No. 768,
October 15, 2014

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Acura couldn't find a clue if we spotted it a C, L, and U.

I'm the target market for Acura.  I owned an '87 Integra for 13 years.  I loved that car.  SWMBO drives a Mercedes C300.  Yes, it is a 4Matic, but the previous one she had was RWD and she managed fine with snow tires.  We didn't buy the C300 for AWD.  We bought it because of the way it drives, the superlative service from our local dealer just 1 mile away, and, yes, for the badge.  Adding AWD to Acuras won't convince SWMBO to consider them.  In fact, I wouldn't try to pry her out of her Mercedes with a crow bar.  She loves that car (and every time I drive it I like it too).

I'm thinking about a third car as a commuter car that will be more fun than my 4Runner.  Some of the cars in the running include the GTI, Focus ST, maybe even a used Cayman.  Notice what isn't in that list - Acura.  Adding AWD won't change that.

When the 4Runner finally bites the dust (150k so far), I won't be shopping at Acura.  I take it off-road, so no crossovers need apply.

Acura needs to decide what they want to be.  They were special once, but the only differentiating feature they have today is their lamentable styling.  Lamentable styling with AWD is no prettier than lamentable styling with front-wheel-drive.

JaredN
Boston, Massachusetts

 

Ask the man who drives one (sort of).

Critical reviews of the front wheel drive Acura ILX and TLX frequently mention that "you can get all this for $6000 less" if you just choose the Honda version, which are the Civic and Accord, respectively.  This has been the theme of Car and Driver's latest reviews, anyway.  

My guess is that AWD is an attempt to eliminate those comparisons, to set these models apart with a true premium feel.  The problem is, it's just going to reduce interior space, add weight, and be unnoticeable in everyday driving -- worthless to all except for a few in the snow belt, who might benefit a few times per year.  (But more important than AWD is having some decent ground clearance.)  People truly needing AWD can buy an RDX or MDX anyway.

So are we going to see "AWD" badges on the rear of these cars???   No, and I don't like to think of how the added weight and so forth will hurt performance and economy.   All this, by the way, is from the owner of a 2013 ILX (well, my wife's car).

JR
Albany, Oregon



One man's trash is another's treasure, or something like that.

Acura can trace its fall back to dropping 2 most excellent car names and going to numbers and letters. Legend and Integra and people knew exactly what you were driving. Haven't looked at Acura since. Garbage!

Jack F.
Fredericksburg, Virginia


Being in the moment, or something like that.

Maybe Acura is the “Japanese Lincoln” – lost identity in the market, silly “named by Roman numeral” model names, and struggling to get a grip on how to win back customers.   Can’t wait for the next Acura commercial with a mumbling Japanese actor driving an MDX!

JV
Northville, Michigan


It's not the enthusiasts.

Regarding the ATS coupe, I have a feeling that it's actually not the enthusiasts who can't buy into the idea that Cadillac makes cars that are pretty damn close to BMW in terms of performance.  The enthusiasts read all the stuff out there that's been touting how great these cars are for a while.  I think it's the broad general public who can't get past the old image of Cadillac, and who see BMW and the like as the default choices.   They're the ones who need to be convinced that Cadillac is more compelling and worthy of their lease payments.

SM
New York, New York


The Cadillac dilemma.

SM in NY has a good point. Most of the auto blogs and in-person car chatter I've heard over the past couple of years from driving enthusiasts tout the merits of the new Cadillacs for how well they drive and handle compared to Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and all for thousands of dollars less than the German trio. Although there are certainly some of them who still aren't convinced, it's really the other 85% of consumers, many of whom have never owned anything other than BMW, Audi, Mercedes or even Lexus who need to be convinced of Cadillac's goodness.

