Curbside Classic: 1994 Acura Vigor GS – North America’s Only Choice For A 5-Cylinder, 4-Door Hardtop

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Acura made quite a splash with its 1986 introduction to the North American market, and it quickly became clear that Honda’s premium brand was here to stay on our shores. Yet with growing competition and Acura’s flagship Legend growing in size, performance, and luxury, it was also clear that Acura needed a third model to fill the widening gap between Legend and Integra. Enter the 1992 Acura Vigor.

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Typical of most Japanese cars sold in North America, the Acura Vigor was not an entirely new model, but instead based on a vehicle already sold in Japan. Acura’s Vigor was closely related to the JDM Honda Vigor (top right) and Honda Inspire (top left), though in terms of its body, it actually shared more in common with the “wide-body” Inspire than its Honda namesake which was only sold in “narrow-body” versions in Japan. Contrary to some claims, the Vigor was not closely related to the North American Honda Accord, riding on a different platform and sharing no common body panels.

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Effectively replacing the nearly identically dimensioned first generation Legend sedan in Acura’s lineup, the Vigor fit neatly between the Honda Accord and second generation Legend in size, luxury, and even number of cylinders. Among the Vigor’s most notable aspects was its 2.5L SOHC 20-valve inline-five cylinder engine. Longitudinally mounted over the front axle, it gave the Vigor a much more favorable weight distribution than in most front-wheel drive cars; 57/43 in the case of the Vigor GS.

Generating 176 horsepower at 6300 rmp and 170 pound-feet of torque at 3900 rmp, the 3100-pound Vigor was capable of zero-to-sixty times in the high-seven range when equipped with its standard 5-speed manual. A 4-speed automatic was also available, with four-wheel disc antilock brakes standard on every Vigor.

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Vigors featured four-wheel independent suspension, consisting of unequal-length control arms, coil springs, and antiroll bar up front and 1 trailing arm, 3 lateral links, coil springs, and antiroll bar in the rear. Demeanor was often described as very German-like, with its purposefully stiff shocks and balanced variable-assisted power steering providing strong communication with the road. Minimal understeer and lack of noticeable brake fade also contributed to the Vigor’s sporty handling.

1992 Vigor

Placing the engine far back over the axle and angling it 35 degrees right gave way to a long, low hood equally uncharacteristic for a front-wheel driver. Combined with a short front overhang, long wheelbase and short deck, this made for very elegant, rear-wheel drive-like proportions. With a wide track, rakish windshields and flared wheel arches, the Vigor also exuded an aggressive appearance.

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Derived from a Honda meant the Vigor’s styling details were clean and inoffensive, if not a bit too familiar. Slim composite headlights and a narrow chrome-ringed trapezoidal grille exaggerated the Vigor’s already wide, low front fascia. Would you believe that Car and Driver magazine made a big fuss over their disapproval for this relatively simple grille design? If only they could’ve anticipated the 2009 Acura TL.

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Like the Legend, thick chrome trim surrounded the Vigor’s windows. Evidenced by its thin B-pillars, these windows were frameless, as the Vigor was part of the dying breed of four-door pillared hardtops. Down lower, 1992 Vigors featured black lower bodyside and bumper trim, which was made body color for 1993-1994. The Vigor’s low, flat trunk was highlighted by taillights emulating its shape and using very JDM-like clusters, uncommon for the U.S. market. “V-I-G-O-R” was spelled out in large letters in the center of the trunk, and owing to its Honda Verno channel origins, the license plate was mounted lower on the rear bumper.

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With sound craftsmanship, Vigor interiors were luxurious, though not overly extravagant in the expected Honda/Acura fashion. Instrument panel layout and controls were also familiar, with everything logically laid out within view and reach of the driver. Honda consulted with Japanese furniture maker, Tendo Mokko, for interior trimmings, with tasteful wood accents and available double-stitched leather reflecting the Vigor’s luxury aspirations.

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Cloth was standard in the Vigor LS, with leather optional on the LS and standard on Vigor GS models. Regardless of upholstery, seats were deeply contoured with heavy bolstering, reflecting the Vigor’s sporting aspirations. In what was becoming expected from Acura, the list of standard features was long, including items such as air conditioning, power windows and locks, AM/FM stereo cassette with 8-speaker sound system, and a leather wrapped steering wheel. GS models also featured a power sunroof and upgraded audio system.

