- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

As the Acura line moved upscale in recent years, one Acura seemed to be left behind.

The Integra, which dates back in its current form to 1994, clearly needed some sprucing up, looks-wise, and didn't have the same ride quality and upscale feel of the other, newer Acura models.

The Integra also became the last Acura to have an actual name. Other Acuras, such as the Legend and Vigor, had been replaced by models wearing rather meaningless letter combinations such as TL and CL.

Now, Acura is finally getting around to the Integra transformation.

While "RSX" is hardly a big improvement over "Integra," just about everything else about the new 2002 model is.

Like the Integra, the RSX is a zippy, fun-to-drive, four-cylinder-powered, entry-level Acura.

But where the Integra's four little, round headlights looked odd and the car's overall squarish shape looked dated, the new RSX has fresher, sleeker styling.

The big, jeweled headlamps and cleaner body — not to mention smaller body gaps — convey a richer presence. And import street racers who embraced the Integra will have plenty to keep them busy, too, on the new RSX.

Under the RSX hood is a new, more powerful, four-cylinder engine that, in the uplevel RSX Type S, can put out a maximum 200 horsepower.

But the test model, the base RSX with five-speed Sequential SportShift automatic transmission, had a 160-horsepower version of the 2-liter four that also seemed more than competent for this subcompact coupe.

Power came on readily in city and highway driving, and shifts were surprisingly smooth.

I also noticed how much more managed the engine sounds were. Gone were the rough, boomy noises that emanated from the Integras. But some wind noise at highway speeds was still evident.

The RSX ride was a big improvement over the Integra as the car traveled over broken pavement with composure and shielded riders from most road imperfections.

Acura went away from the Integra's independent, double-wishbone front suspension and installed a MacPherson strut suspension in the front of the RSX. A double-wishbone configuration continues at the rear, but wheels in the RSX are bigger, 16-inchers instead of the Integra's 15-inch rubber.

Overall, the RSX felt more expensive in its ride than an Integra does.

Yet the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the RSX is $20,430, which is just $550 more than a starting price for a 2001 Integra coupe.

Buyers find neat details inside the RSX, too.

Acura's standard upholstery is alcantara, a material that looks and feels like suede but is much more durable.

Deeply sculptured front seats can be comfortable for hours, and the black-on-silver metal-tone numbers in the instrument panel add a sporty flavor. At night, the colors change as a red backlight comes on.

Notice that the needles in the gauges, like those in many race cars, point straight down to the 6 o'clock position when at rest.

But you'll also likely notice how small in diameter the RSX steering wheel is. Jay Joseph, Acura product planner, said it's intentional because studies show small steering wheels instantly convey a sporty sense to drivers. Personally, I'd prefer a bit larger diameter.

Company officials predicted the RSX will receive a five-star rating in the federal government's 35-mph full-frontal crash test and four stars in side-impact testing.

Every RSX is well-equipped with anti-lock brakes, front-seat side air bags, power windows, mirrors and door locks, moon roof, automatic climate control and premium AM/FM stereo with CD player and at least six speakers.

On the RSX Type S, a Bose system substitutes as the standard audio system and includes both a cassette player and in-dash, six-CD player. Be sure to check out where Acura and Bose stash the Richbass woofer in this uplevel RSX.

It's a small, round unit inside the middle of the spare tire. Acura said no automaker has ever made this kind of use of that spare tire space.

But note no navigation system is offered in this Acura, even as an option.

And the RSX comes only as a two-door coupe, while Integras have been sold as both two- and four-door models.

Lastly, it's a fact that Integras had become favorites of thieves.

Acura has tried to prevent the RSX from becoming a similar target. Among the improvements, the RSX comes with an engine-immobilizer key mechanism, and areas in and around the doors have new plastic guards and other structures to make break-ins more time-consuming and difficult.

The uplevel RSX, the Type S, starts at $23,650.

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