When Acura first arrived in Canada in 1987, its model count stood at two: the Legend sedan and the Integra five-door hatch, or “liftback”. Over the years, though – and a million North American sales later – it’s actually the Integra that is the more “legendary” of the two. After all, how else can one explain that after a 17-year hiatus (or 22 years, if you don’t consider the 2001-06 RSX to be an Integra) the name is making a return to the Acura line-up, one that is entirely made up of alphanumeric blah-ness like “RDX” or “TLX”?
As previous, the Integra is a five-door liftback, even though when the concept was announced nine short months ago at SEMA, many Integra fans – remember, one million cars sold – were very upset at its four-door build as the ultra-popular gen three car made its name as a coupe.
Of course, the Integra is replacing the ILX – available only as a four-door – so it makes sense that Acura’s latest compact gets the same treatment. Plus, who doesn’t love a liftback? It allows for a massive opening to the 688 litres of storage found behind the 60/40 split folding rear seats, though it is rather deep so there’s a bit of a reach around the large rear bumper. It also cuts a nice profile, although I would like to see what the optional 19-inch wheels would look like because the 18s seen here – they come as part of the top-spec A-Spec trim, which is the only trim they brought along for us to test – are dwarfed by the large panels surrounding them. I also feel that the roofline is a little tall, making it seem like the Integra isn’t quite as hunkered down as a baby sports hatch should be.
Other notable stylistic additions include the “Frameless Diamond Pentagon” grille, which is a new look for Acura. It still gets the blacked-out spindly look of the older grille, but now fits more seamlessly with the rest of the front fascia. The “chicane” LED DRLs, meanwhile, add a nice touch of attitude to the overall look while the embossed “Integra” scripting on the front and rear bumpers is a nice callback to the third-generation car.
Speaking of the A-Spec package: it also adds a functional rear decklid spoiler finished in gloss black, gloss black lower grille and diffuser as well as an Apex Blue colour option and different tires. Non A-Spec cars (Integra: $34,350; A-Spec: $37,050; Elite A-Spec: $42,550) get chrome around the side windows.
That, however, is not
where the A-Spec story ends. More than a styling exercise, some real performance bits are added if you opt for the A-Spec Elite package. Bits that include adaptive dampers, a limited slip differential and the ability to opt for a six-speed manual transmission. Standard cars get a CVT with seven artificial ratios and paddle shifters, so it feels like you’re swapping cogs.
It’s too bad the only way you can get an MT is on the top trim, but Acura maintains that buyers willing to opt for the MT are also likely to spend money on getting all the other features the top-spec trim adds such as heated rear seats, WiFi hotspot, 16-speaker ELS audio developed in partnership with Dolby, wireless charging and CarPlay/Android Auto apps and leatherette/suede seats. The manual transmission, it seems, has become a luxury feature. Who knew?
Power, however, remains the same across the range: 200 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque from a 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder engine shared with the Honda Civic.
A compact it may be, but Acura does say that it has the most rear legroom amongst the competition from the likes of the Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series Grand Coupé. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s paradise for the long-trunked among us. That’s an aggressively sloping roofline and headroom is at a premium. Legroom is fine – I could sit behind the driver’s seat adjusted for my six-foot, three-inch frame and not have my knees jammed up against the seatback. Still, on longer trips, save the back seat for the kids.
Up front, as we’ve come to expect from Honda/Acura products, the driver seating position is spot-on with the chunky steering wheel and stubby shift lever right where you want them and easily reachable. Neat front seat details include an optional nine-inch touch activated infotainment display – no finicky RDX-style trackpads here – grilles to hide the HVAC vents and a digital gauge cluster.
Said cluster changes depending on which drive mode (Comfort, Normal, Sport) you’ve selected, and I found myself swapping modes quite readily on the straight highways and bendy roads in and around Austin.
Power delivery is smooth in all modes, but becomes more aggressive in Sport mode but it’s how the chassis adjusts that really shines. There’s that much more of a sensation through the seat as you go over bumps in Sport mode, and noticeably more control as you start to wind it through the bends. It really does turn into a junior sport sedan in this mode, especially with the manual transmission.
It's incredibly tightly ratioed in gears one to four, with five and six really only being for highway use. You zip through the first four quickly, never missing a gate, the clutch take-up oh-so perfect. We also had the chance to sample CVT-equipped cars and even they allowed for some sporty indulgence as the system does well to activate the virtual ratios as you flip the paddles. It’s a CVT that doesn’t feel like one.
At the end of the day, the new Integra is a great nod to fast fun cars of old. Could it use more power? Sure, and a more powerful Type-S version would suit it rather well. Could it look a little more aggressive? Maybe, although in A-Spec guise, there are lots of neat details to absorb.
There’s lots to absorb in general, here, as the Acura Integra returns to showrooms. Is it a perfect reimagining of what is a bit of a cult classic? No. But then, cult classics are a tough nut to crack. What it is, though, is a very well-engineered small car with a neat mix of luxury and fun. Hard to argue with that.
2023 Acura Integra
Five-door compact luxury hatchback
front-engine, front-wheel drive
1.5-litre inlne-four, turbo, 200 hp, 192 lb-ft of torque
FUEL ECONOMY CITY/HIGHWAY/COMBINED:
Six-speed manual or CVT automatic
Max CARGO CAPACITY:
688 litres behind rear seats
WEBSITE: Acura Integra