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Acura is a brand name used by the Japanese car maker Honda in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong and China since March 1986 to market luxury automobiles and near-luxury vehicles. The brand will be expanded to the Japanese domestic market in 2008. With the Acura brand, Honda is credited with being the first to tap into a market for luxury Japanese cars outside Japan. Before Acura, automobiles from Japan were primarily economical and were seen as reliable above all else.
Other Japanese luxury brands (Toyota's Lexus and Nissan's Infiniti) sprang up in North America shortly after Acura's introduction of the Legend, a V6-powered coupe and sedan, and the Integra, which was offered with a 4-cylinder engine only. Automotive journalists were impressed particularly by the Acura Legend.
1980s: The Acura brand
Following a decade of research, Honda opened 60 new dealerships in North America, by 1986, to support its Acura automobile division. Acura was the first Japanese luxury brand to be introduced, and its initial offering consisted of two models: the executive class Legend, a V6-powered sedan, and the compact class Integra, available as a five-door and three-door hatchback. The Legend was the result of Project XX, a joint venture Honda entered into with the Austin Rover Group of Great Britain and was mechanically related to the Rover 800 series, and the Integra was an improvement of the Honda Quint hatchback.
The success of these models, particularly the Legend, led to competing Japanese luxury brand ventures (Toyota's Lexus that began development in 1983 as the F1 project, and Nissan's Infiniti who began development in 1985 by revising their Japan-only flagship Nissan President; in the late 1990s Mazda planned but never launched its own Amati luxury division). The goal of the Legend was to compete with rivals Toyota Crown and the Nissan Cedric and Gloria, but due to its 1986 introduction worldwide, Toyota, Nissan and other companies like Lincoln took notice of the markets reaction to the Legend and later the Vigor and offered vehicles that addressed the executive size car. Toyota introduced the Lexus ES, Nissan introduced the Infiniti J30 and Lincoln utilized the Taurus platform and named their new sedan the Continental.
In 1987, Acura's first full year of sales in 1987, they sold 109,000 cars with the flagship Legend sedan accounting for 55,000 sales and the rest were of the smaller Integra. By 1990, Acura was selling 138,000 vehicles, including 54,000 Legends, compared to Mercedes-Benz's 78,000 cars and 64000 for BMW and Lexus. 
1990s: NSX, updates
In 1991, five years after the debut of the Legend and Integra, Acura introduced the NSX, a midship V6 powered, rear-wheel-drive sports car. The NSX, an acronym for "New Sports eXperimental", was billed as the first Japanese car capable of competing with Ferrari and Porsche. This vehicle served as a "image car" for the Acura brand, heralding the introduction of Honda's VTEC technology. The NSX was the world's first all-aluminum production car, and was also marketed and viewed by some as the "Everyday Supercar" thanks in part to its ease of use, quality and reliability, traits that were unheard of in the supercar segment at the time. With the release of the NSX, Acura introduced the "A-badge", a stylized pair of calipers - a tool used for exacting measurements to imply that Acura vehicles are built to precise and demanding standards.
Despite a strong start in market acceptance for the Acura brand, sales suffered in the mid-to-late 1990s. Some critics attributed this decline in part to less inspiring designs, which were re-branded Japanese-spec Hondas, such as the Acura Vigor in 1992, a response to the Lexus ES and Infiniti J30. Additionally, during this time Acura switched to an alphanumeric nomenclature formula, dropping the Legend, Vigor and Integra titles, following the lead of the NSX sportscar. The 1996 3.5 RL, which replaced the popular Legend, and the Vigor became the 2.5 TL and 3.2 TL, and was regarded by many as the epitome of this problem, namely because the alphanumeric designations were more anonymous than the former Legend, Vigor and Integra titles, which had grown into their own cult followings. Also, the RL's 210 hp V6 (later increased to 225 hp), together with a high price and styling that cautiously copied the larger rear wheel drive and V-8 powered Lexus LS 400, did little against BMW, Audi, Lexus, and other competitors.
