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2004 Acura RSX Type-S Compact Sports Coupe

What Was Tested? 2004 Acura RSX Type-S Compact Sports Coupe

Price as tested: $23,865.

Mileage: 24 city / 31 highway.

Acura has set its sights on building reasonably priced vehicles with all the luxury that Acura is well known for. It's like getting more than you expected for your money, actually. You get the quality that Honda and Acura are heralded with, plus the price that the average Joe can afford.

I have only one major complaint regarding this vehicle and I've got to get it off my chest right away. For some reason, the six-speed manual transmission is just a bear to shift. You struggle to get it into gear and struggle more to get it into reverse. It actually was annoying toward the end of the week.

I thought it was because I just hadn't driven a manual shift in a while. But that couldn't be it. For Pete's sake, learning to drive a manual is like riding a bike - no matter how long it's been, you can still get it going after a few popped clutches in the worst possible scenario.

On the RSX base model, you can opt for a five-speed manual or a five-speed sequential SportShift automatic transmission that acts like an automatic, unless you want it to perform like a manual. The gear selection is yours to choose.

But if you want control, performance, excitement and a satisfying driving experience, nothing can be beat than driving a manual transmission. Hands down. Don't think I have to tell you that. Enough complaining.

Let's get to the nuts and bolts of this performance magnet. It's no wonder that the RSX has been chosen for a host of automotive industry awards, considering its styling - both on the inside and the outside - and its performance, quality and fun-to-drive attributes.

There are two models to choose from: RSX and RSX Type-S, which is the high-performance model I tested this week. With its fun-loving 16-valve dual overhead cam 2.0-liter I-VTEC four-cylinder engine that delivers 160 horsepower, the RSX Type-S will give anyone a run for their money.

Ride and comfort in a long drive will surprise you in the RSX. As small as this vehicle seems, you would expect a rougher ride in some respects - if only because of its high-performance moniker that tells you you'll feel the ultimate in control.

Thanks to high-mounted rack-and-pinion steering, struts that were made exclusively for the RSX, double-wishbone suspension in the rear and firmer suspension in the rear, the RSX delivers a form of comfort usually reserved for the ultra-luxury models.

Slip out of the front seat and take a slow walk around. Soft curves, well-defined lines and a distinctive front and rear treatment that gives the RSX a look that tells you it has full command of the road in front of it. Its styling is really pretty - but not in the feminine genre. More like pleasing to the eyes, I should say, I guess.

OK, now slip back into the driver's seat. Notice that everything is positioned toward the only person who matters in this vehicle - the driver. Metallic gauges are large, buttons and knobs are not abnormally small for a big guy or gal to operate and everything is in easy reach and even easier to understand. Joyful, joyful, joyful.

Safety features have not been forgotten and include dual stage front air bags, anti-lock braking system, front seat belt pre-tensioners, front and rear crumple zones, side impact door beams, anti-theft and remote keyless entry and five-mile-per-hour rated front and rear bumpers.

And you would think the cargo space in back of the rear seats is nothing to write home about. Nothing is further from the truth. During the weekend, with the prospect of having two eager children at home willing to help me re-landscape our front yard, we hopped in the RSX for a trip to The Home Depot. A couple of hours later, we were driving up the driveway with 18 bags of black mulch, 8 bags of top soil, 10 beautiful Hostas and a water fountain. The only inconvenience we had to deal with is putting my 12-year-old in the front seat for the mile-long ride home. The 10-year-old was still in the back seat, sharing it with the split fold seat next to her that held the water fountain.

Like I said before, the amount of standard luxury features you'll find in the RSX will really surprise you and make you think twice about the next vehicle you purchase.

I'm not talking about just stuff like an automatic climate control system with air filtration or adjustable driver's seat or even power windows and door locks here.

We're talking about stuff you see only in luxury-based, high-end vehicles. Stuff like a power moon roof, alloy wheels, heated door mirrors, speed-sensing intermittent windshield wipers, two 12-volt power ports, adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control and an AM/FM/Cassette/six-disc CD changer with an anti-theft feature.

All this and a little more for a hair under $25,000. Not bad, not bad at all.

Take a look, you may agree.

Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder.

Where built: Suzuka, Mie, Japan