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
Most people drive the Acura Integra like they stole it. Mostly, it's because they have. Or, more accurately, someone else did. Model years ‘94 to ‘01 regularly grace the zenith of the annual top ten most stolen automobiles. Moral outrage aside, the Integra's tendency to disappear is entirely understandable. It's a cheap, fast, infinitely modifiable and reliable automobile that appeals to teenage boys, college students, financially-strapped pistonheads, rice rocketeers and thrifty professionals looking for a set of hot wheels (so to speak).
Third Generation Acura Integra Review Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
Badge engineering is the bane of the pistonhead’s existence. Or is it? Actually, bad badge engineering is the pistonhead’s pariah. Most adventures in grille-swapping produce soulless cash grabs like the Mercury Monterey and Chrysler Aspen. But some automakers “leverage synergies” in such a way as to respect– dare I say advance– the identities of the brands involved, and produce a genuine bargain. Case in point: the Acura TSX.
Brace yourselves gentle readers. The sophomore model Acura MDX is neither appreciably larger nor significantly heavier than the outgoing 2006 model. Yes, it’s true. In this era of automotive bloat, when the vast majority of major manufacturers cater to fashion and safety requirements with steadily-increasing automotive obesity, Acura’s engineers have attained the near impossible: improvement without additional mass. So is it a small step sideways for Acura, or a giant leap forwards for the MDX?
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to honor the Acura RSX, whose life was cut short by overlapping products and muddled brand identity. Since 2002, this, the US version of the fourth generation Honda Integra, has enjoyed strong consumer support and numerous awards from erstwhile auto critics, including two consecutive year’s on Car and Driver’s 10Best list. But we are not here to debate the value of ad-sponsored gongs or mourn the passing of a beloved automobile. We are here to celebrate a life well lived.
After Germany’s unconditional surrender to Allied forces in 1945, the allies stripped the country of all its patents. Germany’s former Axis ally, Japan, eventually exploited this situation by plagiarizing and mass-producing legendary German cameras and lenses. Today, Japanese manufacturers continue to look to Germany for “inspiration.” Case in point: the 2007 Acura RDX. It couldn’t look more like a BMW X3 if it tried, and by God, it did.
The RDX Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV) is one inch longer and a fraction wider and shorter than its German inspiration. Stylistically, the RDX is only a nip-tuck away from the baby Bimmer. The RDX’ steeply raked windshield, blackened B and C-pillars and tailgate spoiler all say BMW– and signal the Acura’s shared distaste for the rough stuff. The RDX is, in fact, another deeply metrosexual machine: a handsome manly form attired in delicate garments, whose manicured toes are meant for polished wingtips, not hiking boots. If you know what I mean.
Inside, Toto, I get the feeling we’re not in Bavaria anymore. The RDX’ cabin offers the all hushed minimalism we’ve come to expect from Honda’s upmarket homonyms. In fact, the CUV’s attention to tactility– from the meaty steering wheel bulges at the ten and two positions to the sensually shaped leather shift knob– takes us deep into Audi territory. That said, you can take the Acura out of Japan, but you can’t take the Japanese out of the Acura. The RDX’ three-ring gauges’ red-on-blue lighting strikes just the wrong note of Japanese spizzarkle. And the RDX’ climate control/media center shares Infiniti’s predilection for a high and mighty backwards tilting dash position.
The RDX’s traffic aversive satellite navigation system is voice controllable– which is just as well. The widescreen display is difficult to read in daylight, especially when the future's so bright you're wearing shades. The nav system and on-board computer are controlled by a distinctly phallic nubbin protruding through the center of the dash. Despite the gizmo’s indelicacy, its intuitive ergonomics put BMW’s iDrive to shame (as if it needed any help in that regard). As is the norm for this “so not an SUV” genre, cargo storage space is sacrificed on the altar of passenger comfort. Drivers with longer legs will find lots of room for their stems in either the front or rear seats, which provide much-needed lateral support.
