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2023 Acura Integra Demonstrates the Peril of High Expectations

How you view the new 2023 Acura Integra is all about context. Through the rose-colored lens of nostalgia, the new Integra may seem like a disappointing follow-up to the past generations so revered by enthusiasts. As a peripheral member of the Honda Civic family, the Integra is a pricey way to combine the Civic’s best elements—the Si’s 200-hp engine, the hatchback body style, and the six-speed manual—in a slightly more upscale package. And against German entry-luxury models such as the Audi A3 and the Mercedes-Benz CLA that Acura claims to be targeting, the Integra is a cheaper alternative with a bit less prestige.

This all might sound overly ambitious for what is effectively the replacement for the unassuming ILX. But Acura raised the stakes as soon as it decided to resurrect the Integra name rather than sticking with the alphanumerics that adorn every other model in the lineup. Or maybe the name was just a ploy for attention—which worked, as the internet has been abuzz about the car for months now. Much to Acura’s delight, all this discussion has created plenty of hype. The company says the number of Integra preorders is “exceeding expectations,” although they wouldn’t provide us a specific figure. However, they did say that more than half of the early adopters are choosing the available manual transmission.

In truth, this isn’t some watershed moment for Acura. The Integra follows a similar formula as nearly all other Acura models in recent memory—or even not-so-recent memory—by dressing up familiar Honda components and sticking on a different badge.

Fortunately, the Integra’s Honda bones are fresh, especially compared to the ILX’s generations-old Civic platform and dated powertrain. The Integra is derived from the same platform as the new-for-2022 11th-generation Civic. Its turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four is from the Civic too. In the Integra, this engine produces the same 200 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque as it does in the Civic Si. Acura says the Integra’s body is slightly stiffer than the Civic’s and claims there’s different tuning for the engine software, suspension, and transmissions—which include a continuously variable automatic as well as the six-speed manual.

The Integra also offers the adaptive dampers that the latest Civic Si does without—it appears that Honda removed this feature from the latest Si in order create some separation from the Integra. Regardless, they’re a welcome addition here. When set to either Comfort or Normal mode, they help deliver a cushier ride than the firm Si but in Sport mode serve to make the Integra just about as lively as the Honda.

The satisfyingly heavy steering, responsive throttle, and smooth shifter give the Integra an eager and playful feel. Acura says that the stick-shift car weighs just under 3100 pounds—hundreds less than a CLA or A3. Turn-in could be sharper, but unfortunately the Integra doesn’t offer the grippier summer tires that are optional on the Civic Si, instead making do with Continental ProContact all-season rubber. Acura does include a limited-slip differential with the stick, but you’ll have to pay extra for the privilege of shifting for yourself as the $2000 A-Spec and $3000 Technology packages are required in order to unlock the “no-cost” manual option.

We drove the automatic-transmission Integra too. The CVT is just as inoffensive here as it is in the Civic, effectively managing the turbo engine’s broad torque curve and offering simulated shift points to avoid too much droning under heavy throttle. But without the extra engagement that the stick shift brings, the Integra’s relative lack of refinement becomes more obvious. While we appreciate the emphasis on lightness over sound deadening, the Integra could use more isolation, as there’s a fair amount of road noise at highway speeds. The extra racket could make it hard for Acura to win over Audi and Mercedes shoppers on a test drive, even at a lower monthly lease payment.

This carries over to the interior, as well, which is pleasant and practical but not exactly richly trimmed. The A-Spec car has some attractive upholstery options, including a red leather-and-faux-suede combo and a white-and-black two-tone setup. But otherwise, the environs feel much like the Civic’s thanks to similar mesh coverings for the air vents and piano-black trim on the center console. Granted, that’s more of a compliment to the Civic’s class-above materials than it is a knock against the Integra. The cargo area is generous, and the Integra’s hatch setup is unique among entry-luxury models. The rear seat, too, is spacious but lacks details such as air vents that we expect in a premium car.

This kind of interior is acceptable at the Integra’s low starting price of $31,895, but the version you really want—the manual-transmission car that comes only in fully loaded spec—stickers for $36,895. Even though the Integra is far better equipped than the Civic Si, we still find it hard to stomach paying more than $8000 extra given the similarities between the two vehicles. And while the Integra looks like a good deal compared to the aforementioned Audi and Mercedes-Benz entries, Acura also has to watch out for other pseudo-luxury models such as the turbocharged Mazda 3, which offers significantly more power than the Integra and arguably a more upscale experience in terms of design and refinement.

And so we return to the idea of the Integra in context. Viewed on its own, we like the new Integra. It’s fun to drive, fuel efficient, practical, and decent to look at. But it’s not all that much more compelling than the Civic Si, or even the Sport Touring hatchback, despite costing quite a bit more. And it’s not as luxurious as its German rivals. This is also not the Integra that the Acura faithful were hoping for. To satisfy them, Acura is going to have to conjure up a Type S version with more horsepower and grippier rubber. Such are the perils of high expectations.

Specifications

Specifications

2023 Acura Integra

Vehicle Type: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback

PRICE

Base: $31,895; A-Spec, $33,895; manual, $36,895

ENGINE

turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection

Displacement: 91 in3, 1498 cm3

Power: 200 hp @ 6000 rpm

Torque: 192 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm

TRANSMISSIONS

6-speed manual, continuously variable automatic

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 107.7 in

Length: 185.8 in

Width: 72.0 in

Height: 55.5 in

Passenger Volume: 96 ft3

Cargo Volume: 24 ft3

Curb Weight (C/D est): 3100–3200 lb

PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)

60 mph: 7.1–7.4 sec

1/4-Mile: 15.4–15.7 sec

100 mph: 17.2–17.5 sec

Top Speed: 130–135 mph

EPA FUEL ECONOMY

Combined/City/Highway: 30–33/26–30/36–37 mpg


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