Acura's least-expensive car, the RSX, is an anomaly.
The base RSX holds the top fuel economy ranking of all 2005 "sports/sporty cars," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with a rating of 27 miles a gallon in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway for a manual transmission model.
Meantime, the top-level Acura RSX Type-S, with higher-powered engine and sport-oriented suspension, is well-known to "tuners" - people who like to tune or customize their vehicles for enhanced performance and looks.
The RSX Type-S was named "Tastiest Tuner" for 2005 in Spike TV's first award for best tuner vehicle at the inaugural AutoRox program this year.
Acura, the luxury brand of Honda, updated the RSX for 2005 with more engine power, suspension improvements and freshened styling.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the base 2005 RSX is $20,845.
Note that the RSX is America's lowest-priced new car that wears a luxury badge. It debuted about four years ago as a replacement for Acura's Integra and developed a reputation as a sporty, competent, front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder-powered hatchback coupe.
It also has a sterling record for having no U.S. safety recalls, and it's a "recommended" buy of Consumer Reports, which lists its predicted reliability as "excellent."
Buyers of this subcompact, three-door car are predominantly young and single. Median age is 35, and just 33 percent are married, Acura spokeswoman Jessica Fini said. More than half of buyers are men, and median annual household income for RSX buyers is $79,000, she said, adding that about 12 percent of RSX buyers are computer programmers/computer consultants.
Even the base RSX isn't a stripped model. Standard features include halogen headlights, power moonroof, tilt, leather-wrapped steering wheel, carpeted floor mats, power windows, outside mirrors and door locks, side-mounted airbags, antilock brakes and automatic climate control with air conditioning.
The test car, the Type-S, revs high and readily, so I heard engine sounds right from startup. The sound wasn't too bad at idle, but it could become boomy in the 7,000-rpm range.
Note that while the base RSX is available with five-speed manual or five-speed automatic, the Type-S comes only with a six-speed manual. It had short, quick throws in the test car. Gears were easy to find, and I could drive as smoothly or as aggressively as I wanted.
Fuel economy in the RSX Type-S isn't quite as high as for the base RSX, but it's still in the top 10 of the EPA's sporty/sports car category with a rating of 23/31 mpg in city/highway driving.
Note that pricier premium gasoline is recommended for peak performance in the Type-S, while regular gas is recommended for the non-Type-S RSX.
The car is not even 5 feet tall, so passengers drop down onto the low, redesigned seats. In the Type-S test car, front sport seats were decently cushioned and had sizable side bolsters to keep riders in place.
But I'd prefer something easier to use than the big, clumsy dial on the side of the driver's seat that I had to crank manually to adjust the seat height. Some other cars use an easy-to-operate ratchet lever, instead.
There wasn't much wind noise in this sleek car, but the Michelin performance, low-profile tires shared road noise with passengers in the test car. Thank goodness I could turn up the volume on the premium Bose audio system. It's standard in the uplevel Type-S.
There was nothing I could do, however, to avoid the persistent vibrations and occasional jolts from the ride. The Type-S has a stiff, track-tuned suspension with front MacPherson struts and rear double wishbone configuration.
The base RSX has a slightly less sporty suspension, but on all 2005 models, the suspension has retuned bushings, revised geometry and improved front coil springs, among other things.
The RSX's small steering wheel adds to the sporty feel. Just a slight movement and the RSX immediately responds, giving the feel of a sprightly, nimble car.
Be aware that visibility in this car isn't the best. In the low-riding RSX, I was at eye level with the license plate on the back of a minivan, for example. In addition, the large, sloped pillars around the windshield can block views of pedestrians at intersections, and drivers backing out of parking spots can find diminished views.
NHTSA awarded the RSX five out of five stars for driver and front passenger protection in a frontal crash test. The RSX got four out of five stars in a side crash for providing protection to front passengers. It received four out of five stars in its rollover rating.
THE VEHICLE: 2005 Acura RSX Type-S, a front-engine, front-wheel-drive, four-passenger, subcompact hatchback coupe
BASE PRICE: $20,275 for base RSX with manual transmission; $21,175 for RSX with automatic; $23,670 for Type-S.
DESTINATION CHARGE: $570
PRICE AS TESTED: $24,240
ENGINE: 2-liter, double overhead cam, high-output, inline four cylinder with i-VTEC.
EPA MILEAGE: 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
TOP SPEED: 136 mph
LENGTH: 172.4 inches
WHEELBASE: 101.2 inches
CURB WEIGHT: 2,840 pounds
BUILT IN: Japan