1990 Acura Integra GS Grows Up

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From the August 1989 issue of Car and Driver.

Many a road test in this magazine has begun with a giddy description of accel­eration forces so fierce that they momen­tarily halt pancreatic function, or with a rapturous account of an engine more melodious than a thousand thrushes singing a cappella, or with a feverish chronicle of pavement adhesion so com­plete that divots were actually ripped out of the concrete by clawing tires. Well, this review of the new Acura lntegra GS four-door is going to be a little different.

We’re fixing to wax lyrical about the silken action of a turn-signal mechanism, because that detail and numerous others contribute to a finesse that sets this car apart from the general run of the mid-price class. The lever glides in response to finger pressure. Without seeming to resist motion, the effort rises just enough to say “hold here” when you wish to give a few blinks to signal a lane change. The limp response of ordinary levers—or, worse yet, the grittiness—is completely absent. Slipping over the detent into the full-turn mode proceeds as smoothly as a swallow of Häagen-Dazs. This Acura mechanism alone feels like it cost as much as a whole monthly payment for some other brands.

Glorious-feeling turn-signal levers are not the stuff of spec-page legends. May­be they should be. Because there comes a time in most everyone’s life when heroic speeds and look-at-me styling aren’t enough. An automobile needs to be fine­ly tailored as well, rich in nuance, abounding in detail.

We’re talking mature values here. If you’re thinking “car for old farts,” don’t be too hasty. BMW made its reputation in this country with slick machinery packed in don’t-look-twice sheetmetal. Honda’s Acura Division pictures itself in a BMW role, and the new Integra supports that notion. This is a car that’s deeply satisfying in many categories but that won’t draw much notice in a crowd.

This new Integra line consists of a three-door hatchback and a four-door se­dan. Moving to a notchback from the old five-door hatchback is a step toward a more conventional market. Moreover, the hatchback has a we’ve-seen-this-be­fore look about it that quiets our ardor somewhat. Taken together, the Integra line seems less youthful than before.

Let’s focus directly on the hatchback for a minute. Style, power, and price are the sought-after ingredients in the sporty hatchback class, which also includes the VW GTI, the Mitsubishi Mirage Turbo, the Dodge Shadow Turbo, and such even-more-purposeful players as the Nissan 240SX, the Ford Probe GT, and the Mitsubishi Eclipse/Plymouth Laser turbos. When it comes to style, the Integra’s low-profile tires enclosed in high-profile fender openings further weaken an appearance that’s none too strong to start with. Many of the others in the class look sexier.

In the power category, the hatchback’s 130-hp four-cylinder (also used in the four-door) performs nicely, but it’s not in the same league with some of the turbos offered in this class. Then there’s the base price, ranging from $11,950 for the price-leader five-speed to $16,550 for the top-of-the-line three-door automatic. Clearly the Integra hatchback has no price advantage, either. Uh, that’s three strikes, isn’t it?

What does the Integra hatchback bring to the party that the others can’t match? Is this a good time to mention mature values, i.e. slick-feeling switches, tasteful instrumentation, precise con­trols, and all-around commendable be­havior? Probably not, because hatchback buyers in this price range are usually looking for something a bit more arousing.

Where these mature values are really appreciated is in sedans, and we think the Integra four-door is the more successful model. This is a sports sedan with the right stuff. It’s a bit longer than the coupe—two inches more wheelbase, nearly four inches more overall. It has the slick, buttoned-down feeling that quality-seeking people appreciate and that only money can buy.

Honda says the new Integra body is 30 percent stiffer in bending and 90 percent more rigid in torsion than the old model. Both Integra models have a wonderfully solid, creakless, buzzless way of going about their business. Yet this rigidity wasn’t accomplished with masses of steel, because the cars have more glass than ever. The cowl and the hoodline are low in the Honda fashion, allowing a close-up view of the road. And the roof pillars are thin, blocking only 36 degrees of the driver’s 360-degree view.

Honda has done something interesting with the side windows: it’s made them frameless. On both the hatchback and the sedan, the glass extends up out of the doors with no metal surrounding it. When the windows are up, they press against a complex and highly resilient seal attached to the body’s door opening. When they are down, the door does not extend above the beltline.

The benefits are obvious. The pillars look slimmer. The side glass fits nearly flush with the outer surface of the body. And when the door is open, the part above the beltline intrudes less into your entry-exit space.

The obvious concern is leaks. We didn’t try the carwash test, but the exam­ples we drove were uncommonly good at suppressing air-rush sounds at elevated freeway speeds. A less obvious concern is the effect of the resilient, long-travel seal on door closing. If you give these Acura doors only the gentle push required to latch most Honda doors, the glass bounces off the seal, leaving the door ajar. A stronger slam is necessary.

