Acura RSX Review
The Acura RSX was introduced into the Acura lineup in 2002 to replace the previous model Integra. Designed for the car buyer who’s looking for a classy sport coupe, the RSX offers refined build and great performance at a reasonable price.
Thanks to its easily upgradeable platform and well made naturally aspirated engine, the RSX has also become a favorite amongst import tuners. Because of its large enthusiast following, a booming RSX parts industry has been created and it can easily be seen on the road as either a classy sport coupe or a track-ready canyon carver.
See also the main fact sheets for the Acura RSX.
- Excellent build quality, fit, and finish (New Car Test Drive)
- Crisp and accurate shifts (New Car Test Drive)
- i-VTEC high revving engine (Car and Driver)
- Bumpy ride (USA Today)
- Loud road and tire noise (Edmunds.com)
- Engine needs to be reved highly for performance (The Car Connection)
- Styling is "Honda" generic and simple (The Car Connection)
Performance and Handling
The Acura RSX is all about driving, and in both versions, it's a blast. Acceleration is brisk in the RSX, darn quick in the Type-S. All the controls work well, with solid brakes, accurate and sharp steering, and predictable handling.
The suspension settings create a car that feels sharp and finely honed. While it is more compliant, the ride is still stiff. However the benefits in handling are immediately noticeable. Overcook a corner and the car understeers, but a gentle easing of the throttle or a moderate tap of the brakes will tuck in the nose and help rotate the rear end. The RSX is one of those cars that rewards skilled drivers, and feeds a lot of rope to the unskilled ones before they hang themselves.
The shifter is a joy, placed perfectly next to the wheel. The feel of the shifter in the Type-S shows even greater crisp and accurate shifts.
Step on the brakes and you're rewarded with solid pedal feel, thanks to a large master cylinder and a more rigid pedal. The standard ABS helps slow the car quickly and without fade. The Type-S gets bigger front and rear rotors for even better braking performance.
The engines in both RSX models are very sophisticated, with variable valve timing, overhead cams, four-valves per cylinder and all-aluminum construction. Both models use Honda's i-VTEC technology, which combines a cam-phasing valve timing (VTC for variable timing control) with VTEC, which actually changes the valve lift. However, it works differently and for different goals in the two models. The RSX's system is tuned more for emissions and fuel efficiency, while the Type-S is designed for power. The base engine develops 160 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 141 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm, same as last year. Thanks to improved intake, exhaust and cams, the Type-S gains 10 horsepower, for 210 at 7800 rpm and 143 pound-feet of torque at 7000 rpm. Both engines meet strict LEV-II emissions requirements, and while premium fuel is required for the Type-S, it's only a suggestion for the RSX.
To get the most from the base engine, it's best to stick with the standard five-speed manual, a slick-shifting unit with ratios that maximize power from the engine. The automatic features Acura's Sequential SportShift, a mode that allows for manual shifting of the gears. It works well, giving the driver full manual control, refusing to shift up or down unless directed by the driver (although it won't let you do something stupid, like start from a dead stop in fifth gear). Left in Drive, Grade Logic Control keeps gear hunting to a minimum on long uphill stretches. But it's still not as quick to respond as a true manual, and fuel economy suffers a bit as well.
The Type-S is a whole other beast. The redline is much higher (8100 rpm vs 6800 rpm in the RSX), and those extra revs are where much of those additional 50 horses play. Acceleration is smooth and quick, with a surge at the top end when the cams switch to their high lift. The revised higher redline lets you stay in it longer and keep the engine in this high-lift range. It also sounds sweet at high revs, especially when the high-lift cams come online, and that in and of itself is a good enough reason to wind it out at every opportunity. The torque band is very usable, belying the reputation of small four cylinders as being gutless.
The transmission and final drive ratios in the six-speed manual take advantage of the new power in the Type-S. About the only dynamic flaw is the lack of a limited-slip front differential. As a result, the inside front wheel spins madly under power in sharp turns under full throttle, sometimes making it difficult to get the most from the engine.
