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Build quality has come a long way

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Rob Rothwell
As I photographed this week’s tester, I marveled at the precision of its fit and finish. The vehicle, a 2012 Acura TSX, may be an upscale ride but with a base MSRP of $31,890, it’s far from an expensive premium marque.

Despite its mid-range pricing, the vehicle is perfectly assembled, exhibiting gap tolerances that are remarkably tight and consistent throughout. This level of build quality isn’t unique to the TSX; it can be found on the most modestly priced vehicles as well.

2012 Acura TSX headlight
2012 Acura TSX (Photo: Rob Rothwell/

However, anyone who owned certain American cars from the ‘70s, ‘80s, or ‘will be familiar with their poorly fitted body panels, doors, trunk lids and hoods. Particularly susceptible to wear and tear were the door hinges of large two-door vehicles, which were so popular in that era.

The hinges wore terribly and within a few years the heavy doors began to sag and lose their alignment, which resulted in clunky operation, water leaks and other maladies. You just don’t see that sort of poor quality construction today, even though some entry-level economy cars tend to feel tinny when you open and close their doors.

Vastly improved assembly standards are also found inside today’s automobiles, and again this applies across the pricing spectrum. Not only is cabin build-quality light years ahead of where it was several decades ago, seating has undergone a renaissance of sorts; seats no longer break down, becoming threadbare, unsupportive shells that swallow young children and small pets.

If you haven’t examined the build quality of today’s automobile offerings, I encourage you to. The next time you’re in a showroom, make a point of looking carefully at exterior panel-gapping. What are the margins? Are they even throughout? Open and close doors — do they seal tight without the need to be slammed? Is the trunk lid evenly aligned within the opening? How about the hood?

The next time you come upon a four-wheel relic from decades past, compare it to what you’ve seen in terms of today’s build quality and assembly standards. The difference should be startling.
Rob Rothwell
Rob Rothwell
Automotive expert