At the moment Acura is a bit of an unfocused mess. Its line-up is thoroughly uninspiring, save for its $200,000 NSX supercar – a great mid-engined supercar with an impressive, performance-oriented hybrid AWD system. And yet few people would draw a line connecting Acura's other SH-AWD hybrids, the RLX Sport Hybrid and MDX Sport Hybrid, to the NSX.
The first NSX told the world that Acura built cars with world-class technology and performance, and the Integra carried it to people with normal pocketbooks. Since the new NSX communicates a similar message as its forbearer, so too would a new Integra.
Now making an entry-level sports car with hybrid technology is tricky business. As we already established, the Honda CR-Z was a colossal flop. It's balance was all off: heavy, expensive, and not very sporty – and it didn't even get very good fuel economy. However, Honda and Acura can learn from these mistakes.
First, to keep costs in check, Acura can borrow from Honda's ever-improving parts bin. It would logical to borrow the excellent Civic coupe platform – something the old Integra did as well. It could also attach the proposed hybrid powertrain to the upcoming Si turbocharged four-cylinder. Some added cost will be unavoidable, since the batteries and motors will have to go somewhere. That will cost some engineering dollars, and inflate the price tag a bit. However, since Acura is a premium brand, it has some wiggle room to bump up the price without losing buyers.
Weight is another potential issue this hypothetical hybrid will face, and was one of the chief complaints with the CR-Z. Looking at the RLX and the RLX Sport Hybrid, the hybrid bits weigh about an extra 340 pounds. That's not insignificant, but added to the turbocharged Civic EX-T coupe's 2,900 pound curb weight, you would have a car that would weigh 3,240 pounds. That's comparable to the very fun Mustang EcoBoost. As long as Acura keeps the weight under 3,500 pounds, the brand should have an entertaining coupe on its hands.
The final piece of the puzzle is to make sure it isn't compromised. Every bit of hybrid tech in the NSX is there for performance. It helps eliminate turbo lag, and it improves acceleration and handling. It does it so well, in such a focused platform, that no one thinks about the fuel economy. The Integra needs to follow the same formula, with all the messaging matching the technology: purely for performance. If it happens to get great fuel economy, that's great, but not a primary consideration.
If Honda and Acura could commit to the idea of a thoroughly enjoyable premium sports car that doesn't break the bank, Acura could transform into something more than a purveyor of expensive Hondas. Acura's messaging that it's a high-tech, sporty brand would finally mesh better with its product line up. The only question is whether Acura is bold enough to try it.