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The Acura RSX receives many upgrades for 2005, and while no one change is particularly significant, together they add up to a car that is considerably improved over last year's model.
The previous-generation Integra helped establish the current trend of import tuners. Introduced in 2002, the RSX took the Integra's place as Acura's front-wheel-drive sport coupe. The RSX has lost some of its edge competing against the high-performance Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and Dodge SRT-4. All can be had for roughly the same money, and offer significant performance advantages.
What the RSX has to offer is the luxury, refinement and prestige of an Acura.
Build quality and fit and finish are excellent. The RSX looks aggressive, and mild styling revisions for 2005 enhance its crisp, clean lines. Its cabin is nicely trimmed. It's oriented around the driver, with excellent seats and convenient storage. The standard RSX is fun to drive, particularly when equipped with the manual transmission. The Type-S is a lot more fun, with a sweet-sounding engine that revs to 8100 rpm. Updates to the 2005 Acura RSX Type-S help it regain ground in the hotly contested market of young, upwardly mobile enthusiasts.
The Acura RSX presents a classic wedgy fastback shape, with a short nose, wheels pushed out to the corners, and a smooth profile that sweeps elegantly from the nose to the high tail. As befitting its sport-coupe market, it's more aggressive than many other Acuras, even given the company's aggressive new styling direction.
The changes made for 2005 continue the theme of subtle but effective. The front bumper is updated with a larger, more aggressive radiator opening under the bumper and a more dramatic five-sided Acura grille. Additionally, the headlights now feature blackout trim around the reflectors, a common aftermarket upgrade. The revised taillights have an embossed look to them, and the rear bumper has been modified for a racy look. Standard on the Type-S is a new spoiler on the rear decklid, although we still like the unadorned look of the standard RSX better. Overall, the look is clean and tidy, and Acura has continued to avoid styling cliches in favor of tight, crisp lines.
Fit and finish is excellent, of course, with narrow gaps between body panels. Acura is also careful to use as few breaks between body panels as possible to give the car a carved-from-a-solid-piece look.
Under the sexy skin is a chassis that is reinforced for 2005, making it 15 percent stiffer in the front and 21 percent stiffer in the rear. Insulation material has been added in the doors and roof to reduce road noise, and the side mirror gaps have been sealed shut to reduce wind noise. It works to a certain extent, but the RSX is primarily a sporty car, and you can expect more road, engine and wind noise inside than in one of the company's more luxurious offerings.
The RSX interior is very driver-oriented, with the center part of the dash tilted slightly toward the lucky person behind the wheel. It's not really luxurious, but textures and surfaces are all very nice for a car in the low 20-thousand range, and switchgear is all exemplary, as befitting an Acura. New chrome and titanium-look accents add a touch of elegance to the stylishly businesslike design.
The automatic climate control couldn't be simpler to use, with three large dials your only input. Similarly, the audio controls are logically placed for intuitive operation. The rest of the interior layout is just as sensible, making it easy to acclimate oneself to the car and get on with the business of driving.
The thick three-spoke steering wheel neatly frames clear gauges with black numerals on new off-white faces that turn red-on-black at night. The 9000-rpm tachometer and 160-mph speedometer dominate the cluster, with fuel and temperature gauges flanking them. Cruise control and basic audio controls are mounted on the steering wheel for added convenience.
The front seats are excellent, with good lateral support, a deep bucket for your butt, and even small shoulder wings to help keep you in place in hard corners. They grip you even when covered in leather, but remain comfortable for longer trips. As with most cars of this size and class, the rear seat is something of a joke, reserved only for small humans or medium-size dogs. A better idea is to fold down the seatbacks, enhancing the already sizeable cargo area under the hatch, and letting you pretend you have a two-seater.
Storage for small stuff is plentiful. There are bins in the doors, a sizeable lighted glovebox, and a clever tray/cupholder combination forward of the shifter. The cupholder works fine, as long as you aren't trying to stuff a convenience store bladder buster in there.
