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Acura Cars | Complete Acura Company History

Updated on December 16, 2013

The Complete History of Acura

This lens will chart the course of the ever-innovative luxury and near-performance division of Honda Motor Company known to the world as Acura. From its humble beginnings in 1985, its rise to prominence in the early 1990s and its resurgence in the mid 10s, this lens will walk you through the history of the company's vehicles, marketing campaigns, aesthetics and overall philosophy.

Acura - Precision Crafted Performance - The True Story of a Come-Back Kid


Acura is, as many people know, a division of the ever popular Honda Motor Company which rocketed to stunning success since its creation in 1985 (although, technically speaking, Honda introduced the brand to the North American market in 1986). Acura initially fielded only two models: the Acura Legend sedan and the Integra coupe and hatchback. Despite such apparently humble beginnings Acura managed to fill a niche in the market that had hitherto been ignored and brought the first, real Japanese luxury marque to North American shores.

The success of Acura's early offerings was a surprising success due to the affordability, performance and the air of elitism that the Acura brand conveyed. Between 1986 and 1989 Acura outsold all of its rivals including BMW and Mercedes-Benz and firmly established it in a position of preeminence that it has held until the present day. In fact, Acura's success spurred the development of such automotive dynasties as Toyota's Lexus and Nissan's Infiniti divisions by proving that the Japanese could compete with their German and Italian counterparts. Yet, with the arrival of the much anticipated and highly hyped NSX the company's fortunes were about to change.

Perhaps it was due to the decision to switch to alpha-numeric designations which caused the company to falter (a decision made due to Honda executives' belief that Acura marque was being forgotten in favor of the model names) or simply due to global economic forces which left Japan reeling throughout the 1990s, but history shows that Acura's initial success was short lived. As the company's line-up grew in size and its naming increased in anonymity, sales slumped and customers began leaving in droves for the up-and-coming Lexus and Infiniti brands. To try and staunch the bleeding, Acura launched a rebadged Isuzu under the name SLX but, even with the prevailing popularity of SUVs at the time, the company's first foray into the SUV market was a flop due to the model's lack of originality, performance and overall quality.

The new millennium did not witness a dramatic change in the company's performance but mid-decade saw some major changes with the introduction of the SUV crossover MDX which replaced the staid and uninspired SLX and the introduction of the short-lived RSX. By this point the company had radically re-envisioned itself as an upmarket company fielding near-luxury and near-performance vehicles rather than attempting to compete with Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz on their own terms. It appears that, with its continued emphasis on style, performance and quality and a better understanding of its niche in the market, Acura is poised to make great strides in the years to come. It's latest offerings such as the Civic-based ILX and the RLX (a successor to the successful RL) seem to embody all of the winning features of Acura's past successes but only time will tell what is in store for this innovative Come-Back Kid.

1986 Acura Legend
1986 Acura Legend

1986 - 1990 Acura Legend

The First Japanese Luxury Sedan in the US

The ground-breaking Acura Legend Sedan and Coupe was, along with the Integra, the first vehicle to be fielded by the nascent Honda luxury division in the US, Canada and some parts of China. The Legend was the full-size luxury version whereas the Integra was the smaller, sport coupe. As the flagship sedan under the Acura marque it did much to popularize the company and was largely responsible for the company's early success. As mentioned above, the success of the Acura brands opened the door to other Japanese automakers to offer luxury and performance brands to the North American public.

Sedan models of the Legend were the first to come to dealerships and was equipped with a 151 HP engines whereas the Coupe was launched in 1987 with a powerful 161 horse-power engine. Notably, the Acura Legend premiered Honda's use of a V6 and was designed in conjunction with the the UK's Austin Rover Group named project XX which commenced in the early 80s.

The result of the partnership was a vehicle which won Car and Driver's Best for 3 years running and clinched Motor Trend's Car of the Year in 1987. Its original name was Legend Touring Sedan and was, for all intents and purposes, an exact copy of the JDM V6Zi.

A Brief Video Tour of All Acura Models

1991 - 1995 Acura Legend

The 2nd Gen Legends became available in 1990 with a 200 HP engine in both standard and automatic transmissions.The second iteration of the vehicle was larger, more athletic and offered a full complement of luxury options. The niches the Legend had been intended to fill was replaced by the Vigor allowing the Legned to better compete with the Lexus LS and Infiniti's Q45.

The 1991 through 1995 Acura Legend pioneered the use of navigation system technology in North America. Interestingly enough, it did not employ satellite technology but based on a gas gyroscope. In addition, Honda licensed the design for the second generation Legend to the Korean automaker Daewoo who produced the rebadged Arcadia from 1994 to 1999. The successor to the Legend was the ill-fated RL in the US and Canada despite the fact that Honda continues to market it under its original name in other parts of the world.

1990 - 2005 Acura NSX

The highly anticipated NSX had its origins in the collaboration between Hoda and Italian auto styler Pininfarina which sported a V6 mounted at mid-ship. After the initial successes in the North American market Honda decided it was time to field a car that could compete and defeat its German and Italian rivals. As such the prototype HP-X evolved into the NS-X or NSX which stood for "New Sportscar eXperimental."

Designed to compete with Ferrari 328, the NSX was the first all-aluminum production car which featured an innovative extrusion-built alloy frame and suspension system. The NSX also debuted Honda's VTEC (variable valve timing system). All of these features gave the NSX amazing performance, great styling and legendary durability. In fact, many production models are still on the road today and have in excess of 200K miles.

2001 - 2006 Acura MDX

A First Generation Crossover

The first generation Acura MDX was released in North America in 2000 and marked the beginning of a resurgence for the Acura marque. Plagued by slow sales in the 1990s and with consistently unimpressive showing of the SLX which was little more than a rebranded Isuzu Trooper SUV, the MDX brought a breath of fresh air to Acura''s line-up. MDX is an abbreviation for "Multi-Dimensional Luxury" and is related to Honda's pilot and Odyssey mini-van with significant enhancements and upgrades.

The first generation of MDX featured an all wheel drive system termed VTM-4 which is engaged during acceleration as well as when slippage is detected. From 2003 on, all models offered a 5-speed auto tranny as well as a number of structural changes which assisted with handling and performance. Another feature of the 2003 and later models are navigation consoles with rear view camera displays--features which were well ahead of their time in the early 2000s.

Acura Cars - Parts and Accessories

If you love Acura cars as much as we do, you surely want to protect, rpeair and upgrade them. These companies and resources will help you do just that. Please let us know if you have a link to add to the list.

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      Johnk527 3 years ago

      Several of these games are worth some time and are actually quite fun. dfaddeeceged

    • rvinyl lm profile image

      rvinyl lm 4 years ago

      @tonyaalves3: Those cars are true classics. It's a shame the discontinued the dynasty. Thanks for stopping by!

    • tonyaalves3 profile image

      tonyaalves3 4 years ago

      Love these cars. I had a 91 Acura Integra