Inspired by Jalopnik- What Acura Must do to Make a Big Comeback
Last week, I waxed nostalgic about my love for the Acura NSX, and why I love this weird, beautiful, fantastically engineered coupe from the 90s. Hot on the heels of a report that Acura sold only 34 RLs (Acura’s flagship model) last month [Ed.: September 2012], a few days ago [months now, as Downshift moves from Tumblr to WordPress], Jalopnik asked its readers what Acura must do to make itself unstuck in last place in the highly competitive luxury segment.
Take away the Acura badge and this could be ANYTHING
Let’s start with the RL. If there’s one consistent trait about the RL, it’s that the car almost always places near last in comparison tests against the usual suspects from Germany and Japan, like the Audi A6, BMW 5-series, Mercedes E-Class, and Lexus GS. The consensus seems to be that while it’s a competent car, for $50,000 it offers nothing to differentiate itself from the more luxurious Mercedes, sportier BMW, or more prestigious Audi. It also doesn’t help that the model is completely invisible from the public eye. I cannot remember the last time I saw an RL commercial on television or being advertised online. I would be willing to bet that playing a word association game and bringing up the RL would most likely result in a blank stare by the person being asked.
I’m not going to say that an automobile lives and dies by its styling, but a boring design does make it significantly more difficult to sell to the public, especially when it incorporates Acura’s much-maligned corporate “beak” grille. It seems like the grille is overdone and the rest of the car went through Toyota’s graywashing process (wherein a sedan is transported fresh from the design studio to a patented high pressure water blasting tank, until the car emerges looking like an indistinguishable metal mess). Inside, the RL, like most current Acuras, suffers from what I like to call “button puke.” This is when button manufacturers get a hold of a car and try to cram as many buttons in the center stack as humanly possible, right before the threshold at which the car collapses under the weight of its own buttons.
As if there needed to be another point in the case against the RL, its baby brother, the TL, is actually comparable in many ways. For $10,000 less, shoppers could get the slightly smaller TL with the same Super-Handling All Wheel Drive system that comes standard in the RL, which the same engine and same transmission package. It begs the question: why buy an RL at all?
The Acura model lineup is also a bit different than its competitors’, and not in a good way. The least expensive Acura, the brand-new ILX, is little more than a dressed-up Honda Civic, with the same engines offered at a $10,000 premium. The TL is probably the most competitive model Acura has, SUVs excluded. The aforementioned SH-AWD model comes in at just under $40,000, about $5,000 less than a similarly equipped BMW. And yet more potential customers choose the BMW, whether for its driving dynamics, prestige, or standard/available options and combinations.
As of May of this year, Acura’s best-selling model is the MDX, a large, 7-passenger SUV that competes against other premium SUVs like the Audi Q7, Lexus GX, and BMW X5. Although Acura really moves these cars (at least compared to the rest of its lineup), it is still not competitive. The MDX is not offered with an alternative engine, like a V-8 or hybrid, a choice that Audi, Mercedes, and BMW all offer.
The MDX, Acura’s best-selling car
Like the TL, the smaller RDX crossover is one of the only Acuras that has a decent shot at giving the other German, Japanese, and American manufacturers a run for their money. Similar in size to the Honda CR-V, the RDX recently went under the knife and emerged with a V-6 to replace the previous turbo-4, as well as a less sporty ride (apparently nobody takes their 2-ton SUV on canyon carving trips anyway). Time will tell whether this was a wise move, but I really wish some form of hybrid engine was made available in the RDX.
I will not be touching much on the ZDX, the too-expensive, too-weird SUV that is off in its own world along with the BMW X6. I don’t know how spending millions of dollars bringing a new model to market to fight for a sliver of consumers is good business sense, and that’s the end of that.
Acura ZDX: To get into the back seats, you’ll need a guillotine
So this brings us to the original question: what can Acura do to lift itself out of the doldrums?
1. Consolidate ILX/TSX/TL into two models. As the ILX is a new model, it is too soon to say whether or not it will have a substantial impact on the sales of the other two. However, we can say that the top-of-the-line ILX and base TSX occupy the same space at nearly the same price. Get rid of the ILX. I have no idea what market research was done in recommending this thing see the light of day, but nobody will pay $25,000 for a dressed up Civic with 140hp. A buyer would be insane to choose that over a slightly used BMW 3-Series, Acura TSX, or Lexus IS. And bring a more powerful version of the hybrid I-4 to the TSX while you’re at it.
2. Rework the RL, or jettison it completely. Nobody has any idea what Acura’s flagship model is or why (if it all) it’s better than other manufacturers’ similarly priced and equipped cars. Everything about the car seems half-assed and lazy, from its styling to engine to interior.
3. Get a new grille. It has been kindly compared to a beak, but many reviewers describe it as “buck-toothed.”
4. Stop poaching designers from Toyota. I have to assume that there was some sort of challenge between the two companies to see who could create the most boring-looking cars on the planet.
5. For God’s sake, spend some money on advertising.
6. Bring us the new NSX now! It’s been too long since Acura has had a real halo car, something that people are actually excited about. Plus, the high output hybrid technology could trickle down to other cars in the Acura family. Then, wouldn’t you know it, Acura could actually be known for something!