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Acura RSX is a sport coupe for drivers who want performance and sophistication. That sophistication extends from the well-appointed cockpit to the superb driving dynamics.
Honda's powerful twin-cam engines, well-tuned sports suspensions, and four-wheel disc brakes make the RSX an exciting ride. Supportive, contoured seats, excellent visibility, and all the conveniences make it a comfortable ride. RSX is also practical, with a useable back seat and expandable cargo space accessible through its rear hatch.
With its powerful, high-revving engine, Type-S is a terrific car for the single, upwardly mobile driving enthusiast. The standard RSX is appointed well, but may be a bit firm for buyers who suffer a grinding daily commute.
RSX is unchanged for 2003, but a new performance kit is available for the Type-S.
Sleek, clean, almost elegant, Acura RSX is designed to exude performance. Its lines are understated. It doesn't look boy-racer, though it is less conservatively styled than most Acuras. It looks contemporary and aggressive, with short front and rear overhangs and a cabin-forward silhouette.
It almost looks as if it were carved out of a solid block. The expansive rear glass sweeps fastback-style toward a high rear deck. A smoothly integrated liftgate raises easily to reveal a spacious cargo hold. Acura design cues can be seen in the grille, in the cutouts under the cylindrical tail lamps, and in the headlamp design. The front end looks bland to our eyes, however, resembling some kind of Honda Civic when seen in the rear-view mirror.
Acura's attention to detail can be seen in the precise exterior fit and finish. Not visible, but just as important is the extensive sound insulation, including melt sheets added to the floor to reduce interior noise.
Acura RSX features a driver-oriented cockpit. Visibility is excellent out front, while large mirrors provide good visibility rearward. Seats are deeply sculpted with side bolstering, and supportive when cornering hard, with thigh, lumbar, and shoulder adjustments on the driver's side. Optional perforated leather upholstery is nice, though unremarkable.
A wide instrument pod covered in a perforated material surrounds the driver. Large analog gauges with metallic faces are easy to read. The thick, leather-wrapped, small-diameter steering wheel with three spokes feels like it came from a race car. The shifter feels good, also; a leather-wrapped gearshift knob comes standard, while the Type S gets a special perforated leather knob.
The rear seats are surprisingly comfortable for a sport coupe. But this isn't a sedan; space for rear passengers' heads is under the rear window. The rear seats fold flat for cargo. An acoustically transparent cargo cover snaps into and out of place to hide valuables. A Bose subwoofer goes inside the temporary spare, a clever use of space, and it can be moved around for tailgate parties.
Acura's luxury features, standard on every RSX, include the automatic climate control system with micron air filtration, illuminated power window switches, and lighting in the glove box. But this car is clearly designed as a sport coupe rather than a luxury sedan. The perforated material around the instrument panel and center console, the roof liner, the white-gold plastic trim, the vents, and the radio controls lack the high-quality, upscale look and feel of a premium brand.
A clever combination tray and cup holder offers a good place to stash a wallet, as it provides a semi-secret compartment. The dual cup holders work well as long as the container isn't much taller than a grande Frappuccino. A small fold-out above the rear seat on the driver's side works okay for hanging a couple of shirts, but not a full load of dry cleaning.
Driving the Acura RSX is a lot of fun. The Type-S boasts quick acceleration, crisp, predictable handling, and excellent brakes. Steering is very sharp, with no play at center, no slop. This car feels controlled and very stable at high speeds.
RSX and RSX Type-S differ in several key areas. Type-S gets a more powerful engine, firmer suspension damping front and rear, stiffer rear springs, and larger front brakes. But otherwise, the two models are nearly identical, including their 17-inch alloy wheels with high-performance Michelin tires.
Ride quality is firm on both models. It feels great on smooth roads, but can feel jouncy on bumpy roads. The base RSX felt a little too firm when we drove it in Richmond, Virginia. We could hear expansion joints on the highway, possibly due to the high-performance Michelin MXM4 all-season tires, and we could feel the uneven pavement on old city streets.
Handling is fun, predictable and precise. While turning laps in a Type-S at Georgia's Roebling Road, we found the RSX is an easy car to control at the limit. You can really drive this front-wheel-drive coupe: A lift of the throttle before turning into a corner reduces understeer and helps rotate the car into the turn. It's also easy to control when braking and turning at the same time, a driving faux pas that can cause a spin many other cars. The Michelin tires offer excellent grip and predictable handling.
Brakes are excellent, four-wheel discs, ventilated in front. The first time we used them they were cold and we found they demanded a bit of foot pressure, like they needed a little more power assist. That's typical of high-performance brake pads, which require a little more pedal pressure and work best once they have a little heat in them. We quickly adjusted to them on the street, and they felt perfect out on the race track, resisting the tendency to fade under hard use.
Both RSX models come with sophisticated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. These all-aluminum 16-valve engines use Honda's i-VTEC system, with variable-phase camshaft timing (VTC for variable timing control) along with the proven Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC). The result is impressive horsepower and high torque with outstanding fuel economy and low exhaust emissions. The engine is mounted transversely, but opposite the normal direction, bringing the exhaust manifold closer to the catalyst for improved light-off and reduced emissions at startup.
The engine that comes in the base RSX delivers adequate acceleration performance, but lacks the sporty response of the Type-S. The base engine develops 160 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 141 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. That's the same amount of torque developed by the Type-S engine except at much lower rpm, making the base RSX feel quite responsive around town. One benefit of the 160-hp engine: the RSX earns an EPA City/Highway rating of 27/33 mpg (24/33 with the automatic), while the Type-S gets 24/31 mpg. Also, the 200-hp Type-S engine needs 91 octane, while the 160-hp RSX engine can get by with 87 octane, though Acura recommends premium for optimum performance.
The standard transmission in the base RSX is a five-speed manual, and it's the best match for the base 160-hp engine.
The five-speed automatic transmission features Acura's Sequential SportShift system that allows the driver to shift gears semi-manually, without the need for a clutch pedal. In SportShift mode the driver has full control; unlike other semi-manual transmissions, the RSX transmission will not shift up or down unless directed to do so by the driver. It gives the driver more control than leaving it in Drive. Or you can simply put it in Drive and let it do its thing. Do that and you'll benefit from its Grade Logic Control, which reduces the tendency for it to hunt between gears when driving on steep hills. The serpentine shift gate makes going from Park to Drive and back again a bit clunky.
The Type-S engi
Acura's RSX offers more sophistication than other sporty coupes. It delivers luxury-channel levels of refinement and quality. It looks nice, it's comfortable, and it features all the conveniences of an entry-level luxury car. Handling is excellent, making it easy and fun to drive. Driven hard, this car will do just about anything you ask it to do within the basic laws of physics.
And it's quick, especially when equipped with the high-revving Type-S engine.
Most drivers, however, will opt for the standard 160-horsepower engine. They will be making an excellent choice. Smooth and powerful, this engine is designed to deliver responsive performance around town and crisp acceleration when needed to merge onto busy freeways during morning rush hour.
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