The Fall of Acura

Posted: April 27, 2011 in Rants

I can’t contain myself any longer with regards to this once fabulous brand.  You see, Acura has gone from a go-to brand for people seeking entertainment and luxury to a brand that has abandoned the characteristics that made it great..

Acura’s story is very similar to that of Lexus – an offshoot of Honda (rather than Toyota) designed to capture a more upscale market segment.  They began in America in 1986 with their introductory flagship vehicle – the Legend.  The Legend was designed to be a performance-luxury sedan and in that role it excelled.  The original Legend was attractive, fun to drive, powerful, durable, and quite nice to be inside of – it was also attractively priced versus the competition.  By the time the 1990s rolled around, Acura was actually outselling BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the United States.  The combination of traits that made the Legend such a popular car were to be the hallmark of Acura in America for years to come.

Coming into the 1990s Acura maintained their original attributes and upped the game with nearly perfect ergonomics and attractive sheetmetal.  They began to build true driver’s cars with feedback and performance capabilities.  The first of these cars was the incredibly high-tech, all aluminum NSX.  The NSX looked like a car from the future, but more importantly, the NSX was the first supercar that was truly usable.  At a time when Porsche was still spewing out essentially the same car it had been hawking since 1965, Acura came to the table with an all aluminum chassis, advanced aerodynamics, a chassis tuned by the legend Ayrton Senna himself, and most importantly – real world reliability, ergonomics that worked with an actual human body, and fuel economy on par with the average family car of the time.  The NSX forced Ferrari and Lamborghini to sit up and take notice – a supercar could work in the real world.  In fact, the NSX should be credited with the renaissances that occurred within the supercar world and resulted in cars that were more friendly to daily use.

At the other end of the spectrum, Acura produced an entry level car that has left a legacy on the automotive world.  The Acura Integra used a double wishbone suspension setup tied to a lightweight chassis and a high revving VTEC engine together to provide a truly race-inspired vehicle with entry-level luxury and an enthusiast friendly price.  The Integra placed advanced technology into the hands of the consumers – a 1.8L engine making 170-180 hp in stock trim – resulting in a specific output given its displacement normally reserved for supercars.  Even today these cars are highly sought after as superior to their descendents.

Acura didn’t stop there though.  They also unleased the Integra Type-R on the consuming public.  Less weight, a limited slip differential, 195 horsepower with an  8500 rpm redline.  This was a racecar for the streets.  Feedback was superb, ergonomics were perfect and it was even fuel efficient.  Acura showed a willingness to create a car for the enthusiast even as they soldiered on with their bread and butter near-luxury cars of the time (The TL and CL, as well as the Integra sedan) – which still combined great, intuitive interiors with good handling and power, Honda reliability and a reasonable price.

And then things started going downhill.  In 2002, Acura killed off the Integra and replaced it with the RSX – a car that did possess a gem of an engine in the K20, although it took a step backwards in terms of suspension by losing the double wishbone setup and replacing it with a cheaper McPherson Strut setup.  Its not that the RSX was a bad car – it was a good car – but to replace a dynamically superior car with one that is inferior is inexcusable in my mind – even if the justification is to save cost.  If a product is a premium product then it can command a premium price – by downgrading a product Acura was in fact asking for the car to be viewed as inferior.

The rest of the 2000’s wasn’t awful – the TSX came along which did retain an advanced, multi-link suspension.  I can personally attest that while the RSX-S did have more scoot, the TSX was the better car to drive.  Whereas the RSX would give up the grip in the front the TSX simply refused to misbehave – it was properly sorted out – if only Acura had graced it with an engine that could match the chassis.  The chassis was so good that RealTime Racing even campaigned a TSX over the RSX in the Speed World Challenge, despite the fact that the TSX was heavier.  They apparently made the right choice as they captured the title several times.

Acura’s final swan song as I knew the company was with the TL-S.  A roaring monster of a sedan with a beast of an engine, giant brakes, and a serious suspension – this car would turn in faster lap times than competing BMWs, Audis, or Infinitis.  It proved that Acura was serious about performance, despite some softening of their cars.

However, with the recent crop of Acuras, they have lost the way.  Where the sheetmetal was once attractive, it is now grossly ugly.  Gone is the clean, attractive sheetmetal – instead, all of the cars now sport a hideous new corporate beak.  Gone are the sporty, fun to drive models like the Integra or RSX – instead, we have bloated whales floundering about, like the TSX “Sport” Wagon.   In fact, the #1 reason stated by consumers as to why they chose to purchase something other than an Acura has been styling.

