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Driving Acura's past performance cars has me excited for the reborn Type S sub-brand

The new Type S models hope to recapture the magic of cars like the RSX and TL, so I headed to some of my favorite canyon roads to revisit Acura's greatest hits.

I got to drive all these beauties (except the silver TL).

This year marks the return of Acura's Type S performance sub-brand, with hot versions of both the TLX sedan and MDX crossover arriving in a few months. The new Type S models get a 355-horsepower turbocharged V6, more aggressive styling and a bunch of other performance upgrades. But before we look at what's ahead, it's important to talk about where we've been. And for that, Acura invited me up to the mountains north of Los Angeles to take a spin in a handful of performance cars from its heritage collection.

I wish more modern coupes were like the CL.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

2001 Acura 3.2CL Type S

The 3.2CL launched Acura's Type S sub-brand when it debuted in 2001. It's got a 3.2-liter V6 engine sending 260 hp and 232 pound-feet of torque through the front wheels, up from the normal CL's 225 hp. You could get a six-speed manual transmission in the CL's final model year, but this example has the standard five-speed automatic. Other Type S upgrades included perforated leather seats, larger 17-inch wheels, firmer springs and a quicker steering rack.

This particular CL has just over 720 miles on it and it's strange to be driving a two-decade-old car that is literally showroom fresh. It still looks great, with three-box proportions that you don't see on new coupes anymore, a squat stance with rounded fender flares and even dual exhaust tips. The interior has some modern features that I wasn't expecting to see, like climate controls in the nav screen, and everything is well built and feels premium. That tall greenhouse and thin pillars means the CL has fantastic visibility, too.

The CL's interior has a bunch of modern touches.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

The CL's V6 is awesome. It really comes alive above 5,000 rpm -- thanks, VTEC -- and has an excellent roar. The 3.2CL feels quick even by modern standards. The transmission has a manual mode that you shift with the gear selector, allowing me to keep the car in second and third pretty much the whole time. Every CL Type S came with large disc brakes with ABS and the pedal is satisfyingly firm.

Even better is how the CL handles. The steering is linear and direct, lightening up and speed and not requiring a lot of tiny adjustments, plus it offers a lot of feedback. There's almost no understeer or torque steer, even when flooring it coming out of a corner. The suspension is a little floaty and there's a lot of body roll, but the CL is damn fun to throw into a corner and you can really feel the weight transfer. I wish more new cars were like the CL; there's really nothing else like it today. 

This is one of the coolest Type S cars.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

2007 Acura TL Type S

Rather than going chronologically, I decided to grab the car I was most excited about: the second-gen TL Type S. I've loved this generation of TL ever since it was first shown in 2003 and the design has held up extremely well. The Type S debuted a few years later with unique fascias and other sporty details like awesome 10-spoke wheels and quad exhaust tips, with an interior that still looks modern today. I especially love the supportive bucket seats and cool gauges. This TL has about 48,000 miles and, aside from a couple minor cosmetic problems, it doesn't feel its age.

While the standard TL has a 3.2-liter V6 with 258 hp and 233 lb-ft, the Type S bumps that up to a 3.5-liter V6 with 286 hp and 256 lb-ft. Peak torque comes on at 5,000 rpm while peak horsepower is at 6,200 rpm and the TL will happily rev up to 7,000. The TL's V6 sounds noisier and rowdier than the CL's, and the car feels even quicker. Acura offered the Type S with a six-speed manual but, like the CL, this one has the five-speed auto, which has great paddle shifters but can be slow to downshift.

Compared to the CL, the TL is a lot sharper. The suspension is way more planted, the steering is quicker and its Brembo brakes are stronger. While there's a bit of understeer and tire squeal, the TL has a lot more grip than you think, even despite the all-season tires. Push the TL harder and it scrambles to redline with some hilarious torque steer, but it's never uncontrollable. The TL Type S drives how I wish more modern family sedans would.

OK, I want one now.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

2006 Acura RSX Type S

Acura launched the RSX hatchback in 2001 with the Type S arriving a year later. It's got a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 200 hp -- 40 hp more than the standard RSX -- and a glorious 8,100-rpm redline. That engine is paired exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission, one cog more than in the normal RSX. This particular RSX is a later facelift model, which has an additional 10 hp and a sweet rear wing. The Type S also has firmer suspension, larger front brakes and perforated leather seats.

