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Acura RSX Type S – The Great Compromise
I’ve had the privilege of driving the Acura RSX Type S for the past year and have always had mixed feelings about it. Such a car that contains all kinds of traits that a passenger car can possess creates such a feeling. This car is definitely aimed at the youngsters with its high-revving 200hp engine and extremely sporty exterior that will turn heads at any movie theater, high school or local mall. If you analyze further, you’ll find an extremely well-rounded type of sports car that should be anything but close to extinction.
My initial feeling about this car is that it is the watered down version of the Japanese DC5 Integra Type R. After complaining about how we Americans always get the mid-range models of previous foreign cars, I looked at the position of the car and started to get used to it. Then I started thinking about what I intended to do with the car; driving to school, driving to work, driving through twisty roads, a bit of solo autoxing, and realized that the Type R would be too hardcore a vehicle for my liking because after all, I’m an American living in the tri-state which is not always the purest environment for sports cars. As noted, it exhibits some traits of all car types. A luxurious yet sporty interior, a high-revving engine that only lashes out with aggression, an attainable fuel economy rating of 32 mpg, track-inspired chassis and suspension geometry, and a racy yet mature exterior that is tested by children and approved by mothers.
Living in New Jersey, I think it really is the best testing ground for any type of car. We have every type of situation and weather condition you can think of for an automobile. On a typical driving day, you may drive through an open mountain road, fast-paced 4-lane traffic, and a total traffic jam that can leave you with a soaring clutch foot. I think if I can have fun and feel safe in a car like this in the middle of the state with the most vehicles per square mile in the United States then anyone else in the everyone will feel the same. If you disagree with that statement, just look at NJ’s car insurance ratings compared to the rest of the United States and you’ll know what I mean.
With this type of car, being the six-speed successor to the old DC2 Integra that the youngsters cherished deeply, it’s safe to say that this is probably a car bought by the parent and driven by the son. Looking at a photo of this machine, with its low stance, high fender and bullet-shaped front end, a parent can only be skeptical and worried about what their child is planning to do with this car. The character of the car can be seen as somewhat bipolar, having a practicality that allows commuting to school and working in most weather conditions with its FF layout and sipping gas with its cute little ULEV 4-cylinder engine. The other side being the beast that comes out when the young man decides to drop the regime and make new friends by scaring them on that winding road right by the downtown police station. I would urge parents who view this machine as your youngster’s new car to make sure they have the common sense and discipline to drive something like this. If you look at your child and don’t see the responsibility that is required to operate such a machine, just say “no” and save a life. Let’s be honest, speed is addictive, but if it really was a drug, these lightweight cars with Vtec power plants could be considered the dealerships that get youngsters hooked for life. In a car like this, there’s a fine line between harmless fun and glaring danger that needs to be recognized by anyone sitting in the cockpit.
Now that I know what this car is supposed to be and who is likely to drive the car, it’s time to give my overall driving impression. Highway cruising isn’t the easiest due to the stiff chassis and racy suspension geometry with limited travel. I found myself constantly making small steering adjustments just to stay straight on imperfect roads. The steering also picks up a lot of road distraction on pavement with imperfections. On flat ground the car feels planted and invincible at almost all speeds, but where there are bumps and gaps I’d advise putting the coffee back in the cup holder as the suspension hops a little which makes the driver a little nervous and focused. In retrospect, it’s better than cars that make you sleep behind the wheel, which also causes problems. 6th gear is great from around 60 mph, that way you can get those 32 mpg and be high enough in the RPM band to actually pass someone without having to drop a gear or two. The cars 1st through 4th gear ratios are just close enough to keep you in the upper Vtec zone from around 6000 rpm to the 8000 rpm rev limit during very spirited driving while 6th gear (probably overdrive) is really there for high mph and mpg cruising.
Winding roads are a joy and that’s really where the beast comes out when you start to attack the corners. With powerful, well-balanced brakes, a stiff chassis, wide, sticky tires, heavy, responsive steering and a firm but road-ready suspension, the RSX S has all the makings of a pure sports car. The ABS can be a bit strong in poor conditions, but the well-tuned brake balance lets you brake deep into a corner without understeer on dry roads. So with a little common sense, it’s an extremely controllable machine at speeds most people would think are crazy. The 8,000 rpm rev limit and high-revving power band gives you that unique 200-hp feel, because you get it at those high revs where the throttle response is stronger. Let me tell you, hitting the gas in a corner with that kind of response makes this car feel like an NA 2-liter that can conquer the world. This powerhouse makes you forget all about those “no replacement for displacement” thoughts as this responsive and lightweight engine gives you a smooth driving experience and not to mention handling performance.
In conclusion, this machine is undoubtedly an impressive oddity as it is a car that strives to be used by a wide audience, but only recognized by a relatively small group. In America, it’s about the rawest, most hardcore Honda/Acura you can buy due to its strong character that seems to be missing from most vehicles under 30,000. Admirable engineering because the compromises that have been made for us from the Type R in Japan have been thought of in all the right places, which should make it desirable for just about anyone who wants to drive a manual transmission. The fate of these types of cars in America is definitely in the hands of young people. I think as long as models like this continue to energize the young crowd with their excitement, practicality and affordability, American hot hatches will have a chance to survive.
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