(first posted 10/12/2015) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
Tyson’s half-million mile 1994 Legend coupe (COAL)
2000 Acura TL (COAL)
I love the derived from a Honda it is a Honda CC effect I followed one out of the supermarket yesterday I would have a photo but I was in the Hillman and my camera was in the other car, Vigors Aspires etc theres a slew of these JDM odd balls roaming the roads here and ES300 Camry sorry Lexus are quite common and cheap Windoms all those semi luxury Camry derivatives that Toyota churned out for the salarymen.
I think it’s extremely pretty for a 90s sedan.
Yeah they look great until some fool decides to give one the full rice treatment and lowers all the handling out of it, they actually hang on to the road fairly well stock for a Japanese car Honda did quite well sorting them out and backyard improvements rarely work out well.
In all my years I have never seen a vigor with the “rice treatment.”
Is really a nice looking car. And seems to be durable as well. I’d consider a well taken care of manual shift version, preferably with cloth interior.
Very attractive indeed. And I’m intrigued by the longitudinal engine FWD setup, with the engine mounted sensibly, instead of being cantilevered way out front and stuffing up the weight distribution. This looks similar to what Triumph did with the FWD 1300.
Brendan, thank you for bringing us this interesting car that all too often has not been remembered. The really profound effect to me has to be the effect of this on the 4 gen 90-93 Accord. A big part of why that car was so jarring was the higher hoodline. The 3rd gen Accord with the pop up lights and dramatic low hoodline was such a style leader and indeed styling peak for Honda. When the 4th gen came out with it’s A body dimensions and retrograde higher hoodline, a lot of people thought it was necessary for the coming 5 cylinder. What a strange decision to go to a five when the dimensions of the new bodies called for a six and the first gen Legend had left one siting around the Honda parts bin.
The hardtop roofline is what was best about these. Honda often excels in thin pillar design and adding a JDM hardtop look was a good way to emphasize Japanese style and distingish from the Accord.
In the end, the car did not do sport as well as the 325i nor luxury as well as the ES300. GM or Ford or Chrysler would have been thrilled to have a model that competes. That Honda did is to their credit.
Uh… I think NOT – NOT if you mean “pillarless”. For it is a sedan, just having frameless windows. All cars, except convertibles are “hardtops”, meaning steel. A “hardtop” used to mean not having a B-pillar. As long as the car has a B-pillar, it is a sedan. The car in question has a B-pillar, so it is a sedan, albeit a very nice-looking one!
Mercury used the term “pillared hardtop” for its frameless sedans as far back as the turn of the ’70s. I think it’s a useful term.
One is a proper description, the other Detroit marketing hype. What a company does when concerned about potential Federal rollover standards and has to cancel a popular body style.
Frameless door glass is a dumb idea in a sedan.
Why is it any dumber than in a coupe? Wind noise is a possible drawback, but you gain a sleeker, simpler appearance, and lighter doors and an airy feeling when getting in/out when the windows are down. The 4-door Integras had this feature, too, and I love it. It was also a good way to differentiate from the Accord/Civic.
It’s like “4-door coupe” or even “crossover” for that matter. They’re all kind of oxymoronic and different people will feel stronger about one term over another. I was taking a retired couple out on a test drive of the MINI Cooper Countryman yesterday (I have a new job btw, but more of that to come soon 🙂 ) and he even as he put it “crossovers are just wagons, but no one [in America] wants to hear the word ‘station wagon'”.
It’s a generational thing, for sure. My reaction was the same as Zackman’s – what is this pillared hardtop of which they speak? When the 61 Lincoln Continental debuted with this style, it was a sedan. A hardtop has no center post, period. I just never adapted to the pillared hardtop nomenclature.
I wrote at some length about this point earlier in the year, but to summarize, Japan was very big on four-door pillarless hardtops in the ’70s and ’80s, and also developed a fad for the pillared variety. If you like, you may say “pillared hardtop” is an oxymoron, much like the more recent four-door coupes, but it was a distinct body style with specific characteristics and these cars were marketed and advertised as such in Japan. So, yeah.
I agree that it is misleading to label these cars as “hardtops” with no further elaboration. At the same time, these cars (and some of the others mentioned in comments) were clearly trying to be somewhat hardtop-like in a way that most pillared sedans weren’t. I can deal with calling them “pillared hardtops”.
If this was the only 5-cylinder Japan style hardtop, what was the 2.5TL? Sure, same car JDM, different generation. But still, it is notably absent from your CC as its direct successor (along with the less fun but oddly more expensive V6 3.2TL)
Frankly I liked the Vigor better- and I liked its competitor the Mercedes C220 even better which is what I bought, but you coulda figured that out anyway.
The text does mention the successors (called Inspire and Saber in Japan) and I don’t see Brendan asserting that it was the only five-cylinder JDM four-door hardtop or even the first. (The narrow-body 5-number Vigor and Accord Inspire were launched for 1990, about two years before the wide-body Acura Vigor, using a 2-liter version of the G-block five, same drivetrain configuration.)
