1999 Acura Integra Preview

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Versatility in an automobile can mean many things. A versatile vehicle might have superior all-weather traction and lots of interior space. Most sport-utilities would fall into that category. This, undoubtedly, is part of the reason sport-utilities are selling so well. They are multitalented. Well, suppose there were a vehicle — a car, to be precise — that was both highly entertaining to drive and still managed to get noteworthy fuel mileage.

Could it also be versatile?

For an answer to that question, we turn to the Acura Integra GS-R. We think the Integra is the polar opposite of a traditional sport-utility. It is versatile, but in a completely different way than a large four-wheel-drive truck.

Versatility defined

On a recent trip with the Integra GS-R, we averaged 37 miles per gallon while cruising at a pace that was anything but lazy. It is rare that a car can blend this degree of fuel efficiency with zero-to-60 times of around 7 seconds. That is quite a feat, and it speaks volumes about the engineering prowess of Honda Motor Co., Acura's corporate parent.

Even though the current Integra has been on the market since 1994, it still manages to be one of our favorite front-wheel-drive cars. It is also the best-selling vehicle in the Acura lineup, with 1997 sales of 38,331 units. Still, that number represents an 18 percent decrease compared with 1996 — yet another sign that the coupe market (the Integra also is available as a four-door sedan) has fallen on hard times.

An addition to Acura's lineup?

Thus far, we have established that both cars and trucks can be versatile. Nonetheless, trucks continue to conquer increasing numbers of coupe buyers every year. Therefore, we have a solution for Acura. It is quite simple. Combine the best characteristics of a sport-utility with the best characteristics of a coupe.

Start with a Honda CR-V. Lower it a few inches (no one wants to look at those ugly suspension components showing at the rear, anyway). Throw away the rear drum brakes and replace them with discs. Bolt on 16-inch wheels equipped with tires that are responsive, rather than the mushy rubber donuts of the current model. Next, retune the suspension to mirror that of the Integra. Then finish it off by installing the 170-horsepower engine from the Integra GS-R. The result would surely be a great vehicle. Why do we think so? Because it would be versatile, and that is what people really want in an automobile — regardless of whether they are consciously aware of it or not.

However, that does not mean Acura should drop the Integra from its lineup. Its combination of performance, fuel economy and stellar driving dynamics are unmatched by any vehicle we have ever driven in this price class. Belying the fact that its design is more than four years old, the Integra GS-R continues to stack up well against the competition.

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