During this time, the NSX also lost sales as Acura made few changes from its original 1989 trim. A year later, the Integra sedan was withdrawn from the Canadian market, replaced by the market-exclusive Acura 1.6EL, a rebadged Honda Civic. The Integra sedan continued to be sold in the United States until 2001 (in name only, the model it was replaced with, the RSX, was simply a rebadged left-hand-drive version of the JDM DC5 Honda Integra).
Despite these letdowns, Acura gained prominence in the 1990s with a young group of customers: "tuner" enthusiasts. Parent company Honda's reputation with this demographic as a maker of "easy-to-tune" and "rev-happy" engines rubbed off onto Acura, and the Integra became a popular tuner car.
2000-2003: TL, RSX, MDX
Beginning around the year 2000, Acura experienced a rebirth which was catalyzed by the introduction of several redesigned models. The first of these models was the 1999 Acura 3.2 TL, an upscale sedan competing with the likes of the Lexus ES, Infiniti I30, and BMW 3-series. Critics suggested that although 3.2 TL did not outdo its competition in any one area of luxury cars, it offered a well-rounded blend of sportiness and luxury. These characteristics, combined with the TL's competitive price, proved very popular with consumers. Subsequent Acura models have followed a similar philosophy of offering lots of standard equipment and very few options.
Another refreshed Acura introduced in the early 2000s was the MDX, a popular three-row crossover SUV based on the Honda Odyssey minivan. The MDX replaced the slow-selling SLX, which was little more than a rebadged Isuzu Trooper. The MDX was a car-like crossover SUV with limited off-road capability that catered to the demands of the luxury SUV market. It was given top honors by Car and Driver in its first comparison test against seven other SUVs. Other cars in Acura's line-up during this time included the 3.2 TL, 3.2 CL, RSX (formerly the Integra hatchback), and the NSX. By the late 2000s, Acura had dropped the inclusion of engine displacement numbers in its vehicle designations, retaining a simpler, two- or three-letter designation instead (e.g. 3.5 RL became RL). The 2000s have been plagued by transmission and other problems.
In 2001, a new coupe, badged as the RSX was introduced to the Acura line up. It was a replacement for the outgoing Integra. The RSX is a rebadged Honda Integra (DC5) from the Japanese market. As a result, the RSX is technically a new generation of the outgoing Integra. Much like the Integra, the RSX was a hit in the tuner market. However, at the end of 2006, the RSX was taken out of the Acura line up, subsequently in the Japanese market as well. It is not known why the RSX did not continue to be sold as the Integra in Japan, however, the reason that Acura gave for the cancellation of the RSX is that Acura wishes to move up in the luxury brand, thus cannot sell a car that is mostly driven by teenagers.
2004-2006: RL, TSX, RDX
A new TL debuted for the 2004 model year, featuring sharp, Italianate styling and a 270 hp V6 measured by the then-current SAE standards. The new TL increased sales dramatically to 70,943 American units in 2005, trumping competitors such as the C-Class, G35, CTS, ES 300, and A4.
Also around the same time the Acura TSX was introduced as a cheaper alternative to the BMW 3-Series. It was essentially a re-badged European and Japanese-market Honda Accord loaded with features. This model became the only 4-cylinder sedan in Acura's line-up.
In 2005, a new RL was introduced with a 300 hp V6, improved styling, and Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), a system capable of sending almost all of the RL's power to just one wheel in a turn. The second-generation RL appeared on Car and Driver's Ten Best list for 2005, and also garnered an CNET.com "Editor's Choice" Award for Top Tech Car. While critically acclaimed, sales have not met expectations, as the price of the RL is perceived to be out of its bracket. As the new RL offered more features and performance than the base version of its luxury competition's (i.e., the base six-cylinder. BMW 5 Series), Honda Japan suggested that it could charge more, though Honda Canada disagreed. The RL's initial MRSP was $69,500 CAD, more than the six-cylinder BMW 525i and close to that of the V8-powered BMW 545i. At the RL's price point, most consumers expected a V8, furthermore they did not perceive Acura as being on par with its German rivals and expected more value from the Japanese marque. The damage from Honda Japan's alleged hubris was done, even though Honda Canada has since reduced the RL's price.
