommage and a reset to the early days when Acura’s future seemed unlimited.

It works. In today’s SUV-loving market, the 2023 Integra won’t be the brand’s bestseller, as the ’86 was, but I’ll be amazed if four better cars go on sale this year.

The 2023 Integra, going on sale in June, shares its platform with the Honda Civic, but every body panel and most interior pieces are new. The Integra is longer and has a stiffer body, which lends itself to better handling. It’s 1.1 inches wider than a Civic.

The Integra is a four-door hatchback with front-wheel drive. A long nose, fastback rear and roofline slightly lower than the Civic sedan give it a dynamic profile. It’s about an inch longer than the Civic sedan and nearly 6 inches longer than the Civic hatchback, despite riding on the same 107.7-inch wheelbase.

Acura says the Integra has more rear legroom and cargo space than its competitors.

Integra prices start at $30,800. All Integras have a 200-hp 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. Unlike many sporty compacts, it’s very unlikely Acura will offer an all-wheel drive model.

A CVT automatic transmission is standard on all models except the top-of-the-line A-Spec with the technology package, which offers a superb six-speed manual as a no-cost option.

Acura considers the Integra’s competitors to be front-wheel drive versions of the Audi A3, BMW 228i Gran Coupe and Mercedes CLA. Integra prices undercut those models significantly, but Acura’s hand-picked competitive set ignores sporty compacts from non-luxe brands: Subaru BRZ; Toyota 86; VW GTI.

The well-equipped Integra compares well to them, too.

Integra A-Spec with tech package: $35,800

It took less than a block to realize the 2023 Integra is everything it should be. The manual transmission in the loaded A-Spec tech package model I drove is a wonder of engineering: precise and quick with short throws and a tight shift pattern that invites you to slice through the gears accelerating away from a stop. The clutch is light and easy to use, the steering quick, firm and precise.

It’s a fit successor to the first-generation Integra that made Acura the car of choice for enthusiasts on a budget.

The 1.5L engine revs eagerly, delivering plenty of torque from just 1,800 rpm for strong acceleration. The engine’s 200-hp output is nothing special, but the broad torque curve and judicious use of the manual transmission make the Integra a worthy vessel slipping through traffic and on curving backroads

Rev-matching, which automatically blips the throttle to match engine revs for smooth shifts, comes standard with the manual transmission. That may be a nod to the fact that a generation of drivers has grown up with little experience shifting manually.

Whatever the reason, it works like a charm, delivering smooth shifts all the way up through the gears. I found it less satisfying downshifting, when I like to dump the clutch and hit the brakes for maximum deceleration and to pitch the car into turns. I had to train myself to use the brakes as if I were driving a car with an automatic transmission to take full advantage of the Integra’s chassis and steering on twisty roads in the Texas Hill Country.

I spent most of a day driving an Integra with the manual gearbox.

I think that’s the best way to enjoy the little car, but the sport-tuned continuously variable automatic transmission is an acceptable alternative for people who don’t want to shift. Set to sport mode, it mimics the feel of a stepped transmission with seven gears and holds the gears to take advantage of engine braking through curves.

The suspension absorbs bumps well and held the Integra flat in quick maneuvers and when accelerating and decelerating hard.

Forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking

Low-speed follow and traffic jam assist (automatic transmission models)

Lane departure alert and assist

Blind spot and cross traffic alerts

Front and rear parking sensors

The Integra has simple, intuitive controls and plenty of room.

The climate controls use buttons and dials for easy adjustment. There’s a volume knob, but Honda’s inexplicable corporate aversion to tuning dials persists: You have to find the right spot on a touch screen to select stations and tracks. The steering wheel has volume and tuning controls, but flicking a toggle is only a marginal improvement over a touch screen for selecting tracks, stations and podcasts.

The touch screen is big, clear and responsive, however. It’s very good for navigation and using the standard wireless CarPlay or Android Auto.

The instrument cluster is clear and attractive.

A few controls will look and feel familiar if you’re conversant with the Honda Civic. The climate controls are identical, as is the metallic grille in the dashboard that forms some of the most attractive vents on any vehicle.

There’s plenty of passenger room. The center console has plenty of space for cups, phones and other necessities.

The front seats of the Integra A-Specs I drove were supportive and comfortable and had suede-type inserts. The rear seating surfaces were all vinyl. The A-Spec also comes with stainless steel pedals.

The cargo space is big and accessible, thanks to the wide-opening hatchback. The Integra combines the look of a traditional sedan with the practicality of a hatchback: more room and flat folding rear seats to accommodate big items.

Base price: $30,800 (all prices exclude $1,095 destination charge)

Front-wheel drive sporty compact sedan

Model tested: Integra A-Spec with Technology Package

Output: 200 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 192 pound-feet of torque @ 1,800-5,000 rpm

EPA fuel economy estimate: 26 mpg city/36 highway/30 combined. Premium gasoline.

EPA estimated annual fuel cost: $2,600

EPA passenger volume: 95.8 cubic feet