Eric
Appleton, Wisconsin

Editor-in-Chief's Note:
Point taken, however, enthusiasts (and journos) waxing on eloquently about the goodness of the new Cadillacs is one thing, but enthusiasts actually going out and buying them is another thing altogether. And so far that isn't happening in enough numbers to matter. Until enthusiasts stop reading Internet reviews and leaving positive comments on the various pages, and start laying down some cold, hard cash, the rest of the consumers aren't going to get there either. - PMD


Swingin' dick-ism lives!

Sadly, you could substitute any number of brands for "Acura" in this week's Rant.  FCA, Lincoln, Kia, Mitsubishi, Buick, Infiniti, Mini, Scion, Volvo all seem to be "in the market" but not "on the list." The continuing "name-game" (Legend-Legend, Bo-Begend, Banana-fana Fo Fegend...) that manufacturers confuse with a marketing strategy has almost ALWAYS done more harm than good.  Acura, Lincoln, Buick, Infiniti are all poster children for How Things Can Go Terribly Wrong by eliminating any kind of name recognition or model continuity.  If Acura insists on three letter model designations ending in 'X,' then I offer the following as memorable new model names:

 - SEX
 - TUX
 - LAX
 - REX
 - SOX
 - FAX
 - PIX, or my personal favorite,
 - COX

Perhaps COX will pair nicely with the AWD strategy for those manly, swingin'-Richard-types.  That's IT!  Gun racks, flannel shirt upholstery and six-pack coolers as the "BackWoods" option package.

Really, Acura?  That's all ya got?

C.C.
Decatur, Georgia

 

At least follow a company worth following.

As soon as I read the blurb in some other rag, I figured you'd have something to say about Acura's "new direction."  I'm kind of an Acura/Honda fan, so it's just sad to see them following Subaru, of all possibilities. Subaru has held on to a cult following in spite of it's own downward trajectory of late.  It won't last forever, and most people aren't in "the cult." If Honda has to follow, they should just admit to following Audi.  At least that would seem aspirational.

Roger B.
Snohomish, Washington
 

There should be but alas, there isn't.

GM needs to bring their "stylists" to the Gilmore Museum in Hickory Corners to get a sense of design that was passion-driven down to the most minute detail.  Imagine what it took to make a side mount spare a design statement.  Grilles, headlamps and even radiator cap designs were included in the total "expression" of what the car was all about.  My son-in-law is an engineer working on mirror-camera-radar.  Years ago at the Gilmore I showed him the War of the Worlds "eye" on the dash of a '62 Sedan Deville.  He was amazed to know that Guidematic headlamp bright control was around in the '60s.  Everyone with octane in their blood needs to spend a day at Hickory Corners.  Sometimes you need to know where you've been to have a clue about where you need to be going.  Is there a pill for lack of passion?

R.J. Vander
South Haven, Michigan


We won't hold our breath.


IF Acura were to use the technology expected on the NSX (hybrid AWD, electric motors for 2 wheels) as the technology spear for the lineup, and all its AWD vehicles were in fact "hybrid AWD" ala the NSX, then perhaps they would have a unique selling point. I doubt that's what they have in mind.

JAH
Alpharetta, Georgia

 

Not so much.

Nothing in Autoextremist about Mercedes winning the 2014 Formula 1 Constructor's Championship? Where's your passion, Peter?

Mike W.
Eastchester, New York

Editor-in-Chief's Note: The current state of Formula 1 has absolutely zero to do with passion, I can tell you that much. - PMD


Doomed to mediocrity.

Acura has the same problem of all car brands that are 'premium.'  What makes an Acura worth more than a Honda, but still not commanding the price or prestige of a Lexus or Audi?  Acura is not worthy of luxury prices, but still have to delivery more than a Accord EX.  GM has the same problem with what makes a Buick worth the price over a Chevy, but not step on Cadillac's toes?  God knows. Acura, Buick, Volvo, Chrysler are in a no man's land of the car market too.  Lincoln is a king of messes when the Ford Fusions looks more high-end than the MKZ.  

