Everyone under the age of 40 has been waiting for this moment with bated breath ever since the 2023 Acura Integra was surprise-revealed at a drone show in Monterey, Calif. nine months ago, and I must admit I am no exception. While it’s easy as a dispassionate observer to write off the current resurgence of ‘90s Japanese performance car nameplate revivals (heck, this isn’t even Acura’s first such resuscitation) as a cynical ploy to appeal to mid-20-to-30-somethings with money, it’s a lot harder for me to scoff when the fifth generation of the new Integra is parked in front of me and my heart quickens as childhood memories of Championship Yellow and VTEC-cam-kick flood my mind.
The Integra is back. The question now for me to answer: was I holding my breath for a worthy successor to one of the most storied sport compact names in automotive history, or an underwhelming footnote? I was relieved to find out that Acura didn’t forget what made the Integra name special, or what it takes to make it a worthy step up from the Honda Civic it shares a platform with.
2023 Acura Integra Specs
- Base price (as tested): $31,895 ($36,895)
- Powertrain: Turbocharged VTEC 1.5-liter inline-four | Six-speed manual or CVT | Front-wheel-drive
- Horsepower: 200
- Torque: 192 lb-ft
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 24.3 cubic feet
- Curb weight: 3,073 pounds (manual A-Spec), 3,150 pounds (CVT A-Spec)
- EPA fuel economy: 26 mpg city | 36 highway | 32 combined (manual); 30 mpg city | 37 highway | 33 combined (CVT)
- Quick take: A modern version of the classic Integra formula makes for a sporty compact that's mature, comfortable, and just as fun as ever.
- Score: 8/10
The Prodigal Hatch Returns
As a long-time Honda and Acura enthusiast, and someone who grew up with the Integra as a staple of the import-tuning scene, just seeing the Integra name on a new car feels like a victory. Even though it’s similar in ethos to the model it replaces, the long-unloved, Civic-based Acura ILX, using the Integra name and vivacious anime advertising instead of alphabet soup and monotone mentions of keyless entry has clear intentions: This is a return to emotion, rather than pure cold reason.
The Integra name has been on hiatus from the North American market for nearly two decades, so it’s a dramatic shift in tone for the automaker. As was the case in the ‘90s, this newest incarnation is a more-luxurious take on Honda’s Civic, specifically the Civic Si. This is nothing to be ashamed of, if it ever was; the new Civic Si happens to be exceptionally good.
As such, the Acura sources its VTEC-equipped 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four heart, the A-Spec's six-speed manual gearbox, and limited-slip differential straight from the eleventh-generation Civic Si (the base model’s CVT automatic is sourced from the lower trims of the Civic). As a result, this is the first time the Integra comes from the factory with forced induction.
This VTEC-turbo drivetrain delivers a respectable 200 HP to the front wheels and 192 pound-feet of torque, which kicks in from practically still-idling at 1,800 RPM and doesn’t lay off until 5,000 revs. Despite the nearly 108-inch long wheelbase of the Integra, it still punches in at only 3,073 pounds, so the driveline definitely delivers enough to get the five-door boogying. It still manages to pull off a combined 32 mpg despite the pace, as well, which is exceedingly strong for both the entry-level luxury and the sport-compact segments.
Mechanically, the Integra is essentially identical to the Honda; stylistically, every panel on the Acura is freshly-designed, including the roof, which means the Integra’s unibody is 2 percent stiffer than the Civic sedan’s. Torsional rigidity aside, that unique sheet metal also makes it a handsome hatch; the Integra has always been a showcase of whatever design language Acura was hoping to usher into its future, and the intricacy of its wire-weave grille and its striking lights help the newest model look future-forward and downright classy. The embossed Integra badging in the front and rear bumpers are a nice touch, however, to keep the car from feeling staid; it’s such a grown-up hatchback and yet that stylistic nuance helps make it seem more youthful, like a businesswoman with a side shave.
Granted, it does seem a bit heavier on the business-minded front than in the past, notably, because the Integra is no longer available as a two-door coupe. While that is probably the image that comes to mind when you think Integra, it helps to remember that it always had a four-door body style available until the generation we knew as the Acura RSX came to be. Also, no one buys two-door coupes anymore, so this is the business case Acura had to make for it to exist, and I’d rather see a four-door than no Integra at all.
Inside, Acura’s incredibly well-designed center console infotainment stack forms the centerpiece of the dash, with its central touchscreen with a physical volume knob and audio buttons bookended by physical climate controls. The interior is a welcome departure from the modern-day miserable user experience offered by capacitive-touch-everything (such as the controls found in the competing hot-hatch Volkswagen GTI), and it’s one of the most pleasant cars in its class to be in as a result. The tall roofline design allows for me at 6’1” to have plenty of room to find a comfortable position (both in the front and rear seats) and visibility thanks to its swept-forward A-pillars is phenomenal for a modern car.
Trunk space was also more than adequate for a sport compact, although the relatively high loading height thanks to the Integra’s liftback design is a little less ergonomic than a true hatchback design for heavy cargo.
