2002 Acura RSX Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Packed with performance and sophistication.
The Acura RSX is a sport coupe for drivers who want upscale sophistication. That sophistication extends from the well-appointed cockpit to the superb driving dynamics.
Honda's powerful twin-cam engines, well-tuned sports suspensions, and four-wheel disc brakes make the RSX an exciting ride. Supportive, contoured seats, excellent visibility, and all the conveniences make it a comfortable ride. A useable back seat and expandable cargo space make it practical. This is a terrific car for the single, upwardly mobile.
Acura RSX comes only as a two-door coupe. Two engines are available. You need to make two major choices: whether you want cloth or leather, and whether you want the more powerful engine and related sports equipment.
There's no need to upgrade for luxury features because the base RSX comes standard with all of the convenience features of the Leather and Type-S models: automatic climate control, cruise control, power windows and locks, power moonroof, antilock brakes, and 16-inch alloy wheels. RSX also comes standard with a premium six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo. There really aren't any options.
RSX ($19,950) is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 160 horsepower. It comes with a five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic with SportShift ($20,850). Cloth is standard. Perforated leather upholstery is available for an additional $1000.
RSX Type-S ($23,170) gets a 200-horsepower version of the same 2.0-liter inline-4. Type-S comes exclusively with a six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox. Leather is standard. Also standard is a Bose AM/FM/cassette/six-disc in-dash CD changer with seven speakers, including a big woofer.
The RSX breaks from Acura's CL, TL, RL nomenclature; the X in RSX means this is one of Acura's specialty models, like the MDX. As mentioned, it's only available as a two-door coupe.
Sleek, clean and almost elegant, the Acura RSX is designed to exude performance. Its lines are understated. It doesn't look boy racer, though it is less conservatively styled than most Acuras. It looks contemporary and aggressive, with short front and rear overhangs and a cabin-forward silhouette.
It almost looks like it was carved out of a solid block. The expansive rear glass sweeps fastback-style toward a high rear deck. A smoothly integrated liftgate raises easily to reveal a spacious cargo hold. Acura design cues can be seen in the grille, in the cutouts under the cylindrical tail lamps, and in the headlamp design. The front end looks bland, however, resembling some kind of Honda Civic when seen in the rear view mirror.
Acura's attention to detail can be seen in the precise exterior fit and finish, but cannot be seen in things such as the extensive sound insulation, including melt sheets added to the floor to reduce interior noise.
The RSX features a driver-oriented cockpit. Visibility is excellent out front and large mirrors provide good visibility rearward. Seats are deeply sculptured and supportive when cornering hard, with thigh, lumbar, and shoulder adjustments on the driver's side. Optional perforated leather upholstery is nice, though unremarkable.
A wide instrument pod covered in a sporty perforated material surrounds the driver with large, metallic-faced analog gauges that are easy to read. A thick, leather-wrapped, small-diameter steering wheel with three spokes feels like it came from a race car. The shifter feels good, also; a leather-wrapped gearshift knob comes standard, while the Type S gets a special perforated leather knob.
The rear seats are surprisingly comfortable for a sport coupe. But this isn't a sedan; space for rear passengers' heads is under the rear window. The rear seats fold flat for cargo. An acoustically transparent cargo cover snaps into and out of place to hide valuables. A Bose subwoofer goes inside the temporary spare, a clever use of space, and it can be moved around for those tailgate parties.
Acura's luxury features include the automatic climate control system with micron air filtration, illuminated power window switches, and lighting in the glove box.
But this is clearly designed as a sport coupe rather than a luxury coupe. Neither the perforated material around the instrument panel and center console nor the roof liner nor the white-gold plastic trim nor the vents nor the radio controls have the high-quality, upscale look and feel of a premium brand.
A clever combination tray and cup holder offers a good place to stash a wallet, as it provides a semi-secret compartment. The dual cup holders work well as long as the container isn't much taller than a grande Frappuccino. A small fold-out above the rear seat on the driver's side works okay for hanging a couple of shirts, but not a full load of dry cleaning.
Driving the Acura RSX is a lot of fun. The Type-S boasts quick acceleration, crisp, predictable handling, and excellent brakes. Steering is very sharp, with no play at center, no slop. This car feels controlled and very stable at high speeds.