Acura either needs to seriously move up market and jump into that bloody battle or shutter itself just like most of the rest of this middle market.   Acura's cars are fairly bland and in the current market that is just doom.

Howard Lewis
Hershey, Pennsylvania

 

Fixing American sports car racing.

A world class series or any business starts with the 3 P’s: people, process, product. People:  Put Scott Atherton (ALMS) in charge and give him the power to hire and fire anyone. Product:  Eliminate the DP’s after the 2015 season.  Make the announcement now so teams have time to prepare for 2016 with P2’s so they have a chance to go to Le Mans.  Process:  The most important part of the equation.  Get a TV contract with FoxSports1 or FoxSports2 that will show every race from start to finish for the Tudor United Sportscar Championship .  No switching stations, no preempt, no live streaming, etc.  Split the classes in the Continental Tire Challenge – GS and ST need to run separate races.  60+ cars on the track is too difficult to follow.  The races for the Continental Tire Challenge could be shown on a tape delay during the off weekends on the same network.  The schedule is good but I would add Mid-Ohio since the Grand-Am and ALMS always had good attendance.

Pete Metzger
Columbus, Ohio


Honda doesn't get it.

I think the upcoming NSX is more proof that Honda still doesn't know what the frick to do. The original NSX was a near-supercar at the time, but it didn't pretend to be.  What it was was a high-performance car with Ferrari-like characteristics, but with reliability and a much lower price. This new NSX looks like typical modern Honda thinking:  cram it with whatever tech we have on hand (seriously, V6, Hybrid, *and* SH-AWD?) and have it styled by a 15 year old with a Gundam fetish. It is so far removed from what the original NSX was that it might as well be presented as an entirely different car.  Wonder if Paul Verhoeven has a trademark on 6000 SUX...

Jim. Z
Detroit, Michigan



They had it goin' on back then.

I recently drove a 1989 DOHC Integra.  It was undoubtedly ahead of its time back then.  And still yet, many years later it is still a blast to drive. The steering, handling and road feel were simply delightful. Simply a great car. It exuded a long lost mantra..."Maximum Man...Minimum Machine"

JW
Atlanta, Georgia



Cutting costs, spinning wheels.

While I want to agree with you that Acura's plans to adopt standard all-wheel-drive is misguided, I think it gives them too much credit for, well, "thinking". I am confident that this "decision" was really more of a reaction to the costs and complexities of offering multiple models of the same vehicle. Just as Honda sells cars based on trim levels where the only real option is choice, so too has Acura gone this route. But unlike Honda it's not to keep price/value high. Its too keep costs low while they try to figure out what to do. Acura sales have been in a nosedive for years, and even if the newer vehicles are better (i.e. "less ugly"), they're still a tough sell beyond the Acura loyalists. This wasn't a decision; it was a choice. A choice driven by the costs associated with building, shipping and marketing different models.

Sandman
Motown


What Cadillac is up against in the real world.

In August the family took a week’s vacation in San Francisco.  The poor sap at the SFO Budget car desk had just finished dealing with an absolute dick of a customer who seemed to think he was God’s gift to the world.  So I joshed a while with the Budget rep to cheer him up a little.  Must have worked, as he said he was going to give me a free upgrade and signed me up for a Cadillac ATS sedan instead of the CamCord I had expected to receive.  Bonus!  I had wanted to drive one and now had a week to play with it, as long as I didn’t scare the wife and kids in the process.

It turned out to be an experience in contrasts.  I liked the layout of the cabin and dash, and the trim was fairly upscale though the seats seemed very plain.  But I hated CUE (more on that later.)  The trunk failed to hold our four suitcases, a problem that I have never encountered before in any midsize or full-size car.  The driving dynamics were excellent, wonderfully well balanced and always seeming totally stable.  Cadillac did sweat the details here.  The brakes were the best modulated brakes I have ever driven, always seeming to respond exactly with the amount of bite you had intended.  But the 2.0L engine didn’t match the rest of the car.  It didn’t seem short on power, but the transmission was reluctant to downshift and was always making it lug under light load, resulting in vibration and the most unpleasant sort of noises from under hood.  This would have seemed out of place in an econobox, never mind a Caddy.

