Test Drive: 2023 Acura Integra

The re-introduction of a car reminiscent of its 1986 version, but with ample contemporary updates

After a two-decade hiatus, the Acura Integra is back as an all-new premium compact vehicle. The re-introduction of this car means Acura understands its history, and why its popularity waxed and waned. The Integra’s story is one of innovation, with its very existence introducing the concept of Japanese luxury when it helped launch the Acura brand, founded by Honda in 1986. It, alongside its Legend sibling, proved that Japanese cars could be innovative, engaging and crafted with a level of precision previously believed to exist only within prestige European brands.

The third-generation Integra, introduced in 1994, would go on to become the definitive icon of the burgeoning import tuning scene. While other cars of the era may have offered more speed, it was the Integra that offered a near-perfect balance of price, performance and ease of modification. An aspiration for younger buyers during its heyday, much of Gen-X remains enamored with the Integra—or enamored with the idea of the Integra. So with the relaunch of the Integra badge, it could be safe to say Acura is aiming squarely at the nostalgia-tinted glasses of those who remember the car fondly.

This newest Integra isn’t a rehash of the vintage driving experience, rather it captures the spirit of the old car and places it in a package that makes sense for today. A five-door liftback, it’s reminiscent of the 1986 version. It’s no secret that this model is based on the new Honda Civic hatchback, so it should come as no surprise that the Integra’s proportions and profile are similar. Outside of the heritage “Integra” embossing front and rear, this newest car proudly wears Acura’s latest flame-surfaced design language. The shape could work better as a proper sedan, but in a world where everything is turning into a crossover, the low-slung hatch is appealing. And while purists may bemoan the lack of a two-door option, four side doors are practical. Passenger room is generous front and rear, with adults able to sit comfortably in the back. Fit, finish and material choice is all exemplary.

In A-Spec trim, seating surfaces are trimmed in a red microsuede fabric, with matching red accents placed throughout the cabin. The front seats offer plenty of comfort and support and all the adjustment needed to find that just-right driving position. Best of all, while the Integra does feature a digital gauge cluster and touchscreen-infotainment system, many of the controls are old-school, tactile buttons—another nostalgic touch that also makes it easier to pay attention to the drive.

Like the old Integra, the 2023 model isn’t the fastest car on the road, but the drive experience is great fun. Power comes from a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline four rated at 200hp, with 192 lb-ft of torque available from 1800-5000rpm. Automatic transmission is available, but we suspect most buyers will opt for the six-speed manual, which also equips the car with a factory limited-slip differential.

This gearshift alone will sell many on the Integra. As has been the case for decades, Honda makes one of the best manual transmissions in the industry. Throws are intuitive, light and direct, and the clutch pedal is pleasant to use—even in stop-start traffic. In normal and eco modes, “easy” is also the word that best describes the acceleration and handling. Toggle into Sport mode, and the Integra really comes alive. Steering weight and sharpness increase. Throttle maps sharpen up. And the adaptive dampers firm up for flatter cornering. This is what people imagine when they think of the Integra of the past: a car adept at being flung around corners, all while feeling completely in tune with its driver.

It does it all in total comfort, with just a hint of engine noise being pumped into the otherwise quiet cabin. Throw in a phenomenal ELS sound stage, dual-zone climate control, heated seats and the latest suite of safety technologies, and this Integra offers a drive that the old cars simply can’t touch.

Images courtesy of Acura