Acura's new models—particularly the TL and TSX—were well received by the motoring press and became Acura's top selling vehicles. The TSX was on Car and Driver's Ten Best list from 2004–2006.
In 2006 Acura introduced a small SUV which was based on its own unqiue unibody chassis called the RDX with models becoming available to U.S. consumers in August 2006. It is powered by a turbocharged 240-hp 4-cylinder engine and, like the RL, uses Acura's SH-AWD system. The model is available in two versions: Premium (the standard offering), and Technology Package (an upgraded offering with a GPS navigation system). A completely redesigned MDX became available in the fall of 2006 with a 300 hp V6 engine and Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.
Acura re-introduced the TL Type-S for the 2007 model year. 2009 marked the all new TL and TSX models as well as an extensively mid year model update for the RL; all three made their debuts in the 2008 calendar year. Acura planned on redesigning the RL by 2011 as well as announced the creation of a brand new luxury crossover vehicle called the ZDX, previewed by the concept of the same name.
The ZDX was the first Acura designed in Acura's design studio located at Torrance in Southern California. The ZDX was designed by Michelle Christensen and based on the Acura MDX using that vehicles 3.7 litre V6 engine (300 bhp) and SH-AWD system. A common misconception is that it is based on the Honda Crosstour which was based on the Honda Accord rather than the bigger and more complex underpinnings of the MDX. It is also the first Acura to be completely built in North America. The production model of the ZDX made its debut in the Orange County Auto Show in Southern California on October 15, 2009. The concept behind the ZDX is that it is a "four door coupe," and the design emphasis of the body of the car is like a "pulled back slingshot." Another prominent design aspect of the ZDX is the wide rear shoulders above the rear wheels. The ZDX went on sale in December 2009.
Acura initially had plans for the third generation of RL to be a rear wheel drive V8 sedan for its flagship, but shelved the plans in the wake of the 2008 economic downturn.
Acura announced new TSX wagon in the 2010 New York Auto Show and the car is due to go on sale in Fall of 2010. The wagon version of the TSX is based on the wagon version of the Euro-spec Honda Accord which has been in the European market for some time. No plans for brand new RL have been released to date.
For the 2010 model year the MDX models received some slight exterior changes and increased equipment levels. Mechanically the engine remained unchanged but the transmission was updated from the previous 5-speeds to 6-speeds including steering column mounted shift override paddles. This new transmission was shared with the ZDX.
Almost since its inception, Acura has been involved in American motorsports, specifically in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and IMSA GT Championship series. Starting in 1991, Acura reached an agreement with the Comptech Racing to use the V6 motor of the all-new Acura NSX in Comptech's Camel Lights Spice prototype. Acura would go on to take the Lights championship in its initial year, including a class win at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Acura and Comptech would take the Lights championships again in 1992 and 1993, as well as another Daytona class win in 1992 and a class win at the 12 Hours of Sebring for 1993.
However a change in the IMSA rules would lead to the demise of the Camel Lights, and so Acura moved to touring car racing, joining Realtime Racing in the SCCA World Challenge with the NSX in 1996, winning the final two races of the season. In 1997, Acura added Acura Integras to the lower classes, and were successful in taking the championship in both of these classes. Realtime took the touring championship with the Integra again in 1998, and came within a few points of winning it again in 1999 only to lose it in the final race, then coming back to retake the title in 2000.
Although Realtime had abandoned the NSX program in 1998, the NSXs returned to the top class in 2001. Although the NSX squad suffered mechanical woes and were unable to take the title, the Integras of the touring class once again took the teams championship. By 2002, Acura replaced the aged Integra with the new Acura RSX in the final races of the season, scoring good finishes in their debut. At the same time, Acura finally retired the NSXs from the top GT class. The RSXs would later be joined by new Acura TSXs in 2004. Realtime continues to campaign the RSX and TSX in the SCCA Speed World Challenge. Acura also currently races RSXs and TSXs in the Grand American Road Racing Association's KONI Challenge Series for touring cars.
