Acura Will Keep Flagship Sedan Conservative, May Add High-End Sporty Vehicle to Lineup
The launch of the refreshed Acura RL flagship gave us a chance to drill the company’s executives and PR reps with questions about the car’s successor as well as Acura’s latest plans to bring back something sports-car-like to the lineup. The information firewall was up in full force, so we were left to read between the lines. Following numerous conversations with Acura’s ebullient product chief, Vicki Poponi, and others, this is what we can surmise about the top of Honda’s top line.
The next Acura flagship likely will be called RL, not Legend or anything else terribly evocative, and it most certainly will not have a V-8 (we were told to stop asking). A former chemical engineer, Poponi is a numbers person, and she cites surveys that Acura believes disprove any notion that cylinder count is of real importance to luxury customers. “The market is moving to us,” the Acura folks said, citing increasing demand for higher fuel economy as well as the economic downturn prompting luxury customers to rein in their extravagant ways. We also kept hearing statements such as “Honda is a very conservative company,” and “the RL customer is a conservative customer.”
These hints suggest that the next RL will build upon the improvements made for 2011 in the areas of quietness, safety, and material quality, although the car will probably not feature terribly radical styling, nor will it grow all that much. So it won’t be a Lexus LS fighter but more like an Infiniti M fighter. Given that, we would also be very surprised if the next-gen car doesn’t add 25 to 50 horses so it can at least match the M37’s base output of 330 hp. When will we see the next-gen RL? With the current model’s age—and abysmal sales of about 3000 per year—it can’t come soon enough. Nods and nudges from Acura folks suggest that it will arrive very soon, perhaps within the next 12 to 18 months. We think the RL had better be at least a bit flashy if Acura hopes to get newfound attention from consumers in the brutally competitive $45K–$70K luxury-car segment. In this case, erring on the side of conservative may be an error indeed.
Details were far sketchier regarding additional members of the Acura lineup. We were told that Acura will soon introduce something unconventional sometime around the launch of the new flagship sedan. Will it be sporty? Probably. Will it be called NSX? Who knows. Will it be the front-engine supercar we saw lapping the Nürburgring a couple of years ago? No. Although that car was all but finished, according to Acura insiders, it was cancelled—not even shelved—due to Honda’s concerns that it might be crass to offer a $150K–$175K sports car in the face of worldwide economic hardship. However, much of the technology developed for that car will appear in the new car. Whatever it’s called.
By Steve Siler