When Acura first unveiled the reborn Integra, I was cautiously optimistic. As long as it didn’t cost too much more than a standard Civic, a Civic-based liftback with a manual gearbox and a limited-slip differential sounded quite nice. Now that Acura’s put out a press release detailing pricing, I don’t feel so optimistic. It’s really left me scratching my head. Let’s look at the Integra’s features, and walk through the vehicle’s model range.
The base-model Integra retails for $30,800 (excluding destination charge) and features a CVT automatic gearbox, a 10.2-inch all-digital gauge cluster, an eight-speaker stereo, smart key entry, a sunroof and leatherette upholstery. Moving up a notch, the A-Spec trim stickers for $32,800 and should make the Integra look like a $30,000 car. A-Spec models get 18-inch alloy wheels, blacked-out trim, a lip spoiler and red gauge needles.
But the Integra you really want is the $35,800 A-Spec with the Technology Package, which unlocks the no-charge option of a six-speed manual gearbox with limited-slip differential.
So what else does the most expensive Integra get you? While a 16-speaker ELS audio system will likely be lovely, adaptive dampers sound pretty sweet, a heads-up display seems nice, and synthetic suede inserts should class up the leatherette seats, the A-Spec with the Technology Package mostly includes a lot of stuff that should really be standard. Features like a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless CarPlay. I’m sorry Acura, a seven-inch screen in a $30,000 small car just isn’t enough in 2022. Locking telematics to the top-trim model also sounds weird, especially since a $19,995 Ford Maverick XL gets telematics as standard. Also locked to the top Integra model is a wireless charging pad, ambient interior lighting, memory settings for the driver’s seat and more than one USB port. Seriously, these are three fairly basic features that come on a $28,095 Volkswagen Jetta SEL. Granted, the Jetta SEL’s 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine doesn’t crank out 200 horsepower, but the Honda Civic Si’s four-banger does, as it’s the same motor that’s in the Integra. For context, a Civic Si retails for $27,300 before delivery and destination.
What level of hubris on this god-forsaken planet makes a manual Integra worth $8,500 more than a Civic Si? I know that $8,500 premium gets you leather and a liftback and adaptive dampers and a 16-speaker ELS audio system that’ll probably sound really, really nice, but holy crap. Do you know what you could do with $8,500? You could pay off a chunk of your student loans, pay for 4.857 months of rent in North Hollywood West, keep it in your savings account for a rainy day, buy an entire week’s worth of Shitbox Showdown winners — the possibilities are huge.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why Acura wants its new Integra in the $30,000 to $36,000 price bracket. It’s a sporty, well-equipped entry-level vehicle that could make a lot of money. And sporty, well-equipped entry-level vehicles are often marketed to college-educated young professionals who work behind keyboards all day. Kind of like me, come to think of it. However, I’m not a rich asshole who can afford to finance a flashy new five-door liftback for 84 months while renting alone in a major metropolitan area during a housing bubble, I’m just a regular asshole. $8,500 is more than my last three daily drivers were worth put together. Besides, if I did have nearly $36,000 to blow on a brand new car, I’d be absolutely spoiled for choice right now.
If I wanted to trade a little bit of class for a whole lot of speed, I could order a Hyundai Elantra N for $32,150. Sure I’d lose the liftback, the ELS audio system, and the respect of boring people who are too “mature” to find joy in a ‘roided-up compact car, but the Elantra N is actually properly quick. I drove an Elantra N at Sonoma Raceway last year and it was awesome — great on-track pace, great chassis and just enough comfort on the pockmarked roads of Napa Valley that I could totally live with it.
On the other hand, if I wanted something fully mature, I could pick up a Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus hatchback for $34,750. Sure, it may only have two pedals and the rear seats may be theoretical at best, but it’s all-wheel drive, looks like a million bucks, and genuinely feels like a luxury car. Hand on heart, a loaded Mazda 3 has one of the nicest interiors I’ve ever experienced in a car costing less than $50,000. In the performance department, the Mazda’s all-wheel-drive system is nice for winter traction, the turbo motor offers heaps of torque and it still sticks well enough in the bends to make passengers feel queasy during a moderate-speed plunge down an on-ramp. Job well done on a premium-feeling entry-level car.
Then there’s the safe, moderate choice of a slightly punchy Volkswagen. While the GTI is out completely due to its reasonably dreadful user interface, the Jetta GLI hasn’t yet come down with capacitive touch-itis. More importantly, the GLI retails for $31,295. That’s just $495 more than a base-model Integra for such added niceties as ventilated seats, real leather upholstery, adaptive dampers and a perfect amount of shove. Sure, the interior plastics can feel a bit Fisher Price and the gearstick feels like churning a bucket of gravel, but it really is the sensible, quick, well-equipped all-rounder in the moderately hot small car segment.
You may be wondering why I haven’t brought up actual premium cars from brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Genesis. Honestly, it’s because Acura seems to be living 25 years in the past. Back in 1997, the price gap between an Integra GS-R sedan and a BMW 318i was huge – a full $4,550 in 1997 dollars. However, the $21,400 Integra GS-R sat neatly halfway between the price of a Civic EX ($16,480) and the price of a 318i ($25,950) while providing a noticeably more premium experience than the Civic. The Integra’s dashboard wasn’t cubicle gray, its upholstery didn’t look like carefully-glued mouse fur, and it had such modern conveniences as a digital clock. Sure, you may laugh now, but there used to be a huge separation in materials, colors and features between regular compact cars and small premium cars, especially when few extra features were generally available. Even alloy wheels were an immense deal for such a long time, a cause for tribalistic brawling between Camry LE dads and Camry XLE dads at local minor hockey games.
Now though, there isn’t that much of a difference in luxury between premium small cars and regular small cars. Every compact car feels fairly well-built and you can get just about every toy a BMW 230i has to offer on a Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Needless to say, that’s shifted the boundaries of entry-level luxury immensely. Today’s entry-level luxury cars put emphasis on design, power, handling, a handful of truly futuristic technologies, and sheer badge status more than ever before. When your premium small car looks a lot like a Civic, has just as nice of an interior as a Civic, isn’t much quicker than a Civic, and doesn’t have much more brand cachet than a Civic, people will just buy a Civic.
I’d love to be wrong and watch people flock to the new Integra, but I’m getting a strong feeling that they won’t. Between the sheer vitriol at launch over the fact that the Integra wasn’t a wedgy two-door coupe to the NFT nonsense that came with the first few 500 pre-orders, Acura seems hellbent on crushing every ounce of goodwill the Integra name has. This rather optimistic pricing for what amounts to little more than a re-styled Civic with a liftback may just be the final nail in the Integra’s coffin.
Lead photo: Acura