For being a relatively young brand, Acura sure has been through a lot of rebranding over the years. It has only been around since 1986 as Honda’s luxury marque, and it seems like it took a while for it to really figure out what it was. Are Acuras just rebadged Hondas? Is it a luxury brand? Is it a performance brand? Is it all of the above?
After a little growing with cars like the Legend and the Integra, Acura seemed to start hitting its stride in the 1990s. Cars like the TL, CL and RL started to create a cohesive little brand family as Acura was growing up.
To me, Acura reached its peak in the mid-2000s. That was when Acura figured out just the right blend of luxury, style, performance, value and that rock-solid Honda reliability, creating a luxury brand that was distinctly different and arguably better than Lexus and Infiniti.
In the mid-2000s, Acura had the RSX coupe for the young enthusiast crowd to aspire to; the handsome TSX sedan, which was a little more sport than luxury; the TL sedan, which was a little more luxury than sport; the RL, a stately full-size sedan; the MDX crossover, which continues to pay the bills for Acura to this day; and, of course, the now-legendary NSX sports car.
That’s a very well-balanced lineup for a luxury brand, if you ask me. There’s something for everyone — and again, it’s different from what its competitors were offering. I think this is when Acura decided that it doesn’t really pay to try to compete directly with the German luxury brands, so instead it’s going to carve out its own niche and create its own identity. You could try to compare a TSX to a 3 Series, as those two are technically in the same class, but they’re really very different cars.
This was also a time when the "Type S" moniker was still alive, and it added a real performance benefit to the cars it graced, rather than just being an appearance package like "A-Spec" is today. Nothing with a Type S badge has ever blown the doors off of an AMG, but that’s okay! If you had an Acura Type S, you had yourself a genuinely practical, luxurious and sporty car — and you probably didn’t pay all that much for it.
I specify the mid-2000s because I think we all know what happened to Acura toward the end of that decade. It began with the second-generation MDX in 2007 and it infected the TSX and TL in 2009. I’m talking, of course, about the dreaded beak.
The beak is not only a hideous front-end design that made every car it touched look much worse, but it was a symbol that the party was over at Acura. The RSX and NSX were discontinued, there were no more Type S cars, and Acura started to blend in with the other Japanese luxury brands by ditching the fun sports cars and adding another crossover to the mix while making everything uglier. These cars weren’t necessarily bad, but they didn’t have the same fun and sporty spirit that Acura had in the mid-2000s.
I think the goal of most luxury car brands is to strike the right balance between luxury and performance — and I think Acura hit that balance really nicely for a glorious time in the mid-2000s. With that said, I think the brand is currently on the upswing, since it ditched that awful beak and has promised that the Type S badge is coming back — not to mention the triumphant return of the NSX. Now, if only they would start putting manual transmissions in sedans again.