Most of us are familiar with the Mandela Effect, even if we don’t know it by name.
In short, it’s the phenomenon of misremembering en masse. If you’re convinced your favourite childhood books featured the Berenstein Bears, you’ve experienced such false memories before. Likewise, if you remember the Acura Integra as a spicy sport compact car, you’ve been duped again. Well, sort of.
There’s no question that exciting versions of the Integra were produced during its first two decades of existence. But just as not every Ford Mustang is a muscular GT, not all Integras were created equal.
Matters get a little more complicated in the case of the 2023 Acura Integra, which borrows most of its mechanical components from the latest Honda Civic Si. That alone makes this an inherently sporty small car, even if it falls short of the lofty expectations that were set from the start. Equipped the right way, however, it’s anything but a letdown.
Context matters in a car like this, so just remember: it’s built to take on the likes of the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A 220, not take up the torch from the hottest Integras and RSXs of old. There is, however, a properly raucous Integra Type S set to arrive later this year that will satiate those cravings thanks to the use of the Honda Civic Type R’s poetic powertrain. In the meantime, every 2023 Integra uses the same juiced up engine as the Civic Si, which is far from a consolation prize. The turbocharged 1.5L four-cylinder puts out a respectable 200 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque, the latter of which arrives at 1,800 rpm.
Looking at the competitive landscape, both the A3 and A 220 make more torque (221 lb-ft), and they send it to all four wheels rather than just the front ones. However, with the available six-speed manual transmission – and its accompanying limited-slip differential – turning combustible force into forward momentum, the Integra can accelerate with urgency when it’s called for.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
Bear in mind that this is the same engine that powers every Honda CR-V except the hybrid, as well as a handful of hatchback and sedan versions of the Civic, where it generates less output (except, of course, in the case of the Civic Si). And while some tweaks and changed parts are at play, unquestionably helping achieve the extra output here is the premium-grade gas it calls for.
It’s rated to burn that expensive stuff at rates of 7.2 to 7.8 L/100 km combined, depending on trim, with this manual version unsurprisingly falling at the top end of that spectrum. Even so, during a week-long test spanning approximately 440 km, many of which were filled with excitement, the final tally turned in at 7.7 L/100 km.
Driving Feel: 8/10
The very fact a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard fare should tell you all you need to know about the Integra’s raison d’être. That doesn’t mean its sporting intentions are non-existent, but rather that they aren’t necessarily pulling at the proverbial chains with each press of the ignition button. For a little more context, keep in mind that this is more of a successor to the ILX than a reincarnation of the RSX.
But even entry-level luxury cars like this one have performance pedigree, and it doesn’t take much prodding to tap into the Integra’s – particularly in range-topping Elite A-Spec guise and with the no-charge manual between the seats. Manipulating gears yourself has a way of enhancing the experience behind the wheel unlike anything else, adding a level of engagement that defines driving enjoyment.
While the clutch pedal combines a short pedal with a high point of engagement, the latter is well defined and it’s easy to drop the gear stick into the desired gate without missing a shift. Now add in the limited-slip diff and auto rev-match system, and it’s both easy and rewarding to keep the Integra moving at pace.
In addition to those powertrain goodies, the manual-equipped Integra also features adaptive dampers (as does the Elite A-Spec with the CVT). Body movement is almost too well controlled, with a stiffness even in comfort mode that chips away a bit at the Integra’s premium facade, but it means there isn’t a hint of slop in the suspension.
In terms of comfort, the Integra’s bigger issue is how noisy it is. From an engine that clatters incessantly until it warms up to excessive road noise that was only made worse by this tester’s winter tires, it’s not unreasonable to expect a little more from this Acura. On the bright side, the driver’s seat proved plenty comfortable and supportive during testing, while the top trim’s combination of synthetic leather and suede had your humble author convinced it was the real stuff until the spec sheet proved otherwise.
Not only does the Elite A-Spec’s upholstery feel good, but it looks phenomenal, too. Whether that’s specific to this tester’s red finish is likely, as it’s a fairly boring space when finished in all black. (Of course, the simple solution is to opt for white, grey, or black paint, all of which are paired with the red upholstery.) Overall, designers did a nice job differentiating the cabin from that of the Civic, Si or otherwise – a tie-up that will only be obvious to those who’ve been in both cars.
