|Editorial, RSX, Acura Car Specific
|August 02, 2004 10:06
|February 08, 2005 18:38
After living with the RSX Type-S since January of 2002, I felt it might be a good time to reflect upon my past two and a half years in putting it through the paces as both my daily driver and weekend toy. The 2005 model year brings a purported host of changes for the RSX's minor model change (MMC), so in jotting down my thoughts on the current version, it will be interesting to see where Honda has improved the car. Having spent over two years and nearly 36000 miles with the car, I feel I've had the opportunity to observe most of the car's shortcomings as well as its strengths.
First, let me say that it's no mystery that every car has at least some flaw in its execution. Whether you're driving a Geo Metro or Ferrari Enzo, there is something that the car does or doesn't do well. You wouldn't take the Enzo grocery shopping for your family, nor would you take the Metro to the local race track for lapping. That said, this is not a nitpick article on the RSX, but merely a list of observations and my commentary related to them. So let's get to it…
Everyone wants to hear the bad news first, right? The car does many things very well, but there is a laundry list of things that could be improved upon. Here are my thoughts on those things.
- No LSD
I recall that just before the RSX was introduced, Acura held an online chat session where the Internet community could log in and ask questions about the RSX directly to project planners. Probably the only comment I recall in the transcript of that entire conference is in response to a user who asked if the Type-S were going to receive a limited slip differential (LSD). The response was simply, "We determined the Type-S does not need an LSD." Sure, the RSX-S can get by without an LSD, but you can also eat mac without cheese -- it's just a lot less exciting. Something as simple as pulling out of a parking lot with moderate throttle application necessitates an LSD in this vehicle.
- Terrible rolling stock
As with every Honda product I have ever encountered, save for the NSX and S2000, the RSX's stock tires are abysmal. In fact, I would venture to say they do nothing well. Autocrossing on the well worn stock Michelins on a cool day caused some delamination. These are certainly not tires suited for high performance duty. In fact, they begin to squeal at such low speeds that they're almost embarrasing to drive on. Why would a sport compact car have tires on it that are rated as "grand touring" by the Tire Rack? And again, why does the Type-S have the same tire model and size as the base model? At least give me something sticky. Here is an area where Toyota excels: low-cost high performance tire upgrade options. By comparison, it's merely a $60 upgrade on the Celica GT-S for 1" larger high performance footwear.
- Quirky rear suspension
Since taking delivery of my RSX-S, I've noticed that the rear suspension has never felt "right". It has a few problems. Driving down the road, even over the most minor of bumps, the back end seems to be bouncing around far too much. It's as if the shocks aren't damped well enough for the springs. Another quirk in the rear suspension is the ability to change toe under compression/rebound. The thought here is to have the rear wheels toe in under braking to provide more stability in the rear. Unfortunately, this also seems to cause the wheels to toe out under compression. This would be fine if we lived in a perfect world with smooth roads since it would allow for slightly better turn-in and rotation upon corner entry, but we live in a world that might have bumps mid corner. These bumps, dips, and imperfections in road surface mid corner make the car very unsettled. My first thought when I pitched the car into a corner with a dip wasn't a wholesome one. The car never lost traction, but to feel the toe changes make the rear end twitch what seemed like a foot back and forth was enough to make me commit this quirk to memory.
- Soft suspension overall
I've spent a bit of time driving the base model RSX around and for the life of me can't discern a difference between it and the Type-S suspension tuning. I've heard the Type-S uses stiffer dampers and possibly uprated springs. If there's a difference, boy is it subtle. The Type-S really needs a stiffer setup. A great way to test a vehicle's dynamics is in a slalom. Since I've come across more than a few of these in my autocrossing adventures, I can tell you that the body roll in these transitional maneuvers is pretty high. As I move from one cone to the next, I'm fighting physics very hard wrestling the wheel in the opposite direction. A stiffer suspension would promote less body roll, which would mean less weight transfer, which leads to quicker transitions making the car more nimble and manageable. Why the A-Spec suspension isn't the Type-S standard is beyond me. Isn't this supposed to be a sportier model than the base?
- Flat spot in powerband
The powerband on the RSX has a noticeable flat spot in the power band from approximately 4800 – 5800RPM, just below the VTEC changeover. It is easily distinguishable on dyno graphs and when driving the car I feel like I have enough time to play a hand of Texas Hold 'Em while waiting for the ECU to flip a switch. Hondata has managed to tune out this flat spot with simple ECU tweaks, so why didn't Honda figure this out in development?
- Unsettling 1st to 2nd shift feel
There have been countless claims, even up to the present, that the RSX-S transmission grinds gears on the 1-2 upshift. Honda has certainly recognized the problem, issuing 2 TSBs to correct it. I've heard mixed reviews on the fix; it works for some and not for others. My car is plagued by the issue, but my dealer was non-responsive to repair it, so I live with it. While it is a small annoyance rather than a problem, it's unsettling every time it happens.
- Leather quality
Again, as with most any Honda, the leather quality falls short. My RSX is garaged at home and work, so it doesn't spend much time baking in the sun. I've already had the driver's bottom seat leather replaced and both the driver and passenger seat back side bolsters are showing considerable wear. I can't imagine what the leather is going to look like in another 2.5 years. Additionally, I'd actually prefer to have a material other than leather in the car. Leather is slippery – I'm always bracing myself with the dead pedal to avoid sliding around in the seat. A switch to something like Alcantera or the suede-like material in the last Type-R would be a welcomed improvement.