Within 30 seconds of driving the RSX I'm giggling my butt off. It's got one of the best manual transmissions I've ever used, with super-short pedal travel and a slick, short-throw shifter with great mechanical action. Max power occurs at an absurd 7,800 rpm and the engine gets better the higher you rev, but crucially, despite its maximum 140 lb-ft not coming on until 7,000 rpm, the RSX has enough low-end push to not feel sluggish at lower speeds or in a higher gear. It also sounds fantastically buzzy and is loud as hell by the time you reach redline.

That shifter is what dreams are made of.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

The RSX's steering is incredible, the right balance of heavy and quick with a ton of feedback and the steering wheel itself is fantastic and small. There's a ton of grip and no understeer or torque steer -- I know this is cliché, but it really does feel like a go-kart. The driving position is excellent -- as is the visibility -- and the whole interior is well laid out and usable. I love that it's a hatchback and there's even a good amount of space for rear passengers.

The RSX is a car I wish I could keep driving all day. It's fizzy, energetic and fun no matter the situation. Best of all, like in a Mazda Miata or other modern hot hatchback, even when hitting redline and running up through fourth gear, the RSX is slow enough to be usable on public roads. While I enjoy every one of these Acuras, the RSX is the one that has me checking Craigslist to potentially buy my own.

A legend, and for good reason.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

2001 Acura Integra Type R

While it's not a Type S, the Integra Type R is probably Acura's most iconic performance car (NSX aside). I decided to save the best for last and waiting to go out in the Integra until the end of the day was totally worth it. This particular Type R is the same one my colleagues drove a few months ago and it's perfect. Totally stock and with just over 5,500 miles on the odometer, it's one of the most pristine Type Rs on the planet, the kind of car that could easily surpass the $50K mark at auction.

Even though the Integra overlapped with the RSX, getting into the Type R after driving the RSX is like jumping back in time. The interior is extremely simple and stark, with almost no creature comforts aside from the radio and air conditioning. It's got super thin pillars and nowhere to rest your arms or knees. While the RSX feels like just a fun road car, the Integra feels like a race car -- especially once you start it up.

Its 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine makes a meager 195 hp and 130 lb-ft, but it revs to a stratospheric 8,500 rpm. The engine is always loud, but when VTEC kicks in at 5,700 rpm it turns into a blare that fills and shakes the whole cabin. Accelerating in second and third gear is an adrenaline rush and the close-together pedals and short-throw shifter make for satisfying gear changes.


Daniel Golson/Roadshow

The Integra is a lot feistier in corners than the RSX, too, helped by the fact that it weighs a scant 2,600 pounds. It hops and skips over bumps but never gets unsettled and I can feel every imperfection in the road through the floor and the steering wheel. Its steering requires a lot more focus and small corrections, but it's absolutely perfect and a joy to use. There's a seemingly endless amount of grip and it's easy to push the Type R to go faster in corners. The most surprising thing about the Integra is the lift-off oversteer, which is slightly terrifying at first but enjoyable once I'm used to it.

Golden-era Hondas were never my obsession as a kid, but I've always had an interest and an affection for them -- especially as someone who played the hell out of Gran Turismo. And while the Integra Type R never held the legendary status in my head that it did for so many other enthusiasts, I understood why it was so hyped up. But now that I've been able to experience the car for myself, I'm basically ready to get a red Honda logo tattooed on my lower back. The Integra Type R really is that good.

The 2022 MDX is a damn good SUV.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

2022 Acura MDX A-Spec

Acura brought a 2022 TLX Type S for display, but I can't drive it for a few more months. Instead, I had the choice to drive a TLX A-Spec or MDX A-Spec and the redesigned crossover was the easy choice. Let's be real, as cool as the TLX is, no one really cares about sedans in the US. The MDX sells at almost triple the volume of the TLX, so it's Acura's best hope at the Type S revival being a success. 

The A-Spec package doesn't add much in terms of performance upgrades, but it does get you 20-inch wheels and front seats with better bolstering. Good news is, the MDX is inherently pretty great to drive. It feels its size but is shockingly nimble in corners, with direct steering and a well damped suspension. The optional Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system is fantastic; it can send up to 70% of torque to the rear wheels and 100% of that torque from side to side.

It's obvious the MDX's chassis and brakes can handle a lot more power than the 290 hp put out by its naturally aspirated V6 and the Type S' stickier tires and other upgrades should do wonders, as well. Plus, the MDX already looks great and has a phenomenal interior -- annoying touchpad infotainment aside -- and it's got tons of passenger and cargo room to boot.

It's clear that there are true enthusiasts working at Acura -- from designers and engineers to product planners and marketers -- and trotting out these awesome older models for me to drive makes the brand's performance aspirations seem legit. If the new Type S cars can capture even some of the goodness of Acura's past hits, we could be looking at a couple of real winners.