Why can’t everything be made like a Honda Acura?

Honda's Acura division is fanatical about getting it right, and the 2013 Acura RDX is a case in point.
Acura
Honda's Acura division is fanatical about getting it right, and the 2013 Acura RDX is a case in point. Buy Photo
By Warren Brown, Special to The Washington Post
Posted June 03, 2012, at 8:12 a.m.

A modest proposal for people in the home remodeling business: Consider Acura, the luxury division of Honda Motor Co. Therein is your best example of product quality, pride in execution and genius in the matter of customer satisfaction.

You’ll find no loose fits, unfinished edges or fudged errors masquerading as a final fix. Look at the paint job on this week’s subject vehicle, the 2013 Acura RDX crossover utility wagon. The color is what Acura’s designers call “Basque Red Pearl II.”

The name is no big deal. Execution is. It’s perfect. The hue is so deep, it seems three-dimensional. It’s as if you could sink or dive into it. It glistens as if it were some pristine lake covering a red bottom. Study it. There are no drips, drops or orange-peel surfaces. It even passes the Mary Anne Test.

You all know my wife, Mary Anne. Certainly some of you workmen who have been redoing our Northern Virginia home know her. She’s the little woman — because she is a little woman — who has been raising Cain every time a seam has been left open, a molding isn’t quite right, tile pieces have been matted with the wrong grout or a new appliance has been delivered with a defect.

She broke down and cried on a ride in the RDX. Her lament: “Why can’t the people who are working on our house work like this? Look how this is done. Everything is right!”

Why?

I think I have an answer. There is something special about Acura’s parent corporation, Honda, even in rough times, which it has endured lately partly because of certain product misjudgments (the Honda Element wagon and 2011 Honda Civic come to mind) and partly because of harm done to its operations in an earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011.

What’s special is that Honda and its Acura division are fanatical about getting it right, especially after they’ve gotten it wrong or have been tripped up by circumstances beyond their control. The 2013 Acura RDX is a case in point. It is a complete redesign of the 2009-12 models, which were modest remakes of the original RDX introduced in the United States in 2006.

Those first RDX models, some equipped with what Acura’s engineers dubbed “Super Handling-All-Wheel-Drive” (SH-AWD) and others with front-wheel-drive, were Acura’s entries into the hotly contested market for compact crossover utility wagons. The early RDX models were okay, which was a problem. The Honda-Acura reputation wasn’t built on “okay.” It was established on unquestioned excellence. People could buy “okay” from someone somewhere else, often at a lower price, which is what many of them did.

In response, Honda-Acura did not fudge, punt, quit (or take such a long break from the job that it seemed like quitting), or offer excuses. Instead, the company brought forth a 2013 RDX that truly lives up to the term “entry-level luxury.”

The reshaped exterior is more elegant than aggressive, more of a wagon than it is a pseudo sport-utility vehicle. The power plenum, shield-shaped front grille has been softened into something that is more inviting and less offensive than its predecessor. Interior styling is simple, ergonomically sensible in terms of instrument panel layout and made comfortable with supple, leather-trimmed seating surfaces. Standard equipment includes amenities such as a power-operated glass roof with tilt feature.

And it is all put together in a way that impresses, which is important in an industry where women either directly purchase or otherwise influence 85 percent of sales. Again, it’s the Mary Anne Factor. If you make her happy with what she can see, feel and touch, you might be able to get away with subtle, production-cost-saving changes in certain “black box” operations, such as all-wheel-drive.

That is what Honda-Acura did with the all-wheel-drive system in the 2013 RDX. The company jettisoned the SH-AWD system that won raves for handling and precision from automotive journalists — most of them young and male, many of them unmarried and childless, which means that few, if any of them, are in the market for a wagon such as the RDX anyway. In place of SH-AWD, Honda-Acura installed a lighter weight, more fuel-efficient, less expensive all-wheel-drive system that works quite well and is shared with the popular Honda CR-V wagon.

The move makes sense. Mary Anne, for example, had no complaints with the ride and handling of the RDX. She loved the vehicle’s performance, in fact. Like most of the RDX’s buyers, families, traditional or more broadly defined, Mary Anne is more interested in what appeals to or offends her tactile senses. If the wagon satisfies those senses and does a good, safe job of moving her, her people and stuff, she’s happy with that.

It’s really simple when you think about it. Even home remodelers should be able to figure it out. It comes down to this: Fix those seams. Trim those edges. Remove grout stains where they should not be. Complete all necessary caulking and appliance repairs. Please!!

Bottom line: The 2013 Acura RDX is a worthy reentry into the market for compact crossover utility wagons in the United States. It looks better and has a more powerful engine, but it is more fuel-efficient than its predecessors. It is also surrounded by tough competitors including the GMC Acadia, new and much-improved Ford Escape, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Lexus RX 350, and Kia Sorento SX.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The new RDX gets good marks in all three. I disagree with colleagues who criticize it for using a more pedestrian all-wheel-drive system. It works well. The SH-AWD system it replaces was nice, but was overkill in a family hauler.

Head-turning quotient: Attractive. Fits well in places — school, church, ballfields, malls — that families go.

Body style/layout: It’s a compact, front-engine, entry-level luxury crossover utility wagon of unitized body construction. It has four side doors and a rear hatch. It is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

Engine/transmission: The 2013 Acura RDX comes standard with a 3.5-liter, 24-valve, double-overhead cam V-6 gasoline engine with variable valve lift and timing (273 horsepower, 251 foot-pounds of torque). The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that also can be operated manually. The new engine replaces a turbocharged, 2.3-liter, inline four-cylinder model (240 horsepower, 260 foot-pounds of torque).

Capacities: There are seats for five people. Cargo capacity with the split-folding rear seats up is 26.1 cubic feet. With rear seats down, its 76.9 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 16 gallons of gasoline. Premium fuel required.

Mileage: The EPA’s mileage numbers for the 2013 Acura RDX is 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 miles per gallon on the highway. But my sample of the vehicle was brand new and all that means for first-drive fuel economy ratings, which usually aren’t good. I got 16 miles per gallon in the city and 25 miles per gallon on the highway.

Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front/solid rear); four-wheel antilock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; electronic brake-force distribution; ACE Body Structure, a patented Acura structured engineered to lessen the amount of crash energy transferred to vehicle occupants; front-side air bags; side curtain air bags with rollover sensor; latch system for child safety seats.

Price: The base price for the 2013 Acura RDX with all-wheel drive and technology package (onboard navigation with real-time traffic and weather, backup camera) is $39,420. Dealer’s invoice price on that model is $36,965. Price as tested is $40,315, including an $895 destination charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $37,860.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/03/business/why-cant-everything-be-made-like-a-honda-acura/ printed on August 21, 2014