Most people drive the Acura Integra like they stole it. Mostly, it's because they have. Or, more accurately, someone else did. Model years ‘94 to ‘01 regularly grace the zenith of the annual top ten most stolen automobiles. Moral outrage aside, the Integra's tendency to disappear is entirely understandable. It's a cheap, fast, infinitely modifiable and reliable automobile that appeals to teenage boys, college students, financially-strapped pistonheads, rice rocketeers and thrifty professionals looking for a set of hot wheels (so to speak).
The Integra may be a bit wedge-shaped for fans of today's suppositorial supercars, but it's both distinctive and attractive- a combination that eludes most of today's automakers. If only Subaru could learn from the Acura's quirky yet tasteful circular headlights. The [optional] rear spoiler is, of course, entirely useless. But it balances the car's appearance, adding just the right touch of Zen-tinged Japanese aggression. If you want practicality, the hatch is it. Make that IT.
Inside, the Integra is your garden variety Honda. With proper love and care, the Integra's interior stands the test of time– assuming you can stand the squeaks and rattles that develop. (Alternatively, you can replace the stock radio with Sony ICE with Bowel Mover Bass Booster.) The Integra hatch's rear seats are nominal, but the front chairs are high and mighty, providing excellent visibility (if none of that Italian astronaut thing) inside a widescreen greenhouse.
Generally, the Integra's ergonomics are ideal; there's a reason the NSX supercar's cabin offered a cantilevered riff on the same theme. Of course, no one buys the ‘teg for its looks or the cabin's fit and finish. They buy it for the engine. Twisting the key reminds you of the car's core appeal: a perfectly tuned four-banger.
O.K. we need to be clear about the meaning of "perfectly." There's not a lot of horsepower about. The second USDM Integra ('90) stabled just 130 horses. By '93, it rose to… 140, and stayed there. It must also be said that even the '97 Integra's 1.8-liter, DOHC powerplant has less torque than a Kobalt 38" reversible drill. We're torquing 124 ft.-lbs. @ 5000rpm.
But those early Acuras ain't got much mass neither. (Look ma! No airbags! No traction control!) The second gen Integra weighs-in at a featherlight 2560 lbs. (three-door manual) or 2703 lbs. (four-door manual), climbing to only 2672 lbs. in 1997. And the revs top-out at either 6500 rpms or a startling 8000 rpms (GS-R).
A non-VTEC second gen ‘teg will sprint from rest to sixty miles per hour in 7.9 seconds. The GSR trims a half second from that time. On paper, meh. In real life, an unmodded Integra is the dictionary definition of zippy ("nippy" being PC poison these days). In fact, the engine's Oliver Twist's dream caregiver. "Please sir, may I have some more?" MORE? ABSO-DAMN-LUTELY!
The Integra's five-speed manual gearbox is equally laudable, dishing out deliciously short, satisfying, flick-your-fingers shifts. And you can keep at it forever. I met an Integra owned by a clueless gear-grinding n00b with 100k miles on the clock (the car, not the owner) still equipped with the original clutch (ditto). Replace the Integra's timing belt every 90k miles and Bob-san's your uncle.
Despite the Integra's mechanical integrity and longevity, there's a reason you rarely see someone over the age of 30 driving one. I'm not saying the Integra's a hard-riding car, but there are more pliable diamonds. The aforementioned squeaks and rattles are an entirely logical reflection of the punishment delivered by the Integra's independent double-wishbone suspension, with coil springs and stabilizer bar (front and rear).
There are plenty of suspension "upgrades" available, but they tend to make the ride quality worse, not better. And that's because sharpening the Integra's suspension transforms the Integra from a handgun into a laser-guided missile. Not to put too fine a point on it, aside from the post-Integra Mazda Miata/MX-5, Ye Olde Acura is truly one of the best-handling cars money can buy. If you don't know how much fun a front wheel-drive vehicle can be, and can't afford a Golf GTI, the line forms here.
Speaking of tight budgets, thanks [again] to its light weight, a manual non-flogged, non-modded Integra (RS/LS/GS) gets 25/31 mpg. The GS-R racks-up a [theoretical] 24/29 EPA mpg.
For pistonheads on a budget who like track days and don't mind saying "there goes another filling" on a semi-regular basis, the Acura Integra is a perfect used car. It's a steal (literally), it'll run forever, and when you do get some cash, there are hundreds of performance mods for sale, from turbos (good luck with that) to fake Type-R badges. Or is that the other way around?
And when you're ready to take your chiropractor off of speed dial, well, you COULD become just another insurance statistic. That said, Integra owners would never dream of such perfidy. Seriously. Never.