It's been over 20 years since Acura retired the Integra nameplate, in favor of a three letter name (RSX) for their 4th generation "Integra". It was inevitable, as Acura had already retired the "Legend" nameplate roughly 5 years earlier and with the introduction of the 2002 RSX, the entire Acura lineup would only use simple 3 letter model names going forward. This was a move that left plenty of people scratching their heads, but the brand guys insisted they wanted to strengthen the Acura name, as more people identified directly with the Integra and Legend rather than the Acura brand. Acura then spent the better part of the next 2 decades attempting to reinvent itself.
Here we find ourselves halfway through the year 2022, and suddenly the INTEGRA IS BACK. This name has been embossed in the brains of many enthusiasts for many years. It's amazing how many people have an Integra story. Here's a short version of mine: I graduated from college, found a job, proceeded directly to the nearest Acura dealer and purchased a brand new 1994 Integra GS-R sedan in Frost White. In the following year, I started the Temple of VTEC. I also got married and our Integra count doubled with my bride's Milano Red 1994 Acura Integra LS coupe.
Expectations for anything wearing the Integra badge are sky high. To satisfy these expectations, Acura has to absolutely knock it out of the park with the 5th generation Integra. Have they done it?
The Integra, Then and Now
When the Integra was originally launched, it was based on the Civic architecture, but it used more advanced powertrains than the Civic, came with a more premium interior and featured a longer warranty. It also came with a more premium price. The 2023 (5th generation) Integra is based on the same architecture as the 11h generation Civic, offers essentially the same powertrains that are available in the Civic, offers a more premium interior, and it features a longer warranty. The 1st generation Integra was offered in 3-door and 5-door configurations, both of which featured a liftback. The 2023 Integra is only offered as a 5-door liftback, and if you're comparing the 6-speed versions, the only way to get the Integra is fully loaded A-Spec with Technology package, so the price premium amounts to roughly 30% vs the Civic Si (Integra 6MT: $36,895 vs Civic Si: $28,595). If you're comparing the fully loaded CVT versions, the Integra premium isn't quite as high at roughly 22% (Integra A-Spec with Technology package: $36,895, Civic Touring: $30,245).
Comparisons of the Integra to its close cousin Civic are inevitable, but the Integra is designed to compete with cars such as Audi's A3, Mercedes' CLA 250, and BMW's 228i Gran Coupe. All these competitors feature a 2.0T engine with a horsepower advantage ranging from 1-28hp, and a torque advantage of 29-66 lb-ft. None of these competitors are available with a 6-speed manual transmission, or a CVT for that matter. The A3 and CLA 250 both use a 7-speed DCT, and the BMW uses an 8-speed automatic transmission. While the Integra trails this competitive set in power and torque figures, the Integra is much lighter than its competition – the 6-speed Integra tips the scales at 3073 lb. The German cars are 10-15% heavier so the Integra offers the second best power to weight ratio of the group AND a significant advantage in interior and cargo volume. The Integra is also the only vehicle in the category to offer a limited-slip differential (6MT only) and adaptive dampers. In its top trim the Integra is $6000-$8000 less expensive than its competitors.
The Integra starts at $31,895 (including destination and handling). The A-spec appearance package adds $2000 to the cost, ringing up at $33,895, while the Technology Package adds yet another $3k to the total, for an all-in sum of $36,895. The CVT is available in all 3 trim levels, but if you want the 6-speed, it's only offered with the A-Spec with Technology Package.
As part of the media introduction for the 2023 Integra in Austin Texas, we were each provided a 6-speed Integra and set off on our own across a route that would eventually lead us to our lunch destination. At the lunch destination we had the opportunity to take a shorter drive loop (around 30 miles) in the CVT version, before we were set free again in the 6-speed model, with the only restriction of being back at our hotel in downtown Austin before 5pm. All in, I was able to drive close to 200 miles in the Integra, with most of that being in the 6-speed version. We did not see the base trim, nor the standard A-Spec, so at this point my impressions are limited to the A-Spec with Technology Package.
The interior actually shares a good bit of its styling language with the Civic's interior, which may not help with Acura's intentions of distancing it from the Civic. Of course, the Integra features more premium content, a heads up display, and some Acura exclusives such as the amazing 16-speaker, 530-watt ELS Studio 3D audio system. One way that the Integra deviates from Acura's other interiors is the Integra's infotainment system uses a conventional touchscreen interface, instead of the True Touchpad interfaced used in the RDX, MDX and TLX. Since the Integra is based on the new global Honda Architecture, it offers a nearly perfect "man/machine" interface, with excellent seating position, superb visibility, and superb ergonomics. It is nicely equipped, featuring a beautiful and very clear 10.2" digital dash, a 9" infotainment display, wireless Apple Carplay and Android auto, a 15W wireless Qi charger, Alexa, a wifi hotspot, 4 USB ports (1 USB-A, 1-USB-C up front, and a pair of USB-A ports for the rear passengers), dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, 12-way power driver's seat with 2 memory positions, a 4 way power passenger's seat, auto-dimming frameless rear view mirror, ambient LED cabin lighting, and more. After spending the day with the Integra in nearly triple digit Texas heat, the one key feature I really wished it had was ventilated seats.
