Don't Plan on any Acura Bongo Friendees
-- by John Phillips
What's in a name? A lot, if yours happens to be Elvis Grbac or Dick Trickle or
Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington. And it's the same for automobiles. Would
the Mustang have been a success if Ford had sent it out with Dearborn's
corporate designation "SN95"? Try to imagine Buddy Guy singing "SN95 Sally"
and you quickly grasp the dilemma.
Unfortunately, the German manufacturers, who are enamored of alphanumeric soup
such as the 325is and E420 and A4, have swayed Acura to their way of thinking.
Say goodbye to the Legend. Say hello to the Acura 3.5RL.
Acura says the old Legend moniker had become more widely recognized than the
name Acura itself. So the company moved to RLs, CLs, and TLs. This is like
beating your intelligent son until his grades match your dumb son's, and it is
the kind of thinking that caused the performer formerly known as Prince to
change his name to a glyph that looks like an IUD.
It's a shame, because the Japanese are adept at conjuring vivid names for
their cars. From the Tokyo show last October, I made a list of their domestic
models whose titles a guy will not soon forget.
Mitsubishi offers a six-seat minivan called the Delica Space Gear Cruising
Active. Suzuki has a Samurai called the Jimny (yep, with an "n," as in Jiminy
Cricket) and a microvan called the Every Joy Pop Turbo, not to be confused
with the Nissan Prairie Joy. (Permanently emblazoned on the flanks of the
Every Joy Pop is this legend: "Everyone has different personality and taste.
If they get together, it makes a family. 'Every' is always staying near our
Subaru builds an Impreza wagon called the Gravel Express, not to be mixed up
with Toyota's Granvia Riente or Nissan's Safari Granroad. From there, Subaru
really gets rolling, with vehicles called the Domingo Aladdin, the Sambar Dias
Astonish!!, and the Bistro Vivio.
Nissan offers two minivans intended to engender different degrees of serenity:
the Serena Enchante and the Serena Waai! The latter replaces last year's Moko
Moko model and is lavishly adorned with a gripping Maui flower motif.
Not to be outdone, Mazda arrived with its stalwart 4wd minivan, the Bongo
Friendee (with "Auto Free Top") and a mini sport-ute called the Proceed
Daihatsu opted for simplicity, naming one of its K-class mini wagons the Move
and calling the other the Town Cube. (And it is a cube, holding 21 dress suits
on a rack, in case you are wrestling with a heavy social calendar. If so, you
might also want to investigate the Daihatsu Charade Social.) Daihatsu has a
mini-ute called the Rugger Field Sports Resin Top, plus two casual Rocky
variants: the Canterbury Winter and the slightly less chilling Canterbury
From there, Daihatsu runs amok with a range of micro cars: the Mira Moderno,
the Opti Classic, and the ever-popular, if somewhat extravagant, Mira
In the scramble for memorable names, commercial trucks are not ignored.
There's the Hino Rising Ranger and Super Dolphin Profia, the Fuso Fighter, and
a Mitsubishi leviathan proclaimed The Great. Plus the Isuzu Giga 20 Light Dump
and, of course, my personal favorite, the Nissan Big Thumb Harmonized Truck.
At the show, I found a Mazda truck called the Scrum and a Fuso firetruck
called the Canter, whose name, were you actually enveloped in an inferno, you
might prefer were something like Gallop. Far smaller is the Daihatsu Altrai
Liberno RV Deck, a kind of circumcised microvan with a sofa-size pickup-truck
An Isuzu employee told me that names in Japan don't have to make literal
sense. Proving this, he pointed at his company's handsome sport-utes, one
called the Bighorn Izon, the other called the MU Wizard. ("MU" stands for
"Mysterious Utility," and I am not making this up.) But, he added, the model's
name does have to produce "a harmonious sound."
"Like what?" I asked.
"I think good name for small truck might be Zsa Zsa," he replied. "Also, we
admire Nissan Homy."
Did he think the Honda Rafaga and the Nissan Rasheen were intended for
Rastafarian buyers? He had no opinion.
Nissan sells a pair of sedans, the Cefiro 25 Excimo (not to be confused with
Mitsubishi's Debonair Exceed), plus a wagon called the Avenir Attesa Salut,
the latter not unlike Subaru's tall wagon, the Elcapa (from which the owner
unfortunately cannot knit a sweater).
Mitsubishi builds a special version of its Diamante sedan -- possibly intended
for the Reverend Moon -- called the Deporte. The company also displayed a pair
of acronymic concept cars, the GAUS and MAUS. The first stands for "Global
Adventure Utility System," the second for "Mini Active Urban Sandal," although
how footwear became involved is, to us, a mysterious utility. If you want
something more immediately available, buy Mitsubishi's tall wagon, the Libero
RVR Super Wild Gear. (Easily confused, alas, with Daihatsu's Liberno. Sorry.)
Hyundai went surprisingly mainstream, calling its new mini SUV the Gila, which
is fine if you covet poisonous reptiles. (America does -- witness the Viper
and Cobra.) Perhaps in reaction to its ugly experience with the hatchback
Precis (a word that most Americans assumed rhymed with the monkey genus
"rhesus"), Hyundai painted on the Gila's flanks a phonetic clarification
exactly like this: [HeXl;]. The Japanese in attendance eyed this with deep
suspicion, much as you'd examine a chunk of plutonium that turned up in your
lettuce crisper. Don't expect the Gila handle to survive.
So, as you can see, the newly baptized 3.5RL sounds pretty drab. If Acura's
marketing guys move rapidly, however, there's a name still available. Say it
out loud a few times: the Acura Zsa Zsa.