Talkin’ about Cars: The Acura Edition

First things first, wheeeew, it’s been a bit of time. I keep writing things, then not finishing the links, etc, so they never got posted. This? I WROTE THIS IN FEBRUARY.

Better late than never, right?

Ok, so out of the way, I still love my Hyundai Genesis 2.0T. It still hits all my buttons.

But, some days, I miss my Acura (of course, some days, I miss my old ’80 Pontiac Parisienne, too). The Acura was pretty sweet. Actually, it was very sweet.

2003 Acura RSX front three-quarter

Yup, my RSX was stock, (almost)

And it’s a pretty accurate representation of what’s wrong with Acura right now. The Acura RSX (2002-2006) was the last car Acura made that was designed for not-buick-owners. And, as pretty much anyone knows, it platform shared with the Civic. It came with two very sweet little engines (160hp/139lb.ft, 200hp/141lb/ft) that were a blast to thrash, and got you good mileage (even better with a short-ram intake). Much like the Genesis, the RSX was about being quick, if not fast, and never having to slow down for corners. Yeah, it was basically a Civic, but it was different enough (significant differences in the head and tail lights, interior, and most dramatically, hatchback vs coupe) to BE DIFFERENT. The hatch was super useful, and made the RSX a much more useful car than the Civic was.

Seriously, I loved that little car. The only thing it didn’t have going for it was rear wheel drive. When I got rid of it, it was time to do major work (wheels/tires, shocks, springs, and timing belt) if I was going to keep it. I felt that money was better spent on something with a warranty. But still, some days…

But I’ve wondered for a while what the point of Acura was. Pretty much since 2006, in fact. The Acura EL (which is Canada only) was a rebadged Civic. Literally. Unlike the RSX, there were NO changes to the exterior, it was the same damn car, and you could tell. Yeah, you could option it up with leather and shit, but… why pay the premium?

The modern Acuras (TL, RL, TSX, etc) are for the most part, gussied up Honda’s, with a premium attached, and a terrible, terrible beak on them.

Seriously, WTF is that?

So, why am I talking about this? Well, it came up on TTAC today six months ago. And the article is the usual stuff: Acura, blah blah, repositioning the brand, blah blah, rebuild the identity blah blah no one gives a shit.

February 26th, 2014 at 7:59 am
Read this and understand:
Luxury means NOTHING. It used to mean extra features. Now it’s something old people shop for in terms of soft seats to cushion replaced hips and s supple ride that won’t aggitate the Ensure in their stomachs that had for lunch. That’s over. I can go out and literally get more features in a Hyundai or Ford than a BMW or an Audi. I can get that Hyundai or Ford for less than just the cost of the features on the BMW. Pretty much anything these days has a sweet ride, unless you opt for the factory donk package.

Acura needs to be premium, not luxury. They need some rough edges. Don’t sell Acura reliability based on common middle class fears of a broken windshield wiper. People who buy German metal don’t outwardly want to look like they care about that (but they do). Sell the Acura reliability like it’s a cockroach. Like it’s Rocky, like it’s friggin Galvatron built from the bones of Megatron’s body in the Transformers movie (the good one from the 80’s, not anything done by Michale Bay). Sell that kind of reliability. Then, make the cars AWD. all of them. Sell them as unstoppable. No one wants to be stuck in the snow.

That’s for poor people driving festivas. Premium means that mommy doesn’t have to bail on yoga class due to flurries. Then make the cars powerful. Every_friggin_German_brand (plus Lexus) forces the customer to pay dearly for power. That may have been jsut dandy even 20 years ago, but those days are gone. Power is cheap. My Audi would get smoked by my secretary’s 6 banger mustang. This is completely unacceptable. Every car Acura sells should at least be available with a gonzon motor at a reasonable cost. You want to get a younger audience in the showrooms? give them a reason to look at Acura when the car seat doesn’t fit in teh GTI or the WRX anymore. I promise you these people are looking at 328 ix’s and A4’s and CLA’s becuase they have nowhere else to go for a good car that doesn’t imply you live in mom’s basement and keep all your hat bills flat.

Make the cars beautiful. This is such a no-brainer, and Acura’s greatest single sin. If I can afford an Acura, I can afford something that doesn’t look like an Acura, and Acuras are ugly. finally, and for F’s sake, take some quirky chances with options. There used to be a time when you could walk into an Audi dealer and order an A6 Allroad wagon with a stick, twin turbo V6, and kermit green leather seats. you want me to eat my words? Then do real Luxury, with a big “L” and let people custom spec the crap out of their cars. Bespoke cars are real luxury. made just for you and no one else. OFFER A DISCOUNT FOR SPECIAL ORDERS. Special orders don’t sit on the lots, and are great profit makers. Even if people come to look but still buy off the lot, then at least they camee in.

This is actually how to either kill Acura, or put them back on the platform they used to be on. The Integra, the Legend, the Vigor. Come up with some names for the manaditory SUV’s (I don’t like SUV/CUV’s, especially at the premium/luxury level, but I understand the world at large does. But the comment from FractureCritical makes a really important point: AWD. I’d love to see RWD Acura’s, but the population in general doesn’t care. And Honda doesn’t have a history with RWD either (NSX excluded). What they do have is a spectacularly good AWD system SH-AWD with a terrible name, that was embedded in their top level sedans. At a time when Subaru is basically ditching the niche/AWD sedan market in favour of beige! GET ON THAT SHIT, ACURA. There is an opening there to make enthusiast sedans (and maybe coupes) that have real appeal, and real performance. Acura still can’t compete with BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and even Lexus in terms of caché, but, they can run with the big boys in terms of performance. No reason why they can’t make that their raison d’etre.