How does it drive?
Given all that it shares in common with the Civic Si, the short answer is that the 6-speed Integra drives very much like the Si. Which is to say, quite nicely. The new global Honda Architecture provides the Integra with a very stiff body structure, great packaging, and very good chassis dynamics, all while keeping curb weights in check. The steering is quick, light in feel, and precise, with a decent amount of feedback. For the 6-speed, the clutch and transmission are simply superb, in typical Honda fashion. Shift throws are short and have that nice and effortless precision feel that Honda's gearboxes have always been known to have. The ratios are pretty tight in the lower gears, giving the Integra a very responsive, snappy acceleration feel in traffic. The Integra 6-speed has the same rev-match feature that is found on the 2022 Civic Si (and 2017-2021 Civic Type R). It works very well in this application, though I overheard a journalist complaining that he wanted to turn it off because he thought it ruined the engine braking. I informed him how to disable it (under Vehicle Settings in the infotainment system), but I wanted to let him know the real problem was the fact that a 1.5L engine really can't provide all that much engine braking for a vehicle weighing over 3000lbs. The turbocharged 1.5L DOHC VTEC engine is quite remarkable in the area of NVH. This engine has its roots in the naturally aspirated L15 that was featured in Honda's Jazz and Fit models from the 2000s, and over the years it has evolved into a turbocharged unit. Compared to Honda's larger 4-cylinder motors, the L15s generally weren't as smooth operating or quite as sweet sounding as Honda's K-series 4-cylinders have been, but now, the L15CA engine makes great sounds and operates with much better smoothness, so winding it out while rowing through the tight gear ratios is truly a pleasure. Honda has worked hard to broaden the torque curve with this engine, and have employed a few new tricks to extend the torque curve. Previous iterations of the turbocharged 1.5T tended to hit hardest at lower to medium rpms, with the power tapering off noticeably as you were approaching the upper end of the tach scale, a characteristic which reduced the "fun to drive" quotient for some of us folks who are used to 8000 or 9000rpm redlines that you always wanted to explore. This has been addressed to an extent, with the addition of VTEC on the exhaust side and a new 2 port exhaust manifold design cast into the cylinder head. Variable Timing Control (VTC) is still employed on both camshafts. The result is a peak of 200hp at 6000rpm, and a torque curve that looks like a mesa in Arizona, peaking at 192lb-ft at 1800 rpm and holding that level all the way to 5000rpms. At the end of the day, the total pony count is still 200hp, which isn't a huge number by today's standards, so while the Integra is plenty peppy and nice and flexible for your normal commute, this is not a fast car by any means. With today's gas prices, however, you will probably be pleased by the Integra's miserly fuel consumption.
Dynamically, the chassis is set up to deliver an agreeable balance of handling and ride comfort. It turns in willingly and the all-season Continental tires do a pretty good job holding on and making things reasonably fun, but the key to this Integra isn't max performance. It is a very well balanced car when it comes to passenger comfort, practicality, fuel economy, and overall performance, but if you start writing checks that the tires can't quite cover, the chassis is designed to reign you in with a progressive level of understeer. Overall I thought everything was tuned to an appropriate level, given that the A-Spec is likely not the "hottest" version of the Integra. If I were to change something about the chassis, my first suggestion would be to add more aggressive brake pads. The car stopped reasonably well as equipped, but I found the first too many millimeters of pedal stroke to do almost nothing. Personally, it's more of a reassuring feel to have a bit more bite earlier in the brake pedal stroke. This isn't just for the A-Spec, I think the base brake pads should be a bit more aggressive. It would be really nice if Acura offered a $200 HPT option on the A-Spec though.
Overall I think Acura did a pretty good job putting this Integra together. I'm sure some people were hoping the performance envelope would be a bit more enticing, but Acura is actually following their original script. The base Integra was never intended to be a serious performance car - it was always just a really well balanced package, neatly bundling practicality with value, some premium features, in a fun to drive and low cost to own package. Eventually hotter performance variants like the GS-R and Type R emerged, and this is where a lot of people connect the Integra name to the performance image, but those cars couldn't have happened without a solid base, and Acura has given us a very solid base for the next step up in performance. Acura won't confirm it but we have heard from some fairly solid sources that there is in fact a Type S version coming. Will that version live up to the elevated expectations? We are just going to have to wait to find out.