The TL/Inspire/Saber had the big advantage of also being available with the 3.2-liter V-6. I haven’t seen a sales breakdown by model, but I’ve always assumed the 3.2TL outsold the 2.5TL as well as cannibalizing sales of the Legend/3.5RL. Unless you just really liked five-cylinder engines, it was hard to see a strong case for the 2.5TL when you could have an Accord EX V-6 for less and a 3.2TL for not a lot more.
Two wordsdescribe this car’s failure: five cylinders. From the conclusion of the era of the original Integra and Legend, Acura was under-engined for its price point. In the US, fuel was cheap and a V6 was a necessity for anything but a basic car. Had this car carried the old Legend V6, it would have been a success, at least until the transmission claims started coming in. The larger Legend (and subsequent RL) failed for the same reason – not enough engine.
I dont care how powerful it is, when a guy has to tell his neighbor “well, it’s only a five, but it has all the power it needs”, the sales war is lost.
The V6 issue seems to loom large over these. The 2.7 Honda V6 was not blessed with much low end torque but would have given more perception of value on these expensive cars.
I have to respectfully disagree here, in that the I5 format was well-established thanks to Audi, and the Volvo 850 lasted its entire run (and the name change/facelift to S70) offering nothing but fives. Though both of those engines offered turbo versions, and maybe *that* was Honda’s failure to not offer one.
Fitting it with a V6 might have been a better idea, but I don’t think they could have preserved the lines without being able to position the engine back of the axle and canted sideways like they did.
You may be right that the packaging would not have accommodated the V6. But I don’t think any of those 5 cylinder cars sold very well. I think that all of these 5s sold in spite of the 5 cylinder rather than because of them.
A turbo might have helped, but that would seem to be very “Un-Honda”. A boxer six a-la Subaru or maybe a super-wide angle 120 degree V6 might have been a more Honda-like solution to get more cylinders under that low hood.
Honda did have two turbocharged passenger cars in the ’80s: the Honda City Turbo and the KA5 Legend V6-Xi. (The City Turbo was sort of roughly comparable to the later Suzuki Swift GT — zippy little pocket rocket. The City was exported to some non-U.S. markets, but I’m not sure offhand if the turbo version was.)
That was certainly a problem in Japan. The five-cylinder Vigor and Inspire were supposed to compete in a class where even some of the 1.8- and 2.0-liter engines were sixes, which presented obvious marketing problems. Even the G20A five was more powerful than some of the 2-liter sixes, but in a prestige- and perception-driven segment, that was a losing argument.
Great article about one of the best looking modern front drivers Brendan, but isn’t the cutaway view of the engine posted upside down?
Yeah that image does look odd. It’s actually sideways. I rotated the one in the article 90 degrees to the right, with the intake manifold on top and to the right. Here’s a better image anyway.
Along with “Legend”, “Vigor” was another excellent model name Acura should not have let go of. Always liked these cars. Thanks for the great write-up, Brendan.
Best dash-to-axle-ratio-in-a-front-wheel-drive-car EVER! This and the 2nd generation Legend. You’d never guess they were front-drivers.
Nah, check out a ’66 Toronado. It had an even longer dash-to-axle ratio, though that didn’t stop Olds from intentionally exaggerating the nowadays-despised front overhang with several inches of bladed fender. No worries about “front-drive proportions” back then!
Nice. Growing Acura fan, I’d have taken one. I like the JDM look, Japanese cars always had something about them that looked simple but attractive.
A true oddity, slip through the cracks kinda car. My mechanic had one of these a while back, and, while slushbox, hauled ass. I was impressed.
Good write up on a car I have some experience with. I’ve had five second generation Legends (and own a ’94 LS coupe) and my friend has a 92 Vigor GS. I like the very JDM pillared hardtop look, but I feel that the design did not age as gracefully as the timeless Legend or, what I consider to be the most period-attractive hardtop, the Lexus ES250. The three piece headlight with narrow, upright grill makes it look “pinched” and omitting body colored moldings on even the highest trim level until 1993 was a mistake. I don’t believe the price differential was that small though. For most of its run, the Legend had a base price in the mid $30,000 range, with my LS coupe approaching 42k in 94.
Us Legend owners refer to it as the red-headed stepchild of the Integra/Legend. That said it’s a fairly sprite car to drive but as others have said, rather narrow and cramped. The wood in early cars is honestly very fake looking and I was surprised to learn was real. The brochure photo above shows a much nicer quality grain. The 2.5TL definetely got a lot of it right but 5 cylinders would prove to be an oddity, probably offered to amortize the development costs.
Here is a picture of my friends Vigor and my Legend. You can see quite of bit of family resemblance in the profiles.
