Acura NSX concept; photo by Paul Williams
Acura NSX concept; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

By Paul Williams

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Acura brand in Canada. Acura was the first luxury brand from a Japanese automaker, and while we take Acura and subsequently Lexus and Infiniti for granted now, back in the 1980s their formation was a radical and intriguing development in the automobile industry.

Acura led off with the Legend, along with entry-level Integra, followed by the exotic NSX in 1991. Although the vehicles were sold elsewhere as Hondas, the Acura nameplate was developed specifically for North America.

At a press event prior to the opening of the 2012 Montreal International Auto Show, Acura executives reflected on the brand’s history and development, and candidly discussed the future of a brand that they acknowledge even now has yet to fully find its stride.

To put it bluntly, Acura Canada has issues. In 2010, Acura sold 17,000 vehicles here, with 18,000 projected for 2011. But Acura’s sales in 2011 dropped to 15,000 vehicles, with Honda and Acura Canada Executive Vice President Jerry Chenkin observing that “for Acura to work in Canada, we have to sell a minimum of 20,000 vehicles.”

Acura ILX concept
Acura ILX concept. Click image to enlarge

The record year for Acura in Canada was 2001, when it sold 25,000 vehicles.

According to Mr. Chenkin, Acura’s troubles may ironically relate to its success as a purveyor of luxury SUVs. The Acura MDX is the company’s top seller, outpacing all other Acura models combined. Mr. Chenkin said the success of the MDX “derailed Acura’s identity.”

While Acura won’t undergo a full relaunch, the goal is to make Acura a more prestigious and desirable brand by introducing exciting new products that “increase the emotional response to the product, but aren’t excessive or beyond the driver.” The plan is for “less conspicuous consumption; greater respect for the environment.”

Three such products were shown at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. Nominally called Concepts, the new ILX, RDX and NSX are all coming to market, although in the case of the ILX and RDX, their arrival is imminent. For the NSX we’ll have to wait for a couple more years.

Acura ILX concept
Acura RDX concept. Click image to enlarge

The ILX replaces the Canada-only CSX, and although it is based on the Civic platform, it will be a car in its own right, sharing no sheetmetal with the Civic and having a unique interior. The ILX will be sold across North America, and will be available with a choice of three four-cylinder powertrains (an automatic 2.0L, a six-speed manual 2.4L, and a 1.5L hybrid with CVT), the ILX will be of interest to the general, enthusiast and eco-conscious consumer of entry-level luxury compact sedans. Mr. Chenkin, very enthusiastic about this car, refers to as the new “gateway” vehicle for Acura.

Expect the ILX to start at under $30,000 and be available in Spring of this year. It will be built at the company’s Greensburg, Indiana plant.

The RDX (a performance-oriented, compact SUV that I really liked, but apparently others didn’t) gets a complete makeover with smoother lines, a slightly larger footprint and a look that is more consistent with other Acura products. The unexpected news is that the turbo-four from the outgoing RDX will be replaced with Honda’s 3.5-litre V6, giving it more power (273-horsepower, up from 240). Fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission, the new RDX will return better fuel economy.

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