At the Detroit Auto Show in 2006, Acura announced their plans to enter the American Le Mans Series with multiple teams of Le Mans prototypes in the LMP2 class starting in 2007 season. The cars would be purchased chassis from existing manufacturers, but use American-built Acura V8s (a first for Acura and Honda). Acura also announced their initiative to take the cars to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2008 and eventually move to the superior LMP1 class with cars built by Acura themselves in 2009. Later in 2006, Acura announced that the three factory teams would be Andretti Green Racing, Fernández Racing, and Highcroft Racing, and that the chassis would be built by Lola Cars of the UK and Courage Compétition of France.
The three Acura-powered prototypes debuted at the 2007 12 Hours of Sebring, opening round of the ALMS season, and were successful in their debut. Andretti Green's Acura took second place overall and first in the LMP2 class, while Fernández Racing took third overall, and Highcroft sixth, beating a series of established Porsche teams in their class. At the same time, Acura began development of their own chassis by heavily modifying their purchased Courage chassis. The cars now have been so radically changed from their original orientation that they are now named Acura ARX-01a. Acura will introduce evolved B-spec cars in the 2008 season, with Gil de Ferran launching a fourth Acura team in the ALMS.
- Acura debuts in North America as the first Japanese luxury marque.
- Acura dealerships in the US win their fifth consecutive first-place ranking on the Customer Satisfaction Index by J. D. Power and Associates.
- Acura announces that it will expand research and development in US.
- The second generation Integra is introduced.
- The Acura Legend coupe wins Motor Trend's prestigious Import Car of the Year trophy.
- Honda's VTEC technology is introduced in the NSX
- Acura is introduced in Hong Kong by Reliance Motors
- The third generation Integra is introduced.
- The CL coupe is introduced as a '97 model
- The Integra Type-R is introduced.
- The Civic-based 1.6EL replaces the Integra sedan in the Canadian lineup, while the Integra sedan continued U.S. sales until 2001.
- The Acura MDX is introduced.
- The MDX wins the prestigious Motor Trend "2001 Sport/Utility of the Year" award.
- Civic-based 1.7EL launched, replacing the 1.6EL, in the Canadian lineup.
- The Integra is replaced by the RSX, which is actually just a left hand drive version of the fourth generation Honda Integra.
- The NSX receives a cosmetic facelift, with the retractable headlights being replaced with fixed ones. The suspension is also slightly revised, and an automatic transmission becomes optional.
- CL is dropped
- Acura is introduced in Mexico by Honda de Mexico.
- 3rd generation Acura TL is introduced.
- TSX is introduced. TSX becomes very competitive choice against popular BMW 3-series.
- The NSX is discontinued.
- The new Acura TL wins "Consumer's Most Wanted Vehicle" at Edmunds.com
- Acura RL is introduced with revolutionary SH-AWD system
- Acura drops engine size from 1.7EL model name.
- Acura is introduced in China.
- Acura RDX is introduced with SH-AWD
- Acura introduces CSX to replace EL, and is only sold in Canada.
- The RSX (as well as the Honda Integra) is discontinued.
- Acura MDX receives a redesign.
- Acura TL Type-S is reintroduced, CSX Type-S is introduced.
- Acura announces the introduction of the diesel engine into the lineup.
- Acura introduces the new RL, which receives a mid model change redesign at the Chicago Auto Show.
- Acura introduces new TSX at the New York Auto Show.
- 2009 year model
- Acura TSX receives a redesign.
- Acura TL receives a redesign.
- Acura RL receives a mid-model change.
- Acura CSX receives a mid-model change.
- 2010 year model
- Acura introduces all new ZDX.
- Acura MDX receives a mid-model change.
- Acura RDX receives a mid-model change.
- Acura TSX receives V-6 engine and a minor mid-model change
- 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon is announced and begins production
- EL (compact sedan; only available in Canada)
- Integra (sports coupe and sedan, replaced by the RSX and the TSX)
- Legend (luxury sedan and coupe, replaced by the RL and CL)
- Vigor (mid-sized sedan, replaced by the TL)
- CL (luxury coupe, no replacement)
- SLX (SUV, replaced by the MDX)
- NSX (exotic coupe)
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