The RDX is propelled by a turbo-charged 2.3-liter four-cylinder powerplant producing 240hp @ 6000rpm and 260 lbs-ft of torque @ 4500rpm. The much ballyhooed variable flow turbos keep the engine spinning at low revs, but it’s still not enough. The engine must climb above 3500rpms before it can get its boogie on. Fortunately, like all the best Honda power plants, this baby loves to twirl, redlining at 6800rpms. To keep the mill in the grunt zone, the RDX’ brushed-aluminum accented steering wheel (all the rage this year) sports F1-style paddle shifters. Unfortunately, the steering is a little slow; cornering tends to put the paddles out of reach.
Should you be so churlish as to engage in a little stoplight sprinting, the RDX makes the zero to 60 dash in a shade less than eight seconds. That’s respectable acceleration for a vehicle that weighs one Labrador retriever less than two tons and stands nearly 5’5” tall, but you’ll pay the price at the pump, diminishing the official 19/24 EPA mpg by a considerable margin. Worse yet, the new RAV4 V6 will best the RDX to 60 by more than a second.
A mid-day tear through the winding hills of Irving, Texas proved that Acura’s taut front strut / rear multilink suspension makes their cute ute feel light and tight– until you come to a corner. There’s no masking the leaning tower of SUV effect, or the vehicle’s tendency to nose-dive during hard braking. Acura’s Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), Vehicle Stability Assist and ABS systems conspire to keep the RDX’ wheels firmly gripped to the pavement, despite all the leans, pitches, rolls and yaws. For what it’s worth, the RDX is the best handling Crossover in its class.
The RDX goes head-to-head against the similarly sized and priced fraternal twins, the Nissan Murano and Infiniti FX35, and the aforementioned BMW and RAV4. The RDX out-luxuriates the Nissan and Toyota, but still seems a little austere compared to the BMW and Infiniti. It straightens corners better than the others but has the least amount of straight line oomph.
Thanks to its superb build quality and [optional] mind-blowing surround sound, mp3-compatible stereo, I can’t imagine anyone sitting in an RDX, regretting purchasing Acura’s X3 knock-off instead of the “real deal.” Still, as I walked away from the RDX, I was left longing for a vehicle that holstered that sweet-spinning turbo four in something shorter, lower and lighter. Something like the Acura RL. Sometimes it’s best to just copy yourself, and call it good.
The second I saw the Acura MDX, it was déjà vu all over again. Like the recently sampled Honda Pilot, the MDX that landed on my drive was an eight-passenger SUV riding on bisected five-spoke alloys, slathered in Red Rock Pearl paint. Of course, there ARE important differences. Most prominently, the MDX is about 25% more expensive than the Pilot. Which makes the MDX Acura's $10,000 Question: Is the higher-priced SUV that much better than its well-sorted sibling?
Although the Acura MDX is a platform partner with both the Honda Pilot and Honda Odyssey, casual onlookers will scarcely place the MDX on the same family tree, let alone branch. Unlike Ford's chrome-reliant Mercury division, Honda didn't opt for the easy route to affluence. Up front, Acura's designers sanded away the Pilot's bluff prow and pulled the MDX' sheet metal into a beak, complete with projector headlamps book-ending a narrow, wing-shaped grille. They also opted for a more severely raked windshield and sloped backlight. By sacrificing utility for style and aerodynamics in pursuit of a more car-like aesthetic, Acura has done an admirable job avoiding the vehicular "parent trap."
After a foot of fresh snow fell on New England, I was ready to take the Acura RL out for an action traction thrash. Unfortunately, the RL is a keyless wonder. When you twist the ignition knob into the off position, it's not really off– it's in accessory mode. You have to depress the plastic do-hickey and twist it another notch. Who knew? OK, there was an electronic warning. But modern cars bong more than Hawaiian dope smokers. I'd checked that the RL's lights were off the previous night and called it good.
Anyway, I wasn't the only car hack to flatten the battery. And the thing is, the $50k RL can't afford such a basic misstep. Acura's "I-swear-I'm-not-a-bling-Honda" is competing deep inside Caddy, Merc, Bimmer, Audi and Lexus territory. As BMW learned with its iDrive You Nuts debacle, any luxury car that makes you think too much starts from the back of the pack. A car that won't start, well…
Front wheel drive sucks. Case in point: the Acura TL. Here's a perfectly good car ruined by the simple fact that its front wheels have to steer and propel at the same time. Give the TL's gas pedal a shove, feed the engine some revs, unleash a bit of torque and, well, it's all a bit too much for the front tires. Traction takes a powder, taking with it any chance of giving the TL a proper thrashing. In fact, you can't even give the TL a mild slap on the wrist without a dramatic loss of steering control.
