Between 1986 and 2006, Acura sold more than a million examples of the Integra (and RSX) in North America. That makes it the company’s most popular vehicle of all time – by a long shot. Not only that, but the Integra is also one of the most beloved cars of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, with a reputation for reliable and attainable performance, almost always featuring a high-strung four-cylinder engine and a slick manual shifter.
So for 2023, the Integra returns to the lineup with relatively lofty expectations from fans, following in the footsteps of fellow throwbacks in the NSX and Type S models. But while some of you might write this new Integra off as a fancier Honda Civic – and in some ways, that is true (and it’s always been true) – there’s a lot to like about this sporty subcompact.
Most importantly, the Integra borrows all of the best performance bits from the very good Civic Si, while Acura sprinkles in exclusive touches like extra tech and an adaptive suspension. This new Integra is stylish, too, regardless of its retro-ness, and it’s the only car in this segment with a good old-fashioned manual gearbox. So long as you leave your lofty expectations at the door, the new Integra makes for a compelling vehicle beyond its name.
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Gallery: 2023 Acura Integra First Drive Review
A Sharper-Styled Civic
In the basement of a downtown Austin restaurant is where I get my first real look at the Integra – and it’s way more handsome in person. The Performance Red hue on this A-Spec model looks much better than the yellow launch model with those silly side-profile graphics, which even Acura admits was a bit over-the-top.
No, the design isn’t retro or even all that unique apart from the embossed “Integra” wordmark on the bumpers, a nod to the third-gen model. But with the brand’s signature Precision grille up front, the Integra has a sharp nose and a lovely face. A set of 18-inch wheels give the A-Spec model a more aggressive stance, and with the standard fastback roofline and swoopy taillights, this car both looks sportier and offers more practicality than any other in the class.
The interior is properly premium for a vehicle at this price point, as well, although there are still obvious tinges of the Civic remaining. The mesh trim surrounding the A/C vents, the silvery knobs, and the standard 7.0-inch touchscreen are all Honda bits. But the fit, finish, and quality is there, with much of those Civic-y pieces surrounded by upgraded soft-touch plastic and nicer leather. Against a comparable BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, the Integra feels like the more premium of the two.
The Integra also boasts a class-besting 37.4 inches of legroom in the second row, and beyond the roofline nearly tickling the top of my noggin, it makes for a genuinely comfy place to sit. And with 24.3 cubic feet of cargo room, the Integra also has more than double that of the next best sedan in the class.
Opting for the $3,000 Technology package affords you a larger and nicer 9.0-inch touchscreen, with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as a crystal clear 16-speaker ELS audio system – still one of the best audio systems in the business. But it’s the 10.2-inch digital instrument cluster, standard on all trims, that really puts the Integra over the top in terms of tech. The large, crisp display is decently configurable, projects clear readouts, and even displays unique graphics depending on the drive mode.
Adding to that refinement is a whole list of active safety features, like adaptive cruise control with lane-centering and lane-keep assist, a distance assist, blind-spot monitoring, and a rear-cross traffic alert. Opting for the CVT also gives you a low-speed adaptive cruise control and traffic jam assist.
Off the bat, the hard numbers tell you that the Integra is the least powerful car in the class. Its turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine produces a modest 200 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque – same as the Civic Si – which puts it behind the base Audi A3 by one horse, and behind the BMW 228i Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz CLA by a few dozen.
Could the Integra have used some extra oomph? Sure, at least enough to close the gap between BMW and Mercedes. But the numbers can be a bit misleading – the Integra definitely doesn’t feel sluggish. Max torque kicks in at a generous 1,800 RPM, which gives the Integra more verve off the line than some of its staid alternatives. There’s no official 60 time for this car yet, but expect something just under the seven-second mark. Max twist persists all the way to 5,000 RPM, with horsepower peaking at 6,000 – and it’s in the upper limits where this car feels most at home.
By keeping the drive mode selector in Sport and the digital tach above 4,000, the Integra delivers all the grunt you want and need. The throttle is quick and direct, helping the engine deliver all 192 lb-ft at a moment’s notice. And even at the limit – 6,600 RPM – the Integra seemingly still has more power to give. Fingers crossed for a faster Type S model.
The downside is that there is some rev hang, an unfortunate carryover from the Civic Si. And because of the Acura-specific throttle tuning and engine mapping, this engine does feel slightly less playful than in the Civic – more restrained here.
By keeping the drive mode selector in Sport and the digital tach above 4,000, the Integra delivers all the grunt you want and need.
But, the Integra is the only car in the class with an available six-speed manual transmission – and since this is basically the same six-speed from the Civic Si, it’s a phenomenal gearbox. Throws are short, snappy, and quick, while the built-in rev-match system makes it much easier – and more fun – to downshift at speed and hammer the throttle. Again, especially in the upper limits.
Acura does offer a standard continuously variable transmission for those less inclined to do it yourself, and frankly, it’s not that bad. Beyond a bit of whining upon hard acceleration, the CVT is smooth and mimics a traditional automatic with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and relatively quick “shifts.”
The rigid Civic underpinnings make the Integra a fun car to fling around – especially in the Texas Hill Country where this test took place. But Acura engineers tweaked the chassis just enough to make it feel – for lack of a better phrase – like an Acura. The optional adaptive suspension (part of the $3,000 Technology package) improves upon the static setup of the Civic, giving the Integra more refinement in corners and extra comfort day-to-day.
The rigid Civic underpinnings make the Integra a fun car to fling around.
The plusher ride, though, does result in slightly softer handling; the Civic just feels more tactile in a tight turn. But the Integra is also far more compliant than its Honda cousin, with the adaptive dampers soaking up bumps impeccably well, as any proper luxury car should.
The electronic power steering with adjustable drive mode settings marks another big upgrade, able to transform from lightweight and easily maneuverable in Comfort mode to properly hefty in Sport – but still very quick. On the A-Spec model specifically, the Integra’s ratio is faster than Civic – 11.52:1 compared to 11.46:1.
Priced To Entice
Here’s where Acura really has a leg up on the competition: price. At $31,895 with the $1,095 destination fee included, Acura undercuts Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz by a few thousand dollars respectively. The next-most-affordable A3 is $35,895, the 2 Series GC is $36,695, and the CLA is the priciest of the bunch, asking $39,250.
And even if you want all the good stuff – a desirable manual transmission, limited-slip differential, 9.0-inch touchscreen, wireless CarPlay, and more – the Integra A-Spec with the $3,000 Technology package only brings the asking price up to $35,800. Competitors with comparable options all cost over $40,000. So a fully loaded Acura Integra is an absolute screaming deal by comparison.
It’s easy to write off the Integra as a fancier Civic Si and/or another quick nostalgia cash-grab. But the positioning and performance of this car make it really enticing: You get an iconic nameplate, all the elements that make the sporty Si so likable, and more refinement all for around $30,000 – or $35,000 with all the options equipped. In that sense, the Integra makes a lot of sense.
Integra Competitor Reviews:
- Audi A3: 9.1 / 10
- BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe: Not Rated
- Cadillac CT4: Not Rated
- Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: Not Rated
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