Acura's Integra line has matured into one of the best selections of small sporty coupes and sedans in the business. Throw price/value calculations into the equation and it stands alone.
Acura's Integra lineup features some modest front and rear cosmetic freshening for 1998, but otherwise remains unchanged.
Our test subject was the GS-R Coupe.
Integras are nice to look at and come well equipped, but driving them is where the fun really starts. Nowhere is this more true than with the powerful GS-R.
Our GS-R coupe tester clawed to 60 mph in a little more than 8 seconds, emitting a determined, high-tech snarl in the process. The shifting of the 5-speed gearbox was precise, the foot pedal layout encouraged a process of simultaneous braking and downshifting known to racers as "heel-and-toe," and the variable assist power steering provided just the right blend of effort and road feel.
Handling response was gratifyingly quick and precise, without sacrificing ride quality. That may be one of the reasons for the Integra's ongoing popularity: it is sporty, without being harsh. The suspension compliance that goes with a relatively smooth ride, by sporty car standards, shows up as body roll in really hard cornering, and we know from driving at the limit on various race tracks that the Integra GS-R isn't quite as agile as a Honda Prelude.
But comfort takes precedence here, and it's a choice that's hard to argue with. Your daily rounds probably include a lot more commuting than autocross maneuvers, and feeling every pothole and tar strip isn't really that much fun.
Yet when it's time to let the tachometer wind up on a sinuous country road, the GS-R gives a great account of itself with performance that is superior to what most sport coupes in this size class offer. That it's able to do so without making the owner suffer in everyday driving is a tribute to the suspension engineers.
If you dislike these compromises, there's always the Integra Type R. Add 25 hp to the GS-R package, take away most of the comfort compromises, and you have an almost-race-ready white-on-white screamer that's just born to be wild. Integra Type R's torque peak comes on at 7500 rpm--that's torque, not horsepower--while horsepower, all 195, tops out at a dizzying 8000 rpm. That's a high-revving motor. That output works out to more than 108 horsepower per liter, a power-to-weight ratio no other normally aspirated car can match.
The slightly outrageous Type R is just about the hottest thing going in this class, but it's not for everyone and Acura plans to import only 500 this year. But it is a portent of things to come. Acura is rumored to be planning an R version of every car in its lineup, part of the division's goal of retuning its image from pure luxury to sport-luxury.
In a class of cars that places a premium on fresh styling, the appearance of the current Integra--though still distinctive--has become a bit familiar.
On the other hand, the essential strengths of this line have made it a favorite with a new breed of young, enthusiastic hot-rodders who are modifying compact performance cars--instead of the time-honored approach involving small block Chevy V8s.
This is a remarkable trend, one that has launched magazines and a major aftermarket industry that supplies all sorts of go-fast and appearance goodies.
While hot-rodding may not be your goal, this new phenomenon does say something positive about the Integra. The new custom car types like it as a starting point because the basic styling will look contemporary for a long time. The performance types like it because the basic hardware is exceptionally durable and holds up well to horsepower enhancements. Honda powertrain components don't break very often.
What does this have to do with you? Maybe nothing. But it does suggest that Honda has created something special here.
And with or without the endorsement of the new breed of hot rodders, we still think this is a great buy in a small sporty car. Whether you choose the coupe or the sedan, you're buying value and you're going to have fun.