The optional technology package adds a slew of upgrades to the cabin that makes it even more pleasant with a center-console wireless charging pad, a 12-way power driver's seat, a larger 9-inch touchscreen (with an extremely ergonomic finger-rest smartly built into the design), faux-leather/suede upholstery, wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, adaptive dampers, a HUD, not to mention it doubles the number of speakers in the cabin from eight to 16 with a branded ELS sound system.
If this wasn’t enough to convince you to get the upsell, the top trim is the only way to get the six-speed manual transmission; lower trims are only offered with the CVT. So while the Integra comes in at a base price of $31,895 (after destination), I can’t imagine anyone who won’t spend the extra $5,000 and get the vastly nicer fully equipped car, although I do commend Acura for giving buyers its full suite of AcuraWatch safety features on every Integra, regardless of trim level.
Less Ja Rule, More Winston Wolf
With the fully-loaded A-Spec’s six-speed manual in the palm of my hand, Acura aimed me at the finest roads Austin’s hill country could offer me and told me to have fun. It’s no secret that the current eleventh-generation Civic Si is my benchmark at its price point for handling prowess and pure fun; the Integra, I hoped, would satisfy me similarly.
As I blasted through winding corners under the hot Texas sun, I found the similarities I’d hoped for right off the bat. The six-speed transmission is arguably one of the best you can buy at its price point, and the freight-train wall of torque the turbo-VTEC powerplant delivers combined with the limited-slip differential meant that powering out of corners was a delight and makes the 200 HP number feel like a low estimate. The A-Spec’s suede/leather seats are extremely comfortable and actually held me in just as well as the vastly firmer and more heavily bolstered Honda’s seats while zipping through the hills of Austin, which was pleasantly surprising.
The most significant difference I noted, though, was that the Integra for the most part is just a little more relaxed than the Honda at the expense of some slight corner-carving prowess. Even with the adaptive dampers on their harshest settings, the suspension still didn’t feel quite as communicative of grip limits (or as jarring to my back) as the Civic Si’s. The steering, while still excellent, is a bit less confident while flicking through corners (likely due to the fact that even the A-Spec only comes with all-season tires, and the Si gets true summer-performance Goodyears in its top guise), but it still offered plenty of feedback vs. the less engaging steering of some luxury-minded competitors such as the BMW 228i.
Crank the softness to the maximum and roll in Comfort, and the Integra feels analogous to a more laid-back sedan; think more TL and less Type R. Road noise is kept to a minimum and the expansion-joint-riddled pavement of Texas is soaked up with ease, likely in part due to its long wheelbase. The less-bolstered seats with lumbar adjustability made finding a comfortable position for eating miles of US-295 a breeze, and that’s really where the Integra shines its brightest; despite having all of the torque and power of the Civic Si on tap, it rides vastly more comfortably than one.
If all this sounds appealing, however, make sure you opt for the manual transmission. Despite possessing the same power on paper as the row-your-own option, the CVT model I tested felt vastly slower and the engine sounded vaguely like it was choking. Not only was a lot of the driving enjoyment dulled, but it felt significantly less premium.
Unfortunately, even in manual guise, it still suffers from the same rev-hang issue that plagues the Civic Si; although the automatic rev-matching on downshifts makes it a non-issue on braking, while matting the gas pedal of the Integra, waiting for the engine to actually let the revs drop enough to slot into the next gear feels like a multi-second ordeal. It matters less here in the Integra than it does in the Civic, however, because I find it harder to believe I’d be putting the Acura through its paces as often as I would the Honda.
And that belief forms the crux of my argument for the Integra’s place in a world where Honda built a nearly-perfect Civic Si. It’s a Civic Si for grown-ups, or at least, for hooligans who need to convince other people that they are one. The Honda is a perfect car for Tori, who loves to make tires chirp through a canyon at 2 a.m. or fix a van on a mountaintop with bondage gear, next morning be damned; the Acura is the ideal car for Victoria, here to actually sign into Slack at 7:30 a.m. like a responsible automotive journalist at a major publication. The core enthusiasm I have for cars is still there no matter what name I call myself, and it’s there in this pair of cars regardless of whether it’s badged with an A or an H on its grille. The only true difference is how it handles that proclivity and the Acura feels decidedly more adult and responsible about it.
And even with some of the harsher, more sport-oriented edges of the Honda sanded down in the Integra, the Acura still punches hard in its class precisely because of this maturity. I prefer nearly everything in the Acura to the newest fifth-generation Subaru WRX, although with no all-wheel-drive coming for the Integra, buyers will have to be satisfied with solely driving the front wheels. The Acura name also carries a bit more cachet than some of its more sport-oriented competitors such as the Hyundai Elantra N or Veloster N (albeit the Acura hosts nearly 70 fewer horsepower, so for pure velocity, buyers may want to look towards the Korean hot compacts). The new Integra is also, along with more mainstream hits like the MDX Type S, a solid return to form for the Acura we used to know and love after spending a lot of the 2000s and 2010s diminishing in relevance and impact.
For anyone trying to ascend to a more adult, comfortable, less girl-racer-styled vehicle without giving up most of the actual girl-racer-prowess, the Integra is a strong offering and an excellent continuation of the nameplate.
Just make sure maturing doesn’t mean you give up on three pedals, because it’s how Acura’s newest hot hatch should truly be enjoyed.
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