This was originally going to be a piece in which I congratulated Acura for inventing a 2006 Lexus IS350 with their grille on it, a vehicle they refer to as the TLX Concept. But I won't do that. There's no point in poking fun of Acura anymore.
I'm tired of being critical of Acura. Now, as we go into 2014, I am more convinced than ever that doing so is a meaningless exercise. I have never seen any company, automotive or otherwise, more committed to doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Acura is slowly committing suicide, and the cause of death will be lack of innovation.
Let's first talk about the point of auto shows like the one in Detroit. Though they are increasingly becoming irrelevant in the digital age, auto shows exist to both preview feasible future products and to display new ideas. It's where automakers can show off new design languages, new technologies, new market segments they'd like to explore, and generally get people excited enough to care about their brand.
When was the last time you saw an Acura concept that wasn't a direct preview of one of their upcoming sedans or SUVs, and was instead something new, something invigorating, something that got people talking about the good things going on there?
It's literally been years since Acura has turned out anything even close to that. By my count, their last really interesting "out there" concept was the Advanced Sports Car Concept of 2007. That was seven years ago. Seven years. The last couple of years, it's mostly just been "prototypes" of the new MDX, RDX and now the TLX.
Meanwhile, the brands Acura thinks it competes with are, across the board, innovating and trying new and different things. The resurgent Cadillac dropped an attractive ATS Coupe, and a V version of that is surely in the pipeline.
Infiniti, that other often-beleaguered Japanese brand, is exploring new territory with the Q30 small crossover/hatch and may be cooking up a legit M fighter in the Q50 Eau Rouge, a car CEO Johan De Nysschen has ordered into production. You have to give Infiniti credit for being ambitious.
Volvo, after years of being in an apparent coma, is tapping their strengths by bringing back wagons like the V60, playing to their shooting brake heritage and displaying a sexy new design language. Lexus, historically the most staid of luxury brands, is getting a little "out there" with wild-looking cars like the RC-F coupe.
And yes, while we often criticize BMW for their oddball 5-Series GTs and 4-Series Gran Turismos, at least they aren't sitting still and are exploring niches to fill. There's also their i brand, which has produced two remarkably different and forward-thinking cars so far.
Even parent company Honda had some interesting cars on display at Detroit like the FCEV Concept that first showed up in Los Angeles last year. We all know hydrogen is probably bullshit, but good on Honda for producing such an interesting-looking concept.
What did we get from Acura this year? Another sedan. Just another sedan, probably based on some sort of Accord platform, with a V6 engine. Great job on your sedan, guys! I never would have expected this from you.
Keep in mind that the most not-boring car in their lineup the last few years has been the ZDX crossover, and they killed that off because no one bought it.
These days, innovation at Acura seems to be limited to adding an "X" to the names of existing cars and throwing on as many headlights as possible.
There's nothing that thrills and intrigues at Acura anymore. I'm convinced the only consumers buying them are the hardcore Honda and Acura loyalists or people so terrified by the thought of a car that might be "unreliable" that they're too scared to buy anything but these glorified Accords.
But as much as enthusiasts like you and me would like to see more fun cars, the problem goes deeper than that. Something Automotive News' Mark Rechtin wrote about the TLX really caught my eye:
The TL was once Acura's top-selling model. But as consumer tastes have shifted toward crossovers, the TL has fallen to a distant third, behind the MDX and RDX crossovers. Acura's front-wheel-drive sedans have also struggled to compete against rear-drive cars from Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Emphasis mine. Come on, how long have we been hearing this criticism now? Since the early 1990s, at least. That's 20 years now, people. At this point Acura's stubborn refusal to do anything different from what they've always done is getting pretty hard to understand.
The TLX doesn't sound like a bad car, it just sounds like a song we've heard over and over and over again, a song we're getting pretty sick of. It has a 2.4-liter four, probably the one derived from the once-great Civic Si, or that ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6. Neither engine is terribly impressive in terms of power. It's front-wheel drive with available all-wheel drive. The only thing it really has going for it is its dual-clutch transmissions, which will probably be excellent because they're from Honda.
But these recipes just aren't enough anymore. They haven't been enough for years. Don't believe me? Look at their sales figures, which consistently lag hard behind Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes. They do a little better than Audi, I'll give them that, but at least Audi has a vastly more interesting and diverse lineup of cars. I don't see a whole lot in the TLX that I can't get for at least $10,000 cheaper (more than that, probably) in the 2015 Chrysler 200.
True, Acura has seen a lot of sales growth recently, and they had their best SUV sales year ever in 2013. But I don't see anything coming from this company that shows it aims to be the best luxury brand out there; Acura don't seem to want to grow that much or try new things. And if you don't grow, you don't evolve, you die, right?
This is a brand that desperately needs something to create some buzz and shake up the status quo. Sure, there's the new NSX supposedly headed our way soon. You know, they one they've been teasing us with since 2011. By the time that gets out, it won't matter anymore because the year will be 2065 and no one will be driving anymore because all cars will be autonomous. (That was sarcasm.)
But besides the new NSX — which has a tremendous legacy to live up to, so it had better be damn near perfect — there isn't much to Acura these days. That's sad, because it's a brand built on innovation. Remember that Acura was the first Japanese luxury brand created to do battle with Mercedes and BMW; that was a ballsy idea in the 1980s, and their Legend and Integra actually lived up to that promise.
Acura's stagnation has never been more apparent. How do they fix it? By making some enticing, ridiculous, forward-thinking concept cars and then take some of those into production to show the world that they still have some energy left and aren't going out with a whimper of beigeness.
I just don't see any evidence that this is going to happen, and I don't see much value in making jokes about their beaks or their cars' names or their boring designs. It's not funny anymore; it's just sad.