MSRP Range: $ 19,950 - $ 23,170
MSRP As Tested: $ 23,170
Vehicle Category: Compact sports hatchback coupe
Enigne Location: Front Engine
Drive Wheels: Front Wheel Drive
Engine As Tested: 2.0-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, Inline 4-cylinder, HO i-VTEC,
Transmission As Tested: 6-Speed Manual
Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 24/31
Standard Safety Features: Driver and front-passenger, front and side airbags, Antilock Braking System
Competition: Dodge Neon SRT4, Ford SVT Focus, Ford Mustang V6, Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Tiburon GT V6, Mazda Speed Protege, Mini Cooper S, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, Nissan Sentra SE-R, Pontiac Grand Am, Subaru WRX, Toyota Celica GT-S, Volkswagen Beetle Turbo S, Volkswagen Golf GTI.
MOUNT IDA, Ark. -- The narrow road, squiggly Arkansas 27 whipping across the rugged Ouachita Mountains, follows contours of the steep slopes on blacktop that pitches and rolls through an endless series of snaky hard corners and broad sweepers.
Isolated in the pine-studded Ouachita National Forest with only hamlets like Rover and Onyx notched between Danville in the north and Mount Ida to the south, this curlicue route with sparse traffic works as an impromptu test track to sample the expressive spirit of a raucous two-door sports coupe by Acura, the brand of luxury and performance vehicles derived from Honda of Japan.
Our tester -- the RSX Type-S -- is a two-door coupe with hatchback styling that fits into the compact class and carries the muscular rendition of an all-aluminum 2.0-liter Honda engine coupled to a six-speed manual transmission with close ratios and a short-throw stick off the console.
It's relatively light in weight (2,778 pounds), long in strength (up to 200-hp) and tall in the rev department (the redline rises to 7,900 rpm).
Drawn from Honda's success in motorsports, the car possesses a rigid chassis saddled with a front-mounted engine directing all power to the two front wheels. It brings precise rack and pinion steering with tight tuning for the sports suspension and keen stopping power extracted from big ventilated disc brakes for all wheels, which are capped by Michelin MXM4 high-performance tires.
All of these components combine to set up some agile and impressive handling traits and make the Type-S an exciting machine to push through a curvy course.
That explains our choice for a wiggly tester route cut through desolate forests in Arkansas, although this car also retains its fun-to-drive enthusiasm even when steered down mundane suburban boulevards or traffic-clogged city streets.
It simply feels good to use, with mechanical parts working in a precise manner and the cockpit comfortable yet fitting like a soft but taut leather driver's glove.
The cabin of RSX provides seats for two up front and two more on a small bench in back.
When not needed for passengers, the rear seatback folds down to expand the rear cargo compartment, which has a flexible cover that locks in place to conceal valuables stored in the bay.
Type-S is the designation marking sport-tuned performance editions for Acura vehicles. There are Type-S issues of Acura's mid-size 3.2TL sedan and 3.2CL coupe plus the compact RSX coupe.
The Type-S version for RSX varies from the base edition due to specific enhancements of the powertrain and mechanical gear designed to set up a more powerful and lively vehicle.
Both RSX and the Type-S stock a twin-cam 2.0-liter aluminum four-in-line engine that employs Acura's advanced i-VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) system with computer-controlled intelligence for regulating camshaft phasing to boost performance and fuel economy.
The base version makes 160-hp at 6,500 rpm plus 141 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, then links to the standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional five-speed Sequential SportShift automatic with clutch-less shift-it-yourself action to simulate manual controls.
For Type-S, specific tuning of the engine plus the addition of a high-volume intake manifold pulls more oxygen into the combustion chambers and pushes the power curve up to 200-hp at 7,400 rpm with torque of 141 lb-ft at 6,000 rpm.
That extra strength is managed through the six-speed manual gearbox.
Type-S also has track-tuned suspension settings with firmer springs and dampers fore and aft plus larger front vented disc brakes.
Otherwise, the two versions contain similar equipment -- the same exterior styling, most of the same interior appointments and even the same rollers with 16-inch cast alloy wheels and the Michelin P205/55R16 all-season performance tires.
Chassis for both models comes from a global small-car platform developed by Honda and also used to underpin Honda's Civic sedan and coupe. The structure was engineered with the aid of computer analyses to produce maximum torsional rigidity using high-tensile steel that doesn't load excess weight aboard.
Both the standard RSX and special issue Type-S feel tight and precise and fun to drive and either will no doubt appeal to any driver who likes to toss a vehicle around on a winding road.
Yet Type-S makes those extra measures -- more muscle to play and stiffer settings for the suspension plus the six-speed stick -- to sate an aggressive driver.
The car also looks aggressive, with styling more keenly drawn and less conservative than other Acura vehicles.
It features a broad stance with wheels shoved to the extreme corners of the platform, resulting in only scant overhangs front and rear.
The face hones to a sharp prow due to a steeply raked hood and large corner headlamp clusters in triangles. Leading the car is a thick and flat chin spoiler with broad air intake ports but a subtle five-sided Acura grille.
Lines sweep in wedge-shaped and wind-cheating angles up the massive expanse of windshield and over a gracefully curved roof to the hatchback tail. Window glass in side doors and quarter panels shows contoured forms to help streamline the form.
The resultant form makes sleek RSX look fast even when it's standing still at a stop light.
Both cars contain a lot of gear. Equipment that's standard on both ranges from an automatic climate system and keyless entry to power controls for mirrors and door locks, power windows with automatic up and down feature for the driver's side, cruise control, a tilting steering wheel, two 12-volt power outlets, overhead map lights for front seats and a power-motivated moonroof.
RSX has all seats clad in fabric upholstery, while Type-S shows perforated leather. Also, there's a premium audio with six speakers and a single-disc CD player in the dash of RSX, but Type-S upgrades the equipment to a Bose Music System with seven speakers and six-disc CD deck.
Then a new factory performance kit adds gear for a street racer, with further shock tuning to drop the chassis, plus 17-inch wheels and an under-body spoiler kit plus a tall rear wing spoiler.
Price points hold the line in an affordable range. The MSRP for a base RSX with the manual five-speed is $19,950, and the addition of the five-speed Sequential SportShift automatic adds $900. Type-S with six-speed manual tallies to $23,170, but the new factory performance package runs an extra $4,800.