Know what Acura’s slogan was in the 80’s, when they first emerged?

“Precision Crafted Performance”.

Yeah, they were platform engineered, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Where it goes wrong is basic re-badging. Especially, as Fracture points out: there’s no POINT to buying an Acura now: you can buy the same or more in terms of features, power, and style from Hyundai, or Honda, or Toyota, at a lower price. Which means there has to be a less-tangible reason to buy an Acura. It’s got to be desirable. And they used to be. Even the TL (the beginning of the alphabet soup naming structure, which itself was to bring Acura to the “luxury” level) was known as a hi-po Honda sport sedan. Lets go back there.

Killing the TSX and TL is a good plan (and replacing them with one car, the new TLX), but it’s only a start. First, give it a name, not an ID string. It’s midsize. Call it “Legend”.

The new NSX, by the way, is apparently still coming. It’d make a fantastic flagship/HALO car.

But at the cost (and lets face it, relative impracticality) it’s going to sell a few units, as it’ll be a super car. But they’re good to bring bodies to the marquee, and get people interested. What do you have when they get there though?

Well, lets start at the bottom.

1] A hot hatch. Even in the USA, where hatchbacks have been maligned for years, the hatch is making a comeback. Make it a real slant-back hatch (like the ’86-2000 Integra was, and the ’02 to ’06 RSX was). Chassis share with the Civic, for sure: it’s a great platform. Do Acura-centric styling (lose the beak), offer base, premium, and Type-R. Base gets FWD, 200hp Vtec, manual or auto. Premium gets that, plus some of the tech toys, Type-R gets manual only, and a turbo (something Honda has barely played with, with occasional exceptions) which should probably hit about 260hp/245lb.ft. With a decent curb weight (under 3000lbs) that’ll rip 0-60mph/0-100km/h in about five and a half to six seconds. Make SH-AWD optional on all trim levels, and with stick or automatic. Non-turbo models should be around current Civic SI levels. The proposed Civic SI-R concept would be a hell of a place to start. This is an ACURA INTEGRA.

2] A Compact/mid-size sedan. Base it on the Euro Accord, which is slightly smaller than the North American version. Give it the SH-AWD treatment, and Type-R treatment, make a manual available on all trim levels. Type-R, specifically? 3.5L V6, manual-only, SH-AWD, improved suspension. This is an ACURA VIGOR. Bring that Type-R in under $50k? I’ll go look. Bring it in under $40k with a Type-R wagon variant? I WILL BULLDOZE THE DEALERSHIP DOOR TO GET AT IT.

3] A Midsize/Full-size sedan. The Current TL or even the RL should provide the base, but give it again, three trim levels, with manual and SH-AWD available as options (and not package limited) on all trim levels. Aggressive sedan styling is required, and at this size, the V6 is a requirement. As Honda is never gonna put a V8 in a car again, a turbo V6 would make for a fantastic Type-R. This is an ACURA LEGEND. I’m pretty sure my dad would roll $55k for a 3.5L, Turbo, V6, manual-transmission, 380hp/350lb.ft all-wheel-drive sport sedan. Hell, as of this year, Hyundai is gonna be offering something very similar on the Canadian Market. If Hyundai can do it with the Genesis, why can’t you do it with Acura, Honda?

4] The HALO Car. That’s the NSX. It can stay the NSX. It was always the NSX. Everyone knows what an NSX is. They won’t sell many, but they’ll sell one every once in a while, just like the Nissan GTR. It’s worth having around, because aspirational cars count. Hell, I’ve never seen a Lexus LFA in person, but it’s a great car for Toyota to have out there.

They’ll need names for the existing SUV’s. I can’t say anything about ’em, I just can’t get excited about SUV’s, I’m sorry. The only thing I would say is, it might be worth while taking the MDX, and applying SH-AWD to it, lowering it a couple of inches, and calling it the LEGEND ESTATE or somethin’. Bill it as a performance wagon slash off-roader/soft-roader. Make it handle. The smaller one (RDX, right? I forget) … I don’t even know. I don’t like SUV’s.

Names though. The cars need names. And they need the performance variant. And, like I said up there, I mean, PERFORMANCE. Type-R, the last few years? Got you … stickers. People who’re buying new Acura’s aren’t looking for stickers. They are, or should be, looking for something different: something that isn’t a Honda tuner car, but a factory Q-car. The Type-R was always that: a sleeper, unless you knew what you were looking for. And now… just stickers.

BMW, Mercedes, they get away with numbers and letters, because those things have always been there for them. For Acura, it always felt like they were trying to justify their place in the Luxo market. And they never needed that justification: the vehicles are as good as anything Cadillac or Lincoln puts out (ok, way better than Lincoln) and definitely in the same ballpark at Lexus and Infiniti. At least, they were, when they weren’t just glorified Hondas, when they had their own personalities.

Acura is by no means a dead brand. But setting your sights on the “Luxury Market” doesn’t actually SAY anything. Pick a demographic, pick a lifestyle, pick… pick something. Stop trying to be all things for all markets, with the big THIS IS LUXURY tag stuck to it.

I miss both my dad’s 1997 Integra (which is, to this day, one of the prettiest compact hatches ever made) and my 2003 RSX. They’re both phenomenal, fun, well-appointed cars with a purpose. And that’s what’s missing at Acura these days: Purpose.


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