Retro in the Right Ways

acura integra Full Overview

Say you’re looking for a right-size new car that’s not boring, with four doors for everyday practicality, and make it premium because, hey, you deserve it. With the average price of a new vehicle having recently risen to nearly 50 grand, something around the pre-supply-chain-crunch average price tag of about $35,000 would be aces. Provided you haven’t already locked on a fully loaded mainstream family sedan or an SUV, the 2023 Acura Integra is definitely worth a look.

This Acura resurrects an iconic name to compete in an entry-luxury segment defined by tiny, luxury-badged offerings such as the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, Mercedes A-Class, and Audi A3. Mostly, those are cynical plays for prestige chasers, merely decent cars that don’t offer their brands’ best. The Integra may seem just as craven—it’s based on the Honda Civic—yet it has real cachet, with “Integra” having lived rent-free in enthusiasts’ brains since 1986, when it helped launch the Acura brand alongside the Legend. The (also-Civic-based) original succeeded wildly at winning the same type of young, silver-spooned buyers Acura wants today.

Separating the Honda from the Acura

Normally, mechanical associations with “lesser” cars aren’t this successful. And Acura isn’t hiding that the Integra is, from the strut towers down, essentially a Civic, mostly because the Honda is so excellent. Acura’s designers and engineers, however, changed enough to produce unique, edgy styling draped on completely new sheetmetal. They even tooled up a new body-in-white for the Civic platform that’s slightly stiffer (2 to 5 percent) than the already rigid Honda. Both cars share a 107.7-inch wheelbase, meaning the Integra is not a super-small car, and its tapered body is 1.8 inches longer and 1.1 inches wider than the Civic’s and similarly larger than the BMW 2 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

Beneath its Acura clothing, the front-wheel-drive Integra combines various Honda components in ways you can’t replicate on any Civic. The 200-hp 1.5-liter turbocharged I-4 engine, manual transmission, and larger brakes are donated by the Civic Si sedan, which isn’t available with a hatchback. Nor does the Si offer an automatic transmission, though one is available on lower-output versions of this engine on other Civics. (That continuously variable automatic transmission, or CVT, is standard on the Integra and Integra A-Spec, and it’s a no-cost option on the A-Spec with the Tech package.) No Civic offers the Integra’s amplitude-reactive dampers, whose valving produces different responses to quicker or slower suspension movements, nor can you get the Integra’s optional electronically adaptive dampers on the Si.

How Does It Drive?

If you guessed the answer to the above question is “like a Civic,” here’s a cookie. Specifically, the Integra drives like the delightful Civic Si with a more compliant ride and the wick turned down on its artificially augmented engine sound. With less fake noise coming through the audio system, the engine sounds better and more natural than it does in the Honda. The exhaust is routed similarly in both cars, right down to the odd looped piping under the rear bumper, meaning you can almost always hear the engine thrumming away, though it never drones.

Remarkably, given the Acura’s extra content, nicer cabin materials, and hatch, it weighs only 120 or so pounds more than a Civic Si or hatchback, making it impressively light for its size, at between 3,000 and 3,100 pounds. We’d stomach some extra mass for sound attenuation. Like the Hondas, the Integra is loud, especially on grooved concrete or the aggregate-style asphalt used in Texas, where we drove the car. Luckily, Tech package models include an incredible 16-speaker ELS audio system that can not only drown out the road noise but possibly also the very thoughts in your head.

Beyond their hum, the tires squeal in protest from almost the moment you start pushing the car, and every Integra gets these all-season tires. The Civic Si’s optional summer tires would be great here, mostly because that model proves this chassis can handle way more rubber. Despite its dulled grip, the Acura accelerates, steers, and brakes just like the Civic Si, one of the best-handling front-drive cars you can buy today.

We noticed only minor ride differences between the Comfort, Normal, and Sport drive modes that alter the top trim level’s adaptive dampers, though every setting is more comfortable than the Si’s firm, fixed setup. The engine’s responses see more pronounced changes, quickening in Sport and blunting in Comfort; Normal is just right. The steering is accurate and more feelsome than average and, in A-Spec models, enjoys a slightly quicker ratio than in the Civic Si and regular Integras.

And then there is that six-speed manual transmission. It is the only way to get the Si’s limited-slip differential in the Acura, and the shifter is a joy to use, with short throws and a precise, positive feel. Honda’s driver-selectable rev-matching feature that eliminates the need to heel-and-toe shift is included. Want to shut it off? As in the Civic Si, that requires an annoyingly deep dive into the central touchscreen, and only when the vehicle is in park. Ditto if you want to customize Individual drive mode’s steering, suspension, and powertrain settings.

