With a redesigned 2019 RDX crossover that boasts a 272-hp 2.0-liter turbo engine, a sharper suspension design, the return of Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, and a dramatically upgraded infotainment interface, Acura is on a roll. We chatted with Acura Division general manager Jon Ikeda on the sidelines of the New York auto show about the RDX and other issues facing Honda’s luxury brand.
What is so special about the redesigned RDX?
It’s the first of a new generation of Acuras to get back to our original mission of “precision crafted performance.” It’s a great car to show where we are trying to take the brand. It’s another whole level of a new car. I am confident there’s going to be a lot of people enjoying what they’re looking at and driving. When you have a 2.0-liter turbo making 272 horsepower, which is best in class, and a 10-speed transmission, and Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, then you add a humongous panel roof … there are so many touch points and features the previous RDX did well. But this is the kind of increase we want for the next TLX and MDX. That’s the kind of escalation we’re looking at.
The RDX used to share a lot of underpinnings with the Honda CR-V. Is that still the case with the redesigned 2019 version?
It’s its own platform. We always think of efficiencies, but in the end, it’s about building the right product. It’s not on the CR-V platform. It’s the first on a new platform. It’s the lead vehicle.
Right now A-Spec is more about trim packages. When will we see suspension and engine upgrades as part of the package?
Most of it is about getting the performance look, yet there are some enhancements. The MDX A-Spec comes with wider tires, which is good for performance, but we also want people to get that image for a reasonable cost. We have talked about the return of Type S models in the future, and we have a V-6 turbo engine coming. Those are on the horizon. But that’s separate from A-Spec. Type S will be very performance-oriented.
With its redesign, the RDX has grown yet again. And a lot of your rivals are creating new models with a smaller footprint, such as the Lexus UX. Does Acura want to go below the RDX, or do you worry that going smaller will compete with Honda?
The key for us right now is focusing on our core models. And when we bring in core models, we want segment-leading core models. Then we look at, if we are playing in the premium field and it’s all trucks, not everyone is going to be able to become Range Rover. We have to have a balanced portfolio. There are still cars on the road. Balance is a good place to be. We’re a performance brand, so no matter where the market goes, our cars better drive like stink. If it’s about trucks, we’ll have the best, most fun-to-drive trucks.
But to me, it’s still early days for luxury SUVs. I don’t want to drive what my dad was driving, [a heavy station wagon]. SUVs used to be big Suburbans, but now they’ve gotten smaller to the point where there is almost no utility. I own a TSX Sportwagon, and I’m always wondering, if I slam down an RDX, will I get the same handling I can get from my TSX wagon?
The NSX has been on sale for a couple years now. How would you gauge interest?
The key is build-to-order. Dealers want one in their store. Now we’re racing with Penske, we have GT3 race cars, and we have posters on the walls of dealerships. You add to that a shiny red NSX, you give a test drive, and sell an A-Spec MDX. The NSX has many purposes beyond sales. It’s a halo, a flagship.
There are several premium brands (Acura, Infiniti, Genesis, Volvo) that aren’t seen as “true” luxury, in the same category as the German brands and Lexus. But Volvo is trying to elevate to that status. Does Acura have similar ambitions?
We’re focused on what Acura does. We’re a performance brand. For us, we’re 31 years old and trying to be honest with ourselves. We like the youthful energy. We’re going back to our “precision crafted performance” roots. This is not what everyone else is offering. It’s what we can bring to the forefront. Trying to pit yourselves against others is not the way to do it. If the other brands want to do that, that’s fine. I’m looking for 200,000 people to hang out with us.
So you aren’t looking to make something larger or more opulent than the MDX?
The MDX changed the dynamics of the industry. Obviously, it has done nothing but great things for our brand, and we will continue to evolve it. But we’re not thinking about doing something like everybody else is doing.