Memories are made up of all sorts of things: misconceptions, misplaced dreams, mishandled notes, plain mistakes. Throw in some years of fermentation, and what results is misremembering almost everything.
We bring this up because Acura revived its Type S moniker on the 2021 TLX sedan as well as the upcoming 2022 MDX SUV. This was reason enough for Acura to acquire some primo used examples of its Type S models from yesteryear—as in 2006. I am currently wearing socks I bought in 2006. The company recently invited a select group of journalists to come drive them and gave me and my old socks a call.
Acura also cracked open the Honda museum and brought out a pristine, stupidly low-mileage 2001 Integra Type R for sampling. The opportunity to drive that car made it a pretty strong certainty that those invited would actually show up to the event at Southern California’s La Cañada Flintridge Country Club. Why there? Because it’s located just off Angeles Crest Highway, which connects greater Pasadena to less great Wrightwood over and through the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s 66 miles of fantastic road that attracts a steady stream of sports cars, motorcycles, and aggressively driven Hyundai Excels. Not a bad memory test—or at least a test of mistaken remembrance.
2006 Acura RSX Type S
Hitting the market after the Integra, Acura’s RSX had a tough act to follow. The Integra had been the small car that helped launch the Acura brand into the minds of enthusiasts, the entry point for many buyers who had aspirations for something beyond yet another dinky econo-hatch. From 1986 through 2001, the Integra went through three generations and earned a loyal and occasionally fanatical following. The RSX appeared for 2002 and wasn’t, well, so rapturously received. (Yes, the RSX was sold as the Honda Integra in Japan. Good on you for knowing that.)
Compared to the old Integra, the RSX was bigger, heavier, and altogether more like other cars of the 21st century. It ditched the previous B-series four-cylinder engine that had powered the Integra in favor of Honda’s then-new K-series engine that displaced a full 2.0 liters. Variable valve timing and lift (aka VTEC) was still aboard, but Honda had tamed the system’s transitions in the K engines. And in the Type S, the K-series four was easygoing and relatively thick with torque, yet it still willingly romped to the high end of its rev range. When the RSX was updated for 2005, the engine received a bump from 200 to 210 horsepower, and the car’s suspension was tautened.
“The tweaks do add up to measurable results,” we reported in our January 2005 issue. “The ’05 Type S sprints to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds versus 6.3 for our ’02 comparo car, and it covers the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at 95 mph versus 15.0 at 94. These are respectable numbers, but we frankly expected them to be a little more respectable. Could an increase in curb weight of 68 pounds—attributable to body-shell stiffening and added sound damping—retard forward progress? It could.” In its last comparo from the September 2005 issue, the RSX Type S turned a 6.4-second zero-to-60-mph time but matched the 14.9-second quarter we’d previously measured.
In 2021, the RSX Type S still feels like a substantial car, the sort of machine you approach with the affection that comes with familiarity. It’s quiet in a way the Integra never was, comfortable even by current standards, and utterly logical in how it was conceived and executed. Yeah, there’s no massive touchscreen connected to an iPhone, but in compensation the six-speed manual transmission shifts as if it was stitched to your hand’s tendons, the steering actually feels connected to the tires, and the engine delivers its (modest) power output seamlessly in that old fashioned way—with rpm. It may be front-wheel drive, but it seems to share an essence with older 2.0-liter sporty cars, such as the BMW 2002 tii and Alfa Romeo GTV.
No, the RSX isn’t the raw-nerve wackadoodle the Integra Type R was, but a Type S isn’t a Type R. It’s compromised for everyday use. It rides well, the engine is never edgy, and the tires don’t roar against the tarmac. Yeah, it’s a shame there was never an RSX Type R. But for anyone on a limited budget who craves a compelling mechanical experience, a used RSX Type S is a solid choice. It’s as good as hazy memories and gooey recollections remembered it to be.
2007 TL Type S
Is the 2007 TL sedan the car that highlights Acura’s peak or the bulldozer that plowed over the light-and-easy feel of previous Acura sedans in favor of stolid indomitability? Does this TL represent the moment Acura stopped being a Honda and instead became a Lexus? Here’s a chance to consider those vital questions in throwback Technicolor.