But CUE.  What an abomination this was.  The rental agency inconveniently removes the owner’s manual, leaving you helpless to figure this Satan’s spawn out on your own.  Over the course of a couple days we thought we had the radio and climate more or less figured out.  Interestingly, the NAV system had no data whatsoever for the Monterey peninsula, and apparently believed we were driving in the Pacific.  (Yes, I wanted to visit the Concours d’Elegance, but we were a week early and the wife would have throttled me over the $275 admission fee anyways.)  At one point, I picked up a cloth to wipe fingerprints from the faceplate and inadvertently turned the volume to full without knowing how I did that.  A frantic fifteen seconds ensued until we figured out that SWIPING the fancy silver bar would change volume.  In the process, something we touched caused the faceplate to mechanically swing OPEN, further complicating the volume correction.  WTF!!  Another few seconds till we understood that the other fancy silver bar controlled this operation.  Another handy feature was that when your finger approached the screen, the map would switch to the function menu.  Great, except when said finger was showing wife which street you wanted to turn at, before CUE wiped the map.   After a week with it, I can say that we managed to co-exist with CUE, but certainly didn’t look forward to using it.

So, if any of you reading this happen to be from the CUE design team, thank you for an interesting experience.  Now with due respect, slap yourself hard and go back to the drawing board.
 
So what did I think of my week with the ATS?  Well, it drives beautifully, Cadillac really excelled here.  Except for this engine/transmission combination which is definitely substandard for the class Caddy wants to run with.  Overall design is nice, but the infotainment system is an exercise in frustration.  If it worked as seamlessly and effortlessly as the car drives, we’d have a winner.  So would I buy one?  No.  Which makes me sad, because I had such high expectations for it.

Dave G.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

 

Agree to disagree.

I've been a great admirer of your marketing savvy, but do feel that you are too harsh on your evaluation of  Chrysler/ Fiat's Marchionni. His results overall are better than you have been predicting, and it is my view that--if presented wisely--Alfa Romeo will do much better that you're forecasting.

Rudy B,
Paris, France

Editor-in-Chief's Note:
As I've said repeatedly, Marchionne is a brilliant deal-maker and a certified genius at using other people's money for his - and Fiat's - gain. His product acumen, however, is suspect. Any auto executive worth his or her chops could have looked like a genius selling Jeeps and Dodge Ram trucks in a red-hot market, and the only thing The Great Sergio should get credit for there is being smart enough to stay the hell out of the way of the True Believers out in Auburn Hills who are doing the actual work. But Marchionne's "plan" for Alfa Romeo is complete fiction. The gist of it? Zero to Audi market reach in three-and-a-half years. Industry and Wall Street analysts are still laughing about it. I, however, don't think it's funny at all. It's flat-out bullshit and I will continue to call out Marchionne for who he really is: A carpetbagging mercenary who had Chrysler's assets fall into his lap so he could continue on his quest of propping-up a perennially failed auto company, aka Fiat. - PMD.

 

They're listening.

Just read: THE STATE OF RACING: WHERE WE’VE BEEN, WHERE WE ARE NOW AND WHAT’S NEXT.

Dead-nutz, 100%, spot-on.

That's exacty why I started the ChumpCar World Series and why we'v grown in 5 years to over 12,000 members... most of whom are defecting SCCA and NASA drivers.

And that's exactly why I'm launching the ChampTruck World Series in 2015.  Big-Rig truck racing.  My partner and I  promote TRO (Truck Racing Organization) and we produce the FIA truck races in Europe.  We're hoping to give NASCAR a run for their audience.

Keep up the unorthodox and non-BS message.  There are those of us that are listening and agreeing with you.

John Condren
CEO
ChumpCar International Inc.
ChampTruck International LLC