2023 Acura Integra First Drive Review: Sport Compact Matured
The Integra returns as a smarter and more practical Acura gateway model.
Updated May 26, 2022 6:00 a.m. PT
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Jon WongFormer editor for CNET Cars
Jon Wong was a reviews editor for CNET Cars. He test drove and wrote about new cars and oversaw coverage of automotive accessories and garage gear. In his spare time, he enjoys track days, caring for his fleet of old Japanese cars and searching for the next one to add to his garage.
After more than two decades, Acura is bringing the Integra back for 2023. This rebirth should stoke the flames of nostalgia within sports car enthusiasts, and it returns the Integra to its rightful place as the gateway vehicle for the luxury brand it helped launch in 1986. On top of that, the 2023 Integra hopes to welcome a new generation of Acura customers with slick looks in a practical package, turbocharged engine and healthy helping of technology.
New age Integra
When we last saw the Integra in 2001 it could be had as a three-door hatch or four-door sedan, but for 2023 it's a five-door hatchback with a fast roofline, based largely on the svelte new Civic. The modern Acura touches are here like a frameless grille, LED headlights and "chicane" daytime running lights. But there are also a few nods to the past like the embossed "Integra" logos on the bumpers and one-piece taillights.
With the uplevel A-Spec trim, the Integra gets jazzed up with gloss-black exterior trim, a lip spoiler, specific badges and larger 18-inch wheels (the base car has 17s). All of this combines to give the Integra nice proportions and a sleek shape -- it's a huge upgrade over the forgettable ILX it replaces.
If you're grumbling about the lack of a three-door hatch Integra, I feel your pain, but the business case for one isn't exactly strong. With most customers demanding utility and flexibility, the five-door body delivers it in spades. The rearmost passengers enjoy 37.4 inches of legroom and cargo capacity checks in at 24.5 cubic-feet, which are both more than you get in compact luxury rivals. The Civic's influence is certainly found inside, with the overall cabin layout, climate controls, mesh air vents and trim pieces ripped straight from the Honda. Oh, and kudos to the front synthetic leather seats with suede inserts that are comfortable and supportive in all the right places.
There's also a hearty dose of tech packed into the new Integra. A 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster and 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system are standard, running reskinned Civic software with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Step up to the range-topping A-Spec with Technology Package and you get a 9-inch multimedia screen with wireless smartphone mirroring, an amazing 16-speaker ELS audio setup, head-up display and wireless charge pad. AcuraLink cloud services such as remote door locking/unlocking, remote engine start/stop, collision notification and service scheduling are included for three years, as well.
As for safety systems, every Integra comes with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and traffic sign recognition. Acura's Traffic Jam Assist is also standard, combining adaptive cruise and lane-keeping tech, but only on cars equipped with the automatic transmission.
Powering the new Integra is a 1.5-liter turbocharged I4 shared with the Honda Civic Si making 200 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which is fully available from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm. Routing power to the front wheels is either a continuously variable transmission or six-speed manual transmission, but you can only get the stick in the Integra's top A-Spec with Technology Package trim. That might seem like a bummer, but Acura says 65% of Integra preorders are for manual-equipped cars.
Naturally, I chose to spend the majority of my test day in the manual A-Spec with Tech pack. The shifter is super slick and the clutch pedal is light and easy to modulate, making for an involving and entertaining drive. Automatic rev-matching for downshifts is also included, and it works fine, but you can turn it off -- a good thing for people like me who prefer to do the heel-and-toe pedal dance themselves. However, I would like a slightly quicker throttle response to help with smoother and quicker downshifts.
It's clear that the Integra's drive modes do make a difference in engine performance. Normal is OK for poking around town, but Sport really livens everything up. Midrange grunt is serviceable, but down compared to more torque-heavy German competitors like the Audi A3, BMW 228i Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz CLA250. Instead, the Integra does its best work high up in the rev range near its 6,600-rpm redline, which is a common Honda/Acura trait.
For folks who end up with the CVT, the good news is that it's surprisingly capable. There are no worries about it annoyingly buzzing along since it simulates gears nicely. It's one of the better CVTs I've experienced in recent memory. And it's more efficient than the manual, returning an EPA-estimated 30 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway in the base car, and 29 mpg city and 36 mpg highway on the A-Spec. By comparison, the stick-shift A-Spec gets 26 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.
Being based on the Civic means the Integra uses MacPherson struts up front with a multilink rear setup. It's nothing like the sophisticated double-wishbone setup used in the TLX (and previous Integras), but still, this car handles nicely.
My A-Spec tester is shod with 235/40R18 Continental ContiProContact all-season tires that aren't great, with slight understeer at turn-in. After that, the Integra hangs on with enough grip with the help of a limited-slip differential. The steering is weighty enough and brake performance is stout with a firm, easy-to-modulate pedal. Of course, pushing things hard results in the front end washing out completely, but a stickier set of tires can always be fitted later for more grip and potential fun. (Honda offers a summer tire option for the Civic Si; it's weird Acura doesn't do the same for the Integra.)
The benefit to the all-season tires is that the Integra's ride quality is great. Even with the A-Spec's adaptive dampers in the Sport setting, this hatchback is perfectly fine on the mostly smooth Texas roadways. The few bumps I do come across get gobbled up nicely for a ride that's excellent for daily driving.
Deliveries of the 2023 Acura Integra begin on June 2 with pricing starting at $31,895, including $1,095 for destination. The mid-grade A-Spec comes in at $33,895, while the bee's knees A-Spec with Technology Package will set you back $36,895. Adding the manual transmission is a no-cost option. Another thing working in Acura's favor is that it represents a great value compared to the aforementioned A3, 228i Gran Coupe and CLA250, all of which aren't that much nicer inside and start in the mid-to-high $30K range.
A lot of people are bummed that the new Integra doesn't quite capture the spirit of the haloed Type R, but I'll remind you: This is exactly what a base Integra should be. Designed and built to attract new customers, the Integra sports good looks, decent utility, lots of tech and respectable performance -- just like any good gateway vehicle should. And don't worry, Acura will surely push the performance envelope with an Integra Type S based on the new Honda Civic Type R. For now, though, don't write off the standard Integra. It's Acura's best entry-level offering in years.
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