That’s a small detail. What will very likely be a big detail for four-door buy­ers—who are generally less enthusiasti­cally inclined than three-door buyers—is the new automatic transmission, a four­-speed with electronically controlled shifts, a lockup torque converter, and a driver­-selected Sport mode that raises shift points in part-throttle conditions. This is one of the few automatics we’ve found that operates happily with a small engine. It knows when to shift—not before 6300 rpm when you’re standing on the gas, thank you very much—and every shift is crisp enough to please those who would normally prefer doing it themselves.

Marrying an automatic to this 1.8-liter four-cylinder wasn’t an easy trick, be­cause the engine has a late-peaking torque curve that rises to its maximum at 5000 rpm. Low-speed performance is about what you expect of an 1834-cc unit. The bonus starts at 4500 rpm with a satis­fying surge that continues on up to the 6600-rpm redline. This torque curve is probably the most sporting aspect of the whole car. It provides plenty of incentive to turn up the revs. Good as the automatic is, though, the accurate five-speed shifter is by far the best accompaniment.

In fact, as we were pushing our five­-speed four-door through a mountain road in Arizona we momentarily forgot our classification of the Integra as a ma­ture-values car. Handling is much superi­or to that of the first-generation Integra. There are no false signals from the con­trols. The suspension is tauter than usual for a Honda. You feel a direct connection to the job. Our top-of-the-line GS ver­sion (base price: $15,950) had Michelin MXV 195/60HR-14 tires. The fronts judder slightly as they begin to lose adhesion, a clear signal to the driver that the limits are near. Understeer is about right for road driving. The standard­-equipment (on the GS only) anti-lock brakes intercede smoothly. You can move quickly through the twisties in this car without feeling brave. On second thought, mature values don’t mean life in the slow lane; rather, they suggest enough experience to appreciate such composure fully.

What, exactly, are these mature values that keep grabbing top billing in this re­view? Some are functional. For example, the Integra sedan has broad capability. The rear seatback folds down to extend the trunk area into the passenger com­partment, allowing the transport of, say, hero sandwiches of heroic length. Think of this car as a low-roofed station wagon.

Mature values include styling based on good taste rather than the latest fashion. While the hatchback is a bit too cautious for its mission, the sedan has a look that will still be pleasing ten years from now.

Mature values mean ancillary equip­ment that performs as though it were the main event. The new electric (instead of vacuum) cruise-control system is splen­didly accurate.

Mature values demand comfort, of course. All of the Integras have cloth-covered seats with firm support topped with a thin layer of plush padding. They feel very right for a long day on the road. Lateral restraint is quite good in the front buckets. Adjustable side bolsters, stan­dard on the GS, make it better. Adjust­able lumbar support is included on both the LS and the GS. These adjustments have limited range—not enough, we think—but they are helpful nonetheless. And, finally, mature values entail a multitude of pleasures too small for the thrill seeker to notice. The silken action of the turn signals is one. The buttery stroke and muted “click” of the dash­board rocker switches is another. The precise arc of the radio’s “seek” toggle is yet another. Awaiting you inside the Integra is a festival of subtle textures. To cite just one, the inner door-latch han­dles have a black, grainy coating. There’s no glare. Your fingers don’t slip. And the insulating effect eliminates the chilly feel­ing of the metal.

Taken individually, none of these de­tails loom large enough to justify a pur­chase, particularly for a hatchback buyer. But take them all together in a four-door, along with an enthusiastic engine and a poised chassis, and there emerges the quintessence of an automotive thor­oughbred. Maturity is not really neces­sary to appreciate such a car; just being awake is all it takes.



1990 Acura Integra GS
Vehicle Type: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan


Base/As Tested: $16,245/$17,245
Options: air conditioning, $1000

DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 112 in3, 1834 cm3
Power: 130 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 121 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm 

5-speed manual


Suspension, F/R: control arms/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 10.3-in vented disc/9.4-in disc
Tires: Michelin MXV


Wheelbase: 102.4 in
Length: 176.5 in
Width: 67.4 in
Height: 52.8 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 51/35 ft3
Trunk Volume: 11 ft3
Curb Weight: 2686 lb


60 mph: 8.6 sec
1/4-Mile: 16.3 sec @ 84 mph
100 mph: 25.5 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 13.1 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 13.3 sec
Top Speed: 123 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 204 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.78 g 


Observed: 21 mpg

City/Highway: 24/28 mpg 


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