The TL Type S employed a 3.5-liter version of Honda’s V-6 instead of the 3.2-liter used in other TL models. Rated at 286 horsepower and backed by a new five-speed automatic transaxle, it was robust power for 2007. Previous TLs had a delicacy about them, but this third-generation car was a linebacker. Blocky, thick shouldered, and surprisingly nimble. And that’s exactly what it feels like now.
Yet, it’s not a particularly engaging car to drive. The controls are heavier feeling than what I remembered, the acceleration isn’t as sharp as I’d like, and there’s an isolation in the chassis that feels somewhat archaic. It’s as if the brand’s move toward crossovers wasn’t a very large one.
2003 3.2CL Type S
Remember mid-size two-door coupes? Cars with big, long doors leading into cockpits built to carry two in comfort or four in restlessness? In 2021, nothing feels more archaic. But here was the second-generation CL with a V-6 in its nose and some eagerness in its character.
With 260 horsepower aboard, the 2003 3.2CL Type S is not a rocket ship. But the dual-stage intake system used back then gives it a throaty induction growl that’s kind of like opening up the secondaries on an old V-8’s four-barrel carburetor. In the modern age of turbocharged ubiquity, there’s nothing quite like it. There’s a certain sense of memory that kicks in with the CL. It’s hard not to feel like the world has passed it by, yet the world should have kept some of it around.
It’s a pain to get into the back seat. The trunk isn’t huge. But damn, coupes still look good.
2001 Integra Type R
The Integra Type R is comprehensively archaic. Thin A-pillars, a cowl barely up to your thighs, and unframed door glass. Look at that steering wheel. It has horn buttons on its spokes because no one had figured out how to honk an airbag yet. The radio is a generic, single-DIN unit straight out of Circuit City, and the slider controls for its climate-control system could be in an AMC Matador.
But after that, it’s all so logical. The instrumentation is in a single, easily scanned pod, the shifter is where an arm naturally falls, the visibility out is great, and every control feels as if it were Super Glued to a driver’s soul. The Integra Type R is raw, compelling, and already a true classic. Preserved-in-amber examples approach (or surpass) $100,000, and finding an affordable example that hasn’t been modified, stolen, recovered, modified some more, and stolen again is nearly impossible. But of all the things that the Type R brings back today, it’s that feeling of vulnerability. Screw up in this thing, and there’s not much car to insulate the driver from the consequences.
The Type R’s hand-assembled 1.8-liter B18C5 engine doesn’t so much idle as rollick. The Type R had its sound insulation minimized to cut weight, and at times it feels like the engine is positioned between your legs like a motorcycle’s. It’s rated at 195 horsepower, and that power comes at a banshee-screaming 8000 rpm—just 400 rpm short of the redline.
The Integra Type R’s shifter is as good as any front-drive car’s has ever been. With distinct gates, light effort, and short throws, it’s an instinctive instrument. And you feel the cogs whirring away within it up into your palm. Low-end torque? Forget it. The torque peak is up at 7500 rpm, where most engines these days don’t even go, and even then there’s only 130 pound-feet of twist to work with. The challenge is to keep the engine boiling as close to that peak at all times. It’s an utter blast. And the chassis is, if anything, even better. The Type R’s control-arm front suspension keeps the tiny 195/55R-15 tires planted, while the tail tucks in obediently around corners. For a front-driver, driven within its limits, it has an amazingly neutral balance. Lightweight wheels, reasonably grippy tires, and hydraulically assisted power steering are rare now, but this car makes us wish they weren’t.
No current Acura, not even the criminally underappreciated NSX, comes close to being as mechanically engaging as the Integra Type R. It’s still the car we hoped Acura would someday be. The new TLX Type S, which among other things has a turbocharged DOHC V-6 and a control-arm front suspension, may eventually prove to be one of Acura’s best cars. But it probably won’t be a legend like the Integra Type R still is today.
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