Not Quite the Acura Integra You Remember
On a 400-mile loop over and around the backroads of California’s Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties in late December, the 2023 Acura Integra A-Spec was nearly sublime. The 1.5-liter turbo four is rated at only 200 horses, but they’re eager. There simply isn’t a manual transmission that shifts better than this Acura five-door sedan’s six-speed. And the chassis was responsive without sacrificing a quality ride.
“Have you heard of the Civic Si?,” Matt Farah mocked during the one of R&T’s many, many staff Zoom meetings. “It’s the same car!,” he continued. “Can you justify liking it better than the Si?”
Farah is right. Damn it. Almost spec-to-spec the Integra A-Spec with Technology Package is a Civic Si. Almost. And yet, yes, it’s better in some (nowhere near all) ways. Also, more expensive. That’s $37,495 for the Integra A-Spec with Tech and $29,595 for the Civic Si. What’s $7,900 amongst siblings?
Besides the shared powertrain (more to come), the front-driven pair ride on the same 107.7-inch wheelbase, have the same 60.5-inch front track (the rear track on the Integra is oddly, a tenth of an inch wider), share virtually all their structure and suspension design, and ride on the same size 235/40R18 all-season tires. One difference being that the Acura wore all-season Continental ContiProContacts while the last 2022 Si that hit Road & Track was on summer-spec Goodyears. Also, the Integra is assembled in Marysville, Ohio, USA while the Civic is screwed together in Alliston, Ontario, in an entirely different country known as Canada.
Alas, the summer-spec tires are no longer an option on the 2023 Civic Si and there’s no summer tire option on the Integra. Kind of sad.
The “with Technology Package” part of the name is important. Because the only way to get the manual transmission is to order these additional doodads. The base Integra and mere A-Spec model is only available with a continuously variable automatic transmission. Yawn. The Tech Package can also be had with the CVT, but that’s a spiritual betrayal of what makes this machine engaging.
According to Honda/Acura, the Integra A-Type with Technology Package weighs in at 3073-pounds which is up 121 on the Civic Si. It’s also 513 pounds more than what the revered 1997 Integra Type-R scaled in for Car and Driver back in the day. But keeping in mind that the old Type-R was a spectacularly shrill, perceptibly flimsy three-door and the new A-Spec is a much larger, robust, dang quiet, five-door carrying vastly more tech and safety gear, and the additional quarter-ton of heft isn’t unreasonable.
What the buck-twenty-one nets for the A-Spec with Tech over the Si is a quieter, more comfortable cabin. Not much quieter or vastly more comfortable, but the engine noise is more muffled, the front seats are better shaped, and the heads-up display is a boon. Every surface feels as if it’s covered in, let’s say, nine-percent higher quality stuff than in the Civic. But it doesn’t take much squinting to see that the basic Civic design shapes and themes are aboard. In all this, the new Integra is like the previous Acuras to wear the name: it’s a nicer Civic.
The 200-horsepower, 1.5-liter turbocharged four that powers all current Integras is identical to that put in the Civic Si. In character, it’s more sporting than, say, the 190-horsepower version used in the Honda CR-V but it’s no replay of the old B-series series or K-series naturally aspirated, zingy fours beloved by Honda addicts. It’s a 21st century turbo engine with a broad torque spread – rated at a consistent 192 pound-feet between 1800 and 5000 rpm – flexible enough to withstand the droning tyranny of a CVT. It’s fun, but it’s a different flavor.
The Type-R was narrowly focused for the bleeding edge of VTEC worship. So, the Integra Type-R’s B18C5 engine displaced only 1.8-liters and, after bursting beyond the VTEC cam transition, achieved its peak 130-pound feet of twist in a narrow peak around 7300 rpm. The 195-horses weren’t all aboard until the engine was wailing near the redline at 8000 rpm. Frantic? Intoxicating? Plain-ass fun? Yeah, the Type-R was all those things… and an utter pain as a daily.
The A-Spec is built as an everyday joy; easygoing when it has to be, a rowdy-ish romper when spurred. The Type-R was a Rat Terrier, and the A-Spec powertrain is an adorable Labrador Retriever. Occasionally, hunting rats is necessary. But a loving Lab is a better dog with which to live.
