Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to honor the Acura RSX, whose life was cut short by overlapping products and muddled brand identity. Since 2002, this, the US version of the fourth generation Honda Integra, has enjoyed strong consumer support and numerous awards from erstwhile auto critics, including two consecutive year’s on Car and Driver’s 10Best list. But we are not here to debate the value of ad-sponsored gongs or mourn the passing of a beloved automobile. We are here to celebrate a life well lived.
Until it ceased production this summer, the Acura RSX was an upgraded seventh generation Civic coupe. To differentiate the two models, Acura’s brandgineers gave the RSX a lower and wider stance than its Honda counterpart. It also blessed the RSX’ snout with a vertical crease, bisecting the model’s nose from bumper to windshield, forming an aerodynamic point. The model’s steeply raked windshield starts an arc that terminates down the rear of the steeply raked rear window. The lift back design reveals the RSX for what it is: a longish three-door hatchback. Overall, the RSX’ clean and uncluttered looks lacked both brand identity and charisma, a lethal combination (ipso facto).
Once inside, Steve Jobs himself would applaud the RSX’ no-brainer ergonomics. The car’s curved dash pod is blissfully, elegantly Spartan; free from the infestation of dials and buttons, bells and whistles that clutter most new cars. You get three Playskool knobs for your climate control, a few glove-friendly radio buttons for your BOSE blaster, a hazard switch and that’s all she wrote. Also delightfully absent: in-dash GPS, car phone, onboard computer and all the other electronic tchotchkes that distract enthusiasts from the art of driving.
The top of the RSX’ dash is lined with a substance of uncertain origin called “textured titanium.” While the dashboard’s clothing isn’t particularly attractive or sporty-looking, props to Acura for deploying a material that hasn’t [apparently] been pumped from beneath Saudi sand or peeled off the butt of a dead cow. The front seats hug driver and passenger. The rear chairs are inescapable invitations to experiment with yoga; anyone taller than five feet will find themselves craning for comfort. I can’t imagine that many RSX buyers are overly concerned about cargo, but with seats up, the Acura can stash more stuff than a Mitsubishi Eclipse or Scion tC.
A suave demeanor and a thick Russian accent masked the enthusiasm of my Acura guide, Serguei. But his love for the coupe became evident the moment he hurled the RSX through a cloverleaf interchange. (He may not have many RSX left to sell, but sell them he does.) Once we made the changeover, the RSX’ thick steering wheel inspired immediate confidence. The variable power assist rack-and-pinion steering is razor sharp, delivering precise information on the front hoops, and outstanding control of same.
The coupe’s light curb weight (2734 pounds) and sport-tuned suspension (McPherson struts in front, double wishbone at the back) give the RSX superb flickabilty. The car stays flat through the corners, yielding moderate and predictable understeer when pushed. Yet the progressive-rate rear shocks float over small bumps without harshness, with the all-season 16’s delivering daily driver compliant comfort.
That said, there is no question whatsoever that this is the high-strung member of the Acura family. To wit, the RSX’ 2.0-liter engine produces 155hp @ 6500rpm. That may be as nothing to the Type-S’ sky-high 8100rpm redline, but caning the RSX involves regular forays to the iVTEC powerplant’s penthouse. Meanwhile, torque steer is virtually non-existent; there’s not enough torque to pull the helm sideways. In other respects, the RSX’ smooth-spinning mill is impressive in the typical Honda fashion, achieving Low-Emissions Vehicle (LEV-2) standards while traveling 27 miles per gallon in the city and 34mpg on the highway.
The RSX’ brakes are its biggest disappointment. The four-wheel disk ABS-controlled binders tell the right story on paper. In practice, they struggle to get the job done. Under emergency stops, the left and right ABS channels do not appear to be synchronized, creating a disconcerting Jitterbug vibration. Pistonheads would be well advised to factor-in the price of a major brake upgrade when considering an RSX.
As is, the RSX is the perfect car for a driver that wants a sports car without a lot of horsepower (e.g. unmarried people that gravitate to careers that involve chalk and erasers, white shoes or telephone headsets). Rumor has it that the RSX may not be the last Acura to dabble in the sub-$30k segment. Although nothing has been officially announced, only a couple of model years are likely pass before Acura produces another small coupe. Acura is sure to festoon any new model with a raft of techno-baubles that blight the TL, which were artfully absent in the RSX. Until then, RSX RIP.
Acura used to be the place to go if you wanted a quicker and slicker Honda. But since Honda brought out its formidable S2000 roadster last year, the waters have been muddied somewhat.
Now the Integra — formerly the apex predator of the Acura line — has been replaced by a new model called the RSX. It’s a zippy little thing, especially when armed with the new six-speed manual transmission and optional 200-hp engine, but it’s still outclassed (and outgunned) by both the 240-hp S2000 and its own stablemate, the 260-hp CL Type-S coupe.
Previously, the Integra was not only the hottest Acura, especially in Type R form, it was also the one to be coveted. The new RSX Type-S, while on paper packing more heat than the old Type R (200 hp vs. 195 for the old car) is not at the top of Acura’s lineup, and really is more of a commuter with some punch than a knife-edged runner like the old Integra was.
Like Elvis in the ’70s, the ’02 RSX Type-S is a little more glitzy, a tad less spontaneous and unpredictably explosive than the original. It’s also offered only as a hatchback coupe — a decision that may come back to haunt Acura.
2002 Acura RSX Type-S
Base price range: $23,170
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 200 hp
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
Wheelbase: 101.2 in
Length: 172.2 in
Width: 67.9 in
Height: 55.1 in
Curb Weight: 2766 lb
EPA (cty/hwy): 24/31 mpg (six-speed manual)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags, ABS
Major standard features: 200-hp engine with variable valve timing, six-speed manual transmission, leather sport buckets with lumbar support, brushed aluminum accents, climate control, premium Bose audio w/seven speakers and six-disc CD autochanger, power windows, locks, cruise and rear wiper
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles