The simple declarative statement is exactly what anyone who loves driving cars for pure enjoyment of the experience wants to hear: “We’re a performance brand.” The man speaking was Jon Ikeda, Acura’s vice president and general manager, during a recent showcase of updates the company made to its 2017 MDX crossover.
Ikeda’s words ring far more true today than they have in the past decade prior at Acura, thanks in large part to the launch of the new NSX, a car that has reinvigorated the marque. Ikeda took on his latest role at Acura in late 2015 after some 25 years as a designer for it and Honda. His groundbreaking career has seen him become one the first designers from the U.S. to join Honda’s team of stylists in Japan. He was also the lead designer of the 2004 Acura TL — the company’s best-selling vehicle of all time.
It’s much easier for Ikeda to drop that line now that the NSX is up and running. It’s a car we’re featuring in this issue, one that senior editor Chris Nelson explored on the track and across New England. More of us have also had a chance to drive the NSX on canyon roads, long highway stretches, and on a circuit as well. Our verdict? Although a different approach to high performance, with its front electric motors paired with a twin-turbo six, the NSX is no question one of the most enjoyable and capable supercars on the market. It makes ordinary drivers like me feel like superheroes, while at the same time it allows seasoned pros like our own Andy Pilgrim (who also had a crack at it recently) to experience at the limit thrills rivaling any car in the same space. Not to mention it’s also built, styled, and primarily engineered here in the U.S.
While Ikeda has a long way to go before anyone considers Acura’s lineup as truly performance-oriented top to bottom, it has strong building blocks such as its Super Handling-All Wheel Drive system. It’s also been teasing its future in the form of its expressive Precision Concept exterior and interior styling exercises at recent auto shows.
As is the case with any automotive exec in this age, Ikeda is aware of the challenges Acura faces as autonomy looms, but he appears poised to confront them. “Advances in electrification, auto-mated vehicles, and connectivity are fundamentally reshaping the future of mobility,” he said at the Los Angeles auto show last November. “Acura is determined to leverage this massive shift to deliver unique expressions of performance to our customers.” That’s a mantra we can get behind.
Things are also looking up over at Acura’s big brother Honda when it comes to excitement. Honda was stung by the criticism it received when it rolled out its 2012 Civic, and its CR-Z hybrid-powered two-seater proved to be a tepid performer that is being axed from its lineup. Although Honda’s primary goal clearly is as a purveyor of well-engineered, efficient, and affordable conveyances for the masses, it has also forged a reputation as a brand with some pizzazz baked into the mix. There was a time when the Civic ruled the tuning scene, when drag racers turned them into sub-10-second cars.
While the salad days of the Civic as a tuner’s delight are likely behind it, there is plenty to appreciate now and in the near future for the 10th-generation Civic, which has become its own mini lineup. I recently had a chance to sample the Sport version of the Civic hatchback, with its sublime six-speed manual, superb steering feel, and a peppy 1.5-liter turbo four with 180 horsepower. It’s a perfect expression of a slower car that’s fun to drive fast. And it’s also polarizing in its exterior design. You’ll either love it or hate its looks, but you’re not going to miss it.
You want your Civic hotter? Coming soon you’ll be able to get two flavors of spicy — the latest version of the Si and the wild-child Type R hatch with its aero kit, including a massive rear wing, and 20-inch rims. After being previously available only overseas, the Type R is finally coming to America and could have as much as 340 horsepower from what’s expected to be a 2.0-liter turbo four mated to a six-speed manual driving the front wheels. The Si coupe and sedan will be far from slouches as well, with a tuned version of the 1.5-liter good
for more than 200 horsepower with the usual Si upgrades (suspension, gearbox, etc.).
It’s heartening to see Honda and Acura make a commitment to producing cars such as the Type R and the NSX. These products show performance is still a part of their futures, which is something worth celebrating in this day and age.