It’s easy to dislike Acura, Honda long historied premium brand does not fare so well in America, where it first debut back in the late 80’s. Being beaten in sales by the likes of the German premiums and even by its Japanese compatriot, Lexus which happens to arrive later in the decade is not something to brag upon.
The problem lies on Acura management or even Honda HQ questionable decision to make Acura as Super Honda or Honda+. There’s nothing wrong, it’s just that there is still a Honda baggage and identity carried around by the brand which should hastily distant itself from an entry level mass market product image.
The first problem every Acura faces as of late is in the mechanical side of things. Acura cars are making do with what’s available on Honda side of things with only a slight modification. K24 engine straight from Honda Civic Si or K24 Accord with higher compression ratio. J35 engine modified from Accord/Odyssey/Pilot with slight update on VTEC on intake and exhaust side. The 6 speed automatic transmission is nice, it’s unique to Acura but the competitions has move on with 7 speed automatic transmission and even some goes up to 9 speed automatic transmission, making Acura seems out of touch with the market.
The second problem lies on the design of the Acura products. It is just too bland looking. Ever since Acura adopts the new power plenum design in 2008 Acura TL debut, the brand tried to distance itself from Honda by using an “in your face” approach. The bold huge chrome filled shield like grille was dubbed the beak in its early days since the car that debuts with it have a pronounced reverse trapezoid form with gaping distance and a protruding lower bumper, creating a beak like visual. It was a bold move, but one that Acura designers tone down by a lot due to media and consumers negative responds. What is left is a car with a mismatch of design aspects.
Acura still sticks to the power plenum, but the result is a mixed bag, it works relatively good on the MDX and RDX since both cars are tall SUV, the stretched and refined grille looks fine on wide surfaces. The recent entry level Acura sedan, the ILX also carried a good representation of the power plenum, with wide lower air dam which contemplates the lines of the grille. Yet, the top of the line RLX misses out with weird protruding lower bumper and tall accented front wheel arch.
With that said, there is a lot going on for the release of Acura new car, the TLX. Fans, media and consumers are expecting a plenty from the car which is going to replace two model at the same time, the TL and the TSX. The TSX or Accord Euro is a midsize sedan famous for carrying the sporty notion to Accord nameplate once it splits into two line at the start of 2000 sporting a smaller size than the porkier last generation Accord and powered with a potent 200 horsepower engine. The TL, Acura bread and butter sedan is a large car which offers a powerful V6 and loaded with Acura exclusive all wheel drive system.
Hopes are high for the TLX, as sales of Acura sedan was dropping. ILX sedan although visually good, lacks the punch of a luxury vehicle in terms of options and power. It comes with a partly 2.0L engine with the more powerful 2.4L engine only available as manual trim. The RLX top of the line sedan has a polarizing but sedate look. Sure the ILX are rumored to receive powertrain update and the RLX more powerful sports hybrid are getting favorable reviews (with the same complaint of design), still, it was not a good time for Acura sedans.
Then 14 – 1 – 14 arrived, and the TLX happened.
It was a climactic reveal. The TLX, while sporting the much debated power plenum front end exemplary showcase the best use of the design, much better than even the top of the line RLX. There is still front overhang which comes inherited by front wheel transversely mounted engine cars, but it is decent, and not pronounced more with a jutted lower bumper like the RLX.
The proportion is wondrous, the tall belt line and seemingly small side windows creates a sports car like proportion. All are finished off with a tapered and swept back shape which gives the car that “looking fast standing still” look.
There is some Honda design touches, where two creases from front and back overlaps each other, but with such lateral angles, it pronounced the sporty looks of the car much more.
From technical side of things, the car is met with mixed response. It still carries Honda own K24 and J35 which you can find in the Accord. Luckily, TLX owners will find improved power from those engines per the usual practice of Acura of past. For the naysayers, the K24 seems redundant for a car which was exclusively offered on a V6 engine option, will it be underpowered? Cannot say much at this point. The TSX was a smaller car than the TL, so the K24 is enough, but Acura haven’t yet release the specific of the car, namely its weight. So it’s nothing more than conjunction at this point whether the K24 will be underpowered or not.
The TLX will debut the use of 8 speed dual clutch automatic transmission on the 2.4L engine and get this… 9 speed (unspecified tech) automatic transmission for the 3.5L engine. Honda recently developed an in house 8 speed dual clutch automatic transmission (well, Honda recently developed A LOT of things, which I haven’t got the time to write about) for mid size cars using 2.0-3.0 Liter engines, and it is much expected on the TLX debut. The 9 speed gearbox is one which plenty questions about, including yours truly. The TLX was expected to debut last year, but was postponed until middle of 2014. Some say Honda was further testing the TLX with a turbo engine, while some says Honda is fitting the TLX with a 9 speed transmission from ZF, a German gearbox manufacturer which produces gearboxes for German brands such as Mercedes and BMW. If the latter is true, then this opens up a new mindset for Acura, nay, Honda in general.
Honda is a very conservative company. A company that is (too) proud of itself sometimes. This is given, one which is an enduring and respectable trait of a company which mimics the late Soichiro Honda attitude towards self sufficiency. Honda mostly develop their transmission in house, sans few specific models which I can only points out at S2000 which uses Aisin 6 speed manual gearbox. Why in house, because it can be put to test internally and catered specifically to Honda products. But the development time of Honda gearboxes are slow, Honda 4 speed automatic gearbox has been around for almost 2 decades, and Honda 6 speed automatic gearbox in the Acuras are mostly a refinement and gear addition of the old automatic gearbox.
The new dual clutch transmission according to Honda will give 8 percent improvement of efficiency and 10 percent improvement of acceleration. With plenty of gears, the lower gears can be very short while the higher gears can be extra long, giving punchy acceleration and low RPM on cruising. We all know that, but what about the 9 speed? Honda/Acura is never known to brag about numbers, the 8 speed dual clutch transmission is plenty of gear already, so why the need for the 9 speed gearbox? Does the 8 speed cannot handle the torque of the bigger engine?
All in all, the TLX is looking mighty fine. The pictures here are still in prototype form, and there will be toning down to measure. The front and rear bumper might feature slightly less fierce looking trim and the the aerodynamic side view mirror will give way to the usual chunky housing. It’s good enough as it is for me though.
It’s a good start for the new year Acura… Now give the TLX the turbocharged engine, and I will eat that goat eye soup.