Carmakers [in 1998]: “SUVs are the new minivans, because young parents hate the minivan’s Soccer Mom connotation. Also wagons are a non-starter for precisely the same reason.”
Carmaker [Acura, in late 2010]: “The new-new: wagons.”
If you’re scratching your head, you aren’t alone, but the spin from Acura’s Vikki Poponi, the brand’s ASVP of product planning, is that a certain segment of just-minted Gen-Y parents stigmatize crossovers just as their own parents stigmatized minivans. Shorthand: said 20-somethings rode to soccer practice in 2000 in the backseat of a Lexus RX.
So the logical conclusion if you won’t buy an SUV, minivan or crossover is that you, the new mom or dad, must buy all that’s left—a wagon. Or, even better, Acura’s brand-new $30,960 TSX Sport Wagon.
Sold as the Accord Tourer in Europe, the 2011 American edition gets a more deluxe interior, retuned suspension and lightly altered appearance. What we don’t get on this side of the pond is a diesel engine option or a six-speed transmission. There’s just one engine, the 201-horespower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder, and only a five-speed, manually-shiftable auto-box transmission. (More on all of this, below, along with driving impressions.)
So, with all that spin does that mean that Acura is abandoning crossovers? Don’t be silly.
Acura’s MDX and RDX crossover sales are booming, both up nearly 50 percent so far this year. And Acura itself only predicts sales of the TSX Sport Wagon to be a modest 4,000 units in 2011, and estimates that the entire entry-luxury wagon slice of America’s auto pie is a dinky, 10,000 or so units. (For reference, baked into said slice are cars like the $29,000 Volvo V50 T5, $35,940 Audi A4 Avant and $36,200 BMW 328i Sport Wagon.)
But Acura wants a few bites out of this tiny sliver of sales. And because the entire brand is growing, with excellent numbers out of J.D. Power on initial quality as well as making cars that score very high residual value, Acura wants to use its momentum to push into spaces where the brand hasn’t previously offered options.
IHS Global Insight’s Aaron Bragman doesn’t believe the car will get to its predicted target, however, and doesn’t buy the wagon-is-the-new crossover spin. “It’s likely to be something of a sales disappointment. Wagons in general are not staging much of a comeback in the U.S. Crossovers can get all the car-like handling characteristics and room of a wagon (if not more), plus a higher seating position for better visibility.”