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Honda Acura is still the gold standard

Last modified: 6/3/2012 12:00:00 AM
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!'


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!


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