After driving the Acura Integra, we're convinced this car deserves to exist.
Now is a strange time to get our hands on the Acura Integra. It's been what feels like an eon since the car came out - to much controversy, lest we forget - and we now have the added context of a more fleshed-out Honda/Acura sports car lineup that includes the Civic Type R and the upcoming, pretty freaking pricey, Integra Type S, which are, broadly speaking, the same car separated by their target demographics and a mere five horsepower.
That's a common thread here, as the Integra is the brand's take on the phenomenal Civic Si. But that formula also presents a problem for the Integra: At around $8,000 more expensive, is it $8,000 better a semi-performance compact? Especially as you can only get the manual on the uppermost trim.
To answer that question, we spent a week with a fully-loaded A-Spec w/Technology Package car with the manual, decked out in Liquid Carbon Metallic paint, ringing in at circa $37,000.
The exterior is most certainly the Integra's most controversial aspect. We'd have preferred the Integra in a blue or white (for maximum Honda nostalgia effect), and the grey made this car look more "Acura" than "Integra." Those are two different things, by the way, and are a philosophical discussion for later.
We're sure this will upset a few people, but it's time to stop complaining about how the Integra looks. Designing cars is an expensive, compromise-laden pursuit, and 'Teggy designers only have so much room to play. Plus, the original wasn't only the hot Type R coupe everyone likes to reminisce about.
Be glad the Integra exists with a manual transmission, and be very glad there's an attractive sporty four-door to look at that isn't from BMW. God knows BMW won't make anything pretty anymore.
The 'Teggy doesn't have featherweight packaging and heavyweight performance, and that's admittedly only partly true. The 1.5-liter four-cylinder turbo engine is a punchy little thing with 200 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque. It feels inherently turbocharged, something we didn't quite notice in the Si during our time with the latter. But that only adds to the chirpy, tossable nature of the Integra.
Ours came optioned with the six-speed manual thanks to the A-Spec w/ Technology Package. This is good, because both this and the Si are automotive palate cleansers in a world of EVs, crossovers, and automatic gearboxes. This excellent transmission comes with automatic rev-matching, though we despise Honda/Acura for burying the function's 'off' button deep in a menu that can only be accessed when the parking brake is on. All we need is a simple button, Acura.
Front-wheel drive is standard, and it's a great setup we can't complain much about. With the manual 'box, you also benefit from a standard limited-slip differential, which was a big help on all-season tires in a Colorado winter.
This is where the above "Acura v. Integra" idea takes shape, as silly as that notion may seem. There are two presets in our heads going into a nice, chilly-yet-spirited drive in the Colorado canyons. There is Acura as a brand: Mom's luxury-lite '05 MDX with Welch's gummies after practice - the company's excellent run of affordable luxury cruisers that are constantly overlooked, and its Honda-like reputation for quality and reliability.
Then, there is the idea of "Integra," something the brand never really let go of: sporty, solid, revvy, fun cars that you can actually own, drive, maintain, and use. The RSX and TSX Type S personify this, and the Integra brings the idea of "Integra" into 2023. And it does this very well.
Let's start with the steering. Good steering tells you what the road feels like, what the tires are doing, and when you'll lose grip before your ass tells you the same. The Teggy's rack checks all these boxes - we like it in the selectable Individual mode with "Comfort" steering paired with the throttle in "Sport" and the suspension in "Normal."
The Integra rides much like the Civic Si, so messing with suspension only ends in bruised buttocks and a quick dive into the menus to rectify the situation. Thankfully, everything else about driving the Integra makes up for it. It isn't particularly quiet on the highway, but you won't be bothered by a little noise, and it's worth the trade-off when you get out of the city. Blast up the canyons, and the car comes alive. Despite all-season tires and cold weather, there's enough grip here to near Golf GTI levels of fun; that diff more than pulls its weight, letting you jump on the throttle earlier than you have any right to do.
The Integra manages the switch from daily to canyon-carver well, and its shifter is particularly pleasant in either scenario. It's a joy to use, and we've fawned over it since the Si came out last year - it hasn't lost any of the joy in its change from a Honda to an Acura.
The 1.5 is excellent too, and despite being turbocharged, you'll want to rev it out to take that nostalgia trip every time.
This is very much an Integra first and an Acura second.
That idea gets turned on its head when you sit in the Integra. Here, we see why the loaded Integra is worth it: its interior quality matches and beats the Golf GTI by some margin, especially in light of the Mk8's dip in form in this arena. Even beyond that, the Integra is more than a rival for the AMG CLA 35, although the Civic-like design is a letdown compared to Merc's flashiness.
From an infotainment perspective, the screen is recycled from the Civic, which is just fine. It can be a hair slow, but physical controls do exist, including the coveted climate and volume knobs.
The sound system here is solid, too, though Acura makes it out to be more than it is. ELS did a fine job, and the system is worth it over the base stuff, though you won't go telling all your friends to have a listen when you go to show off your new Integra.
Materials are on par with this car's price point as well. We especially like the red leather option. It's worth discussing the seats for a moment, as they are some of the comfiest we've used at any price point. Honda has got its seat game right with the Civic platform, and Acura leveraging this was a wise move.
Much of the Integra's argument against other cars in the segment is its hatch. The Si doesn't get one; for some, this will be worth the price premium. We fit a mountain bike in the back with the front wheel removed on one occasion and, on another, a massive TV stand that took up almost every square inch of cargo space available.
We do wish the cargo cover was more conventional. This one is stuck to the hatch lid, and once detached, it can't be collapsed, leaving you hunting for somewhere to stuff it once the rear compartment is full to the gills. Despite that, the hatch most certainly adds to the appeal of the Integra.
The biggest problem here is that Acura mixed too much "Acura" with just the right amount of "Integra." You've got to spend too much money to get the manual. Earlier this year, Acura bragged about take rates on the stick, quoting north of 70% of all orders as manual-equipped Integras. So why the hell can't we have it in the base car?
Acura shows no signs of fixing this, even though it would make the Integra arguably the performance bargain of the century. Because let's be honest, no one buying this car because of the idea of "Integra" will ever order one with an auto, especially with a shifter this solid.
We've established that this car is more in line with the idea of the Integra than what Acura stands for today - which is good. But is it worth damn near $8,000 more than a Civic Si?
We're sorry to build to a crescendo only to say this but, the answer to that depends on you. Do you have the money to spend on a car that has less power (not that power matters) than a GTI yet costs about the same as a fully-loaded one? Is the hatchback worth it to you, and does it fit into your life? What about the difference in interior quality and materials? These are all questions that need answering before anyone can make this call.
In the end, the Civic Si/Acura Integra A-Spec w/Tech Package twins are arguably the best performance compacts under $40,000. Which one you want depends on whether you like a little more "Integra," or a little more "Acura." We'll leave it to you to figure out which matches up with which.
Join The Discussion