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2004 Acura RSX

        When Acura introduced the RSX in 2001 as a replacement for the aging Integra, it was a knockout.
     It’s no wonder. With handsome looks, razor-sharp handling, a free-revving engine, comfortable interior, and upscale badge, the RSX was a steal at around $20,000.
     Three years later, it’s still one of the best bargains around.
     Not much has changed since the RSX was introduced — thank goodness — meaning it still has a wonderfully sporty personality and hip cabin that looks just as fresh today as it did in ’01. Even the price has remained almost unchanged, with the basic five-speed version pegged at $20,025 and the high-performance Type-S costing a hair over $23,000.
     At those prices, you wouldn’t expect the RSX to be much better than a Honda Civic, Toyota Carolla, or Nissan Sentra, but it is. The only question is how Acura manages to turn a profit on it.
     When you step down into the cabin, the biggest surprise is how many fancy features come standard — it doesn’t skimp on the goodies. There’s an automatic climate control system, power moonroof, nice-sounding stereo with an in-dash CD player, keyless entry, and heated mirrors. There’s even a one-touch up/down feature for the driver’s side window, a switch that’s usually found on luxury cars costing thousands more.
     The driver-oriented cockpit is focused around large-diameter, metallic-face gauges that give it a racecar-like look. A thick, sporty, three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard, and there’s plenty of head, shoulder, hip, and legroom in the front seats.
     But the RSX doesn’t stop there. It just keeps on giving.
     Turn the key, and Acura’s 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine burbles to life with a pleasant murmur. The base RSX makes a respectable 160 horsepower, but the Type-S uses high-flow intake and exhaust systems and a few engine tweaks to make a remarkable 200 horsepower.
     Both the base and Type-S engines make most of their power at high RPMs, so an automatic transmission yields fairly slow starts off the line. Acura’s five- and six-speed manual gearboxes, however, offer improved acceleration and a level of driver feedback that few cars in this price range can match.
     And then there’s the handling — the make-your-momma-scream type of handling that begs for aggressive, high-speed runs through every turn. A control-link MacPherson strut suspension keeps the RSX nearly flat as it slices through corners, especially on the souped-up Type-S version with its higher spring rates and additional bracing. It feels very firm on the road, but not bone-rattling.
     On the downside, there are some compromises you have to make to drive an RSX, not the least of which is a cramped back seat. It’s fairly difficult to squeeze into and would be uncomfortable for adults on long trips, so it’s probably best for shuttling small children or infrequent trips with buddies.
     There’s also a grating, whining sound as the engine gets close to its redline that some drivers may find annoying.
     The sound is almost like a giant dental drill grinding against the RSX’s chassis, but it’s only really bad when the RPM needle goes over 5,000. People who don’t push their engines hard on a regular basis probably won’t mind the sound.
     All in all, though, the RSX is a terrific package. Not only does it have plenty of luxurious features for the money, but its sports-car-like performance is breathtaking. Add in the pleasant-looking body and Acura’s reputation for bulletproof reliability, and the RSX could be the best deal of the decade.
     Hear that, Acura? Don’t change a thing.

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