Vintage Car And Driver Review: 1986 Acura Integra LS – Nicely Integrated

Honda had gone from an unknown quantity to household name in less than a decade, and the company was striving for more. It may seem odd from today’s perspective, but the concept of an ‘upscale’ Japanese brand was seen as a gamble back in the mid ’80s, and Car And Driver notes it so. An idea partly due to upcoming import quotas, Honda was the first of Japan’s makes to jump into those risky and profitable waters with the Acura brand.

There isn’t much I can add to this review. The company was on a hot streak throughout the ’80s, and Acura’s launch was one more step in Honda’s unstoppable rise. The Acura line spoke to a new generation of drivers with two new models: the higher end Legend was developed with the help of Rover, and for the Integra, Honda repurposed available premium hardware to add an entry model for the new marque.

In the Integra, the known Honda traits were there: the handling was both responsive and compliant, the 1.6 liter engine revved happily and smoothly, and its cockpit was quiet and comfortable, filled with modern ergonomics. The Integra offered a ‘rational’ style of luxury; devoid of gimmicks, aiming for sober and responsive efficiency. It wasn’t a per se sports car, but rather an all-around well performer that clicked the right boxes for upscale buyers in the ’80s.

DOHC, that’s the main legacy of Acura’s early days. While such engines had already been available in sporty and upper market Europeans, Acura (and Honda) turned DOHC engines into widely known commodities. Soon, VTEC would be offered and even an exotic competitor, the NSX. Everything about Honda/Acura seemed hot.

Many customers took to Honda’s products; a good deal of my college mates owned Civics, and one even bought two CRXs when the model was discontinued. A good number aspired to climb to an Acura, and buy them they did when finally able.

We’ll get to the ‘in hindsight’ murky area now, the company’s decision to hedge their bets at the brand’s launch. With the release of the upper class Legend along the sporty middle class Integra; how upscale was the brand meant to be exactly? Until AI can sort out the ‘what could haves?’ in a convincing way, there’ll be debate on that end for time to come. Lexus and Infinity suffered of the same sin, though none of their lower-end models gained the following the Integra did. How to let go of the lovable runt, even if it saddles your posh intentions?

Of course, there were limits to how high Honda could climb. But those were still a bit further into the future. The most surprising thing for me in this review? The images of a clean Integra. When is the last time you saw one?