What a shame. While Toyota's Lexus has firmly established itself as a distinct and worthy competitor to Germany's finest, Acura is still trying to convince the world that an Acura is more than a Honda with a slightly bigger engine, leather, wood and a few toys. Which, in this case, it is. Anyway, given Honda's impeccable engineering and build quality, there's nothing particularly wrong with this "Acura as a posh Honda" product perception. But there's nothing particularly right with it either—especially when cachet (a.k.a. "snob value") sells cars in this segment.
The TL's exterior highlights Honda's struggle to raise Acura's game. Its designers have done everything possible to separate the Acura TL from its donor DNA: narrowed headlights, split front spoiler, indented swage line, raised side skirts, five-spoke alloys, rear lip spoiler, dual exhausts and sharper rear lights. The end result is… a Honda Accord with a bit of Alfa Romeo 156 thrown in. It's not a displeasing design, but it isn't terribly classy or, um, bling.
The TL's interior, by contrast, is both. High end materials have Cinderella-ed the Accord's cabin into a comfort zone as sharp as a Chanel suit— worn by Missy Elliott. Check out those hooded, backlit blue dials and glowing key slot. Safe! And if that's not massive enough, pop in a DVD-A and crank up the 5.1 Surround Sound. Yes, the new format means you have to buy all your favorite music again. But the TL's eight-channel audio attack easily justifies the re-re-re-investment. Until BOSE unleashes its own DVD-A system (with better bass response), Acura's boom box is about as good as it gets. If not better.
I wish I could say the same about the TL's driving dynamics. The trouble began the moment I slotted the test car's five-speed auto box into Drive. Er, Neutral. Wow! Who would have thought that Honda – sorry, Acura – could come up with a shift gate that rivals BMW's iDrive for counter-intuitive complexity? Once I figured out why I was going nowhere fast, I was free to explore the TL's heart and soul: its engine.
Honda makes some of the world's best engines: smooth, powerful, tractable, free-revving, frugal and clean. The TL's V6 powerplant is typical of the breed. Although the 3.2-liter engine stumps up only 30 more horses than the Accord's [optional] six, it's noticeably punchier throughout the rev range. The TL's two hundred and seventy horses (fed on Variable Valve Timing) fling the car from zero to sixty in a fraction under seven seconds– provided you can find a way to coax and baby the go pedal at the same time. Otherwise, you're right back where we started: Wheel Spin City.
To its credit, Acura's boffins have attempted to mitigate the problem with Vehicle Stability Assist and an electronic traction control system. No dice. In a straight line, the TL's nose squirm is annoying. Around corners, it's positively alarming. The defining handling characteristic of this pretender to the mid-sized sports sedan throne is neither understeer nor oversteer; it's no steer. Press-on drivers will need both sensitive hands and nerves of steel.
Bummer. Everything else about the TL's set-up is superb. The double wishbone front and rear suspension allows just the right amount of road feel, without a hint of discomfort. Four-way disc brakes combine consummate linear control with serious stopping power. (The six-speed manual adds Brembo brake calipers up front.) Overall body control is exemplary. Granted, the TL is not a focused sports sedan in the 3-Series sense of the term. But if Acura had bitten the bullet and built a rear-wheel-drive TL, I reckon it could have given Munich's medium-sized meisterwerk a decent run for the money.
Ah yes, money. For value-driven buyers, the fully equipped Acura TL is a steal. It offers quality, reliability and every conceivable luxury for thousands less than anything else in its class, and much above. For the rest of us, the TL is maddeningly close to greatness. Luckily, it's only a matter of time before Honda/Acura follows Detroit's lead and converts its premium products to rear wheel drive. When that glorious day arrives, Acura will prove once and for all that it's ready to play with the big boys.