The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

Have you ever thought about how many levels of formal fashion exist in the world? Casual, smart casual, business casual, business formal. It can be maddening to keep them all straight, to figure out which is right for the office or after-work drinks or even a date. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one single outfit that works for every occasion?

That outfit is the 2023 Acura Integra. At first glance, it’s a perfect business-casual sedan: Five doors, a sleek exterior, and a mostly-smooth ride. In a subdued color, it’ll even blend in with the business-formal crowd. But once the meetings are done and the backroads beckon, can its adaptive suspension and Civic Si-derived drivetrain be as casual and fun as athleisure?

Full disclosure: Acura shipped me out to Austin to test drive the new Integra through Texas wine country. Did you know Texas has vineyards? Acura paid for my airfare, hotel, and food, including a single very bougie cookie graciously left in the hotel room that I forgot to eat.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

What’s New About The 2023 Acura Integra?

Well, everything. Acura hasn’t built an Integra since 2006 — yes, the RSX was sold as an Integra outside of the U.S., and Acura counts it. That makes this the fifth generation Integra, and it’s truly all-new. Sure, the car shares its underpinnings with the eleventh-generation Honda Civic, and the exterior styling follows the rest of the Acura lineup, but as an Integra it’s entirely novel.

The biggest new thing about the Integra, through Acuras eyes, may be its buyers: The company wants this car to convert new Millennial buyers to the First Church of VTEC. So far, it appears to have worked — Acura claims that 50% of pre-order buyers have never owned an Acura or Honda before. Even better, 65% of those pre-orders opted for the manual transmission.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

What Are the Specs?

Acura abandoned the Integra’s less-remembered base models for this fifth-generation car — think of this more like a prior era’s Integra GSR or RSX Type S. It gets the Civic’s 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder, rated at the same 200 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque as it is in the Si (though dyno tests show the engine may be very underrated).

Base-model buyers get a CVT, but step up to the top trim level, the A-Spec with Technology Package, and you can option the Si’s six-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip differential. This is the one you want.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

That shared chassis means the Integra has roughly the same dimensions as the Civic: the 107.7-inch wheelbase is identical, while the Acura is a mere 1.8″ longer at 185.8 inches overall. The Integra weighs in 167 lbs heavier than the Civic Si, at 3,073 lbs, though the automaker says the new model is a full two percent stiffer than its Honda sibling. Fuel economy is 30 mpg city, 37 highway with the CVT, which drops to 26 mpg city, 36 highway with the manual transmission.

In A-Spec trim, the Integra comes on 235-width tires from the factory — rubber the vaunted DC2 would struggle to fit. Much to the chagrin of at least three forum weirdos, the new Integra does not have the characters “DC” in its VIN. I know this is a dealbreaker for you three, who were absolutely planning on buying this car until you read that. My condolences.

This is Apex Blue, the color you want.

This is Apex Blue, the color you want.
Photo: Steve DaSilva

How Does It Look?

In a word, fantastic. The fifth-generation Integra returns to its five-door liftback roots, and looks damn good doing it. The Liquid Carbon gray of my test car may not have been as interesting as the optional Apex Blue, but it did show off an interesting quirk of the car’s body lines: In person, the new Integra looks shockingly similar to an RSX: The swooping line rising from the front wheel up to the rear hatch, the way the lights intersect with the trunk, all look straight off the DC5.

Sadly, you cannot get it in the throwback Type R yellow we saw on the show car.

I’ve been a fan of Acura’s design language since the company abandoned the silver beak, and the Integra is no exception. The pentagon grille works well with the car’s front end, and the zig-zag headlights stand out in the entry-luxury market. Stop complaining about the number of doors, and appreciate a good-looking sport liftback when you get one.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

How Does It Drive?

If you’re expecting the Civic Si, you won’t find it here. I’m as surprised as you are, but the Integra’s character is more unique than expected. The new car is almost as quick, nimble, and joyful as the Civic, but it’s also more grown-up — buttoned down, professional, smooth. The Si is on all the time, constantly goading you to brake later, turn harder, carry more speed. The Integra, by contrast, can relax: Flick the drive mode selector into Comfort, let the adaptive dampers change their tune, and glide your way through highway traffic.

In Sport mode, the Integra’s suspension approaches the capability of the Civic Si. It isn’t quite as precise, particularly in the steering — in part because the Integra’s all-season tires, which pale in any performance comparison to the Civic Si’s optional Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric summer rubber. Still, it’s more than sporty enough to tackle your favorite backroads.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

In Comfort mode, on poorly-paved Texas roads, the adaptive dampers could have done a bit more damping. The ride, while far from uncomfortable, is the slightest bit bouncy. The throttle response in Comfort is downright dull — use it when you’re trying not to wake a sleeping passenger.

Normal mode, for commuting, is the Goldilocks choice. The suspension is smooth and compliant, and the throttle is unnoticeable — neither aggressive nor dead. It all just works, making for a classically understated entry-luxury drive experience.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

But this is an Integra. How does it handle at the limit? Is it fun? Is it fast?

Of course it is. Peak torque starts at 1,800 RPM, and stays flat until well over five grand. The car moves, and while it may not feel as eager as the Civic Si, it’s certainly not lacking in capability.

The greatest weakness of this Integra is the tires. For the A-Spec With Technology Package trim, it rides on 235/40-18 Continental ContiProContact all-seasons — comfortable, sure, but certainly not chosen for ultimate handling. The ride is smooth, but when you start to probe the limits, the tires give up fairly quickly. Thankfully, the chassis tuning is on point: If you’re determined, you can get the front or the rear to slide.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

How’s The Interior?

Good. Comfy.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Victoria Scott

The trunk is spacious, with enough room for a six-foot person to comfortably lay down. The lift-over height getting in is a bit high, but the wide-open hatch would be perfect for getting larger objects, like a bike, into the back.

Oh, you were probably asking about the seats. Yeah. That makes more sense.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

The part of the interior where people are supposed to go is great. There’s a bit of finger-smudge-prone piano black here and there, including a particularly objectionable bit of glossy trim on the steering wheel, but that’s a minor quibble. The seats are less bolstered than the sporty Civic, but still hold you in place perfectly well — thank the microsuede inserts for that.

As for comfort, the Integra is fantastic. The level of lumbar support adjustability is genuinely impressive for the price point, and while my back did start to feel a little weary after a day of driving, I hadn’t quite nailed the seating position — blame me, not the car.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

The rest of the interior is well laid-out, with controls all falling exactly where you’d expect. A few vehicle features, like auto rev-matching and lane departure warnings, are buried further in the infotainment settings than I’d like, but they’re easy enough to find when you know where to look.

The top-trim Integra gets a 16-speaker ELS Studio stereo, and it is fantastic. The low end can get a bit mudded in bass-heavy songs, but a little EQ tuning could probably fix that — though whether the stereo’s three-band equalizer could entirely perfect the sound remains to be seen.

At six feet tall, I could comfortably sit behind my own driving position with ample leg room to spare. The rear headroom, though, is a problem — my hair brushed the headliner, and I can’t imagine sitting back there would be comfortable for a passenger even an inch taller than me. If you’ve got car seats, there should be more than ample room to get squirming kids in and out.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

How Does It Compare to the Competition?

Acura would have you believe that the Integra isn’t aimed at the Volkswagen GTI. The automaker wants you to compare this luxury liftback to the Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz CLA 250, and BMW 228i Gran Coupe. That seemed absurd on its face, until I drove the thing. In its default setting, the Integra isn’t a sports sedan with some luxury features — it’s a luxury compact that happens to be eager on a back road.

Would an entry-level Audi or Benz be more comfortable? Perhaps, though that might just be my expectation of traditional German luxury. But none of them could beat an Acura on reliability. Once the lease or the warranty ends, and maintenance is all on you, which would you rather own?

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

Final Thoughts

If you want the edgy, aggressive charatcer of the Civic Si, always chomping at the bit, buy the Civic Si. The Integra may share many of its mechanical components with the Civic, as well as much of its willingness to chase down a twisty back road, but it’s a vehicle of an entirely different character.

The Civic Si is for someone like me, a twenty-something with minimal attachments and responsibilities. The Integra’s target market is someone a little older, more established — someone who wants to take the calm highway route to the big business meetings, but celebrate the day’s success with a rip through the canyons. It’s business casual, a buttoned-up blazer at work and an open collar and rolled-up sleeves when the day is done.

The third-generation Integra is gone. It’s not coming back. There are no more featherweight coupes with sportbike redlines, seam-welded chassis and custom Recaro seats. But the people who lusted after Acura’s sport compact in the late nineties are gone too, their bodies now inhabited by adults — older, matured, maybe even responsible for a family. This fifth-generation Integra isn’t a car for your two-decade-old mindset, it’s a car for who you are today.

Image for article titled 2023 Acura Integra First Drive: The Quintessential Sport Compact Grows Up

Photo: Steve DaSilva

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