First Drive: 2023 Acura Integra is as much a family car as it is a driver’s car

When Acura arrived in Canada in 1987, it did so with the Legend and Integra.

The latter went on to earn itself an enviable reputation. It was not overly powerful, but it had a work ethic that made every drive entertaining.

The epitome of the driver-focused fun arrived in 1997. The Type R was a pared-back model with a 1.8L four that twisted out 195 horsepower. This, in something that handled like a go-kart, made it an instant ’90s icon.

Now, after a 20-plus-year break, the little car that could, is back. This time around, it is not so little!

Now in its fifth generation, the Integra arrives as a five-door hatch that rides on a 2,736-millimetre wheelbase. While it shares much of its makeup with the Civic hatch, it has been reworked to put some distance between the two models, especially when it comes to the Elite A-Spec tested.

Talk Integra and it’s difficult not to start with the manner in which it seems to enjoy devouring corners and this in a hatch that’s as much a family car as it is a driver’s car. The range-topping model enjoys the biggest upgrades.

In this case, it starts with the three-stage adaptive dampers with Comfort, Normal and Sport modes. Each of the suspension settings is tied into the throttle and steering. The modes do make a big difference to the drive.

The 2023 Acura Integra’s cabin has been finished to great effect. Graeme Fletcher photo - Graeme Fletcher photo

In Comfort, the throttle is relaxed, the steering is likewise and the adaptive suspension filters out all but the largest road imperfections. Normal brings a crisper response from the engine, it puts a little more weight in the steering and firms the damping.

Sport sharpens everything. The throttle is noticeably crisper, the steering has yet more heft and delivers better feel and feedback — the plus is the turn-in response is fast without needing to dial in constant correction when the road straightens. The suspension is also in its firmest setting, which limits body roll and keeps things hunkered down on a smooth road.

All of that said, Individual mode, which has a dedicated button, proved to be the best. With the engine and steering set to Sport and the suspension in Comfort, the Integra feels sharp, but it’s also more forgiving through a rough, bumpy corner. The softer damping did a better job of keeping the P235/40R18 tires in touch with the road.

Power comes from a 1.5-litre turbo-four. It twists out 200 hp and, more importantly, 192 pound-feet of torque anywhere between 1,800 and 5,000 rpm. It works with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or six-speed manual transmission to drive the front wheels.

Move rearward in the 2023 Acura Integra and there’s plenty of head- and legroom for a pair of adults. Graeme Fletcher photo - Graeme Fletcher photo

The manual gearbox is a delight. It reminded me of the snick-snick that defined the shifter in the gone-but-not-forgotten Honda S2000. The throws are short, the gate is well defined and the clutch is light and bites in the right place. On the twisty sections of the drive, it proved to be very easy to run through the gears at the speed needed. It also rev-matched on downshifts, so the engine is ready to roar the instant you get back on the gas.

The other plus is the manual transmission incorporates a helical limited-slip front differential. When the Integra is pushed into a corner and the gas matted at the apex, it prevents the inside front wheel from spinning off the engine’s sweetness — it just digs in and hauls out of the corner as the engine races towards the 6,500 rpm redline. The smile it leaves says far more than words ever can! The issue is the Elite A-Spec is the only model offered with the manual option.

All other models use the CVT. I only drove it for a short time. It does what’s needed and benefits from the fact it shifts through pre-selected proverbial gears under hard acceleration, which helps to minimize the usual CVT drone. It also has a Sport mode that holds the gears longer and it can be shifted manually through the paddle shifters.

The cabin has been finished to great effect. The materials are classy and, when finished in a bright red, it looks proud!

The 2023 Acura Integra has 688-litres of cargo space and handily accommodates a family of four. Graeme Fletcher photo - Graeme Fletcher photo

For the driver, the power 12-way seat delivers equal measures of comfort and support, and the right driving position. The 10.2-inch digital instrumentation is clean and clear, and it changes its look according to the drive mode selected.

To the right is the infotainment screen. While most models get a seven-inch touch screen, the Elite A-Spec gets a better nine-incher. It works wirelessly with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and it gives access to the superb 16-speaker ELS Studio sound system complete with a proper volume knob.

The disappointment is there’s no built-in navigation system available, which leaves Google guiding the way.

Move rearward and there’s plenty of head- and legroom for a pair of adults along with 688-litres of cargo space. While Acura do not give a cargo volume with the 60/40-split/folding seats down, visually it more than doubles, so the Integra has the space and flexible functionality needed to accommodate a family of four.

The Integra Elite A-Spec is a well-conceived ride with a roomy, comfortable cabin, dialed-in handling and it delivers surprisingly crisp performance over the entire operating range.

In the end, there’s very little to complain about, other than the fact that delightful manual is only offered on the most expensive model. The base car with the do-it-yourself gearbox would move the Integra even closer to its driver-focused roots.

The 2023 Acura Integra starts at $34,350, moves through the A-Spec at $37,050 and tops out with the Elite A-Spec at $42,925. The manual transmission is a no-cost option on this model.

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