- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

During the past few years, Acura has methodically revamped and upgraded its entire lineup of luxury and near-luxury vehicles, meanwhile dumping its old proper names in favor of alpha-numeric designations for different models.

The old Acura Legend and Vigor became the RL, TL and CL, and the company added a sport utility vehicle, the MDX.

For 2002, the luxury division of Japan's Honda completes the journey with the introduction of the new RSX, which is the replacement for Acura's entry-level model, the Integra.

The Integra has always been Acura's happy-face car, appealing mainly to enthusiasts and younger buyers. With the new RSX, especially in the high-zoot Type-S version, the grins are likely to widen considerably.

Gone is any pretense of passenger appeasement. There no longer is a four-door sedan version. The RSX comes in one body style-a two-door sport coupe with a large hatchback that makes only a nod toward practicality. There's a covered cargo compartment that can be expanded from 18 cubic feet to more than double the space by simply flipping down the rear seat backs.

Acura designed this car to appeal to young folks, mainly enthusiasts of the male persuasion. So the RSX is designed to kowtow to the driver, not his or her parents, siblings or friends who might occasionally tag along.

So it's got performance. The RSX comes with a newly designed 2-liter four-cylinder engine. It employs a technology that the Acura folks call "intelligent" valve control, or i-VTEC. Bottom line, what it does is to wring lots of extra horsepower out of a high-revving small engine.

The all-aluminum engine on the base RSX delivers a decent 160 horsepower, which likely will be a more than adequate for buyers who can only afford about $20,000 for a sport coupe. It comes with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic with a manual shift mode that Acura calls Sequential SportShift.

The whopper is the RSX Type-S, which squeezes 200 horsepower from the same 2-liter displacement. In a passenger-car application, deriving 100 horsepower from each liter of cylinder volume would have been regarded as awesome, if not unattainable, not many years ago. It's still remarkable.

The catch is that the extra horsepower doesn't come with any extra torque, which is defined as low-rev pulling power. The 160-horsepower engine has 141 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpms, while the 200-horsepower version has 142 pounds-feet at 6,000 rpms.

What this all amounts to is that the engine technology resembles that in motorcycles no surprise because Honda got its start in two-wheelers. Simply stated, it means that you get your maximum horsepower by revving the engine to scream levels it peaks at 7,900 rpms on the Type-S.

Of course, therein lies some of the appeal. The RSX Type-S is aimed squarely at young males who enjoy winding the engine and slam-shifting through the gears.

In an unusual switch, the RSX's engine spins in a clockwise direction instead of the previous counterclockwise rotation. That allowed it to be mounted differently in the engine bay. Although it still is mounted crosswise and drives the front wheels, the exhaust side of the engine now is closer to the catalytic converter for better pollution control.

In expected Acura/Honda fashion, the six-speed manual gearbox the only transmission available on the Type-S has short throws and a positive feel, with only a hint of balky behavior. Clutch action is similarly smooth.

Underneath, the RSX Type-S has a tightly bound suspension system that keeps the high-performance tires firmly planted in hard cornering. In fact, the Type-S is so well set up that the handling is balanced despite the front-wheel drive, even on a high-speed race course. The brakes are anti-lock discs on all four wheels.

Inside, the driver and front-seat passenger are treated to sport seats with high bolsters to keep the body in place during slaloms and other such rapid transitions. They're also supportive and reasonably comfortable over long distances. Instruments and controls are easy to read and logically laid out.

Out back, the seating is tight, as might be expected in a small hatchback coupe that is oriented almost entirely toward young drivers.

Base price on the RSX with the five-speed manual transmission is $20,100. That includes such items as power windows and mirrors, a motorized sunroof, remote locking with a security system, cruise control, automatic climate control with filtered air, and a stereo with a CD player.

The more powerful Type-S, which is less expensive at $24,100 than the 2001 Integra Type R, adds an upgraded stereo with an in-dash six-disc CD changer and cassette player, perforated leather-upholstered seats, bigger brakes and the more powerful engine with the six-speed gearbox.

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