My neighbor Peter had a penetrating question about the new Acura--all polished alloy, warm leather and rosewood brown lacquer twinkling in the driveway. "How do you pronounce the name of that car?" he asked. "V-I-G-O-R," I said. "Vig-Or."
"Not Vee-gor as in Igor?" "No, Vigor as in vim and . . . " "As in press on with . . . ?" "Exactly." Peter obviously was disappointed. He'd expected a loftier meaning. Maybe vie-gaw in a reference to the seminal side of life as
expressed by Onasander. But not plain old vigor, a label used less majestically in the past to imply the vitality of a detergent, lawn food and a discontinued scalp tonic. The underlying message is clear. Here is a four-seat sports sedan that
needs something to give it distinction, if only a saucy name. Its styling displays no energy. That rosewood body paint is closer to self-denial umber. There is no incantation from Vigor's lines, no great incandescence of visual spirit, and certainly no
incarnation of very much beyond the argument that most Japanese cars look alike these days. And if you don't believe that, park a Honda Accord next to an Acura Integra alongside a Nissan Maxima, the new Vigor and Acura Legend. The result will be
glazed eyeballs. Such shortcomings, however, involve only the appearances of the 1992 Vigor from Acura, the upscale bedfellow of Honda. Beneath the sheet metal of this conservative clone pulses a sturdy, efficient and unusual heart: a
five-cylinder engine. Acura--the only manufacturer other than Audi offering a five-lung power plant--sees its new engine as the perfect middle ground between overworked, buzzy four cylinders and rather expensive, even excessive V-6 configurations.
Other arguments seem to make sense: A V-6 is heavier, which mucks about with a car's weight distribution. An in-line engine allows lower hood lines and that's good for the center of gravity, i.e. balance. Four-bangers don't deliver enough low-end
power. Sixes have power but reduced fuel efficiency. Therein Acura's acumen: an all-aluminum, five-cylinder, in-line engine with four-valves per cylinder endowing the Vigor with 176-horsepower. That's considerably more oomph than the Toyota Camry,
the Lexus ES250 and Nissan Maxima get from their V-6s. In matters of money, mechanicals and the marketplace, Vigor (with a base price of $23,265) is slotted in Acura's lineup between the entry-level, four-cylinder Integra (at $12,000) and the V-6
Legend (at $26,800), which has moved up-market to challenge the mini-Infiniti M30 and the little Lexus. Whether the Vigor--for a little less money, performance and luxury--will eat into Legend sales, remains to be seen. It could work in reverse,
with potential Vigor owners damning the expense and thumbing out another $3,535 for the more powerful and undeniably prestigious Legend. Although the Vigor
's exterior is barely one yawn above bland, the interior more than compensates. Nothing flashy, of course. But all the niceties of motoring--including wood accents (their satin finish will offend some), a driver's side air bag and anti-lock brakes--are
standard on the base LS model. The snootier GS comes with leather seats, power sun roof and an audio system with the strangest addition to radio sound since Paul Harvey. It is called a Digital Signal Processor. Push a button and music or the Osgood
File are electronically massaged and gnarled until the signal seems to be coming from any of six chosen environments--a nightclub, den, broadcast studio, public hall, arena or church. It is a novelty for the first 30 seconds hearing Bo Yeltsin
gargling about Russia's reformation from the bottom of a rain barrel. It will have permanent purpose only for those who appreciate M. C. Hammer rapping from the organ pit of the Crystal Cathedral. Other interior equipment
is more conventional. Bold white numbers on black gauges are permanent attachments to a driver's peripheral vision. Seats offer enough support for challenging roads, but are comfortable enough for 150 miles between stretching. Back-seat room isn't
as liberal as it might be. Blame that on the longitudinal mounting of that five-cylinder engine. Length of the block causes a small reduction in cabin space and rather than remove legroom from the front seats, Acura has subtracted it from the rear.
On the move, the initial acceleration and top-end performance of the Vigor may be anticipated--noticeably superior to cars with four cylinders, but slightly inferior to most V-6s. Even with a manual transmission--and the sound effects of some rather
purposeful snorts shoved through twin exhaust pipes--don't expect a cannonball in freeway traffic. Throttle response is neither as immediate nor as urgent as it is with comparable sports sedans. So figure the power will come on more as a steady flow than
a heady rush. One note of caution: We did not drive the Vigor with automatic transmission and have no idea of its power strangulation. If any. We liked the Vigor's double-wishbone suspension, which has been adapted and down-tuned from Honda's
Formula One racing program. It also fell between both worlds; crisp enough for high-performance handling but not starched to the point of feeling bread crumbs on a billiard table. The speed-sensitive power steering is constant and provides precise
information from the front wheels. There is torque steer, as must be expected from all front-drivers, but the twisting and twitching is tamed to a minimum. Big discbrakes are on all four wheels and provide grand stopping. In short, the chassis and
its attachments perform without mush and fuss and, like reliable friends, they're always there and always performing, even if we don't really notice. The Acura reputation, of course, is for building smoothly performing cars of absolute reliability
and mechanical longevity. That's one reason why Acura has won first place in the J. D. Power customer satisfaction index for the past four years. All of which suggests better names than Vigor. Maybe the Acura Harmony. The Avance. Or Esteem.
I'll run them by my neighbor Peter. 1992 Acura Vigor GS The Good Better-than-average sports sedan performance. Superior interior. Typical Honda-Acura handling harmony. The Bad Styling you'll lose in a parking lot. Matte finish on wood
trim. Gimmicky sound system. The Ugly That name. Cost Base, for LS, $23,265 and for GS, $25,250. As tested $26,664 (including leather upholstery, sun roof, upgraded sound system, wood trim, driver's side air bag, anti-lock brakes and cruise
control). Engine In-line,five cylinders, 2.5 liters with 20-valves and developing 176 horsepo
wer. Type Front drive, front engine, four-door sports sedan. Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 7.9 seconds. Top speed, estimated, 130 m.p.h. Fuel consumption, EPA, city-highway, 20-26 m.p.g. Curb Weight 3,150 pounds.