Review: 2002 Acura RSX Type S

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2002 RSX

SEE ALSO: Acura Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

In the sport-compact class, where competition is intense and product life cycles are usually short, the last-generation Acura Integra stayed at the top, virtually unchanged, from 1994 to 2001.

While the entry- and mid-level models had plenty of challengers, they were the mainstays of the class. The high-performance GS-R had no peer in this country until the last couple of years of its production run, and the limited-production Type R stood alone at the top.

But, in eight years, Acura's competitors, and, more importantly, Acura itself, changed considerably. When the 1994 Integra was introduced, Acura was trying to be all things to all luxury/performance buyers, with the Integra anchoring a lineup that included several levels of luxury sedans and coupes, an upscale sport-utility vehicle, and the exotic, ultra-high performance NSX. That unfocused approach caused problems - the cars attracted very different people, and some attracted very few people.

So Acura replaced names with alphanumeric designations. Then it got serious, and totally revamped its lineup. The first of the truly new Acuras was the 1999 3.2 TL, followed by the 2001 TL-based CL coupe and the MDX SUV. The 3.5 RL luxury sedan also received improvements. TL, CL, RL, MDX, NSX, Integra - what doesn't fit?

2002 sees the debut of the all-new Acura RSX, as a replacement for the Integra. The new name makes sense - the RSX is not a new-generation Integra, it is a more refined, mature vehicle that fits perfectly into Acura's contemporary luxury-sport lineup.

Unlike the Integra, the RSX is offered only in coupe form, with no sedan. The RSX has styling continuity with the rest of the current Acura line, but the performance and handling that made the Integra's reputation have not been forgotten.

The Integra's age showed in noticeable chassis flex in hard use; the RSX dispenses with that, for even better handling and a quieter driving experience. Both the base RSX and the performance RSX Type use versions of a new 2.0-liter twincam four-cylinder engine. The RSX has 160 horsepower, up from the 140 of the 1.8-liter engine in the last Integra LS and GS. The Type S's 200 horses compares favorably with the Integra GS-R's 170, or even the Type R's 195.

I've been driving a Type S RSX for the past week, and have been very impressed. The Integra was a tough act to follow, but Acura really has improved upon it. The RSX offers more comfort and luxury, with no loss of performance character and attitude. The Type S is quicker than the Integra GS-R, with better handling and improved comfort, but it still has the direct mechanical feel that brings joy to car enthusiasts.

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APPEARANCE: The RSX has the same length and wheelbase as the Integra coupe, and is six-tenths of an inch wider and 2.5 inches taller. Despite these statistics, it looks smaller. The Integra's rounded shape made it look larger; the RSX's crisply-angled form deceptively decreases its size. It has all of the contemporary Acura styling cues, from the pointed prow, pentagonal grille prominently displaying the corporate logo, unique headlights, and angularly-creased hood and fender lines to the sharply-truncated tail. Like the Integra coupe, it is a fastback hatchback, but its looks are far closer to those of the CL than to any Integra.

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COMFORT: The RSX doesn't seem much larger inside than the Integra, but its increased height translates to additional headroom. Additional soundproofing makes it quieter than the Integra, or most other cars in the sport-compact class. Interior style meshes well with the exterior, and has all of the contemporary sports cues including a semi-wraparound instrument panel and metal-look trim. Creative use of varying textures livens up the monochrome interior color scheme. The Type S has perforated leather upholstery, while the base model has cloth; both have power windows, mirrors, and door locks with remote entry. The RSX is designed around the driver, with correctly-placed controls and instruments, and storage spaces in the doors and console add convenience. The car is strictly a 2+2 design, but rear access is good for a small coupe, and the two rear bucket seats provide more space and comfort than is implied by the car's size. The large rear hatch is solid and rattle-free. There is plenty of luggage space, but liftover is high - that rear bulkhead strengthens the chassis. Priorities - this is a serious sports car, not a minivan.

SAFETY: The Acura RSX has dual stage front airbags and front side airbags, front and rear crumple zones, and standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes.

ROADABILITY: With its increased structural rigidity and redesigned suspension, the RSX improves on the Integra GS-R in every way, and the GS-R was not exactly deficient in the handling department. And, if it is not quite the equal of the Integra Type R on the track, the RSX is a much more comfortable machine for daily use - and the aftermarket is there for serious handling enthusiasts. In front, the Integra's double wishbones have been replaced by a "Control Link" MacPherson strut suspension, which actually improves on handling precision and stability. A redesigned double wishbone rear suspension further improves handling behavior. The Type S has stiffer shocks all around and stiffer rear springs. The ride is firm, but not uncomfortably so, and it sticks very well, with high limits of adhesion.

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PERFORMANCE: The heart of the RSX Type S is its 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower engine. That 100 horsepower per liter, unsupercharged, is a specific output reached only by race engines not long ago, and exceeded only be the Integra Type R and a few ultra-expensive exotic sports cars today. Like its Integra predecessors, the RSX uses Acura's "VTEC" (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) system, with separate high- and low-rpm cams for improved performance and emissions and fuel efficiency. But the new i-VTEC system goes further, with VTC (Variable Timing Control) continuously changing camshaft phasing for further improvements. Early VTEC engines had a noticeable cam change point, with soft power below that and Formula One ferocity above. Great charming fun, but perhaps not the best power spread for the real world. Power delivery in the RSC Type S is very linear, and there is no reason to bounce the tach needle off the rev limiter for best performance. The six-speed gearbox is a joy to use, and the Type S has the contemporary sound of power, not unlike a heavily-muffled sports motorcycle. Because of its refinement, it doesn't feel fast, but you'll notice that everyone else is going very slowly....

CONCLUSIONS: The Acura Integra was a tough act to follow, but the RSX does it even better.

2002 Acura RSX Type S

SPECIFICATIONS
Base Price $ 23,170
Price As Tested $ 23,650
Engine Type dual overhead cam inline 4-cylinder with i-VTEC variable valve timing and lift
Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower 200 @ 7400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 142 @ 6000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length 101.2 in. / 172.2 in.
Curb Weight 2767 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 13.8
Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires P205/55 VR16 Michelin Pilot MXM4
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone
Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed
24 / 31 / 25
0 to 60 mph 6.0 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination and handling $ 480
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