Review: The 2023 Acura Integra 6MT Dares You to Shift It Yourself

A throwback to the days when entry-level luxury didn't preclude driver engagement

July 5, 2023 6:19 am
A red-colored 2023 Acura Integra 6MT drives along a road with mountains in the distance
The 2023 Acura Integra 6MT

There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about the strategy behind the all-new 2023 Acura Integra. This effort to shore up the affordable side of the premium brand’s showroom borrows its bones from parent company Honda’s relentlessly competent Civic, wraps it in a sleeker and somewhat more upscale package, and inflates the price tag to provide a reasonable expectation of profit.

There are two key differences, however, that separate the Integra from the ILX that preceded it as Acura’s most affordable model. The first is the obvious paean to late-90s nostalgia encapsulated by the Integra badge, a bit of stolen valor that appeals to that small segment of current customers who can recall the sporty compact’s Fast and Furious glory era.

The more important update to Acura’s Integra gambit? Execution. Whereas the ILX platform was left to wither on the vine for more than a decade and fend off challengers from Mercedes-Benz (the CLA-Class), Audi (the A3) and BMW (the 2 Series), using yesterday’s econo-car roots, the Integra doesn’t just keep pace with the state of the Civic art. Instead, it makes sure to keep pace with that car’s most compelling drivetrain — a commitment the outdated ILX couldn’t maintain

The end result may not run the table when it comes to the fun-to-drive near-luxe competition, but the Integra manages to represent the most appealing four-door to wear an Acura badge in years. In fact, the Integra’s biggest battle likely won’t be against its similarly-stickered rivals, but rather the bargain that is its Honda counterpart.

Paying More For Integra-ty

Although the now-departed ILX sedan cobbled together aspects of the sporty Honda Civic Si’s appeal, by the end of its run it was several steps behind in terms of performance and technology. Perhaps even more damning was the car’s overall lack of chemistry with the driver, relying on an automatic transmission tuned to the softer side of the spectrum versus the three-pedal splendor of the constantly-evolving Si.

For 2023, Acura has elected to go all-in on aping the Civic Si’s go-fast bonafides, lifting not just its turbocharged, 200 hp four-cylinder engine but also its six-speed manual gearbox, a unit that comes paired with a helical limited-slip front differential. There’s even a set of adaptive dampers available to those willing to pony up for the Integra’s Technology package, a feature that the more modest Honda can’t lay claim to, and the Acura also boasts a slightly stiffer unibody.

Still, enthusiasts will have to pay to play. In order to stuff a stick shift between the Integra’s front buckets, buyers have to pile on not just the Tech package but also something called the A-Spec package, adding an extra $5,000 to the bottom line that those who stick with the continuously-variable automatic found on the $31,300 base model avoid.

Each of these forced options (which were included on my tester) also install items such as LED fog lights, gloss black interior trim, and a louder stereo system (with a large infotainment display). That being said, it’s clear that Acura is intent on trapping six-speed seekers willing to bear the extra financial burden to sample a shift-it-yourself reincarnation of the original Integra.

Acura Announces the Return of the Integra
The new version is expected next year

Sublime Shifter

The combined weight of nostalgia and the price tag to get there might prove to be too much for drivers solely focused on reliving past glories. While there’s a lot to like about how the Integra tackles the daily drive, it’s not a stand-in for the Type R poster that adorned so many teenage bedroom walls in the original Toretto era. That experience is, theoretically, reserved for those willing to shell out even more cash for the Integra Type S (which follows the Civic Type R into focused hot hatch territory).

Instead, the manual transmission Integra is best appreciated for spicing up the commute in ways its auto-only Euro competition can’t. Although not a speed demon (requiring just over 7.5 seconds to reach 60-mph), the six-speed installed in the Acura is an art object best appreciated by the palm and wrist. Its mechanism’s grace and smoothness when selecting cogs elevates it above the “I guess this will do” attitude that so often guides shifter design in the handful of modern vehicles that still make them available.

The driver's side front wheel area of a red 2023 Acura Integra 6MT
The 2023 Acura Integra 6MT is appealing to the eye and interesting to drive

Match that with the 192 lb-ft of easy-access torque from its 1.5-liter engine and a relatively low curb weight of just over 3,000 pounds, and the Integra is legitimately interesting to drive in almost every situation, cornering correct and cruising with dignity in quieter moments. It would be a stretch to say to say it’s a smile machine, but it’s certainly a cut above the more insulated and often unremarkable transportation delivered by affordable luxury compacts. Add SUVs and crossovers to that calculus and the Integra becomes even more appealing to actual pilots.

More Money, Fewer Thrills?

For those vanishing few who value a clutch pedal, the Acura Integra presents a difficult choice. By the time that 6MT has entered the equation, the Integra has put nearly $7,000 between it and the strong Civic Si whose platform it largely shares, a not-insubstantial sum for very similar performance. Yes, those trick shocks and a somewhat spiffier interior help Acura make its case (as does the Integra’s ultra-practical hatchback body style versus the Civic Si’s sedan shape). But if it’s the drive you’re after then the Honda discount and the Si’s sharper overall personality each hold distinct appeal.

Then there’s the specter of the Mazda 3 , a small hatch that provides not one, but two drivetrains drivers can shift themselves, by turns matching or exceeding the Acura’s output while also undercutting its pricing. With a well turned-out cabin and competent handling, this same-size rival hovers over the luxury battlefield seeking out more expensive badges to skewer on its own six-speed pike.

The 2023 Acura Integra is a welcome addition to a side of the showroom that has all too often been ignored by automakers still deep in the sport-utility singularity. While it might not be all-conquering, nor bargain-priced from every angle, it’s still a worthy counterpoint to established premium players far less concerned with forcing a little fun into the fracas.

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