The Vigor was rarely seen, even in SoCal. I had one friend whose son-in-law bought her a lightly used 1993 Vigor at auction for a good price as resale was not that strong. I recall she loved “a feature called Digital Signal Processing that can tailor the sound to match the acoustics of different venues, from den to concert hall” (as described in a contemporary article). You punched a button labeled “concert hall” and Yanni moved indoors from the amphitheater. Neither the rowdy engine nor the ride could match the quiet and smoothness of her friends’ new ES300s and she soon became disenchanted with the Vigor. Sadly she died of brain cancer shortly thereafter or the Vigor would have been replaced with a Lexus.
It is a real shame, but while these cars had that unusual 5 cylinder engine “holding them back”, the inline 5 is capable of very high miles. These, and the 1st generation TL are excellent high mileage cars.
I’ll echo several others here–one of the best-proportioned front-drivers ever. Honda nailed the long hood, short deck look with these cars. This was the golden age of Honda styling anyway (I’d loosely define that as mid-late 80’s to mid 90’s) but the Vigor always looked very athletic and lithe. Styling that was a perfect match for the name. The headlights were a touch too wide perhaps but other than that, they nailed it.
Shame customers cared more about refinement than athleticism at that price point, but I guess it did occupy a difficult middle ground between the 3-series on the one side and the C-class/ES300 on the other. Though the styling is totally different, I see some similarities in circumstance and mission with the Infiniti J30.
I always loved these cars. I think why they failed in the U.S. was due to the price point and the lack of interior room, especially the back seat being so tight. My 1993 Accord had more interior room than the Vigor!
What are the chances of a 1999-00 TL zooming past in the background as you snapped those pics of that old 1994 Vigor GS? Nice capture! Thanks for featuring a couple photos of my “new” pride & joy. It’s an oft-forgotten model and to many a bit of an ugly duckling, but it strikes a great balance between being fun to drive with just enough luxury. I have to admit, the frameless windows are probably my favorite feature. Great write-up. Now swing by Scottsdale and take my old Arcadia Green for a spin!
Ugly duckling? Nonsense! I think you can see from the comments here that it’s considered a very attractive car. I am wondering what Car & Driver had to say about the grille — if anyone has a link to that, I would love to see it.
Hardly an ugly duckling. I think they are beautiful!
And Tyson, as an Acura salesman I refer to your 500k mile Legend all the time. People look at me like I am crazy, that a car is actually still on the road with 500k on it. If only more people would have faith in the Honda/Acura product they would understand how great they truly are, even with hundreds of thousands of miles on them.
Chris, here’s the link:
Thanks–that’s a great article, but yeah, they had no idea what was in store in the future as far as styling! The Vigor’s grille is narrow, but that’s one of its more identifiable cues, especially from a distance! Without that, C&D probably would have been saying it looked too much like an Accord.
If I see the featured car before reading the article does that still qualify as the CC effect? I saw two today and not only that but I own one and drove it up to July of this year. Sadly, the engine on this car are notorious for oil leaks according to Vigor forums. The leak on my car also affected a lot of other components of the car I sadly don’t have the money for right now to fix and parts for this car aren’t exactly abundant.
Hopefully, I’ll get her back running one day. Easily one the best and funnest cars I’ve owned. Typical 90’s Honda in all aspects. The only negative (apart from the leak) is the size. For a FWD car, there was no excuse for the cramped back seats.
The CC effect continues. In a brief drive to the supermarket today I spotted a dark blue Vigor in beautiful condition parked not 10 blocks from my home. I should have taken a photo but didn’t want to get out of the car into this heat wave we’re experiencing in SoCal. My loss.
I had a 1988 first-generation Integra 5-door that was a great car except that I was really too tall to fit in it. In the search for a replacement I test drove the (then) new Vigor. Brendan’s description of its characteristics are spot-on: handsome, athletic, nicely appointed on the inside, but also terrible space utilization, at least for a Honda. The Legend had a lot more room for people and stuff, but it was larger and more expensive than I wanted, so I moved on.
I ended trading the “other” car, a Taurus wagon, for a Saab 9000, which in configuration was a 20% bigger version of the Integra. The Saab was luxurious and fun to drive, like the Vigor, but it was roomy and could carry as much stuff as the Taurus. Being a Saab course meant it became less reliable as it aged. We held on to the Integra for another 3 years. Two cars, ten doors. We never lacked for utility! Now if Acura had done a bigger 5-door, maybe me and the other six people in the U.S. who were interested in such a thing would have bought them.
Great article. I owned a 5 speed GS for a short while and it was a fun sporty car with some luxury as well. Around the same time, I found a 94 GS auto in silver with black leather interior for my brother. The black leather with the wood grain in the GS was amazing looking. Having owned many early 90s Hondas and Acuras, the Vigor certainly did fit right in the middle of the lineup. Although the 5cyl did suffer some oil leak issues like the distributor o-rings etc, they still were good runners with more low end torque than most of the other Honda engines at the time.
All About the Benjamins
Here the song tells the story . .
Drinkin malt liquor, drivin’ a broke Vigor
I’m wit Mo’ sippers, watched by gold diggers (uhh)
Rockin Bijan denims, wit gold zippers (c’mon)
Lost your touch we kept ours, poppin Cristals . . . . . .