Acura mostly limited our drive time around Austin, Texas, to the fully loaded, stick-shift Integra A-Spec with the Technology package. Normally we’d eye such an enthusiast-pleasing move with suspicion—”sure, give us the fun-to-drive Integra to play up nostalgia for the old one”—except a shocking 65 percent of pre-launch reservations are for the manual transmission.

We briefly experienced the Integra with the CVT, and as in the Civic, this transmission is a smooth and willing partner to the turbo engine, if a little boring. At least it doesn’t produce any laggy sensations like in many transmissions of this type, and it offers seven driver-selectable ratios accessed via paddle shifters, plus an “S” setting that holds those ratios longer for a peppier feel.

A Sporty Everyday Machine

With only 200 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque, plus slightly more mass to contend with than the Civic Si, the identically geared Integra is likely a hair slower to 60 mph than the Si’s 7.1 seconds. It also might not prove as quick as some of its more powerful competitors; the 2 Series gets 228 hp, while the A3 has 201, both from larger 2.0-liter engines.

In the real world, though, the Acura scampers eagerly when the accelerator is pressed, just like in an Si. It is likewise extremely satisfying to just drive around, engaging in ways none of its direct (or indirect) competitors is. The chassis is neutral, and you can tighten your line in the middle of a corner with a dab of brakes or a lift of the throttle before rolling into the gas and feeling the limited-slip yank the Integra the rest of the way through. You’re rewarded throughout with good feedback and the sensation that you could wring everything from the Acura without getting arrested. It’s easy work, too, thanks to the thin roof pillars and low beltline opening up clear sightlines ahead and to the sides, though the flatter hatchback glass pinches the rear view.

Acura has outfitted the cabin with finer materials that mostly distract from the various pieces and displays borrowed from the Civic, though the dashboard and on-screen fonts are different. The 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster is easily controlled via a pair of scroll wheels on the steering wheel spokes, and the available 9.0-inch touchscreen responds quickly to inputs and presents a clear menu structure and large on-screen buttons. The Civic’s climate controls appear here, too, but they’re the same luxurious-feeling knurled knobs that precisely click-click-click like they’re from a more expensive car.

Don’t put too much stock in the Integra having a hatch—this is no actual hatchback in the traditional sense of the body style. There is more cargo room than you’d get with a trunk (a generous 24.3 cubic feet before you fold the rear seats flat), but look at the roofline: It nearly matches that of the Civic sedan. The rear glass is so sloped, Acura doesn’t even install a rear wiper. The look matches the original five-door Integra’s similar fastback-with-a-notch shape, and it also leaves rear headroom feeling like the only tight interior dimension; a 5-foot-10 rider’s head will just graze the ceiling back there. Leg and shoulder room in the back are good.

What Cost, Integra-ty?

At $36,895 fully loaded, the Integra costs Honda Accord money while offering a sportier, more practical, better-equipped alternative to automotive handbags like the A-Class and 2 Series. The $33,895 A-Spec package is a solid choice for anyone who doesn’t want the manual, as it unlocks all five of the Integra’s paint colors, as well as more visually arresting 18-inch wheels and interior colorways, including a nifty brick-red option and a white choice in addition to all-black. Even the lowliest Integra is worth a look, offering most of the same stuff as a loaded Civic hatchback for just $750 more.

And now to the elephants in the room: that the Integra lacks pop-up headlights or a coupe option or an 8,000-rpm redline, as die-hard Integra enthusiasts no doubt believe it needs. For a beloved car that was shelved in 2001 and went on to cult status, you’d expect some of those items to come off the shelf alongside the name, too. There is a little nostalgia baked in, namely the ’90s-throwback INTEGRA lettering molded into the bumpers and that manual transmission, but that may not be enough for longtime Integra followers. But it’ll be perfect for their kids, who, like their parents back when the original Top Gun movie was in theaters, are entering the car market and looking for a well-balanced, premium-feeling, attainable new car. In that way, the Integra has retained exactly what it needed to from the original.

Looks good! More details?

2023 Acura Integra Specifications
BASE PRICE $31,895-$36,895
LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 1.5L/200-hp /192-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed manual, CVT
CURB WEIGHT 3,000-3,100 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 107.7 in
L x W x H 185.8 x 72.0 x 55.5 in
0-60 MPH 7.2-8.0 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 26-30/36-37/30-33 mpg
EPA RANGE, COMB 372-409 miles
ON SALE Now

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