Acura, Honda’s Luxury Car Division, is going all the way back to the beginning (March 1986 — before Lexus and Infiniti) with its latest compact car offering.

The Integra, along with the mid-sized Legend sedan, were the first two products that helped Acura become part of the mainstream premium car business in North America. When the mid-engine NSX sports car arrived four years later, Acura’s performance chops were insured.

The 2023 Integra replaces the ILX, a budget-minded entry level luxury car that didn’t move the metal versus the competition from Audi, BMW, Mercedes, etc. Interesting fact, Acura’s two crossovers outsell the brand’s three cars by nearly 3-1, while Honda’s six crossovers/trucks only outsell the brand’s three car models 2-1. Acura outsold Cadillac, Lincoln, Infiniti, and Volvo in the United States last year.

The new Integra returns to the original model’s emphasis — impressive performance, with an upscaled interior that is priced below contemporary rivals. Also like before, the Integra is based on the latest Civic platform — in this case, the sportier Si model.

Built in the U.S. this time around, the Integra uses a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine to make 200 horsepower and power the front wheels with a limited-slip front differential included to help aid with launching the spirited five-door. That’s right, the Integra will be a hatchback only, enhancing cargo flexibility.

A CVT automatic is the default transmission, yet Acura is offering a 6-speed manual gearbox which is an apparent hit with the targeted youth audience, as Integra pre-orders are 65% biased towards the three-pedal arrangement. In a market where less than 5% of new vehicles are available with a manual transmission, this is an impressive signal Acura’s early adopters, as well as recent converts, are delighted to have another chance at driving exhilaration.

Weighing barely 3,100 pounds the Integra really gets the job done with this tiny turbo-motor. While highway cruising revs are higher than most vehicles — close to 3,000 rpm’s — the torquey powerplant powers up long grades without a downshift plus it easily overtakes slower highway traffic without straining. Best of all, peak fuel economy exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates of 30/37-mpg with a solid 38-mpg during mixed driving.

Pricing for a base model starts at $31,895 — several thousand below rivals like the Audi A3, BMW 2-series, or Mercedes CLA. Perhaps the closest rival to the Integra — in spirit and price — is Mazda’s revised Model 3. Next up is the A-Spec, $33,895, while the top model ($36,895) adds the Technology Package to seriously undercut several competitors.

The A-Spec level adds larger split-spoke Shark Gray wheels, beefier tires, as well as selectable drive modes that can notably change the car’s behavior with adaptive dampers. Adding some minor visual enhancements augments what is easily the best-looking car from the Acura stable for far too long. A bold front fascia complements the clean lines down the flanks and around the rear to create a small Acura that is much easier to look at than the car from which it is derived.

From the light clutch action to the snick-snick fluidness of the manual gearbox, the Integra feels lithe, agile, and fun in your hands. Steering inputs, braking responses, and overall handling are just like Acura’s of old — ahead of the pack. This fifth generation small car uses a fully-independent suspension at all four corners to better deliver the ride and control buyers expect in this segment.

Not as luxurious as the aforementioned competition, or as quiet, the Integra let’s a little too much Civic show inside. Standard gear like blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alerts, AcuraWatch safety items, 8-way power driver’s seat, synthetic leather seating, and a 7-inch touchscreen are ahead of the Honda, yet you need to get the Tech Package — with 16-speaker ELS audio, HID display, 12-way power seat w/memory and suede inserts, wireless charging, 9-inch touchscreen, and the dynamic drive system electronic driving aids — to get closer to the German pack.

The sportiness, and thriftiness, of the Integra are consistent values for the brand, restored here at last. You cannot get the manual with the base car, regrettably, and there is no hybrid model or optional AWD. There are hints, however, a Type S version — with Honda’s 270-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four — could arrive next year. With 50% of pre-orders coming from driver’s new to the Acura brand, the new Integra suggests marketers have tapped into an under-served segment of the buying public.

Who knows, maybe the Legend will soon return as the brand’s first EV sedan.

Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles for more than 20 years.