With its big schnoz and origami fender shapes, the new Integra betrays the slim pillars, slick sides and sharp, grille-free nose of the name’s original bearers. The greatest criticism of how the Integra looks, however, is that it looks much like other current, fastback-adjacent sedans. With SUVs ruling the planet, there’s no reason why sedans should be playing it safe. Take more chances. Be distinctive.
But turn into a corner, snick down a gear, and it tracks through the apex precisely and pulls on exit with bracing eagerness. It’s a front-driver, so if pushed too far it will push even farther. Don’t do that. Instead stay within its performance envelope, and let the car take the road within its natural gait. In that way, it’s much like its ancestors. But with this wide torque spread, it’s vastly more forgiving of missed shifts or dumb throttle application.
Because the Integra A-Spec with Tech gets adaptive dampers and the steering effort can be tweaked to individual preference using the center screen, there’s some tunability here that’s missing from the Si. But don’t go nuts. It’s still a modest car.
As to the rest of the “tech” aboard, it’s the usual suite of stuff. If that gets your rocks quivering, good for you. Go read the Crutchfield catalog.
There was a time, long ago but not so long ago, when 200-horsepower was considered plenty. The original 1986 BMW M3 had 192-horses. Its arch enemy, the Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 came to America with only 167 on boil. Yes, the Merc and Bimmer deliver other charms. But as entertaining as they still are, their absolute performance was modest.
By historic standards, the A-Spec is a quick-enough car. The trip from 0 to 60 mph takes 7.0-seconds and the quarter-mile is gobbled in 15.3-seconds at 93 mph. It takes 17.3-seconds to waltz from a stop to 100 mph.
The 2857-pound, 192-horsepower 1988 BMW M3 made its way to 60 mph in 6.9-seconds, ran the quarter in 15.2-seconds at 92 mph and needed 19.6-seconds to reach 100 mph. Roughly comparable numbers. The 1997 Integra Type-R did a hyper-ventilating gallop to 60 in 6.6-sconds, knocked out the quarter in 15.2-seconds at 93 mph and made it to 100 mph in 17.9-seconds.
The 2022 Honda Civic Si, meanwhile, did the 0-60 thing in 6.8-seconds, blitzed the quarter-mile in 15.1-seconds at 94 mph and reached 100 mph in 16.9-seconds. So, significantly quicker.
But also lurking about is the Hyundai Elantra N. It’s about the same size – running a 107.1-inch wheelbase and weighing 3199-pounds – but gets 276-horses from its 2.0-liter turbo four. It rips from 0-60 in 5.1-ticks, needs only 13.8-seconds to demolish the quarter mile at 103 mph and gets to 100 mph in just 12.9-seconds. It’s kind of rowdy and raucous, but it’s the hot rod of this ever-shrinking class.
Over my career I’ve been involved with all the major new car awards that still exist. Motor Trend’s Car of the Year back in the Nineties when Motor Trend was still confident enough to use two words to name itself. I worked with Car and Driver’s 10Best awards regularly in this century. I’m an active part of R&T’s Performance Car of the Year program. And I’ve been on the North American Car of the Year (NACTOY) jury for a while. In a world of small potatoes, I’m au gratin.
Considering all the attention now being lavished upon electric vehicles, the choice of the Integra as 2023 North American Car of the Year was, if not controversial, at least surprising. It breaks no new ground and is fundamentally a variation of the car that won the 2022 award, the Civic. I included it on my ballot because it’s a car with throwback virtues.
Going back to the Sixties and Seventies, cars like the Alfa Romeo Giulia, original BMW 2002 and Triumph Dolomite Sprint were accessible and fun without outrageous power outputs. Simple, fling-able and practical machines. This Integra A-Spec offers a lot of those same modest charms. And, well, a lot of us who vote on the NACTOY awards are old enough to remember them. And remember them fondly.
The future may belong to multi-motor, battery slurping, crossover breadboxes. But for the moment, the Integra A-Spec is more fun. And it should whet every appetite for the new Integra Type-S that is coming.
And when the Integra Type-S gets here, Matt Farah will point at it and say something like, “Can’t you just get a Civic Type-R?”
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