Despite growing consumer interest in other types of vehicles and sometimes punishing insurance rates on sport coupes, two of the companies that sell the most models in that segment to Canadians are making efforts to keep their products fresh.
Ford has been tub-thumping the debut on the latest Mustang model for, oh, about 40 years, while Honda Canada's upscale Acura division is being more understated with the reveal of its revised RSX.
Acura had a media event at a club in downtown Toronto that's so exclusive you have to send them an e-mail explaining why they should let you in, but since the program was at 10 a.m. instead of 10 p.m. the auto writing hacks managed to get past the doorman anyway.
For those of you who came in late, the RSX is the model that replaced the Integra in the Acura lineup when the company dropped nicknames in favor of alpha-numeric designations. The thought was that this would put them in the same class as companies that have used that method for decades, such as BMW and Mercedes.
Under either name, the little Civic-based two-door car has been fairly successful in Canada. It is currently the number three seller in the segment behind Mustang and Subaru Impreza, but well ahead of the cars the company likes to compare itself with -- the increasingly popular Hyundai Tiburon and the fading, soon-to-be-cancelled Toyota Celica.
Acura also likes to make the claim that the RSX has been the ''performance leader in the coupe market'' since it debuted in 2001. To maintain the model's ''position as the benchmark in its class,'' says Hayato Mori, Acura's supervisor of product planning, ''it has been given performance and styling enhancements for 2005 that refine and modernize the interior and make it even more fun to drive.''
To make RSX even more appealing to buyers, Mori and his team have added a fourth trim level called Premium to the lineup, sitting one above the base RSX but below Premium Leather. It comes with a cloth interior, which means it has all of the amenities of the previous Premium model (alloy wheels and a moonroof) but not the leather interior.
The base RSX starts at $24,900 with a five-speed manual transmission or $26,100 with the five-speed automatic that can be used like a manual if the driver wants.
The new RSX Premium will be $26,900 and $28,100 with, respectively, manual or automatic transmissions.
RSX Premium Leather will be $28,500 or $29,700, depending upon the transmission.
RSX Type-S only gets the six-speed manual that's designed for sporty, aggressive driving, and it retails for $33,000.
All models use a DOHC 2-litre inline-four with variable valve timing and other sophisticated electronic controls designed to maximize performance and fuel economy, depending upon the driver's style at any given moment.
To deliver what Mori called ''a race-bred driving experience,'' the RSX's engine delivers 160 hp at 6,500 rpm and 141 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm in the first three models, and 210 hp (up 10 hp from 2004) at 7,800 and 143 lb-ft of torque (up one from last year) at 7,000 rpm in the Type-S.
These power numbers bring to the fore one of the defining characteristics of the RSX -- that you have to keep the engine revving like crazy to tap into the juicy part of its performance band. Even then, it will be hard to use this power to the car's advantage on North American roads, at least legally, since torque mostly provides launch and horsepower looks after maximum speed. It's unlikely any of this extra juice in the Type-S will show up in daily driving, though the final drive ratio was changed to give a little more oomph in acceleration.