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For all the Vigor’s positive attributes, it proved to be a difficult car for Acura to market. It was a car trying to fill too many niches, and as a result, didn’t entirely fill any with perfection. That’s not to say it wasn’t a perfectly competent entry-level luxury sports sedan, because in this respect, the Vigor was indeed a vigorous contender. But failing to excel in one particular area lead the Vigor to slip through the cracks. Its immediate successor, the 1996-1998 TL would fare somewhat better, but it wasn’t until the 1999-2003 TL (coincidentally photobombing the above image) , that Acura would duplicate its exceptional success with the first-generation Legend in the mid-size luxury field.

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Though it did offer spirited performance and handling, the Vigor was no rear-wheel drive BMW. Buyers seeking the long-established prestige and teutonic engineering of BMW and Mercedes-Benz likely didn’t look twice at this front-wheel drive, five-cylinder Acura. Even most 5-cylinder, front-wheel drive Audi faithful were probably not swayed, though some potential Audi buyers may very well have turned away from the German brand amidst its much-fabricated unintended acceleration scandal.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Vigor’s stiff suspension and rev-happy engine were too harsh and loud for some prioritizing comfort over an engaging driving experience. For many of these consumers, the Vigor’s nearest rival, the Lexus ES300 fit the build. It was also a similarly-sized, similarly-equipped, and similarly-priced Japanese luxury-branded 4-door pillared hardtop. Although power from its 3.0L V6 and acceleration were similar to the Acura’s, handling was less dynamic, a sacrifice made for a softer, more isolated ride.

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Additionally, for a car of the Vigor’s exterior dimensions, its interior was somewhat cramped. Despite riding on a seven-inch longer wheelbase, Vigor interior dimensions were only equal to and often less than that of the Lexus ES300. Front legroom was especially tight, with narrow footwells a result of the transmission’s far back placement. In light of this, with a greater use of stitched leather-covered surfaces, inlaid wood, chrome accents, and better-looking plastics, it was the Acura that had a more luxurious interior than the very “entry-level” Camry-like ES300.

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But the ES300 boasted a decidedly more modern design, and most importantly of all, it was riding the coattails of the seemingly invincible LS400 and Lexus brand as a whole. 1992-1994 U.S. calendar year sales of the Lexus ES300 totaled 114,415 units, compared to the Acura Vigor’s 32,331. Total North American Acura Vigor sales came to 49,221 including United States 1991 and 1995 calendar years and Canadian sales.

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Acura was primarily created as a next step up for upwardly mobile Honda owners. While the Vigor was an all-around proficient luxury-sports sedan, it likely had greater appeal to loyal Honda/Acura owners than it did from conquest buyers in this crowded class. Although the Vigor was intended as a logical next step for many Accord, Integra, and first-generation Legend owners, its greatest competitor may indeed have been the second-generation Legend sitting feet away from it in Acura showrooms.

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Despite the Legend moving up a class in size and price, the price gap between the Vigor and Legend was not all that sizable. Over the course of its 3-year run, Vigor base prices ranged from $23,000-25,000 in 1992 and $26,000-28,000 in 1994. During that time, Legend base prices began at only about $4,500-6,000 more depending on year. Considering even the base Legend L sedan offered more luxury features, more power, better space efficiency, and a smoother, more comfortable ride, it may have been enough to entice some prospective Vigor buyers.

Tyson's Acura Vigor

Vigor sales, however, never lived up to Vigorous levels. This featured Granada Black over Cognac leather 1994 GS model is one of just 8,469 Acura moved in 1994. My good buddy Tyson Hugie, whom many might know of by his half-million+ mile Acura Legend, was kind enough to run the Carfax on this Vigor for me. On a side note, just this year, Tyson has added this gorgeous 1994 103,000-mile Arcadian Green Vigor GS 5-speed (immediately above; interior three images above) to his growing fleet of vintage Acuras.

Acura_1994_Vigor_2010_TSX(Couldn’t pass up the chance to photograph my 2010 TSX side-by-side with its ancestor)

It turns out that this Acura has been Massachuetts-owned its whole life. The first owner purchased it in June 1994, with the second and still current owner taking ownership in March of 1997. At the time I took these pictures, the Vigor had 239,000 miles on it, and according to the gas station employee, was another employee’s daily driver. While it may not have lived up to its name in sales, clearly more than one Acura Vigor has lived up to its name in longevity.

Related Reading:

1992-1994 Acura Vigor

1989 Acura Legend

1994 Acura Legend

Tyson’s half-million mile 1994 Legend coupe (COAL)

2000 Acura TL (COAL)