The Acura RSX comes standard with the following features:
- Front driver/passenger airbags
- Front side airbags
- Passenger-side Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS)
- Child Restraint System (CRS)
- Lower anchors and top tether brackets (LATCH)
- Impact-absorbing crumple zones (front and rear)
- Side-impact floor/door beams
- Collapsible steering column
- Impact-absorbing interior surfaces
- 4-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock braking system (ABS)
Reliability and Maintenance
The Acura RSX has received above average reliability ratings and long term owners of the car do not cite large mechanical or make problems. Because the Honda Motor Corporation is their parent company, the history of outstanding reliability known from Honda vehicles extends into the Acura RSX carline.
Interior and Comforts
The RSX interior is very driver-oriented, with the center part of the dash tilted slightly toward the lucky person behind the wheel. It's not really luxurious, but textures and surfaces are all very nice for a car in the low 20-thousand range, and switchgear is all exemplary, as befitting an Acura. New chrome and titanium-look accents add a touch of elegance to the stylishly businesslike design.
The automatic climate control couldn't be simpler to use, with three large dials your only input. Similarly, the audio controls are logically placed for intuitive operation. The rest of the interior layout is just as sensible, making it easy to acclimate oneself to the car and get on with the business of driving.
The thick three-spoke steering wheel neatly frames clear gauges with black numerals on new off-white faces that turn red-on-black at night. The 9000-rpm tachometer and 160-mph speedometer dominate the cluster, with fuel and temperature gauges flanking them. Cruise control and basic audio controls are mounted on the steering wheel for added convenience.
The front seats are excellent, with good lateral support, a deep bucket for your butt, and even small shoulder wings to help keep you in place in hard corners. They grip you even when covered in leather, but remain comfortable for longer trips. As with most cars of this size and class, the rear seat is something of a joke, reserved only for small humans or medium-size dogs. A better idea is to fold down the seatbacks, enhancing the already sizeable cargo area under the hatch, and letting you pretend you have a two-seater.
Storage for small stuff is plentiful. There are bins in the doors, a sizeable lighted glovebox, and a clever tray/cupholder combination forward of the shifter. The cupholder works fine, as long as you aren't trying to stuff a convenience store bladder buster in there.
The Acura RSX presents a classic wedgy fastback shape, with a short nose, wheels pushed out to the corners, and a smooth profile that sweeps elegantly from the nose to the high tail. As befitting its sport-coupe market, it's more aggressive than many other Acuras, even given the company's aggressive new styling direction.
The front bumper is large with an aggressive radiator opening under the bumper and a more dramatic five-sided Acura grille. Additionally, the headlights now feature blackout trim around the reflectors, a common aftermarket upgrade. The revised taillights have an embossed look to them, and the rear bumper has been modified for a racy look. Standard on the Type-S is a new spoiler on the rear decklid. Overall, the look is clean and tidy, and Acura has continued to avoid styling cliches in favor of tight, crisp lines.
Fit and finish is excellent, of course, with narrow gaps between body panels. Acura is also careful to use as few breaks between body panels as possible to give the car a carved-from-a-solid-piece look.
Under the sexy skin is a reinforced chassis making the ride stiff and handling tight. Insulation material has been added in the doors and roof to reduce road noise, and the side mirror gaps have been sealed shut to reduce wind noise. It works to a certain extent, but the RSX is primarily a sporty car, and you can expect more road, engine and wind noise inside than in one of the company's more luxurious offerings.
Styles and Options
The Acura RSX is available in 2 trims: the base model and Type-S.
The base model comes standard with:
- 155 hp K20A3 motor
- 5-speed automatic/manual transmission
- Sport seat with cloth-trimmed interior
- Dual trip meters
- Power moonroof
- AM/FM tuner, in-dash CD player, 6 speakers audio system
- Power windows, door locks and hatch lock
- Cruise control
- Remote entry system
- 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels
- All-Season steel-belted radial tires
The Type-S includes sportier accessories and performance including:
- 201 hp K20Z1 motor
- 6-speed manual transmission
- Sport seats with leather-trimmed interior
- Titanium finished gearshift knob
- Acura/Bose AM/FM tuner, cassette, 6-disc in-dash CD changer, 7 speakers, including Richbass woofer audio system
- 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
- Body-colored hatch spoiler
- Sport-tuned suspension
- Billet-style exhaust outlet
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WikiCars Contributor Favorites
Acura Manufacturer Sites
- Acura RSX - Official US site