RSX and RSX Type-S differ in several key areas. Type-S gets a more powerful engine, firmer suspension damping front and rear, stiffer rear springs, and larger front brakes. But otherwise, the two models are nearly identical, including their 17-inch alloy wheels with high-performance Michelin tires.
Ride quality is firm on both models. It feels great on smooth roads, but can feel jouncy on bumpy roads. We could hear expansion joints on the highway, possibly due to the high-performance Michelin MXM4 all-season tires, and we could feel the uneven pavement on old city streets.
Handling is fun, predictable and precise. While turning laps in a Type-S at Georgia's Roebling Road, we found the RSX is an easy car to control at the limit. You can really drive this front-wheel-drive coupe: A lift of the throttle before turning into a corner reduces understeer and helps get the car to rotate and turn into the corner. It's also easy to control when braking and turning at the same time, a driving faux pas that can cause a spin. The Michelin tires offer excellent grip and predictable handling.
Brakes are excellent, four-wheel discs, ventilated in front. The first time we used them they were cold and we found they demanded a bit of foot pressure, like they needed a little more power assist. That's typical of high-performance brake pads, which require a little more pedal pressure and work best once they have a little heat in them. We quickly adjusted to them on the street and they felt perfect out on the race track, resisting the tendency to fade under hard use.
Both RSX models come with sophisticated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. These all-aluminum 16-valve engines use Honda's i-VTEC system, with variable-phase camshaft timing (VTC for variable timing control) along with the proven Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC). The result is impressive horsepower and high torque with outstanding fuel economy and low exhaust emissions. The engine is mounted transversely, but opposite the normal direction, bringing the exhaust manifold closer to the catalyst for improved light-off and reduced emissions at startup.
The engine that comes in the base RSX delivers adequate acceleration performance, but lacks the sporty response of the Type-S. The base engine develops 160 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 141 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. That's the same amount of torque developed by the Type-S engine except at much lower rpm; in theory, that means the base RSX should actually feel a little zippier around town. Overall, the 160-horsepower engine is a good choice for non-enthusiasts: buyers who want a sporty coupe, but aren't interested in racing hot rodders for pink slips. That description fits about 65 percent of the RSX buyers. Another benefit of the 160-hp engine: the RSX earns an EPA City/Highway rating of 27/33 mpg (24/33 with the automatic), while the Type-S gets 24/31 mpg. Also, the 200-hp Type-S engine needs 91 octane, while the 160-hp RSX engine can get by with 86 octane, though Acura recommends premium for optimum performance.
The Type-S engine is much more fun, however. It revs to 8000 rpm and it needs to be wound up to extract all of its performance: it ultimately develops 200 horsepower at 7400 rpm and 142 pounds-feet of torque at a heady 6000 rpm. The engine is smooth. It hums. Acceleration is linear, without the surge of the old 1.8-liter VTEC engine in the Integra Type R. Compared with old Integra Type R, the RSX Type-S engine boasts a wider torque band. It's also lighter and more compact. The Type-S engine is fitted with a fixed intake manifold in place of the 160-hp RSX's dual-stage intake manifold, which boosts horsepower at high rpm. Acura says 0-60 mph in.
Acura's RSX offers more sophistication than other sporty coupes. It delivers luxury-channel levels of refinement and quality. It looks nice, it's comfortable, and it features all the conveniences of an entry-level luxury car. Handling is excellent, making it easy and fun to drive. Driven hard, this car will do just about anything you ask it to do within the basic laws of physics.
And it's quick, especially when equipped with the high-revving Type-S engine.
Most drivers, however, will opt for the standard 160-horsepower engine, and they will be making an excellent choice. Smooth and powerful, this engine is designed to deliver responsive performance around town and crisp acceleration performance when needed to merge onto busy freeways during morning rush hour.
RSX 5-speed ($19,950) (DC5382JW); automatic ($20,850) (DC5482JW); 5-speed w/Leather ($20,950) (DC5382JN); automatic w/Leather ($21,850) (DC5482JN); Type-S ($23,170) (DC5302JN).
Options As Tested
RSX Type-S ($23,170) (DC5302JN).
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