As with most guys, I’ve owned a number of cars in my time. For the most part I’ve been happy with them. The cars I really love I gave names. My Merkur XR4ti was known as “The Red Menace.” My first car, a Dodge Aspen with a very warmed over Slant-Six and a hand-built auto-cross suspension, was “Great White” – because it looked like a monster amongst the RX-7’s and Fiats in attendance at SCCA rallye’s and autocrosses.
I never thought my current car would be in that league. After owning a BMW (a 318is and then a 328ci) for ten years I broke down and bought a Japanese car when the economy made me work at home on a protracted basis. But what a revelation this little Acura RSX – “The Blue Bullet” – has been.
For starters, it makes 160hp out of a four. My old BMW 328ci made 185 out of a six. Sure the BMW had more grunt – more torque – but this little Acura can commute to and from work for almost two weeks on one tank of gas. Which is just awesome these days. And once you get the iVTEC 4 wound up to 4-grand, it just pours out the power – it wants to go faster, faster, faster. Unlike many smaller cars, the Acura cruises happily at 80 on the 5.
Next is the handling. The only car I ever had which handled this crisp was my old Merkur. This little front-wheel drive RSX can actually drift. I’d never driven a FWD car which could do that, the rear end just steps out nicely when you want it to when it’s under power. This isn’t your typical trailing-throttle or brake-induced oversteer – it’s good ole firmly planted drifting. Incredible – they really dialed in the suspension in a way I never thought possible. In fact, after owning a couple of FWD’ers in the 80’s I vowed to never go there again due to the excessive understeer. The Bullet darts through traffic like a Samurai sword and can get me on and off the insane LA Freeways with deft precision.
Beyond all that, the car has great fit and finish. After three years not one thing has gone wrong. It needs only one minor maintenance service per year. The leather sets are supportive without being saggy. The climate control (yes, in a car that barely cost $20K) works as well as any luxury car, and there’s a capacious hatch-back for carrying whatever needs to be carried.
And did I mention the transmission? Normally an automatic on a 4-banger would mean gutless performance. And, I guess there is a little of that. It doesn’t hold 1st long enough so when you’re moving up for a turn through traffic after a light you find yourself in 2nd too soon and down on power.
But aside from that this is one of the best “manu-matics” I ever tried. For starters, it has a “3” mode – where it’s in automatic mode but only goes up to 3rd gear. Perfect for most city driving where you don’t want to find yourself in 4th on the Boulevard where you may need sudden acceleration to avoid the nitwit who just pulled out of WalMart without looking. The “hill grade logic” works well – keeping you in lower gears for engine braking or more pull when going up.
In manual mode, the shifts are as crisp as you could manage with a standard. And when you’re stopped in manual mode it automatically shifts down to 1st for you – not even the BMW StepTronic did that. When driven in manual mode, the RSX really has some serious jump. Cranking it up through a ramp getting onto the highway you suddenly find yourself enterring traffic at 70 already and just shifting into 4th. A blink later you’re close to 90.
The only knocks I have on the car, other than 2nd gear, is that the rear visibility is what you’d expect on a hatchback – not great in the quarter-views – and the suspension travel is somewhat short, so you often hit the bumpers on steeper driveway entries. Oh, and on extended drives like between LA and San Fran the engine noice is a bit much to take.
Overall, though, I really love this little car. I hope Acura gets back to making a rear-wheel-drive coupe – their line up is missing a car like that to compete with the BMW 3 and Infinity G35.