Betraying fans with underwhelming new iterations of living legends is also risky.
Manufacturers are lying to themselves and us; nobody wins.
The backlash of such mistakes may be greater than ten of thousands of negative comments on the internet.
The last ten weeks or so have been ripe with what could and will be called big blunders on behalf of car companies. Errors like these are not new. Manufacturers have made massive financial mistakes for decades, a century even, but never have these slip-ups been so focused on enthusiast-driven products. The drop that made the web-bucket overflow is the “new” Acura Integra.
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The list of bad cars from the past holds countless models, some more famous than others. The Chevrolet Corvair, the Ford Pinto, and Mustang II, nearly all Chrysler vehicles from the 1990s and early 2000s, all of these vehicles missed their mark, failed, and damaged their respective brands’ reputations. The Japanese, Korean, and European brands had their fair shares of flops over the decades too.
The last ten years have been tumultuous, if anything, for car fans and lovers. In this period, all of us witnessed the death of countless fun cars such as the Toyota Celica, the Mazda RX-8 (not the replacement RX-7 fans wanted but…), the Dodge Neon SRT4 (don’t snicker if you’ve never driven one), Ford Focus ST, Chevrolet Cobalt SS, and plenty of others including the Mitsubishi Eclipse. Why did they have to die?
It takes huge investments to get cars like these off the paper and down an assembly line. I don’t recall the exact amount, but I remember reading that developing the Dodge Stealth and Mitsubishi 3000GT was an enormous investment for the companies what with twin-turbocharged power, AWD, all-wheel-steering, and loads of technology (for the day) onboard.
All of them had to die for more profitable ventures. That’s right, SUVs. Damned SUVs. It is these vehicles that literally drained sport car budgets and, undoubtedly, car companies were happy about it. Not only are manufacturers selling exponentially more units, but most are far less expensive to develop. What chance does a Toyota MR2 have to make a real comeback? And, unlike the Journey and Outlander, the Stealth and 3000GT did not sell in the hundreds of thousands…
Thankfully, a number of OEMs wisely chose not to abandon their legions of fans whether or not they own a current-generation late-model vehicle. Ford, Dodge, Volkswagen, and Mazda have kept the Mustang, Challenger, Golf GTI, and MX-5 going, not to please us mind you, only because they could afford to do so by selling SUVs and trucks. Had Explorer, Ram, Tiguan, or CX-5 sales numbers plummeted a few years ago, North America would have likely lost the latter two.
Our collective passion-filled hearts sank a little every time a car we loved disappeared. The one that hit me the hardest was the demise of the Mitsubishi EVO X. As a Canadian WRC fan, I had to wait for nine generations before I got to drive an Evolution. When the company killed it, I was very upset, to put it mildly. Not only had the Eclipse been dumped a few years prior and now, they killed the EVO, but they had the gall to launch a new SUV with the name Eclipse on it. Are you guys trying to piss off all your fans?
Thing is, loyal fans, even irrational disciples, are the people car companies should be catering to the most, after the active-lifestyle-outdoor-loving-35-to-40-something-year-old professional who’s in a relationship with a young child and who lives off their $150,000 annual household income. A number of car companies are hurting because they’ve betrayed the former, not the latter.
You see, these fans who lusted after the Nissan 350Z or 370Z a decade ago probably drive a Rogue and swear by it. They tell all their friends and family that Nissan has great products and that one day they’ll own a new Z. This guy or gal has had their prayers answered as the new Z is stirring but for a hot minute, they weren’t so sure – not all brand fans are as lucky. Think about the poor Mitsubishi devotee…
Toyota is an excellent example of an automaker that once said: Screw the fans. At one point not that long ago, the fastest most powerful vehicle they sold was a V6-powered RAV4. Realistically, Toyota managed extremely well without the Celica, MR2, and Supra but they were among the first to catch on and understand that something was off as they introduced the excellent Scion FR-S/Toyota 86 for their fanbase. The 5th generation Supra might not be what tuners and fans wanted but at least it exists.
Now, fast forward over all kinds of other gaffes such as the gargantuan BMW kidney grille blunder and, for some including Marcello Gandini, the rebirth of the Lamborghini Countach, and we arrive at the introduction of the new-generation Subaru WRX.
The new 2022 Subaru WRX is an interesting case where, in my opinion, only minor efforts were made. The reason is that since the Lancer Ralliart and EVO, and Ford Focus RS are no longer offered, Subaru had little reason to step up their game to meet their loyal fandom’s expectations. Other than the Volkswagen Golf R, the compact AWD turbo game belongs to Subie, so why bust a gut trying? Sure, the STI will be more powerful, but it will be $8,000 more or more.
The negative feedback the new WRX received was in equal parts based on the pitiful output gains and the car’s questionable design. But hey, at least the WRX is still around after 20 years!
It was 20 years ago that Acura retired the Integra name after a solid, nay, majestic 15 years of service. The follow-up RSX failed to deliver in nearly every respect and after five short years, it was gone. I understand that sport cars sales were in decline at the time so perhaps it wasn’t entirely the car’s fault.
Over the last 15 years, the cult and the legend of the Integra has grown. During this time, the Integra became the poster child for a generation of fans (much like the Mk4 Supra) longing for small, uncomplicated, and exciting cars. These same people are the ones who lost all the above-mentioned now-discontinued cars, but they found some solace in seeing a clean DB2 GS-R or a DC2 Type R for sale on BaT. To them, the Integra name would live on, its legacy and history unblemished…
In these same 15 years, Acura’s lustre had all but completely worn off thanks to a series of bad design decisions and thinking too far outside the box (ZDX, 1st-generation RDX). In the hopes of recapturing some of the brand’s past glory, they reinstated the Integra name on what is the ILX’s replacement, a car that could have safely been called the new RSX.
Of all the bashing, memes, and negative comments I’ve read on the web over the years about cars, the new Integra gets the award for the quickest and most vicious lashing I’ve ever witnessed. Acura and Honda wholly miscalculated this move and grossly underestimated the reaction of real Integra fans, and the automotive world would have. They played god and resurrected the Integra name with impunity. And it might cost them dearly.
Will this faux-Integra be enough to change a 45-year-old’s mind, a mind that once owned a Civic/Integra/Legend/Vigor 20 years ago, from replacing the family RDX with an MDX and going over to Infiniti and checking out the new QX60 because they feel betrayed? Will the new Lexus IS seem more interesting than a rebadged Civic Si for $38,000 with its RWD layout, more power, and luxury? Acura has said the Integra would be priced around $30,000 in the US. We can therefore safely predict a near $35,000 price point in Canada.
In my opinion, Acura’s not done the Integra justice. Sure, it’s based on the Civic as all previous Integras were in the past, but this Integra was built for “active millennials”. It’s not for driving enthusiasts despite the 6-speed manual transmission clearly as fewer than one in five millennials know what to do with three pedals. Evidently, Acura did not capture the imagination of the old or a new generation of Acura owners, nor have they boosted their brand image. I’m sure the Integra will be nice to drive though…
It will be interesting to see how Acura will shake this one off and what they’ll do moving forward. If anything, I really hope other OEMs are watching and will take some notes before reviving an icon.