It would seem that with so many things to rant about on the RSX that it has no redeeming qualities. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While they don't need nearly as much commentary as the above items, I can say that the RSX-S has a wonderful powerplant that seems to respond quite well to modifications. Simply installing a cold air intake system gained nearly 15HP at the wheels, which is unprecedented on any other Honda. The gauge cluster is attractive and easy to read at a glance, even when carving up favorite backroads. The chassis is solid with no squeaks, creaks, rattles, or shimmies. Feedback through the steering wheel is great, communicating every nuance the contact patches are experiencing and warning you when traction is running thin. Speaking of steering wheels, the small diameter wheel makes every other car's wheel feel like it was lifted from a school bus – you'll never want to live without it. The brakes are plenty large enough for a 2800 lb. vehicle, even for track duty. Although the stock brake pads are not at all aggressive and fade very quickly when pushed, a simple upgrade to something raceworthy, a flush to higher temperature fluid, and you're set for the racetrack.
As with any top-model Honda, the feature list is packed with useable gadgets that only add to the driving experience. Ergonomics are good with every button and control well within reach and easily used even with driving gloves. About the only thing I yearn for on the interior features is a navi option. OK, and maybe an input for an iPod or at least MP3 capability in the 6-disc CD changer. The cargo capacity is exceptional: I regularly fit 8 tires inside with minimal adjusting of the interior. With trays, pockets, and cupholders all around, passengers don't complain about storage space when they're cluttering up the 3 extra seats on brief blasts around town.
I've never heard of a vehicle that didn't have some problem, whether major or minor. Here's a list of items I've noticed or had repaired during my time.
- Transmission grind on 1-2 shift
This was discussed earlier, but the gist is that when the transmission fluid is cold, there is a grinding feeling during the 1st to 2nd upshift. The dealer "could not duplicate problem" even when I left the car overnight. I simply live with it now rather that arguing with the dealer.
- Front right suspension "pop"
When I bought the car, every time I made an aggressive turn or braking maneuver that compressed the right front suspension suddenly, a loud "pop" emitted. It was most often noticeable at autocross or track events and it would only do it once per event, but it was loud. Having the dealer torque all front right suspension bolts cured the problem, but it is resurfacing again. I'll either take it to the dealer for the same fix or do it myself.
- "Thunk" in steering rack
A persistent "thunk" when turning the wheel either left or right at low (below 5 MPH) speeds surfaced about a year ago. I had the dealer inspect and tighten all steering rack bolts, but it is still there. You can feel it in the steering wheel, but no one seems to know what it is. It doesn't affect the drivability, but it doesn't promote confidence, either.
- Seat frame rocking
I noticed just under a year ago that the driver's seat would rock about ¼" back and forth on its frame. The bolts securing the seat to the rails were tight, so the problem pointed to the seat frame. When I had the car in for the leather seat bottom replacement, I had them replace the seat bottom frame. It fixed the problem. I imagine that over time of me pushing and bracing myself from sliding around in the seat during autocross, track, and aggressive street maneuvers caused the frame to become worn out. We'll see if the problem resurfaces.
- Leather wear
The driver's seat bottom leather cover needed to be replaced. In the process, they also replaced the cushion. The seat back outside bolsters on both front seats were showing wear at that time, but apparently not enough to warrant replacement. I will wait until later in the warranty period to resubmit a replacement request.
- Squeak from transmission
At idle up to ~2500RPM, the transmission has a subtle squeak when the clutch is engaged. It doesn't matter if the car is in gear or not. It sounds like a bearing. When I even just rest my foot on the clutch pedal moving it about an inch, the noise stops. I haven't had the dealer look at it since it hasn't gotten any worse and I also noticed it on another RSX.
- Exhaust heat shield rattle
At several different RPM ranges, at least one heat shield rattles. Since it is a pain for me to get under the car and listen for them, I haven't tackled the challenge of fixing it. I also haven't bothered to let the dealer try. Maybe the next time I'm up there for other warranty work.
- Shift knob finish
Even though I don't wear jewelry, I fully expected the faux aluminum finish to wear off the shift knob since it is just painted on. Sure enough, less than a year after I bought the car, the finish began to peel. The new knob has been going strong ever since, so maybe I had a bad batch.
As when I first began looking at cars in this class to replace my well-aged '94 Integra LS, I still think the RSX Type-S is the class leader. There are other cars that do certain things better while falling short elsewhere, but I think the RSX has a balance unmatched by competitors. Were Honda able to address a few of the shortcomings, the car would be just about perfect. The list of problems I've had are very minor, in my opinion, and it's likely that a few of them wouldn't have surfaced if I didn't use the car for autocrossing and track events.
We're anxiously awaiting the revised 2005 version to see what it brings to the table. While we certainly hope it ups the ante, the sad ending to this story is that I'm willing to bet the coveted Type-R corrects 90% of the above problems at the expense of little. I'd be willing to accept more noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) from less sound deadening material, a stiffer suspension, harder bushings, and lower profile tires. I can live without a sunroof when an 8500 RPM redline replaces it. Lower fuel mileage? When the weight is lowered, I don't care. I'm not sure that a slightly freshened RSX with a couple of minor tweaks would make me upgrade, but offering a full-blown Japanese-spec Type-R would cause me to put down a deposit immediately. If a Type-R were available here in the US, you'd have to pry the grin off my face with a blowtorch. While the Type-S is decent, by comparison, it's nothing but your girlfriend's younger, hotter sister: a tease.
Copyright 2004 Temple of VTEC