The 2023 Acura Integra Has That Old Honda Magic

·7 min read
Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

On first impression, it’s not an Integra. It is not a four-eyed coupe, the kind that looks like it could be knocked over with a swift kick. Its redline sits not in the exosphere but at 6.5 on the tach. And, damn it, it is not yellow.

So it is, and Acura does not stress this part enough, not an Integra Type R. It is the 2023 Acura Integra, and it’s digging into the archives. It is aiming to re-create the engaging simplicity of the five-door liftbacks and four-door sedans that were the nameplate’s highest-volume models, not to topple the Type R off its throne above all other front-wheel-drive cars.

“We sold a million of those,” Acura public relations lead Andrew Quillin said, gesturing to the first-generation Integra liftback behind him. “We sold, what, 4000 Type Rs?”

The goal, then, is attainable, everyday engagement. Forget the Type R’s high-revving theatrics, forget that Acura unveiled the new concept alongside the bright-yellow museum-piece ITR the company keeps around, and forget your high-school dreams. This is the Integra we have, and it’s not available in yellow.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

The silver car here bears many hallmarks of the name. As ever, it is a Civic underneath. But while today’s Civic is available in hatchback or sedan styles, the Integra comes exclusively as a liftback. Its powerplant is diminutive but ambitious, offering 200 hp from 1.5 liters, besting the rest of the class on specific horsepower. There is a standard CVT, and for no extra charge on a top-trim Integra, there’s a manual with precise, short throws and a light clutch. Some things never change.

Not all change is bad, however. The spartan interior and hollow feel of an old Honda have charm, but that’s not the sort of game a premium brand can play anymore. The Integra still shares key components with the Civic Si, yet doesn’t feel economy-car-adjacent. Many of the gains must be attributed to the underlying Civic, which has grown far more mature. But Acura spruces things up with Alcantara and leather seats, metal speaker grilles, and sleek graphics. A Mercedes CLA looks more impressive inside, but play around with enough faux-metal switchgear and it’s easy to appreciate the Acura’s honesty. That honesty runs throughout.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

There are no big gimmicks here, no next-generation features to attract early-adopter, leading-edge social-media influencers. Everything feels easygoing, confident, and polished, from the little Integra in the center display activating its blinker in time to the satisfying click-clack of the climate-control knobs. The details suggest a car built without cutting corners in a segment where corners are often crudely butchered. That’s a triumph.

Some will say that the Civic bones represent an unforgivable compromise. In a segment where front-wheel drive is universal, though, it’s better to work with Honda parts than anyone else’s. Drive an Si and a Volkswagen GTI back-to-back, and it’s easy to tell which manufacturer cares more about dynamics these days.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

Where the Germans historically gained ground is in refinement. The best Honda performance products have been built out of tin and pipe cleaners, a commitment to simplicity that turned them into legends. But on a Texas freeway, you wouldn’t want to spend much time in one. Yet it’s all there in the Integra, and I get the point.

The Integra is whisper-quiet. Composed, too, though nowadays everybody is. A Sentra will ride fine at 90; it’s the rest that reminds you you’re on the losing side of a fight with the wind. In this entry Acura, though, there’s peace. The steering is precise and poised, the engine hums along, and the wind barely whispers as it whirs past. A bit of tire roar makes its way in, but no more than it does in a Lexus. The sound floor sitting so low leaves room for the already-brilliant ELS Studio audio system to dazzle, a dweeby audiophile dream that I indulge without seeming like an Acura shill. Like with the rest, the beauty is in the details.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

This is the real first impression of the Integra, after a mile of Austin city streets and five on the highway. More than exciting, more than novel, the Integra is simply nice. Nice in a quiet, confident way, nice in a way that feels enduring. Nice in a market where $36,895 doesn’t usually buy a lot of nice. But it’ll buy you one of these, fully loaded and delivered.

And get it loaded. There is nominally a base model, but it doesn’t have the sound system, or the sleeker display, or the ELS audio, or the adaptive dampers, or the suede seats, or the ambient lighting, or the option to get a manual transmission. To get any of that, you need to get all of it, plus the A-spec appearance package, so write the big check. It’ll cost the same whether you spec the CVT or the manual, but only the latter comes with a limited-slip differential.

Spend the money.

Photo credit: Acura
Photo credit: Acura

Otherwise you’ll never experience how the Integra scrambles its way out of a corner, a subtle introduction of power producing that same eager slip any Nineties Honda fan knows. While 192 lb-ft of torque isn’t much, it’s plenty for the 235-section all-season rubber up front. Traction control proves that to me before yanking the leash. Then, pointing straight, I give it all it’s got.

The 1.5-liter turbo is, despite its best efforts, a 1.5-liter turbo. Compared with the meatier 2.0s in the German competition, it’s overmatched off the rip. In its best imitation of its most adored ancestors, it saves its might for the big finish. Power peaks at 6000 rpm but doesn’t let go before fuel cutoff at 6500 rpm, which means that like all good Hondas, the Integra must be driven like you mean it. Stay far from its edges and there is no reward.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

Approach them and the Integra will urge you further, with steering that becomes more talkative as it is pushed deeper. It can’t top the Integra Type R’s perfect steering, but given that nothing ever has, that can’t be a mark against the ’23. Brake hard and the Integra gets awfully light on the rear axle, a response that made the old Integra a breeze to slide around. Confined to public roads, I didn’t learn whether that carries forward.

What does is the joy. There are sharper cars and certainly quicker ones, but few that match the sport compact’s resonant frequency. The ideal sport compact is defined not by what it can do, but by what it convinces you to do. An ITR or a Ford Fiesta ST was not fast for its time, but it delivered such a palpable enthusiasm for speed that it baited the driver into tomfoolery by the discovery of a particularly appealing on-ramp. This Integra needs more sound, it needs more of a sensation of speed, and it needs a bit of explanation, but it’s got that joy down.

Photo credit: Acura
Photo credit: Acura

In its most perfect moment, the Integra cannot match the best of the puppy-dog crowd, the Miatas and the S2000s and the Fiesta STs and even the other Integras. But the beauty is the same as it’s always been with every good car from this company. The Integra is not trying to be more than it is. It is simply an eager, everyday sedan, designed around honesty and executed to perfection.

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