The Acura RSX is all about driving, and in both versions, it's a blast. Acceleration is brisk in the RSX, darn quick in the Type-S. All the controls work well, with solid brakes, accurate and sharp steering, and predictable handling.
Suspension settings on both of the RSX models were revised significantly for 2005 for better handling. Camber and caster were revised for better roadholding and more predictable steering. The new suspension settings also lower the center of gravity by 7 mm, which helps reduce body roll. Ride comfort is improved (although it's still stiff) through the use of revised bushings and damper seals. Anti-roll bars on both models were widened and thickened, from 23mm to 25.4mm with a wall thickness of 3.0mm up from 2.8mm in previous models. The Type-S bars go from 23mm to 26.5mm, and the wall thickness is revised from 2.8mm to 3.5mm. The Type S also gets a stiffer strut tower brace, further helping the steering response. And, as previously mentioned, the steering rack itself was revised with a shorter ratio for better response, resulting in quick response that doesn't feel darty. In the rear, the spring height was reduced on the Type-S, further lowering the center of gravity. The rear anti-roll bar diameter was also increased from 19mm to 21mm.
The revised suspension settings add up to a car that feels sharper and more finely honed than its predecessor. While it is more compliant, the ride is still stiff. However the benefits in handling are immediately noticeable. Overcook a corner and the car understeers, but a gentle easing of the throttle or a moderate tap of the brakes will tuck in the nose and help rotate the rear end. The RSX is one of those cars that rewards skilled drivers, and feeds a lot of rope to the unskilled ones before they hang themselves.
The shifter is a joy, placed perfectly next to the wheel. The feel of the shifter in the Type-S has been revised and it really shows with crisp, accurate shifts.
Step on the brakes and you're rewarded with solid pedal feel, thanks to a larger master cylinder and a more rigid pedal. The standard ABS helps slow the car quickly and without fade. The Type-S gets bigger front and rear rotors for even better braking performance.
The engines in both RSX models are very sophisticated, with variable valve timing, overhead cams, four-valves per cylinder and all-aluminum construction. Both models use Honda's i-VTEC technology, which combines a cam-phasing valve timing (VTC for variable timing control) with VTEC, which actually changes the valve lift. However, it works differently and for different goals in the two models. The RSX's system is tuned more for emissions and fuel efficiency, while the Type-S is designed for power. The base engine develops 160 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 141 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm, same as last year. Thanks to improved intake, exhaust and cams, the Type-S gains 10 horsepower, for 210 at 7800 rpm and 143 pound-feet of torque at 7000 rpm. Both engines meet strict LEV-II emissions requirements, and while premium fuel is required for the Type-S, it's only a suggestion for the RSX.
To get the most from the base engine, it's best to stick with the standard five-speed manual, a slick-shifting unit with ratios that maximize power from the engine. The automatic features Acura's Sequential SportShift, a mode that allows for manual shifting of the gears. It works well, giving the driver full manual control, refusing to shift up or down unless directed by the driver (although it won't let you do something stupid, like start from a dead stop in fifth gear). Left in Drive, Grade Logic Control keeps gear hunting to a minimum on long uphill stretches. But it's still not as quick to respond as a true manual, and fuel economy suffers a bit as well.
The Type-S is a whole other beast. The redline is much higher (8100 rpm vs 6800 rpm in the RSX), and those extra revs are where much of
The RSX is a sophisticated and sporty player in the compact performance car market. More luxurious than cars like the Subaru WRX or Dodge SRT-4, it offers very good performance and a handling package that is hard to beat. While not exactly a luxury car, it is nicely equipped, and the driver's seat is a comfortable and fun place to be.
Most drivers opt for the lower-horsepower base RSX, with its 160-horsepower engine. It's a rewarding car, and they'll be very satisfied, as long as they don't test-drive the Type-S while they're at the Acura dealership.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Keith Buglewicz is based in Southern California.
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