Worst of all, the cars have lost everything that attracted me to them.  In addition to the horrible looks, the interiors are now crammed full of more buttons than the Starship Enterprise.  One can barely figure out how to do the most simple tasks – while Honda has at least retained a semblance of simplistic ergonomics, Acura has gone the way of other luxury manufacturers by offering too many features with too many buttons.

And along with all those features comes the inevitable weight creep.  The cars are easily tipping the scales at over 4,000 lbs, more with the AWD options.  The cars have also lost their feel – replacing communication with insulation thanks to ever more sophisticated drive-by-wire and electronic steering.

Finally, Acura suffers from heinous product overlap.  They offer a TSX with a V6.  Why would anyone purchase a TSX with a V6 when they could spend a marginal amount more and get a TL?  It works the other way.  The RL is essentially a bloated, overweight, overpriced TL.  Who in their right mind would spend the money for the RL when the TL is essentially the same thing for less?  Apparently nobody, as the sales have begun to suffer.

Acura’s slogan is “Advance”.  In reality, it looks like the company has done nothing but regress.

  1. Alex says:

    I just read through your entire blog in 2 days. Starting to wonder if you have a portal into my mind, particularly with the last few posts. It’s truly sad to see the makers of what was once a legendary brand debase themselves in this manner. It would do them good to fire everyone currently in their market research department – I’m still trying to figure out whom they were targeting with the ZDX.

    Also sad is that we have an original MDX in the family, and I can’t help but think how much better it looks, feels and drives than the current generation. Even the dashboard material is superior.

    • autophiliac says:

      They were targeting the same people with the ZDX as they did with the Honda Accord Crosstour, BMW X6 and Nissan Murano Crosscabriolet – a person that only exists in the demented mind of the focus group.

      The Homer

  2. ex honda guy says:

    Acura lost their way when they dropped the names and dropped their desire to be the best. The RL in 1996 was a joke and the Lexus GS in 1998 showed how its done. From there they started to produce cars here, drop the fun cars and be confused. They kept promising to move up but never did it. Then we watch Hyundai, Ford, GM all make better cars with more power and luxury. Then to make it worse, they added crappy styling. They are now heavy, slow, and all just lost. The ZDX is not anything the old Honda would produce. Shame

    They sold better in the 1980s!!

  3. Alex says:

    Wow, that’s an incredible drop there after ’05. Possibly the crime against eyesight that was the “Advanced Sedan Concept” served as a good warning of what was to come, and the public justifiably went running scared.

    Equally of note is that 30% bump right after 2009… Could it be that the ZDX actually helped their numbers? God help us all if that’s the case.

  4. Bob P says:

    Acura lost it’s way by moving away from the launch tagline “Precision Crafted Performance”. These 3 words embodied the Acura brand. Then, an equally fatal mistake was to kill the Legend and Integra models. The desire to copy or adhere to other luxury brands was a mistake. The performance image at inception is what drove the brand. Acura has lost that. If anyone at Honda/Acura is listening, I’m available to get the brand back on track. Don’t try to be something your not.

  5. Stephen Scharf says:

    As someone who has driven (and ridden) Hondas for over 25 years and owned the Integra, RSX-S, TSX, I can attest to the fact that your comments in this review are bang on the money and absolutely accurate. My Integra and 2007 6spd MT TSX were and are truly excellent cars, with superb handling and very fun to drive. My RSX Type S, OTOH, while it had a nice motor, had too high a Cg and absolutely dreadful handling. I could never get that car to handle correctly, and apparently, neither could Acura’s racing teams. I just bought a very nice, clean used 2008 TL Type S with only 58K miles two weeks ago, and absolutely love it; it is a *fantastic* car; the best Acura I’ve ever owned.

    The dealership I bought it at had twelve, count ’em, twelve 2014 TLs on the lot they can’t *give* away…

    What’s most interesting to me is that a company that had such an incredible reputation for quality, innovation and engineering as Honda did, could completely lose it’s way from *complacency*

    Sad, too, because I really loved Honda as a company and their products.

  6. Ex Acura owner says:

    It’s 2016 and Acura is still ugly and lost. The Accord and Pilot are just as good if not better. Kia and Hyundai offer better vehicles.

    The new NSX is made in Ohio! Now Acura is a has been only for loyal fans that refuse to buy the better competition.

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