SAN FRANCISCO — The new RDX small cross/utility vehicle and upcoming next-generation MDX midsize CUV should help Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s Acura brand achieve Tier 1 luxury status, company officials say.

“Image (wise), we're not quite there yet,” Dan Bonawitz, vice president-auto operations for American Honda Motor Co. Inc., says at the RDX media preview here.

Acura has yet to attain the luxury-vehicle status of the BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus brands.

Honda is trying to emulate BMW by focusing on “more of a performance characteristic,” for Acura, “but (with) our own unique styling (and) unique application of technology,” Bonawitz says.

Acura's lack of a V-8 engine and rear-wheel-drive configuration in its high-volume models is cited by industry watchers as a reason the brand isn't considered among the Tier 1 luxuries.

Bonawitz does not discount a V-8 engine or RWD car in Acura's future.

“We fully intend to be a Tier 1 luxury manufacturer in our own way, and we understand those knocks,” he tells Ward's.

Acura soon will have a vacancy to fill at the low-end of its U.S. lineup when the RSX sports coupe ends with the '06 model.

A possible TSX coupe has been rumored. A redesigned TSX sedan is due in the '08 model year, according to Ward's North American Product Cycle chart.