Acura will become a Tier 1 luxury brand — the models are on their way.
So says Dan Bonawitz, vice president for corporate planning and logistics at American Honda Motor Co.
For decades, Acura has been limping along as a wannabe luxury brand. The vehicles never have been considered competitors to Mercedes, BMW or Lexus.
One reason, critics say, is that Acura lacks a large, prestigious, V-8-powered sedan. Another reason is that the brand has avoided rear-drive.
Acura finally is distancing itself from the Honda brand. Two dedicated Acura design centers have opened — one in the United States and the other in Japan. Earlier this year, Rubin Postaer and Associates, the U.S. ad agency for both brands, created a separate division for Acura.
Luxury vehicles are on their way, Bonawitz says. The first step toward Tier 1 status is the redesigned 2009 TL sedan.
"The TL is close but not right at Tier 1," he says. "Then we will have an all-new vehicle in 2010 that's about the same level as TL. After that, we will have a sedan coming that will clearly put us in Tier 1."
Bonawitz did not say when that sedan will reach the market or whether it will replace the RL sedan, but he did hint that the car will be on sale before 2012.
As for the V-8, Bonawitz says high gasoline prices have made the bigger engine "less important" but certainly "not unimportant."
TSX: The small sedan was redesigned for the 2009 model year. Sales began in April.
TL: The mid-sized sedan has been redesigned for the 2009 model year, with sales starting this fall.
The TL sports exterior styling that is dramatically different from that of the 2008 model. For the first time, the TL will be available with all-wheel drive. The 3.5-liter V-6 has been carried over from the 2008 model. The awd model will have an engine with bigger displacement.
Coupe: Details are sketchy. John Watts, Acura's product planning manager, says any additions to the Acura lineup will probably be in niche segments. "We will look at smaller segments," he says. "There is potential for a coupe like the CL," which was killed after the 2003 model year. "A retractable hard top — we're always looking at that, too," Watts says, "but that market is fickle."
Some sources say Acura will offer a four-seat sports coupe priced in the $50,000 range that also will come in a convertible version.
RL: Acura's poor-performing flagship model was reskinned for the 2009 model year. Sales began in the spring.
Luxury sedan: In an effort to take on the big boys, namely Mercedes-Benz and BMW, a large luxury sedan is due around the 2011 or 2012 model year. The unnamed sedan may be powered by a 4.5-liter V-8 generating more than 400 hp. Rear-wheel drive is a possibility, with available awd.
NSX: A sports car will debut for the 2011 model year and boast a 5.5-liter V-10 engine making about 550 hp and 420 pounds-feet of torque. Sources say it will have a front-engine layout and incorporate awd. The NSX, which had a midengine layout, went out of production in 2005.
Also unclear is whether the new one will seat two or have a 2+2 configuration.
RDX: The small crossover is due for a redesign for the 2011 model year. A hybrid may be added.
MDX: A redesign is scheduled for the 2011 model year, when a V-6 diesel will be offered.