From the outside the Integra looks a lot like an evolution of the ILX, which is exactly what it is. That’s not necessarily a criticism, with flowing lines and stretched proportions that help it stand out from its more reserved rivals. This tester was also fitted with a few extras, including an illuminated grille emblem, black badges, and carbon fibre lip spoiler that added to its price tag, but not so much that they should be passed over.
Sleek and slippery though it appears to the eyes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more spacious small sedan on the market. Yes, the Integra is a sedan, although its liftback trunk makes it more practical than just ab out any other four-door out there. Beyond looking good on paper, the 688-L trunk can make quick work of all kinds of gear, while the rear seats fold in a 60/40 split for even more space.
When left in the upright position, those seats are surprisingly spacious for a car this size, providing ample room for two passengers (and seatbelts for three). Up front is a driver’s seat that you really sink into despite easy ingress and egress. Likewise, sightlines are good in all directions, including directly out the back in spite of the shallow rake of the rear end.
User Friendliness: 8/10
As noted, the cabin carries over from the Civic with slight changes. What remains are the best bits of the donor car, including a full complement of climate controls (with dedicated LCDs) and easy-to-understand switchgear on the steering wheel. While the entry-level and A-Spec trims get a seven-inch touchscreen, the Elite A-Spec uses a nine-inch unit that boasts wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections (they’re wired with the smaller screen). The touch display is bright and responsive, while the interface itself provides smartphone-like functionality and a customizable shortcut bar along the bottom of the home screen.
The inclusion of an entire suite of advanced safety features helps set the Integra apart from the Audi A3 and Mercedes A 220, both of which require expensive packages to compete. There’s forward collision warning, lane departure warning and keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow functionality (opting for the manual transmission drops the low-speed follow function). Extras that come with the Elite A-Spec trim include a head-up-display, rain-sensing wipers, and front and rear proximity sensors.
Every version of the Integra gets good stuff like heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control, drive mode selection, a power sunroof, and proximity door locks (including automatic walk-away locking), among others. The A-Spec trim doesn’t add much beyond an interior appearance package, LED headlights, and 18-inch alloy wheels (17s are standard), but the Elite moniker elevates the Integra entirely.
For starters, there are the adaptive dampers and no-charge manual transmission that also adds a limited-slip differential. There’s also a customizable drive mode that allows various settings like steering, suspension, and powertrain to be mixed and matched; plus the larger touchscreen, wireless phone connections, a wireless phone charger, built-in Amazon Alexa assistant, a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot, interior ambient lighting, heated rear seats, and a pair of USB ports on the back of the centre console. The driver’s seat also gets 12-way adjustability plus two memory settings.
Criticism of the Integra’s pricing has largely centred on this Elite A-Spec trim and how it compares to the Civic Si that boasts most – though not all – of the same features for less money. And while it’s fair at first blush to ask if this range-topping Integra is worth the roughly $8,000 price premium it commands over the Honda on which it’s based, there’s more to it than that.
No, adaptive dampers aren’t enough to justify the extra spend; neither is the head-up display or Wi-Fi hotspot. But there’s a genuine upmarket vibe here that the Civic Si can’t match, and that’s why Acura can slap a suggested price of about $45,000 before tax on this top trim and not seem totally out of touch. Still not convinced? Consider that it’s easy to spend much more on the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class, both of which have performance versions that are more expensive still.
If you thought there was a chance the reborn Integra was going to be a coupe, then there’s probably no convincing you of just how good it actually is. Likewise, if you misremember any generation that came before this – including the RSX – as a purely performance car, then you’ll surely bemoan the price premium it commands over the Civic Si.
But forget what it has in common with that hot Honda for a second and ask yourself a simple question: are we better off with the 2023 Acura Integra on the market? Surely, the answer is a resounding yes. Now consider that Acura was bold enough to offer it with a manual transmission in the first place, and this is a car that should be celebrated for what it is rather than griped about for it isn’t.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||200 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||192 lb-ft @ 1,800–5,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||8.9 / 6.5 / 7.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||688 L|
|Model Tested||2023 Acura Integra Elite A-Spec MT|
|Price as Tested||$50,209.90|
$5,184.90 – Carbon fibre lip spoiler, $1,902.10; Illuminated door sill trim, $865.60; Black badges, $724.50; Illuminated grille emblem, $645.60; Puddle lights, $547.10; Majestic Black Pearl paint, $500