In our last installment we sprung Prince Albert from his can to profile a British minx, the Jaguar XK8/XKR. Today, we’re examining the progeny of Soichiro Honda. Honda love runs deep. We understand and respect this. If you’ve tattooed the phrase “DC5 Forever” on your chest, stop reading now. If not, listen to our sad tale of the car that forgot where it came from.
The theme today is stepping out of the shadow of one’s predecessor. The RSX’s pappy was the DC2 Integra of 1994-2001. And the baddest DC2 was the Type R. The name has since become diluted by certain people’s slavish devotion to slapping “Type R” stickers all over anything that moves, but the original Type R was no appearance package. To understand the RSX, you have to understand the Type R.
The 1.8L B18C5 engine was heavily modified from the stock GSR, including an entirely new head design, molybendium-coated high-compression pistons, lighter connecting rods, a balanced crankshaft to support higher revs, and hand-polished intake runners. Making 197 HP at 8000 RPMs and maximum torque (130 ft-lbs.) at 7500 RPMs, this was a motor made to scream on a level not usually seen outside of motorcycles or F1 cars. A close ratio 5-speed helped keep the revs up, and a 150 lb. diet helped this front-driver hit 0-60 in 7 seconds and pull 0.92Gs on the skidpad. It was a serious drivers car, but the best part was the chassis. Beautifully neutral in most situations, skilled drivers could coax oversteer in appropriate situations out of the Type R’s chassis. A limited slip helped put the power down when you exited the corner. That’s why this isn’t a Rust or Lust about the Type R: it’s a LUST shoe-in. It was, quite simply, universally regarded as possibly the most balanced front-wheel-drive sports car ever created.
Honda, for some inexplicable reason (but likely involving a meeting between bean-counters and the marketing department), decided to wipe the slate clean and start anew, creating a common chassis to underpin the both the RSX and the 2001 Honda Civic. Possibly an engineer with any sense of poignancy shed a single tear. We can’t be certain. What is clear is that this was meant to leave the DC2’s boy-racer image behind and to cater to a more sophisticated (read: older and wealthier) clientele. Along with the increasing girth of their newly-sought customers came some poundage – about 250lbs more than the outgoing Type R. Despite making 200 HP from its 2.0L K20A2 motor, and ticking off the old Type-Rs 0-60 time by a half-second, the RSX had lost something.
That something was poise and balance. No longer was the raison d’être of the car to be the track weapon its predecessor was. By switching to MacPhearson struts in the front and porking the thing up, they’d killed the scalpel-like precision of the old car. The new variable-resistance steering sucked, with big dead spots and crappy feel. The chassis was set up to understeer. It looked like a streamlined suppository. As one wit on the Automobile Magazine quipped, its “a modern Toyota Paseo.” Ouch. Ultimately, this isn’t so much about what the RSX was (a luxury coupe for 28-year old marketing managers), but about what it wasn’t (a car better than the one it replaced). That’s why we can’t love, nay, lust after the RSX. It is the equivalent of taking fine sake and diluting it with Pepsi.
While the Type R will no doubt be a sort of ’66 Mustang K-Code Fastback of the future, the RSX will find itself in a no-mans land, lacking the charisma to inspire nostalgia and therefore being unable to justify its existence. The engines will be cannibalized for use in track-day cars, and what is left will likely be an unseemly pile of primered nonsense. If you have one, love it, but don’t expect it to become the next barn-find Bugatti.