Monday, May 6th, 2013 is a day that will live in infamy for this storied website. An egregious error was committed by our editorial staff, one so grave that it threatens to undo our credibility and achievements of the past decade that our founder, Robert Farago, and all subsequent contributors, worked so hard to achieve.
Like Lexus and Infiniti, Acura launched with two models, a bespoke flagship sedan and a smaller car based on an existing mainstream model. Unlike the Lexus ES 250 and the Infiniti M30, though, the Acura Integra received rave reviews. The Integra was discontinued for 2002 as part of Acura’s failed upmarket push. The Civic-based Integra sedan’s slot was sort of filled with the larger, heavier European Accord-based TSX. The 2004 TSX was a good car, but it was no Integra, and the model gained additional inches and pounds with a 2009 redesign. For 2013 Acura returns to its original playbook with a Civic-based four-door model. They’re not yet ready to officially admit the stupidity of going alphanumeric, so the new car is unfortunately appellated the ILX.
So, you want a small, practical wagon with a little bit of Euro flair and luxury pretensions. Unless you’re willing to mix with the rabble in a VW, what are your options? Volvo V50? Dead. Audi A3? Not much time left before it’s discontinued in the USA. Try the BMW 3-Series Wagon if you want something German.
Despite debuting over seven years ago, extensively refreshed in 2009 and nip/tucked again in 2011, the Acura RL remains a mystery. Flagship products usually sell in small numbers, but the RL is one of the rarest sedans in America. This isn’t exactly been a badge of honor for Acura. Overlooked by shoppers who flock to the cheaper Acura TL and largely forgotten by the automotive press (after all these years, TTAC has never fully reviewed the RL) With a full replacement due next year in the form of the RLX concept, I hit Acura up for an RL for a week to see how a flagship product from a major brand could manage to sell just 56 vehicles in Canada and 1,096 in the USA in 2011. For those who like statistics, the TL outsold the RL by 2,850%. Ouch.
Even if the Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT were not a good car, it would still deserve our support as the only upscale midsize sedan available with both all-wheel-drive and a manual transmission in North America. Even BMW has vacated this space. You can still get the 5-Series with either all-wheel-drive or a manual transmission, but not both in the same car. If you need all-weather capability and ample space for four adults, but also want to row your own, the TL is it. So, what are you stuck with?
Here’s a mind game I sometimes like to play: imagine your car was destroyed by some horrible accident while you were away (e.g., Godzilla was in the neighborhood). To your good fortune, your insurance company gave you a sufficient settlement to buy a brand new version of whatever it was you were driving. Would you consequently buy that brand new car, or something else with the same money?
Detroit has a long, sad history of self-delusion when comparing its cars to premium imports. Could you tell the difference between the Ford Granada and the Mercedes-Benz 280SE? Murilee’s take: people on ‘ludes should not drive. But what choice does Buick have? The Regal Turbo I reviewed a few weeks ago lists for $35,185. So they’d prefer that people not compare it to the Sonata 2.0T. Rather, the Acura TSX. And so, ever the agreeable reviewer, I did.
Pity Acura. Honda gambled in creating the first Asian luxury brand, and enjoyed four years in the spotlight when this bet paid off, only to then be completely overshadowed by Lexus. Acura has spent the last two decades trying to regain car buyers’ attention. The logical solution: offer cars that look and drive like no others. But what is distinctive it not necessarily desirable. And so we have the Acura TL SH-AWD.
The MDX was the first luxury brand crossover to offer three rows of seating, and Acura was rewarded accordingly. For its tenth model year the second-generation MDX has received a refresh. But is there enough here to maintain Acura’s position in an increasingly crowded segment?
Remember the ’86 Acura Legend Coupe, the definition of elegant muscle? Or how about the ’97 Integra Type R, the weekend racer you couldn’t break? These were Acuras that inspired passion, joy, and a special place burned into my long-term memory. Even though it’s been 24 and 12 years ago respectively since I drove these high points for Honda’s luxury brand, I remember them like it was yesterday. In contrast, I drove a TSX V6 a mere three days ago, and already my primary remaining impression of it is a longing for those Acuras of yesteryear. And my memory isn’t even that bad.
Some vehicles are doomed from the start. Take the Acura RDX: a not-inexpensive CUV with aesthetically challenging looks nestling amongst Honda’s “Huh?” brand. The RDX seems carefully designed to appeal to the few, the proud, the pistonheads. You know: enthusiasts who absolutely must have a willing engine, a chassis that’s a suitable dance partner and the elevated driving position of SUV—all at a price that’s significantly higher than more sensible (if dull) alternatives made by brands whose street cred didn’t die with the Integra. You see how that doesn’t work?
Review: 2009 Acura RDX Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
Once upon a time, I mistook an automotive journalist for a member of ZZ Top. After a proper introduction, L.J.K. Setright subjected me to a twenty-minute lecture on the Euro-Accord’s five-spoke wheels. He was deeply offended by the fact that the lug nuts didn’t line up with the spokes. I got the message: people who truly understand and appreciate engineering excellence are wrapped WAY too tight. And yet, the desire for a meticulously designed automobile transcends geekery. The market rewards over-engineering– or at least the aura of over-engineering (cough Mercedes cough). In that sense, the Acura brand is not without inherent appeal– despite the TL’s inability to live up to the marque’s upmarket aspirations. Which is a fancy way of saying the TL is an epic fail.
Review: 2009 Acura TL Take Two Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 1/5 Stars
The Acura TL is like the brainy girl in math class. If you’d told your friends you had the hots for her, they’d have stifled laughs, paused and said “who?” Since the turn of the century, the Accord-based Acura TL has been the deeply sensible alternative to premium-priced imports. But the TL’s fans knew the joys of stealth smarts: a super-smooth six powering a superbly-crafted cabin sitting atop a well-built and reliable chassis. So, will channeling the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright help or hinder the TL’s ongoing quest for luxury car legitimacy?
Review: 2009 Acura TL Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
Evaluating the Canadian-designed, built and sold Acura CSX without mentioning the Honda Civic is no easy task. (See?) Comparisons are so tempting, namely because the latter is an excellent car in its own right. The feeling’s mutual. Honda of Japan loved the Acura CSX so much that it served as a template for the JDM Civic. And why not? The CSX delivers an excellent compact luxury package without the reliability issues bedeviling certain (cough German cough) imports. Said otherwise, the CSX is the penny-pinching—I mean, thinking man’s luxury compact.
2008 Acura CSX Navi Premium Review Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
You may not know this, but Acura has only two executives. One of them oversees the design and build of fantastic, fun, reliable, affordable cars. This suit was responsible for all the Integras, the NSX, the Legend and the original TSX. The other executive has the reverse Midas touch. He botched the RSX, let the NSX stagnate for a decade, and shot the Legend in the head and gave us the RL. And now, that sonofabitch got his hands on the new TSX. To say the result is disappointing is to say that gas is becoming a bit dear. Advance? I don't think so.
2009 Acura TSX Review Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars