The Truth About Cars » Acura The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Acura 2015 Acura TLX To Start At $30,995, Arrives In August Fri, 04 Jul 2014 10:00:48 +0000 2015-Acura-TLX-22

After a bit of a delay to sort out a few kinks, the 2015 Acura TLX — the new sedan replacing both the TL and TSX — will finally arrive in August with a base MSRP of $30,995.

Autoblog reports the base price of admission is just $360 more than the outgoing TSX, and nets would-be leasees a 2.4-liter I4 pushing 206 horsepower to the front line through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, while its Precision All-Wheel Steer helps the TLX take on corners and parallel parking. Consumers can add a Technology Package to the base offering, bringing the MSRP up to $32,025.

For those who want more, however, the TLX can be had with a 3.5-liter V6 paired with Acura’s nine-speed automatic, delivering 290 horses to either the front or — with the addition of Super Handling All-Wheel Drive — all four corners. Price of admission begins at $35,220 for the base V6, $44,700 for the top-of-the-line V6 SH-AWD Advance.

Finally, Acura is offering early adopters special introductory pricing and a $500 allowance toward purchases of Acura Genuine Accessories through its Acura Advantage program, as well as unique lease and APR rates. The doors are open from July 7 through September 2, with delivery to come no later than Halloween.

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2015 Acura ILX Hybrid Leaves US Market, Stays In Canada Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:00:34 +0000 ILX vs Verano 4

Those considering a premium hybrid will have one fewer option in the United States when MY 2015 rolls around: Acura has discontinued sales of the entry-level ILX Hybrid in the land of the free.

Autoblog reports the brand is responding to consumer demand — or lack thereof — in its decision to cut the hybrid model from the rest of the ILX lineup, which now will consist of a 2-liter I4 paired with a five-speed automatic and a 2.4-liter I4 with a six-speed manual. Price of admission for 2015 will be between $27,050 and $29,350, depending on options.

The ILX Hybrid arrived in 2012 as a 2013 model, but only 2,660 copies had left U.S. showrooms between then and May 2014. However, the hybrid will still have a home in Canada, where parent company Honda has vowed to continue sales. The 2014 edition of the ILX Hybrid starts at $35,190 CDN, and is powered by a 1.5-liter I4 with an integrated electric motor, both of which are mated to a CVT.

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Acura TLX Launch Delayed Until Later This Summer Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:15:23 +0000 2015-Acura-TLX-22

Acura fans hoping to ditch their TL or TSX for an all-new 2015 TLX in time for the start of the summertime driving season will have to make do until sometime later this summer, as the automaker has delayed the launch of its newest sedan.

Autoblog reports the reasoning behind delaying both press and customer launches of the TLX — which made its production-ready debut at the 2014 New York Auto Show last week — is due to its various technology needing more work, as explained by an email sent to all Acura dealers:

The TLX has more advanced and customer-relevant technology than on any other Acura model in our history, and we must assure that all systems are ready for mass production. Further, it is critical that we have a stable and sustainable supply of vehicles and components to support the strong customer response that we expect for this all-new Acura sedan.

To achieve these goals, we have determined that it is necessary to modify the production schedule for the 2015 TLX, which will move the on-sale date to late summer.

Spokesperson Chuck Schifsky added the automaker doesn’t view the delays as “major,” but has opted not to bring the TLX to the showroom for sale “until it’s perfect.”

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New York 2014: 2015 Acura TLX Live Shots Wed, 16 Apr 2014 21:52:16 +0000 2015-Acura-TLX-22

As the Acura TL and TSX are both dropped into the crusher of history, their replacement, the production-ready 2015 TLX, took the stage today at the 2014 New York Auto Show.

Having made its world debut at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show earlier this year, the TLX in New York will retain the former’s beak nose and bejeweled headlamps on its way to the showroom later this year.

As for what future TLX drivers will receive, two engines will put the power to either the front or all four wheels: 2.4-liter four-pot with 206 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and 3.5-liter V6 producing 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque through a nine-speed automatic. The four-cylinder FWD model will be augmented by Acura’s PAWS all-wheel steering system, while the V6 receives the SH-AWD handling system when AWD is selected on the options list. Combined fuel economy is expected to be 28 mpg for the 2.4-liter 4, 25 mpg for both FWD and AWD V6 models.

Inside, drivers will enjoy soft-touch plastics, wood and alloy accenting, leather, Acura’s AcuraLink infotainment system, GPS-linked climate control, and premium stereo sound.

And the price? Acura will make that announcement closer to the launch of the TLX.

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Timing Is Everything Fri, 21 Mar 2014 16:07:57 +0000

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“This life came so close to never happening” -David Benioff, The 25th Hour

A bit of fortuitous timing can make all the difference. Just missing a particular wave by even the briefest interval can radically alter a particular outcome.

(N.B. Unlike most Sunday Stories, this story is true. Names, dates and other details may have been modified.)

“Swipe right or swipe left?”  My father is holding up my iPhone, screen towards me, a thumbnail photograph of a fairly attractive young woman is on screen. We’re sitting in the kitchen after dinner on a Friday night. My brother and I are showing him how to use “Tinder“, the latest online dating app, where users  can view photographs and a brief biography and either swipe right (yes) or left (no) on-screen. If both parties swipe right, then they are notified of a potential match. If there is a discordant selection between the two, nothing happens.

“Right!” comes the cry from my brother and I. My father breaks out into his characteristic cackle as we flick through several more. “Right! Right!” with a few “Lefts” thrown in, intonated with mock revulsion. He’s still howling. “This is great! I love this app!”. I want to tell him how Tinder is the most ruthless manifestation of r-selection, an entirely superficial appraisal of one’s value in the dating market, a place where I am consistently matched with the obese, the tattooed, the homely. My pseudo-intellectual train of angsty thought is interrupted by his display of a woman, pudgy, dressed in bargain basement clothes, clearly from a lower socioeconomic background.  This one is a slam dunk. “Left!” says my brother. I concur. My father swipes right and we break out into laughter yet again.




Despite my earlier meditation on Tinder, I’m at it again mere minutes later, as I wait for my father to bring my press car back. I’m driving a 2013 Acura RDX, a car so utterly anonymous that I struggle with how I’ll even write about it. “It’s a two row crossover. It’s nice” is about all I have so far.


While he’s out taking it for a spin, I’m swiping right in a catatonic trance, hoping to be matched with somebody, anybody, with a BMI under 25 and no tattoos. Elizabeth is a year older than me, and resplendent in her main photo, coyly smiling while lounging poolside in a deck chair. Instead of the absurdly contrived faux-candid bikini shot so common to most profiles, she is wearing a white men’s button up shirt, demurely hiding most of her figure – except for a pair of slim, shapely legs. I hit the button to pull up more photos, and I like what I see – a big mane of wavy brown hair, grey eyes and that trademark smile. I swipe right.

“You have a match!”

Before I could even revel in my moment of triumph, I catch a glimpse of her bio.

“Location – Calgary, AB. Visiting for the weekend.”

We message anyways. She’s here visiting friend and family. Works in Oil & Gas. Went to a good school. “You’re cute,” I message her, trying to sound like the aloof, cocky archetype that so frequently brings success, “but you live in Calgary. Poor ROI for me.”

“Trying to throw around business terms to impress me?” she replies. “Noted.”

We meet that night, and she is just as attractive and charming as she was on Tinder. She tells me that I came so closing to blowing it all up with my attempt at arrogant humor. And then she returns to visit me in Toronto, twice.


“When you’re here, I want you to drive my car. Driving is a blue job.”

Not long ago, it was my turn to visit her, and the anticipation gnawed away at both of us in the weeks leading up to it. We kept in touch via Skype and FaceTime, but the internet connection in my condo wasn’t always the most stable – for example, the garbling of the word “blue” made is sound like something else entirely. The term “blue job” connotes something undesirable, like pumping gas, or apparently, driving her car around while I stayed with her. Who was I to argue?

“What do you drive?” I asked

“I have an RDX. Is that a good car? I wanted a CR-V, but I also wanted leather. By the time you optioned it up, it was as much as a two-year old RDX, so I got one from Acura with a warranty. Certified, or whatever they call it.”

“That’s what I drove down to the bar on the night I met you.”

“I really like mine. It feels sporty. Is it a good car?”

One of the most dreaded questions a woman can ask. Almost as bad as “does this make me look fat”. How do you tell them their 2005 Cavalier is not a shining example of automotive engineering, and not risk getting kicked to the curb?

“Well, yeah, but the new one is a lot different. More of a mom car.”

“That’s ok. The turbo is really bad on gas. I think I’d like an MDX when it’s time to upgrade. But not for a while – I want to drive my car into the ground.”

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Having never been to the Rockies, Elizabeth and I decided to take a weekend trip to Banff and Lake Louise, a couple of hours north of Calgary. Both sites are some of the most popular tourist destinations within Canada, attracting visitors from around the world who are looking to take in the majesty of pristine Canadian wilderness. I was ashamed that I had been to all points in Canada except Alberta.

Elizabeth’s car is about 5 years old and has barely 30,000 miles on it. Aside from a small scrape on the rear bumper, it might as well be brand new. Elizabeth doesn’t know a lot about the RDX, just that is has a turbo and takes premium gas. I don’t think many consumers or enthusiasts understood it either. When it launched in 2006, it had the first turbocharged engine that Honda had ever brought to the North American market, a 2.3L 4-cylinder engine that put out 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.

Mated to a 5-speed automatic, this motor was never used on any other product in the Honda or Acura lineup, even though it’s possible to think of countless applications where it would have been appropriate. Putting that power to the ground was a trick torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system dubbed SH-AWD. At the time, SH-AWD was novel for being able to send as much as 70 percent of torque to the rear wheels and distribute torque laterally between the rear wheels. Inside, heated seats, XM Radio, navigation and an ELS sound system added up to a pretty generous equipment list for the time.

But it all added up on the scales, with the RDX weighing a hair under 4,000 pounds despite being the size of a Honda CR-V. The difference between Elizabeth’s first-generation example and the new one is a great contrast in how quickly the automobile has changed in the few short years that separate the pre and post recession environment.

The road to Banff is a fairly smooth and straight, but it gave me a chance to sample what the first-gen RDX was made of. As the air thinned out and the grades got steeper, the turbo engine kept chugging away, and with careful throttle application, it was possible to stay out of the boost enough to maintain a decent 23 mpg (on winter tires and in unfavorable terrain, cruising at a steady 80 mph). The hydraulic steering is a bit light but transmits a fair amount of feedback, while the chassis is keen to tackle curves with enthusiasm. The only conditions that unsettled the RDX were the harsh cross winds in the low-lying areas approaching Banff, which blew the Acura around as if it were a Fiat 500.

The new RDX feels lifeless by comparison, with numb steering, and well-appointed, well-finished but anonymous cabin. It’s 3.5L V6 gets the job done, but is rather unremarkable in operation, and still requires premium fuel. Fuel economy is up, thanks to a conventional, less-complex AWD system and the V6 engine. Ironically, this is the kind of car that you’d expect to have existed prior to the wave of engine downsizing and technology bloat that flooded the post-recession market.

Instead, it’s Elizabeth’s 2009 model that, on paper, seems more modern, with the turbo engine, the torque vectoring all-wheel drive and the sophisticated technology. In many ways, it was the analogue of the current Ford Escape, but launched five years too soon. In 2006, the market wasn’t willing to accept poor fuel economy in exchange for sophisticated mechanicals and an engaging driving experience.


When we left Calgary, the temperature was close to 40 degrees and the sun was shining. Two hours later, we were standing on the now-frozen Lake Louise, with overcast skies, blowing snow and temperatures back into the high twenties. In my naivety, I imagined that I’d be able to enjoy the magnificent views of the lake, so common in Canadian iconography. Instead, I found cross-country skiers, families building forts and snow men, Japanese tourists posing for pictures and snapping away with telephoto lenses.


Elizabeth and I wandered hand in hand along the frozen lake and the grounds of the Fairmont hotel, pausing to watch a pond hockey tournament on the lake. I tried my best to shut my brain off, to purge thoughts of cars, TTAC, the auto industry, and I was mostly successful.

But I was left with a nagging notion about timing, about how with the RDX, Acura had been too far ahead of the market and suffered for it, while Ford had launched a similar crossover at just the right time and enjoyed massive sales. I thought about how the new RDX, launched in the midst of a recovering luxury market,rapidly outsold the old car. It was a safe, affordable choice, dull, charmless but competent.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked me. This was a common question. I have a bad habit of staring off into space, getting lost in my own head, of not being present. “I want to know everything that goes on in your head,” was something she said to me time and again. “No you don’t. It’s a mess,” was my constant reply.

I snapped out of it, stopped thinking about sales volume, scale, emissions regulations and everything else that normally occupies my mind. I thought about Elizabeth, and how fortunate – in the most literal sense of the word – I was to be with her in this setting, with the snow softly blowing, the natural wonders of the wilderness obscured in a soft focus of hazy fog. I thought about my silly pickup line and how for the first time in my life, I didn’t need to put on any kind of persona or hide who I really was. I was with someone who liked me for my vulnerabilities, my anxieties over the future, my job and my family, who forgave me for my mistakes, who asked for nothing more than communication and some company while she watched the kind of reality TV I normally disdained. And in return, she gave me everything.

I thought about timing, and how it all came so close to never happening.

But what I told her was “nothing.”


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Honda Establishes New Acura Planning Arm For Brand Overhaul Wed, 26 Feb 2014 10:00:04 +0000 2015-Acura-TLX-Concept-First-Look-Video-Main-Art

A 10 percent drop in sales experienced by Acura in 2013 has led parent company Honda to form a new business planning and development group with the long-term goal of overhauling the brand’s identity.

Bloomberg reports Honda R&D Americas president Erik Berkman will be appointed as division manager of the new Acura Business Planning Office, whose top priority near-term will be to solve the issues leading to a combined 10 percent drop in sales of Acura’s sedan lineup. The drop not only overshadowed the luxury brand’s successes with the RDX and MDX SUVs, but prevented Honda from hitting their record sales goal in 2013.

Though Honda remains mum on how exactly the new division will operate, the automaker is readying the TLX — which will replace both the TL and TSX in June — to aid in boosting sales for 2014, as well as improving upon the entry-level ILX (reportedly, a more powerful engine is in the works), and unleashing the second-generation NSX from its home in Ohio come 2015.

Long-term, the brand may be overhauled to help establish its identity in the luxury market, as AutoPacific industry analyst Ed Kim explains:

Acura for many, many years has been a brand without an identity. They are good, solid, dependable, somewhat premium cars that don’t communicate any clear message about what they are. The best luxury brands stand for something.

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Acura’s TL, TSX Out, TLX Coming Next Summer Fri, 20 Dec 2013 11:30:46 +0000 2015 Acura TLX Spy Shot

We’re a bit late on this one, but it’s still worth noting that both the Acura TL and TSX will soon fade into history, and will be replaced next summer by the TLX.

Acura’s newest mid-sized offering — slotted between the Civic-sized ILX and the automaker’s RLX flagship (what do these letters mean, B&B?) — will be underpinned by the current Honda Accord, which will also make the sedan smaller than the TL it will replace; the TSX, underpinned by the outgoing European Accord, will simply be phased out.

Under the hood will be the Honda’s Earth Dreams 3.5-liter V6, which, in spite of the granola name, makes 310 horsepower under the bonnet of the RLX. The TLX will most likely also include AWD, an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and all-wheel steering like the system used in the aforementioned RLX.

Though no price has been given as of this writing, the TLX will make its worldwide debut as a prototype during the 2014 Detroit Auto Show alongside the new Honda Fit, and will be assembled at Honda’s Marysville, Ohio plant.

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First Drive Review: 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrd (With Video) Fri, 13 Dec 2013 14:00:00 +0000 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior

It wasn’t that long ago I had an Acura RLX for a week. If you recall that review, I came away liking the car but found little joy in the price tag. Despite wearing a fantastic stitched leather interior, there was just no way I could justify the $10,000 premium over the AWD turbocharged competition from Lincoln, Volvo and others. Can a new dual clutch transmission and three electric motors turn the RLX from being a good car with the wrong price tag to a value proposition?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Because of the RLX’s FWD drivetrain, I was forced to view the RLX with an eye towards the Volvo S80, Lincoln MKS and the Lexus ES. With the Sport Hybrid model, Acura has done two things to take the RLX out of that pool and dive into another: AWD and a hybrid system. On paper a 377 horsepower hybrid system should put the RLX head to head with the Lexus GS 350, Infiniti M35h, and BMW AciveHybrid 5.

On the outside, the RLX cuts an elegant and restrained pose. Although the cars Acura allowed us to drive at a regional event were pre-produciton, fit and finish was excellent. Lincoln has certainly made strides in recent years, but there is a difference in build quality between the MKS and the RLX that didn’t go unnoticed. Acura attempts to further distinguish the RLX from the other near-luxury brands by going aluminum intensive with the hood, quarter panels and all four doors courtesy of Alcoa. I find the RLX unquestionably attractive but the overall form fails to beat the Cadillac CTS or BMW 5-Series in my book. I place the RLX’s exterior form a tie with the Infiniti M and a hair behind the Lexus GS, especially if the GS is wearing that funky F-Sport nose.

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Interior


While German interiors continue to be somewhat spartan and cold, the RLX feels open and inviting. Stitched dash and door panels elevate the cabin well above what you will find in a Lexus ES Hybrid or Lincoln MKS. The same is true for the rear of the cabin. Constructed out of the same high quality materials as the front, this is a definite departure from the hard plastics found in the ES and MKS. Most of my day was spent in an RLX with a grey and ivory motif that played to my personal tastes. On the down side, Acura continues to woo luxury shoppers with obviously fake looking faux-wood. This decision is doubly perplexing, as the new MDX is available in Canada with real wood trim, but not in America. Why don’t they offer it in America on either car?

Front seat comfort is among the best in the luxury set, beating the Mercedes E350, Lexus GS 450h and Infiniti M35h that I drove that day, but falling short of the million-way BMW M-Sport seats. Because the RLX rides on a transverse engine platform, there is an inherent space efficiency and the direct beneficiary is the rear cabin where you’ll find 2-3 inches more rear leg room than any of the other hybrids. I had hoped the Sport Hybrid design would allow a low “hump” since there isn’t a driveshaft going rearward, but unfortunately Acura decided to use this space for hybrid drivetrain components. It’s probably just as well, since the middle seat is considerably higher than the outboard rear seats making it impossible for a six-foot passenger to ride in the middle. Thanks to lithium-ion batteries(rather than the nickel-based packs Toyota and Lexus use), the RLX maintains a decently sized trunk capable of swallowing four golf bags.

For reasons unknown, Acura decided to use the Sport Hybrid to re-invent the shifter control. I know that everyone else is doing this, but Acura’s 4-button arrangement strikes me as one of the most unusual. Instead of a flat button bank ala-Lincoln, Acura uses a bank that is designed to have some meaning. Park is a button, Drive is a differently shaped button, Neutral is yet another shape of button and Reverse is a button on its side that you push toward the rear of the vehicle. While that sounds logical, it was far from elegant when we had to make several four-point turns in San Francisco. Anyone else prefer a regular old console shifter?

2014 RLX Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Acura

Infotainment, Gadgets and Pricing

Like the regular RLX, the Sport Hybrid combines a 7-inch haptic feedback touchscreen with an 8-inch display only screen set higher in the dash. The engineers say the concept is as follows: the lower touchscreen handles the audio, freeing the upper screen for navigation and other tasks. My opinion of the system has improved since I first encountered it on the MDX but I still think the casserole needs more time in the oven. You can change tracks and albums using the touchscreen but changing playlists or genres requires you to use the rotary/joystick lower in the dash to control the 8-inch screen. In my mind this sort of kills the dual-screen sales proposition. On the positive side the system is very responsive and the graphics are all high-resolution and attractive. iDrive is still my favorite in the mid-size luxury segment, but AcuraLink ties with MMI in second.

Base Sport Hybrid models get a speaker bump from the gas-only RLX’s 10-speaker sound system to the mid-range Acura ELS system. As you would assume, the Sport Hybrid model is well equipped versus the gasoline model and all models come with navigation, tri-zone GPS-linked climate control and keyless go. Keeping things simple there is only one option, the “Advance package” (no, Advance is not a typo), which adds Krell speakers, ventilated front seats, sunshades and seat warmers for the rear passengers, front parking sensors, power folding mirrors, radar cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, a pre-collision warning system and electric front seat belt tensioners.

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Acura


Now for what makes the RLX a Sport Hybrid. First up, we a direct-injection 3.5L V6 producing 310 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of twist that now sports start/stop technology. This engine is mated to a brand-new 7-speed transaxle developed specifically for the RLX. The new transaxle is a hybrid of sorts (and I’m not talking about the motors yet) blending a 2-speed planetary gearset with a 6-speed dual-clutch robotic manual transmission. The two technologies allow the entire unit to be as compact as possible. First gear is obtained by setting the dual clutch gearbox to 5th gear and the planetary gearset to low while “second” through “seventh” use DCT gears 1-6 in order with the planetary set to high. I found this solution particularly interesting because it would, in theory, allow Acura to obtain more than 7 ratios from the same unit with some software programming. 12-speed anyone? After the transmission is the first (and largest) motor/generator, rated for 47 horsepower/109 lb-ft. Thanks to the dual-clutch transmission, the engine can be decoupled from the drivetrain, making this different from Honda’s IMA system where the engine is always spinning.

Linked by a high-voltage electrical system is a rear mounted two-motor drive unit. The single inboard housing incorporates twin 36 horsepower /54 lb-ft motors and a clutch pack. The clutch pack is used to connect the motors together when the system needs to deliver equal power to each rear wheel. Combined with the lithium-ion battery pack in the trunk (the same one used in the Accord Hybrid), you get 377 total horsepower and 377 lb-ft of combined torque. Until you reach approximately 75 MPH at which point you have around 310 horsepower because the rear motors gradually disengage and completely disconnect over 80 MPH. The whole shebang is good for 28/32/30 MPG (City/Highway/Combined).

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-006


Why bother with two motors in the rear? Torque vectoring. The dual rear motor arrangement separates Acrua’s system from the e-AWD systems in the Lexus RX 400h and Highlander Hybrid, or the mechanical systems in the Infiniti Q50 Hybrid or Lexus LS 600hL. Although it produces about the same amount of power as Toyota’s rear hybrid motor and likely weighs more, splitting things in two allows it to vector torque all the time, power on or off. Say what? Yep, you read that correctly, this is the first production system that torque vectors when your foot isn’t on the gas. Think of it like a canoe. If you’re moving forward and you plant an oar in the water, the canoe will rotate around that axis. Instead of oars, the RLX uses motors.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now – this isn’t a replacement in my mind for Acura’s mechanical SH-AWD system. The mechanical AWD system uses an overdrive module to make the rear wheels almost a full percent faster than the front wheels causing the vehicle to behave like a RWD biased vehicle. In that setup, the front wheels are being “pushed” by the rears and the result is steering feel that is very much like a RWD sedan when under power. When the power was off in the old RL, the car would plow into the bushes like a front-heavy Audi. The RLX Sport Hybrid is completely different.

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-007

Under full acceleration, the rear motors in the RLX contribute 72 ponies while the engine serves up 310 to the front wheels. The numerical imbalance between that total and the 377 “system horsepower” is consumed in the power curve of the motors and engine and the use of the front motor to draw a little power off to send to the rear. This means that while the old RL could effectively shuttle the majority of the power to the rear wheels, the RLX hybrid is at best an 80/20 split (front/rear). As a result, flooring the RLX from a stop elicits one-wheel peel, a vague hint of wheel hop and a smidge of torque steer. Once the road starts to bend, the hybrid system starts to shine. By not only accelerating the outside rear wheel in a corner but essentially braking the inside one (and using the energy to power the outside wheel), the RLX cuts a near perfect line in the corners. Point the RLX somewhere, and the car responds crisply and instantly. And without much feel.

The downside to the rear wheels contributing so much to the RLX’s direction changes is that the steering is next to lifeless. The analogy that kept coming to mind was a video game. The RLX changes direction more readily and easily than a front heavy sedan should, yet there is little feedback about the process. When the power is off, things stay the same, with the RLX dutifully following the line you have charted in a way the FWD RLX or the old RL never could.

Acura was confident enough in the RLX to provide a GS 450h for us to play with and the difference was enlightening. The GS is less engaging from a drivetrain perspective thanks to the “eCVT” planetary hybrid system, something the RLX’s dual-clutch box excels at, but the well-balanced GS platform is by far the driver’s car on the road. The Lexus feels less artificial, more nimble, and more connected to the driver. The RLX is not far behind in terms of raw numbers, and is faster off the line, but the RLX feels less connected and more artificial in the process. It is also important to note that the RLX is the only AWD hybrid in this class since the Infiniti Q50 hybrid is Acura TL sized and the Lexus LS 600hL is considerably larger and more expensive. That feature alone makes the RLX attractive to anyone living in areas where winter traction is a consideration.

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-002

The 2014 RLX Sport Hybrid is an amazing bundle of technology. Combining a dual clutch transmission, a torque vectoring AWD system and three hybrid motors, the RLX is the gadget lover’s dream car. As a technology geek, the system is an intriguing solution to two problems plaguing near luxury brands like Acura, Volvo and Lincoln: How do we make our FWD platforms compete with RWD competitors, and how do we put a green foot forward. In doing so the RLX Hybrid may have also solved the value proposition I complained about with the FWD model. According to Acura”s thinly veiled charts, we can expect the RLX to be priced the same as the Lexus GS 450h which is $5,000 more than the M35h and about $1,000 less than BMW’s ActiveHybrid 5.

Factoring in the AWD system’s $2,000-$2,500 value and standard features on the RLX and the value proposition gets better. At the high end, the “Advance” package is likely to represent a $10,000 discount vs a similarly configured Lexus or BMW. The RLX Sport Hybrid has caused me to look at the RLX in a different light. Instead of thinking the FWD RLX should be $10,000 cheaper, I now think it is irrelevant. The Sport Hybrid has what it takes to compete with the Lexus and Infiniti hybrids head on and the value proposition to tempt potential BMW shoppers, but that turns the front-drive base model into a potential image liability. I’ll reserve my final judgment until we can get our hands on one for more than a few hours, but until then, it appears Acura has crafted a compelling hybrid system that should be on any snow-belt shopper’s list and may provide enough value to sway RWD luxury hybrid shoppers. Stay tuned for more pricing information in the Spring.


Acura provided the vehicle at a regional launch event and one night’s stay at a hotel.


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The Cars We’ve Lost in 2013 Tue, 10 Dec 2013 12:30:12 +0000 2012 Acura ZDX-014

Every year, new cars arrive in the showrooms. Some are brand new to the world, others go through evolutions and revolutions. Yet, every year, some cars are sent off to the showroom in the sky.

This year, we’ve lost seven vehicles. Some died due to poor sales, some to improper marketing, and others to horrible execution. 2014 will bring about the deaths of these seven vehicles.

  • Acura ZDX 
  • Cadillac Escalade EXT 
  • Nissan Altima Coupe  
  • Toyota Matrix 
  • Volkswagen Routan
  • Volvo C30
  • Volvo C70

In some cases, like the ZDX and Routan, the product was poorly conceived and faced an equally poor reception in the marketplace.  In other cases, like the Escalade EXT and Altima Coupe, they were based on previous generation cars and the business case wasn’t strong enough to justify a replacement. The Volvo twins and the Matrix weren’t necessarily bad cars, but they were long in the tooth and faced declining sales, thus leading to their euthanization.

2013 Volvo C30 Polestar. Photo courtesy Car and Driver. 2013 Toyota Matrix 2012 Acura ZDX 2013 Volvo C70 2013 Nissan Altima Coupe 2013 Cadillac Escalade EXT Volkswagen Routan. Photo courtesy ]]> 105
Los Angeles 2013: 2014 Acura RLX Debuts New Hybrid Powertrain Thu, 21 Nov 2013 03:33:49 +0000 2014 Acura RLX SH-AWD 01

Though fans of the NSX may need to wait until 2015 to throw down the hammer with Tony Stark and Thor, most Acura consumers will get a chance to utilize the automaker’s new SH-AWD hybrid powertrain anchoring the 2014 RLX Sport Hybrid to the road.

Debuting at this year’s LA Auto Show, the RLX Sport Hybrid is the first to use the new technology, which delivers power to the front wheels through conventional means while power to the rear comes from a trio of electric motors. Two motors individually drive their respective wheels while the third boosts torque already found up front, eliminating the need for a driveshaft and rear differential. Power is regenerated to all three rear motors through braking.

Speaking of power, the trinity’s 67 horsepower augments the main 3.5-liter direct-injected V6′s 310 ponies for a total of 377 on all corners. Honda won’t quite say how quickly their RLX will get to 60, though they say it’s comparable to similar cars with V8 firepower. On the other hand, they expect the hybrid powertrain will pull 28 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway for a combined score of 30 mpg.

Directing the power up front is a seven-speed dual clutch transmission with its own electric motor — controlled via an electronic gear selector that swaps the traditional stick for a set of buttons — that will match revs while downshifting in automatic mode, while manual mode shifting is done through paddle shifters.

Finally, a HUD display monitors and informs the driver of what the RLX’s many systems are doing at a moment’s glance, along with speed and direction. Expect to see the RLX Sport Hybrid in showrooms in spring of 2014.

2014 Acura RLX SH-AWD 01 2014 Acura RLX SH-AWD 02 2014 Acura RLX SH-AWD 03 2014 Acura RLX SH-AWD 04 ]]> 9
Review: 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 (With Video) Sat, 26 Oct 2013 13:00:29 +0000 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Acura ILX has been derided as being nothing more than a gussied-up Honda Civic, an analogy that I too applied to the compact Acura when it first arrived. But then our own Brendan McAleer caused me to question my dismissal of the ILX. How many shoppers out there are willing to option-up a base model by 50% and don’t think twice about the fact their “limited” model looks just like the base model? All of a sudden the ILX, especially the 2.4L model we tested made sense to me. What was the revelation? Click through the jump to find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.


I know that we have a segment of readers that believe all modern cars look-alike, but I’m going to say it any way. The best thing about the ILX is that it doesn’t look like a Civic. Don’t believe me? Park a Civic and an ILX next to one another and you might even think the two cars are totally unrelated. How is this possible?  First off, no sheetmetal or glass are shared between the two and Acura decided to tweak just about every hard point other than the wheelbase for Acura duty. If you look at the picture below (which highlights how poor my Photoshop skills are) I have overlayed the ILX on the Civic for reference.

In addition to a blunter nose, lower roof and a more aggressive character line, Acura modified the structure of the car by moving the pillars around. The A pillar moves 8 inches rearward vs the Civic giving the ILX a hood that is several inches longer and a windshield that is more deeply curved. The C pillar has also been tweaked giving the ILX a more graceful silhouette and a smaller trunk lid. While they were at it they swapped in an aluminum hood for some moderate weight savings.

2013 Honda Civic EX-L SedanThe result of Acura’s nip/tuck is an attractive, albeit sedate, premium look. I think that Buick’s Verano is more exciting and the not-yet-on-sale 2015 Audi A3 looks more luxurious, but the ILX plays right to the conservative heart of the target Acura shopper. In keeping with the premium image, 17-inch wheels are standard on all ILX models except the hybrid where things drop to eco-minded 16-inch rims. The most demure Acura “beak” integrated into the front grille and hidden exhaust tips complete the design of the smallest Acura.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The ILX’s interior represents more of an upgrade over the Civic than I had expected. Soft injection molded plastics span the dashboard and very few parts are shared with the Honda . By my estimation. the interior parts sharing is limited to a traction control button, air vent open/close dials and the door handles. Anyone worried that the Civic’s funky two-tier dash is along for the ride will be pleased, the interior style of the ILX is very mainstream from the double-bump dashboard to the four-dial gauge cluster.

In typical Acura fashion the ILX comes well equipped in base form and options are bundled into packages helping to keep dealer inventory manageable. All ILX models get zone climate control, keyless ignition, push button start and a steering wheel wrapped in soft leather. Base hybrid models get manual cloth seats but all other ILX models get heated leather thrones coated in perforated leather with a driver’s side only 8-way power mechanism.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-012Front seat comfort is substantially similar to the Honda Civic thanks to shared seat frames and adjustment mechanisms. The ILX’s front seats get more generous seat back bolstering in keeping with its more premium and sporting image while the seat bottoms remain as flat as Kansas. Thanks to the platform changes that make the ILX more attractive on the outside, interior room is compromised slightly with headroom and legroom figures falling when you compare it to the Civic.  Compared to the Buick Verano the numbers are right in line.

The ILX’s rear seats are slightly less comfortable than the Verano, but a step above the mainstream compact segment with more thigh support for adults. Opting for the hybrid ILX forces the removal of the folding rear seat backs (the batteries have to go somewhere), while the ILX 2.0 and 2.4 sport the same 100% folding mechanism as the Civic. This means it’s not possible to carry long cargo and three or four passengers like you can in the Verano. This deficiency is made more of a problem by the ILX’s small 12.3 cubic foot trunk, notably smaller than the Verano, Lexus CT, or even the Mazda3.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Nestled in the “double bump” instrument cluster is a standard 5-inch color LCD that does double-duty as a trip computer and infotainment display. This base system runs the same software as the Honda Civic but places the screen in a more “normal” location and uses a button bank that should be familiar to current Acura owners. The base system features standard iDevice/USB integration, Bluetooth speakerphone/streaming and Pandora smartphone app integration. The 200-watt amplifier and 7 speaker sound system are well-balanced but volume isn’t this system’s forte.

ILX 2.0 and Hybrid models with the “technology package” link the climate control system to a sun sensor and the GPS system for improved comfort and bumps the sound system up to a 10-speaker surround sound system with a 410-watt amp. Also along for the ride is the same 8-inch navigation system found in the Acura TSX and TL. The system doesn’t sport the improved high res interface in the MDX and RLX but is among the easier to use on the market as long as you don’t try to use Acura’s voice commands for browsing your iPod. Seriously, just don’t even try. Sadly 2014 hasn’t brought any major changes to the options lineup meaning that the more powerful engine and the more powerful sound system are mutually exclusive. The choice to saddle the 2.4L model we tested with the same 5-inch display and software as the Civic is the biggest flaw with the ILX so far.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Under the ILX’s long hood you’ll find an “interesting” assortment of engines. Why interesting? Let’s start at the beginning. First off, Acura uses three different engines in the various ILX models. Rumors that Acura planned to kill off the base 2.0L four-cylinder appear to be unfounded as the 2014 ILX can still be had with the 150 horsepower mill. This is the same engine found in European market Accords and other world Honda models but appears to be exclusive to the ILX in America.  Honda’s old 5-speed automatic was tapped to send the 140 lb-ft to the ground. The ILX Hybrid gets the Civic’s 111 horsepower, 127 lb-ft hybrid system without modification. While the 1.5L engine seemed adequate in the Civic, I found the small engine and traditional belt/pulley CVT vexing in a near-luxury sedan.

On to what we’re here to talk about: the 2.4L Civic Si engine. Yes, Acura decided ILX shoppers should get a little sport-love and snatched the Si’s 201 horsepower engine for premium duty. In typical Honda fashion, the 2.4L engine screams like a banshee on its way to its 7,000 RPM redline and matching 7,000 RPM power peak. 170 lb-ft come into play at 4,400 RPM and the engine is mated exclusively to a 6-speed manual. Yes, you heard that right, Acura is trying to get a larger share of the premium compact market with a high-revving engine four-cylinder and a slick shifting stick. Although the manual-only policy is an obvious impediment to sales success, if you have outgrown your Civic Si, or if you think the Honda looks a little too “boy racer”, you can get a classier, leather coated version at the Acura dealer.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Once out on the road the ILX’s powertrain deficiencies become obvious. The base 2.0L engine may be smoother and more refined than the 1.8 in the Civic, but compared to Buick’s modern 2.4L direct injection mill, it is rough around the edges and anemic. How about the 111 horsepower ILX hybrid? It is quite possibly the only car that can make Lexus’s underpowered CT 200h seem quick. But we’re not here to talk about those ILX models, this is TTAC and we’re interested in MOAR POWARR.

The 2.4L four-cylinder is an entirely different animal. With 33% more power than the base model our 0-60 run clocked in at a respectable 7.29 seconds. That slots the ILX between the regular Verano and the Verano Turbo that accomplished the same task in 6.5 (Verano Turbo with the 6-speed manual). The time was closer than I thought it would be considering the 90 lb-ft of torque that separate the two but the driving experience couldn’t be more different. The Verano’s turbo engine provides an extremely broad torque curve which negates the need for frequent downshifting on winging mountain roads while the ILX’s engine needs to scream like a leaf blower to deliver the maximum thrust. While I found the Verano’s power delivery more liveable, the ILX at 7,000 RPM made me giggle. (Yes, I said that out loud.) As you would expect from the “luxury Civic Si,” the ILX’s shifter action is precise, clutch engagement is nearly perfect and the shifts are short. In contrast, the Verano’s clutch is rubbery, vague and the shift throw is lengthy.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-006

Instead of lifting the Civic Si’s suspension as is, Acura decided to tweak the design with dual-valve damper technology lifted from the RLX and MDX. The two valves allow the damping to be firm and body roll to be well controlled under most conditions while soaking up large road imperfections like a sedan with a softer suspension. The system retains most of the Civic Si’s road holding ability while delivering a ride that more composed than the Verano. Similarly the lightly revised steering setup is a little less direct than the Si but yields better feel than the baby Buick. Despite incorporating laminated glass and an active noise cancellation system, the ILX manages to be several decibels louder than the eerily quiet cabin of the Verano.

At $29,200, our ILX was about $6,500 more than a Civic Si. When you factor in the additional equipment you find in the ILX and the expanded warranty coverage, the difference between the Honda and the Acura drops to about $2,000. When you look at the ILX in this light, the sales proposition makes perfect sense. While the Civic Si is a great compact car, it looks just like a regular Civic. The ILX on the other hand nets you a better brand name, longer warranty, an improved ride and car that won’t make your boss question your maturity. Like the Integra of yesteryear, this is the sort of “gateway” product Acura needs.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-009

There are just a few problems however. The ILX’s option list and spec sheet is a mess. Despite getting better fuel economy than the Verano in every trim, Acura needs to drop their 6-speed tranny into their base model for spec-sheet-shoppers to give it a second look. Likewise the 2.4L engine needs a 6-speed auto and some infotainment love, the 2.0L engine needs more grunt and the hybrid needs to be euthanized. Without changes like these the Acura ILX will remain a sensible Civic upgrade but as a competitor to Buick’s new-found mojo, Acura has some catching up to do. The ILX’s driving dynamics may be superior, but taken as a package the only reason to avoid buying the Verano is if you still associate Buicks with the blue-haired set.


Acura provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.55 Seconds

0-60: 7.29 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.6 Seconds @ 89.9 MPG

Interior sound level: 74db @ 50 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 26 MPG over 345 miles


2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-010 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-009 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-011 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-010 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine-001 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-009 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-008 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-005 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-008 . 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-004 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-015 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-014 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-003 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-006 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-005 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-002 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-012 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-002 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-001 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-011 ]]> 128
Review: 2014 Acura RLX (With Video) Sat, 17 Aug 2013 02:02:09 +0000 2014 Acura RLX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Breaking into the Luxury market isn’t easy. Toyota has arguably had the most success with Lexus, the only full-line luxury marque sold in America that isn’t German. Infiniti gave up on trying to go head-to-head with the S-Class and 7-Series when they ditched the Q, and Cadillac has yet to have a complete and coherent strategy. Meanwhile Acura started off strong with the Legend, created a competent E/5 competitor with the all-wheel-drive RL, and then things started to fall apart. Can the RLX bring the brand back?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Why do I bring up Germans in a review of a front-wheel-drive luxury sedan? Because some folks [not everyone mind you] at Acura and plenty of fan boys would like to think the brand runs with the big dogs. In truth Acura has always been a “near-luxury” brand because they lack a full-size competitor to play in the S-Class/7-Series/A8 pool.


In order to look at the RLX through the right lens, we need to nail down the competition. Acura would like you to believe the front-wheel-drive RLX should be pitted against the rear-wheel-drive BMW 528/535, Mercedes E350 and Lexus GS350. I think this comparison has a few problems. First, the RLX isn’t as dynamic as a RWD sedan. Second, Acura’s brand position is a problem. What say our readers? Should the brand matter in comparisons? Should this all be priced based? In my mind the RLX’s drivetrain and the brand’s near-luxury image put the Acura in direct competition with the Cadillac XTS, Lincoln MKS and Volvo S80. What about the FWD/AWD A6? Perhaps, but Audi’s brand is a solid BMW/Mercedes competitor these days.

2014 Acura RLX Exterior-009


Acura’s flagship has always worn elegant and restrained sheetmetal and that continues with the RLX. Up front we get a more muted and better integrated version of Acura’s signature “beak” flanked by multi-beam LED headlamps. The LED high and low beams are standard on every RLX and strike a unique pose as identifiable as BMW’s “angel eyes.”

The RLX’s rump is probably the best looking in Acura’s current product portfolio. I’ve never cared for the jumble of shapes on the TL’s back side, thankfully none of them are along for the ride. In an interesting twist, Acura put the RLX’s quad exhaust tips behind the bumper where you can’t see them instead of integrating them into the bumper cover as in the smaller TL. Looking at the RLX from the side it’s obvious this car has grown. The rear doors give the Acura a more luxurious look than the old RL which had a decidedly Accord-like silhouette. A long front overhang advertises the transverse engine layout in the RLX, but that’s not really a problem with our pre-defined competition since the two Americans and the Swede are all FWD platforms as well.

In my opinion, the RLX’s exterior ranks second behind the 2014 Volvo S80′s clean lines. Yes the Volvo is getting old, but frequent refreshed have helped it age well. I like Caddy’s art-and-science design theme on every Caddy except the XTS where I find the proportions to be awkward. However Awkward trumps the ginormous and bizarre schnoz on the Lincoln MKS.

2014 Acura RLX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The RLX’s interior is one place where I can not only compare the Acura to the Germans, it’s an area where Acura excels. You won’t find a full-on stitched leather dash like the Volvo S80 or the Mercedes E350 with the “designo” package, but you can “option up” a band of stitched leather running across the cabin. Anyway you order your RLX, perfect seams and a tasteful amount of metallic trim are standard. You’ll also find perfect seams and fit and finish quality that would make Lexus blush. What you won’t find is real tree. The choice of fake wood on upper trim levels perplexes me when all the RLX competitors slather the cabin in acres of burl. (Base RLX models get faux-metal trim.) When it comes to interior styling and quality, I rank the RLX above the E350, 528i, S80, MKS, XTS, GS350, and yes, even the A6.

Front seat comfort ranks second in this quartet behind Volvo’s large and supportive thrones. Enlarging the pool only drops the Acura to third place above the BMW 5-series’ standard seats but behind the optional million-way sport buckets. Oddly however, those seats aren’t covered in leather in base RLX models. Want real moo? That’ll be $6,000 more than the RLX’s base $48,450. This may be in line with Lexus’ recent move in the GS, but the RLX’s closest competition comes with real leather standard.

Rear passengers have notably more room than the outgoing RL with legroom and headroom in line with everyone else. While Lincoln and Cadillac cut corners in the back, Acura delivers rich plastics and an attention to detail that places it first in thus class and certainly on par with BMW’s 5.

2014 Acura RLX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

If one screen is good, two must be better, right? My short answer is: sometimes. The standard two-screen system first debuted in the new Accord and is tweaked for luxury duty donning the AcuraLink name. The concept as explained to me is: the lower touchscreen handles the audio, freeing the upper screen for navigation and other tasks. My beef with the system is: you still need to use the upper screen to navigate your media device as the lower screen simply selects sources and changes tracks somewhat defeating the purpose of splitting the screens. Because of this split personality, and the fact that you have to use the touchscreen, and the knob/dial controller, and the button-bank to navigate the system, AcuraLink comes across as “not fully baked.”

Since my first experience with AcuraLink, the system has grown on me, and in the RLX the dual screens are very well integrated into the dashboard rather than looking like an afterthought as in the Honda. AcuraLink is without question snappier than MyLincoln Touch or Cadillac’s buggy CUE system. I find Volvo’s Sensus interface more intuitive, but you need binoculars to use the microscopic LCD.

Two screens might be standard on the $48,450 base model, but navigation is not. Want maps? That bumps the price to $50,950. For $54,450 Acura will bump the speaker count from 10 to 14, watts from 404 to 588, add sound deadening side glass, rain sense wipers, and folding side mirrors. If you want the Krell audio and all the electronic goodies like radar cruise, lane keep assist, parking sensors, dimming side mirrors, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats that bumps the price of the RLX to an eye watering $60,450. Ouch.

2014 Acura RLX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Acura’s only engine for 2014 is a direct-injected 310HP 3.5L V6 that cranks out 272lb-ft of torque. In typical Acura fashion peak power comes at 6,500 RPM, torque comes to a boil at a lofty 4,500 RPM and the six-pot is smooth as butter at every RPM. 310 ponies used to be something to brag about, unfortunately this is 2014 and the RLX’s mill only leads when you compare it to base engines in the competition. The problem is everyone but Acura offers a more powerful engine option. If you think nobody options up, let’s look at the numbers. Lincoln says over 30% of MKS shoppers opt for their twin-turbo V6 which puts down 19% more power and 30% more torque. My local Volvo dealer says the take rate on the twin-scroll turbo S80 with AWD (300 horsepower and 325lb-ft, 20% more twist) is nearly 80% and I’m not in the snow belt. It remains to be seen how many of the fire-breathing twin-turbo 410 horse V6s Cadillac ships in the XTS, but judging by the competition I expect them to shift a few. The Germans? Their twin-turbo V8s are in a different performance ballpark but the 443 horsepower 550i starts just $3,500 more than the top-end RLX.

Power isn’t the only area where the RLX is at a competitive disadvantage, Acura also dropped their Super Handling AWD system from their flagship. Acura’s torque vectoring AWD, capable of continually varying the FWD/RWD bias, set the old RL apart (and ahead) from the pack. Yes, there will be a hybrid AWD RLX soon we are told, but with a maximum of around 60 horsepower at the rear wheels the 370HP RLX hybrid is likely to retain a strong FWD bias. (The system will not have a mechanical connection between the engine and rear wheels. Instead there will be a ~40HP motor/generator between the engine and transaxle and an approximately 28HP motor at each rear wheel.) The less sophisticated AWD systems found in the MKS, XTS and S80 are suddenly the choice for driving enthusiasts.

2014 Acura RLX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The lack of AWD has a huge impact in the way the RLX drives compared to its predecessor. The old RL was a hoot and a half on winding mountain roads. In comparison, the RLX is three-quarters of a hoot. The old RL was capable of sending the majority of the engine’s power to the outside rear wheel making it corner with precision and confidence. When pushed to its limits, the front-heavy RL understeered predictably. The RLX on the other hand is probably one of the most capable front drivers on the market, easily more capable than the FWD Lincoln, Cadillac or Volvo but slots behind AWD versions of the same.

Acura’s “Precision All Wheel Steer” system (dubbed P-AWS) is the reason for the RLX’s crisp handling. P-AWS differs from other systems on the market in that it can rotate the rear wheels independently of one another allowing the car to toe both wheels in when braking. That might sound odd, but doing so keeps the RLX’s rear end from feeling “squirely” under hard braking, something usually associated with nose-heavy sedans. P-AWS is tuned to “mimic” oversteer as much as possible in corners leading to a peculiar combination of slight torque steer, [very] mild oversteer and a hint of wheel hop all at the same time. This is a confluence of personalities you will find only in the RLX. Helping out is an always-active stability control system. Unlike the stability control on most cars which only intervene when things go pear-shaped, this system is always playing with the brakes trying to “improve” the handling characteristics of the RLX. Paired with electric power steering these systems make the RLX the best handling, but the most artificial large FWD sedan I have ever driven.

2014 Acura RLX Exterior-010

Our RLX was equipped with Acura’s “Lane Keep Assist” system which uses the electric power steering system to help keep you in your lane. Unlike all the other systems on the market, on a freeway the LKA system is almost always providing some level of steering assistance. Acura likens the aid to a ball riding in a “U” shaped trough, the closer you get to the lane lines, the more the system assists. I don’t know if I have formed an opinion on the system yet, but it did work as advertised and can be turned off completely.

If you’ve been keeping score, I found the RLX to be the second most attractive on the outside, have the best interior, second most comfortable seats, best infotainment system, best handling numbers, a middling engine and questionable behind-the-wheel-feel. One might assume this puts the RLX towards the top of the quartet, and perhaps a viable alternative to the Germans. One would be wrong. The RLX is unquestionably a good car, but it’s $3,200 more than a similarly configured FWD XTS, $8,275 more than the  FWD Volvo S80 and $9,990 more than the FWD MKS. Things get worse when you load up the Lincoln and Volvo with the more powerful S80 T6 AWD still $5,000 cheaper and the 365HP MKS Ecoboost AWD $3,000 less expensive. Only Cadillac’s 410HP XTS VSport is more expensive ranging from $62,000-$72,000. The news is just as grim when pitted against the luxury competition with the RLX being $1,300 more than the Lexus GS350, $1,200 less than the Infiniti M37, and only a $3,000 discount compared to the E350 and BMW 535i. The result is the RLX has no “value” proposition to counter the middling engine numbers, FWD bias, road feel and most importantly: the brand image. Sadly I fear the RLX is about $10,000 away from being a great car and $15,000 away from being a game changer. Until Acura realigns their flagship’s capabilities (or shrinks the price tag) the RLX is destined to be the car everyone likes but nobody buys.


Acura provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.38 Seconds

0-60: 5.72 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.28 Seconds @ 99 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 23 MPG over 781 miles


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First Drive: 2014 Acura MDX (Video) Fri, 31 May 2013 14:01:05 +0000 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The RDX may have supplanted the MDX as Acura’s best-selling model, but Acura hopes to put the their mid-sized crossover back on top with the all-new 2014 MDX. To show us how they plan to do that, Acura invited us to Oregon to sample the new MDX for a day around Newberg. Even without the snazzy trip it’s easy to see that regaining the Acura sales crown shouldn’t be difficult. After all, the current MDX is Acura’s second best-selling vehicle and despite being seven years old (ancient in the auto biz) the MDX is still the best-selling 7-seat luxury SUV in America and the second best-selling mid-sized SUV/crossover period. How does one redesign success? Carefully.

Click here to view the embedded video.


You’d be forgiven for thinking little has changed by just glancing at the MDX, and that’s the way Acura shoppers like it. That statement makes me scratch my head just a little, because the 2014 model still sports the Acura “beak,” the most controversial style decision Acura ever made. We have to keep this in perspective however: nothing about the MDX is overdone, the only reason anyone complained about the beak in the first place is that Acura is known for conservative design cues. This love for conservative, evolutionary design is why the MDX is instantly identifiable as an Acura despite riding on an all-new MDX-exclusive platform and sharing little beyond some transmission parts with the outgoing model.

Bringing the MDX’s signature shape up-to-date we have standard full-LED headlamps which (if I am not mistaken) will make the MDX the least expensive vehicle on the road with the snazzy beams. Since we only had a limited time with the car in the day I can’t say how they perform at night, but the color temperature of the lamps is a pleasing neutral color and not the harsh blue light LED lamps are known for.

2014 Acura MDX Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Although the 2014 looked wider to my eye, it’s lost 1.3 inches in overall width and 1.4 inches of track up front, 1.2 in the rear. Perhaps it’s the loss of 1.5 inches in height over last year that creates the illusion of width? One thing’s for sure however, the MDX is longer and looks longer, gaining 2 inches overall in length and an important 2.8 inches in wheelbase, helping out that tight third row seat.


The MDX is notable for being a mid-sized crossover with seven seats. This size difference is important to keep in mind because comparisons to the likes of the Infiniti QX56, Mercedes GL, and Lexus GX seem everywhere. The more appropriate cross-shops are the Infiniti JX35 (now the QX60), Buick Enclave, Volvo XC90 and maybe the Lincoln MKT. (If you watch the video, pardon the lack of MKT comparisons, it slipped my mind, as I’m sure it slips the minds of most luxury shoppers.)

2014 Acura MDX Interior, Third row seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Acura continues to stick to their formula of traditional injection molded dashboards and plenty of convincing fake wood. I would be interested to hear your opinions on this choice, so be sure to sound off in the comment section below. While I like the look and the materials are premium in feel, it can’t match the visual impact or feel of a stitched leather/pleather dash, something that the refreshed Buick Enclave does incredibly well. The MDX continues to do have a very uniform feel with perfect seams and gaps and a consistent quality level throughout, something that Buick’s CUV continues to struggle with (the lower dash and door plastics in the Enclave are still a bit cheap.)

The MDX’s front and middle thrones still sport the Acura hallmark “Lady Gaga horny shoulders,” a design cue frequently imitated but never duplicated to the same effect. Like Lexus and Infiniti, Acura still hasn’t discovered seats that more in more than the same basic 8-10 ways as any $25,000 family sedan. Despite having only half the “ways” as BMW’s sport seats, I find the MDX’s redesigned thrones to be among the most comfortable in the segment for my body shape.

2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Most of the MDX’s length increase has gone where current owners wanted it: the cargo area. That means the passenger area is smaller than last year with a drop in headroom ranging from more than an inch up front to two-tenths in the back. Legroom stays largely unchanged but Acura altered the middle seats to slide further forward/rearward allowing either more middle leg room than before or more third-row room than before (not both at the same time.) That third-row is best left to the kids or your mother-in-law, although it’s not as cramped as the Infiniti JX’s rear accommodations. Helping you get back there is a new push-button middle-seat folding mechanism that worked well but reminded me the Infiniti has middle seats that can slide forward to allow ingress while a child seat is strapped in.

The cargo area stretches by 2.75 inches from the third-row seat hinges to the tailgate and 5.88 inches from the third-row headrests to the rear glass. That’s the difference between fitting a 20-gallon cooler and 7-people in your SUV and not. There isn’t much daylight between the Infiniti or Acura and the MDX when it comes to stuffing bags behind the third row, all three beat the old XC90 by a wide margin and all hold considerably less than the Buick Enclave.

2014 Acura MDX Interior, Infotainment, Navigation LCD, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Honda’s two-screen infotainment/navigation system has filtered up from the 2013 Accord to the RLX and now to the MDX as standard equipment. The logic behind the twin screens is: the lower screen is for your media devices while the upper screen is for navigation. In practice, the lower screen allows you to select sources, skip to a different album and change tracks, but in order to browse or search playlists, songs, change treble, bass, and surround processing, you have to use the upper screen and the rotary control knob. In essence this is the same software as before with a snazzy color touchscreen remote that handles some of the functions. The result is a system that could have been more elegant but the execution seems half-baked. Put it back in the oven and let me know when it’s done.

Although out time with the MDX was limited, I was able to sample my usual audio selection from my iDevice and didn’t notice too much difference between the base 8-speaker audio system, the 501-watt 10-speaker or 529-watt 11 speaker systems. They all exhibit the same balance I have come to expect from Acura: neutral with a somewhat limited range but excellent fidelity for a $42,000-$56,000 vehicle. The Logic 7 systems in the BMW are better, but they are also spendier. If you’re one of the 10 Acura customers that latched on to DVD audio, it’s time to sell those discs on Ebay, DVD-A is dead.

2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Now is as good a time as any to talk pricing. The FWD MDX starts almost a grand lower than the 2013 AWD model at $42,290 and is only available in four flavors. $46,565 adds the “Technology package” and included rainsense wipers, lane departure warning, collision warning, a color display between the dials, 19-inch wheels (not sure how that’s a tech item) and links your climate control to your GPS position. $48,565 adds on the “Entertainment package” which is a 16.2-inch wide-screen rear entertainment system that allows either a single wide picture or will display two things side-by-side. The system brings two extra speakers, a 110V power outlet, wireless headphones and HDMI in to the party. If you want lane keep assist, full-speed-range radar cruise control, remote start, auto dimming mirrors and parking sensors, you need to pony up $54,505 for the “Advance package” which cannot be had without the rear seat entertainment system for some reason. Want AWD? add $2,000 to those prices. That places the MDX in the middle of the pack with the Enclave delivering similar bang for less buck and the Acura and Infiniti very similarly priced.


For 2014 Acura has swapped the 3.7L V6 for the new 3.5L “Earth Dreams” mill with direct-injection and “Variable Cylinder Management.” (VCM allows the V6 to drop to a 3-cylinder mode on the highway.) To quell vibrations, the MDX gets unique active engine mounts which generate vibrations opposite to what the engine produces to cancel them out. (Think Bose noise cancelling headphones.) Despite the DI treatment, power is down from 300HP to 290 and torque takes a small drop from 270 to 267 lb-ft as well. To counter the power loss, Acura put the MDX on a diet and 2014 sees 275lbs shed. The weight loss and improved low-end torque mean that performance is up, even with the power down.

2014 Acura MDX

Perhaps the bigger change is not the engine, but which wheels spin. For the first time since the MDX rolled onto the scene there is a FWD model. While I think this dilutes the MDX “brand” because it has been associated with AWD system since its debut, the rational can’t be dismissed: fuel economy and sunbelt sales. According to Acura’s research, the southern states love their 2WD crossovers and while the 2WD RDX compact crossover did eat into sales of the AWD model, combined RDX sales were up some 90% when they added the FWD model. Go figure. We didn’t get our chance to drive a FWD MDX, as none had made it across from the factory in Alabama, but Acura is promising a class leading 28 MPGs on the highway and 20 in the city –  one more highway MPG than the recently announced Infiniti JX35/QX60 hybrid model (25/27 MPG). When equipped with AWD, economy drops to 18/27 MPG, still a huge bump from last year’s 16/21 score.

2014 Acura MDX Exterior, LED Headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Because the MDX has a transverse engine and a transaxle under the hood, weight balance isn’t as ideal as the Audi Q7 or BMW X5 (Acura thinks the X5 is their prime competition). Aside from the fact that Honda/Acura doesn’t have a RWD drivetrain to borrow, the benefit is improved interior packaging evident in the ginormous center console (positioned right where the X5 keeps its transmission). On the down side Acura is two-cogs shy of Audi and BMW with their revised 6-speed transaxle. Before you discount Acura, we must discuss SH-AWD.

“Super Handling All Wheel Drive” may not have been the best name for the system, but it is arguably the best AWD system you can tack onto a transverse FWD platform. The systems used by Infiniti, Lexus, Volvo, Lincoln and just about everyone out there that had an AWD system tacked onto a transaxle has no center differential. Instead the power flows from the final gearset of the transmission to the front diff and the rear diff via gears at a fixed 1:1 ratio. Between this gear arrangement and the rear diff is a clutch pack that allows the car to connect, disconnect or have a varied connection between the transmission and rear axles. When fully connected the power is split 50/50 assuming all wheels have traction.

SH-AWD also uses the same arrangement but adds a unique differential unit in the rear that does two things. First, it has a gearset to “speed up” the rear wheels so that when they are connected, they spin 1.7% faster than the fronts. Next it has a torque vectoring unit that is capable of slitting power 100:0/0:100 left to right. In a straight line, “overdriving” the rear wheels gives the MDX a more RWD feel than otherwise possible and in corners the system is capable of sending up to 70% of the power to the outside rear wheel helping the MDX’s cornering manners and masking the “plowing” tendencies normal in a front heavy car. For 2014 Acura took this a step further and uses a system to brake wheels selectively to improve neutral handling. This is beyond stability control because the system is always active rather than active only when things are going pear-shaped.

2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Thanks to SH-AWD, the Acura is almost the X5′s dynamic dance partner, unfortunately you can’t completely hide the MDX’s extra nose weight. Still, despite Acura’s insistence I can’t see than many X5 shoppers stopping by Acura’s lot. Instead the MDX shines against the Infiniti with a more refined and better performing drivetrain. The JX hybrid is likely to get better combined MPG numbers, but with only 250 ponies on tap and no “sporting” changes, it’s unlikely to be half a hoot, let alone a hoot and a half. Encore shoppers looking for a more premium brand and some handling cred won’t be appointed and Mercedes ML shoppers will find a better value than on the German lot.

How does that FWD model compare? You’ll have to wait for that review as Acura didn’t have any examples on hand. I can posit an opinion however: the driving dynamics will be disappointing. Remove SH-AWD and you have a front-heavy front driver just like base Buick Enclave models. I know that Acura is sure to sell lots of these, but please TTAC readers, check that AWD option box.


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • One more MPG on the highway than the Infiniti JX35/QX60 hybrid and the same highway economy as the RX450h.
  • Oddly enough, “Super Handling” really does describe the AWD system.

Quit it

  • I’m not sure what radar cruise and parking sensors have to do with rear seat DVD players. Why are they only sold together?
  • The two-screen infotainment system seems half-baked, put it back in the oven and let me know when it’s done.
  • Fake wood was so 1980s Oldsmobile.


Acura flew me to Oregon, stuffed me with poached salmon and craft beer and set me loose on the streets of Oregon for this review (but not in that order necessarily).

2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-001 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-002 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-003 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-004 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-001 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, LED Headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-003 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-005 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-006 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-007 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-008 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-009 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-010 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-012 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-013 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-014 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-015 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-016 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-017 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-018 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-020 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-021 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-023 2014 Acura MDX Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Interior-001 2014 Acura MDX Interior-002 2014 Acura MDX Interior-003 2014 Acura MDX Interior, Infotainment, Navigation LCD, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes ` 2014 Acura MDX Interior-006 2014 Acura MDX Interior, Third row seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Interior-008 2014 Acura MDX Interior-009 2014 Acura MDX-016

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Capsule Review: 2013 Acura TSX Tue, 07 May 2013 11:30:32 +0000 2013-Acura-TSX _10_

Monday, May 6th, 2013 is a day that will live in infamy for this storied website. An egregious error was committed by our editorial staff, one so grave that it threatens to undo our credibility and achievements of the past decade that our founder, Robert Farago, and all subsequent contributors, worked so hard to achieve.

Our newest and youngest writer, Doug DeMuro, incorrectly asserted that the Infiniti G20, a slow-selling compact sedan that lived its life in obscurity, was somehow related to the Nissan Sentra. This is incorrect. Instead, the Infiniti G20 was the Nissan Primiera, a global premium sedan that was too nice to sell as a Nissan. Numerous readers were gleefully quick to correct young DeMuro’s mistake, weilding their superior knowledge with a sanctimonious fervor not seen since my last Generation Why column. Rest assured that DeMuro will have to do penance, in the form of a weekly article series extolling the virtues of General Motors.

To be frank, responsibility rests with myself and no one else. Not only am I an editor at this site, but I have a particular affinity for the smallest Infinti, one that I remember since my earliest days as a borderline-Aspergers car enthusiast. Despite  the G20 rivaling the WNBA in terms of popularity with the American public, I have long harbored thoughts of buying a clapped out P10 and installing an SR20VE motor. Somehow, things like credit card bills got in the way of that plan, and from now on, I have settled for following the MotoIQ G20 race car project.

Now that we’ve established that the Euro-transplant G20 was not the same thing as a Sentra, DeMuro’s whole premise is shot. The Acura ILX, which shares its underpinings with the Civic, is no longer a valid comparison. Good thing Acura still sells the TSX which is, you guessed it, a fairly slow-selling, modestly-performing sedan brought over from Europe and Japan (where it served as the global Accord) to help fill out the lower end of Acura’s lineup.

By now, you should all be familiar with the TSX’s technical dossier, since it’s been on sale long enough without undergoing any changes. I know this because the TSX launch in 2008 was the first press event I ever attended, and an eye-opening look into a career that allowed me to wear sneakers and an untucked shirt to a five-star restaurant. My assignment was to review the TSX for a men’s lifestyle magazine, and while I enjoyed the car quite a bit, I had no idea what I was talking about.

Having had the chance to get back behind the wheel four years later, I’m glad to see that my initial positivity was justified. The TSX is hardly the most powerful car in its class, with a 2.4L 4-cylinder making just 201 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque, and at 3415 lbs, it isn’t the lightest either. I would say it’s not the roomiest or has the most spacious trunk either, but I really couldn’t tell you. I was too busy driving the damn thing.

There’s not much out there that is will compel me to get in and simply drive for the sake of it. When I say this, I don’t want to come across as jaded either. It’s simply very difficult to have fun with most of today’s high-performance sports cars without seriously breaking the law, and most mainstream cars are technically precise, but not very much fun to drive.

The TSX, on the other hand, is just underpowered enough to really make you have to work the car hard, while rewarding you with enough tactile feedback to make even the most banal A-B drives entertaining. The 2.4L mill makes the car feel like a proper Honda, and the 6-speed manual gearbox is just superb. Mazda’s 6-speed manual in their Skyactiv cars is widely touted as being the best transverse manual gearbox in the ‘biz. I think this one is better, but people have largely forgotten the TSX exists, allowing Mazda to claim the crown.

Inside, the TSX shows its age with a lack of any touchscreen, a finicky Bluetooth system and a smattering of buttons laid out with little rhyme or reason. I didn’t mind. It’s nice to feel a physical control rather than engaging in an awkward heavy petting session with a touch screen system. All the materials appear to be of a very high quality and the fit and finish is what one would expect from an Acura. It’s a good thing that the TSX’s cabin is such a nice place to spend time, because it ain’t pretty. The Acura “beak” front end makes yet another appearance here, more subdued than on the TL but still all too prominent.

The TSX remains quite popular with buyers around the same age as me, but at $31,150 for the 6-speed manual version, it would have to be my parents buying it for me.  As much as I like the idea of an imported-from-Japan-European-sedan with a real manual, no infotainment system and a badge that says “premium-but-not-a-douchebag”, I can think of plenty of choices, both used and new, that I’d blow my meager auto journo salary on before I bought a TSX. But for all of you Internet Tough Guy Product planners, this is the car – nay, the Honda product – you’ve been waiting for.

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Review: 2013 Acura ILX Tue, 26 Jun 2012 14:31:39 +0000

Like Lexus and Infiniti, Acura launched with two models, a bespoke flagship sedan and a smaller car based on an existing mainstream model. Unlike the Lexus ES 250 and the Infiniti M30, though, the Acura Integra received rave reviews. The Integra was discontinued for 2002 as part of Acura’s failed upmarket push. The Civic-based Integra sedan’s slot was sort of filled with the larger, heavier European Accord-based TSX. The 2004 TSX was a good car, but it was no Integra, and the model gained additional inches and pounds with a 2009 redesign. For 2013 Acura returns to its original playbook with a Civic-based four-door model. They’re not yet ready to officially admit the stupidity of going alphanumeric, so the new car is unfortunately appellated the ILX.

Dimensionally, the ILX shares a 105.1-inch wheelbase with the 2004-2008 TSX, but is 4.3 inches shorter, 1.2 inches wider (surprise!), and 1.7 inches lower. Interior dimensions are very similar (including a couple of inches less rear legroom than the compact sedan norm) with the exception of rear headroom, which isn’t quite sufficient for six-foot passengers in the new car. Trunk volume is a passable 12.4 cubic feet with the regular ILX, but only 10.0 cubes with the Hybrid. Most significantly, the ILX is nearly 300 pounds lighter than the original TSX and over 400 pounds lighter than the current one.

Compared to other recent Acura sedans and the latest Honda Civic, the ILX’s exterior styling is a step in the right direction. The exterior’s most distinctive feature, a character line that S-curves up the body side just ahead of the rear fender, recalls the Dodge Avenger, which hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but the whole is better executed here. Seventeen-inch wheels standard on the 2.4L and available on the 2.0L (but not the Hybrid) help lend the small sedan an athletic stance. Inside, the ILX resembles the TSX and TL, just with a less substantial feel to the doors and seats. Not quite premium, but far, far nicer than a Civic, and thankfully bereft of the Honda’s massive bi-level instrument panel.

The Acura ILX’s powertrain options are…curious. You can get a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter only with a five-speed automatic, a 201-horsepower 2.4-liter (shared with the TSX and Honda Civic Si) only with a six-speed manual, or a 111-horsepower 1.5-liter hybrid only with a CVT that can be manually shifted to mimic a seven-speed transmission. Oddly, premium unleaded is recommended with all three engines, even the Hybrid.

With nearly 3,000 pounds for its 111 horsepower to motivate, the Hybrid with Technology Package is perhaps the most sluggish car with a sticker price over $35,000. Even a Lexus CT feels considerably more energetic. In the EPA tests the hybrid manages 39 MPG city, 38 MPG highway, but you’ll only observe these numbers in the real world with a lethargic driving style much better suited to a Prius (with its much stronger electric motor) than an Acura.

Though the ILX 2.4L pairs nearly twice as much peak horsepower with a nearly identical curb weight, it will satisfy lazy drivers little more than the Hybrid will. Unlike Audi, Buick, and Volkswagen, which offer the most directly comparable cars, Acura continues to avoid turbocharging. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine has little going on south of 4,000 rpm and peaks just 100 rpm shy of a 7,100 rpm redline. Employ the solid, precise shifter typical of the brand to keep the engine on boil, though, and the car entertains. Few fours sound sweeter or feel smoother when revved.

But, spoiled by widely available big sixes and boosted fours, most driving enthusiasts now demand a solid shove at low rpm. If they can live with a not remotely premium interior, they’ll be happier in a Jetta GLI. If they can’t, Audi will soon offer a redesigned A3 as a sedan and Buick will soon offer the Verano with a 250-horspower turbocharged engine.

The ILX 2.4L is geared for performance, not fuel economy, so its EPA ratings are 22 MPG city, 31 highway. The Jetta GLI matches it in the city and manages another two miles-per-gallon on the highway. The 2.0L automatic does a little better, 24/35. Are a few MPG worth giving up 51 horsepower? Acura apparently thought most potential buyers would think so, or they’d have also paired the automatic with the larger four.

The ILX’s steering isn’t as lightning-quick as the TSX’s, while being equally uncommunicative. Nevertheless, the new car feels even lighter than its relatively low curb weight suggests it ought to. A Jetta GLI is only about three inches longer and 150 pounds heavier, but feels considerably larger and more massive. A Buick Verano feels even heavier than the VW, perhaps because it is. The ILX rides much more smoothly than the VW, if still not as smoothly or quietly as the Buick. Partly this is because its suspension simply wasn’t tuned as aggressively as the VW’s. A limited-slip front differential is standard on the Civic Si, but not offered here. But the ILX is also the first Acura to employ “amplitude reactive dampers” that provide limited damping for the first five centimeters of travel then firm up for suspension motions over ten centimeters in a mostly successful bid to pair a comfortable ride with athletic handling. The ILX might not drive like a hardcore sport sedan, but it has a lively yet precisely controllable character that makes it fun when pushed. Imagine a more powerful, more refined, slightly softer Mazda3, and you won’t be far off.

Unfortunately, the Acura ILX is also far more expensive than a mainstream compact like the Mazda3. Though based on the Civic rather than the European Accord, and with a corresponding less substantial feel, the ILX 2.4L is priced $6,920 higher than a Civic Si (about $3,000 of which is due to additional features) and nearly as high as the TSX: $30,095. Is the ILX too dear, or is the TSX a bargain? If you adjust for the ILX’s additional features (including leather upholstery, a power driver seat with memory, proximity key, and xenon headlights) using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, it’s only about $1,300 more than the Jetta GLI with Autobahn Package. But the adjustment is nearly $2,500, and many people might not look beyond the $3,780 MSRP gap. A Technology Package with nav and Elliot Scheiner surround sound audio isn’t available with the 2.4L. Get that package on the Hybrid and the sticker shocks: $35,295. But no more than it does for the Lexus CT 200h, which has a nearly identical base price and is nearly $3,000 more when both cars are loaded up.

While I found the Acura ILX Hybrid sluggish, I enjoyed driving the 2.4L. You can’t get a 200-horspower sedan with a curb weight under 3,000 pounds from any of the Germans, even VW. And while boost can’t be beat for its ability to pair midrange power with fuel efficiency, I continue to prefer the sound and feel of a high-winding, naturally aspirated engine when paired with a well-engineered stick shift. Overall, the ILX doesn’t make a strong statement in how it looks or how it performs, but neither did the Integra. Like the earlier car, the new one possesses the willing responses and light, almost delicate feel that has historically typified Hondas (with a nicer interior then you’ll find in a Honda). This character is increasingly hard to find as virtually the entire industry piles on turbos, gadgetry, sound deadening, and pounds. Ultimately, no one else offers a car like the ILX 2.4L. The main change I’d like to see: a price not so close to that of the TSX.

Suburban Acura of Farmington Hills, MI, provided the ILX 2.4L. They can be reached at (248) 427-5700.

Nick Pechilis at Acura of Memphis provided the ILX Hybrid. He can be reached at (901) 334-5525.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

ILX 2.4L front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ILX 2.4L front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ILX 2.4L side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ILX 2.4L rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ILX 2.4L interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ILX 2.4L instrument panel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ILX 2.4L rear seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ILX 2.4L trunk, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ILX Hybrid trunk, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ILX 2.4L engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ILX Hybrid engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 119
Review: 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon Mon, 18 Jun 2012 10:00:28 +0000

So, you want a small, practical wagon with a little bit of Euro flair and luxury pretensions. Unless you’re willing to mix with the rabble in a VW, what are your options? Volvo V50? Dead. Audi A3? Not much time left before it’s discontinued in the USA. Try the BMW 3-Series Wagon if you want something German.

Everyone knows that Acura products share Honda DNA, but none are so thinly veiled as the TSX sedan and TSX Sport Wagon. While badge engineering has caused decades of problems for General Motors, Acura’s tactic  actually makes sense. You see, the TSX is the European version of the Honda Accord (which thankfully shares essentially nothing with the overweight American Accord). While it would have been cheaper to have just imported the Euro Accord as a Honda wagon (they wouldn’t have even had to swap badges), the Accord in Europe competes with more lofty brands than in America.

Click here to view the embedded video.


For Acura duty, the only change made to the “Accord Tourer” was grafting the Acura beak onto the existing front bumper molds. Since bumper itself didn’t change, the TSX wears the smallest beak of the family, and honestly, looking at pictures of the enormous logo the Touring wears, the TSX is more attractive. The overall form of the TSX is thoroughly modern, in an angular Cadillac-ish kind of way. The slanted hatchback and rear windows that decrease in size as they head rearward attempt to distract from the fact that the TSX is indeed a station wagon. Acura added a splash of chrome trim around the windows and roof rails so you’ll look trendy and sophisticated on your way to the board meeting with your surfboard on top. While the BMW 3-Series wagon is decidedly handsome, the TSX provides firm competition in the looks department.


While the dashboard is suitably squishy, some interior plastics are less than luxurious. Haptic quibbles aside, the color palate is what gave me pause. Our tester looked as if it was carved out of a single black piece of plastic. Admittedly it is a nice piece of plastic, and the attention to detail is worthy of any luxury marque. However, I found the monochromatic interior oppressive after a while. The only way to avoid this black-on-black-on-black theme is to buy a red or white TSX (they come with a “taupe” interior). Although the dashboard remains black, the lighter leather makes the TSX a far more appealing place to spend your time. Want a red car with a black interior? That’s not on Acura’s menu. The TSX redeems itself with a low starting price of $31,360, undercutting the 328i wagon by over six-grand. For the price, I’m willing to overlook some less-than-swish door trim. Speaking of trim, base model TSXs get fake wood trim while the upscale “Technology Package” add fake metal trim. While neither faux option is “fauxin” anyone, the wood trim makes the interior a touch more upscale by helping break up the vast expanses of black.


Acura has long had a reputation for gadgets and buttons and the TSX is no different. Base models come standard with a bevy of features that are optional on other near-luxury brands. Standard features include: xenon headlamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, heated seats, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth phone integration and a 360-watt, 7-speaker audio system with USB/iPod integration, MP3 compatible CD player and XM radio. There is only one option available, the “Technology Package” which may seem pricy at $3,650, (bringing the total up to $35,010) but it adds a decent amount of kit. In addition to GPS navigation, a  460-watt, 10-speaker sound system with DVD-audio and iPod voice control is also included. The voice command system is a bit less intuitive than Ford’s SYNC, but just as functional allowing you to select playlists, tracks, artists, etc by voice command. Also included in the package is GPS-linked climate control that tracks the sun, power tailgate, backup camera, and XM data services like weather, traffic, etc. My only quibble with Acura’s infotainment system is that it still has not integrated very fully with the rest of the vehicle like BMW’s iDrive. This means that vehicle settings and trip information are solely in the gauge cluster which means more buttons and more menus to learn and navigate.


Acura has no illusions of run-away TSX Sport Wagon sales. This Acura is destined for a lifetime of good reviews gushing about how exciting wagons are, followed by slow sales. As a result, the 2.4L four-cylinder engine is the only engine on offer. If you need more than the four-pot’s 201HP and 170lb-ft of torque, you’ll need to look at the TSX sedan or to another brand. While sedan buyers can row-their-own, Acura’s 5-speed automatic is the only cog swapper available in the wagon. Acura does include paddle shifters, but the transmission shifts too leisurely to make their use enjoyable and steadfastly refuses to shift to 1st unless you’re traveling at a snail’s pace. Fortunately, the transmission’s software is well suited to the car and leaving it in D or S is more rewarding and lower effort. As with the 2.4L equipped sedan, the wagon is neither slow nor particularly fast, scooting to 60 in 7.5 seconds.


Acura tuned the TSX’s suspension to be a good balance between road holding and highway cruising, but this is no soft wagon. Out on the road the TSX shines with a tight and willing chassis and excellent Michelin Pilot tires. The combo is eager to tackle any mountain road you might pit it against. Unfortunately the lack of power and lazy 5-speed automatic conspire against the chassis making the TSX something of a mixed bag when the going gets twisty, especially uphill. The TSX’s power steering is quick and fairly communicative, a rarity in this age of numb tillers.


During my week with the TSX I ended up taking an impromptu road trip to southern California. The TSX proved an excellent highway cruiser delivering 27-28 MPG on the open highway at 75MPH. The TSX’s combination of good looks, good reliability and simple pricing  make the TSX Sport Wagon a smart choice for those that are practical and frugal. While the BMW wagon has yet to land on our shores for a comparison test, you can bet it will deliver more style, more luxury, and a much larger price tag. The only fly in this cargo hauler’s ointment is the s0-called wagon tax. As you might expect, the base wagon is $1,350 more than the base sedan. What you wouldn’t expect is that by simply checking the only option available on the wagon, this delta increases to $1,900. Yikes.


Acura provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gasoline for this review.

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16 Seconds @ 83.5MPH

Observed Fuel Economy: 26.8MPG over 1207 miles


2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-001 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-002 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-003 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-004 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-005 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-006 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-007 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-008 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-009 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-010 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-011 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-012 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, gauges , Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, audio controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, audio controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, Gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, Gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Engine, 2.4L, Photography Courtesy of Honda Motor Company Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 99
Review: 2012 Acura RL Sun, 13 May 2012 13:00:36 +0000

Despite debuting over seven years ago, extensively refreshed in 2009 and nip/tucked again in 2011, the Acura RL remains a mystery. Flagship products usually sell in small numbers, but the RL is one of the rarest sedans in America. This isn’t exactly been a badge of honor for Acura. Overlooked by shoppers who flock to the cheaper Acura TL and largely forgotten by the automotive press (after all these years, TTAC has never fully reviewed the RL) With a full replacement due next year in the form of the RLX concept, I hit Acura up for an RL for a week to see how a flagship product from a major brand could manage to sell just 56 vehicles in Canada and 1,096 in the USA in 2011. For those who like statistics, the TL outsold the RL by 2,850%. Ouch.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Like Audi, Acura believes in the “same sausage, different lengths” school of design. The RL’s form combines an angular nose with slab sides, a rounded rear and thankfully, (new for 2011) the most demure Acura beak available. While beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, I find the RL more attractive than the TL (even with the TL’s beak-reduction.) There is a problem however: the RL is only 1.7 inches longer than the TL and rides on a wheelbase that is only .9 inches longer. These identical proportions are only the beginning of the sibling rivalry. Nearly identical proportions aside, the RL has aged well and still strikes an elegant pose that is decidedly more exciting than the sedate Volvo S80.


Once you sit inside the RL, you begin to understand why the TL gets all the attention. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the RL, it’s just not as flashy. While the TL borrows from the European play book with an interior that could have been carved out of a single piece of black plastic, the RL goes for a more elegant two-tone approach. The only real feature differentiation between the RL and TL can be found in the optional real-wood trim and radar cruise control neither of which are available in the “smaller”  Acura.

Not all is peachy-keen inside however. Automotive interiors age faster than a powder-blue tux and the RL is no exception. Aside from the lack of stitched-dash-love, the fact that faux-tree is standard when even Lincoln gets their trim from the forest is a problem. Acura’s well-known love affair with buttons results in no less than 65 buttons (not including toggle or the joystick controller) within easy reach of the driver. Is that good or bad? I’m torn. Tell us what you think the comment section.


As a statement of how “ahead of the curve” Acura was in 2005, the RL’s 8-inch infotainment system provides all the features a luxury shopper could ask for, from voice control to full USB, Bluetooth and iPod integration. The problem isn’t the functionality, it’s the aesthetics. It’s like un-boxing a new PC only to discover it has Windows XP. It might be  just as fast as a model with Windows 7, and it will do everything you need - it just won’t look as snazzy while it’s doing it.

On the audio front, the Bose system is absolutely top-notch with a very natural balance, crisp highs and a wide dynamic range. Acura continues to push the rare DVD-Audio format in all Acura models. DVD Audio’s discrete 5.1 channel recordings do sound fantastic on the RL, but unlike some of the other luxury systems you can’t play video DVDs on the system at all. Good luck finding DVD-A discs as well. The RL uses Bose Active Noise Cancellation technology to cut cabin noise, while it wasn’t really possible to disable the system, the RL’s cabin is very quiet.


Beating “sideways” under the hood of the RL is Acura’s ubiquitous 3.7L V6, good for 300HP and 271lb-ft of twist at a lofty 5,000RPM. 300HP may have been a selling point back in 2005, but in today’s luxury market, 300 is where things start, not end. The 3.7′s 271lb-ft is practically meager when pitted against the 350lb-ft cranked out by Lincoln’s Ecoboost V6, not to mention BMW’s twin turbo V8. Rubbing some salt on the wound, the TL’s optional 3.7L engine cranks out 5 more ponies. Ouch. Still, the MKS Ecoboost and S80 T6 are on the high-end of the competition’s scale which, more realistically, includes the GS350 AWD and the Cadillac XTS.

For 2011 Acura updated the RL with a new 6-speed transmission. The extra cog cut the RL’s dash to 60 by almost a full half second vs the 2010 model (5.9 as tested.) Mercedes may advertise a 7-speed automatic and BMW and Audi tout their ZF 8-speed, but let’s be honest here – the E350, 535xi or A6 3.0T don’t compete head-on with the RL. When you scale back the competition to the more natural competitors of the S80, MKS,  GS350 and XTS, the right number of gears for this crowd is six. The 2012 RL is now rated for 17/24MPG (City/Highway) which is 1MPG better than before. Over our 745 miles with the RL we averaged a middling 19MPG. In comparison, Cadillac’s XTS promises to be the most efficient AWD sedan in this size class at 17/28MPG.


It’s not the acceleration that makes the RL an interesting companion on the road, it’s the handling. Oddly enough, the nearly 4,100lb RL is a willing companion on the twisties thanks to Acura’s “Super Handling All Wheel Drive” system. The AWD system used by Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz employs a traditional RWD transmission with a transfer case sending power to the front. In the GS350 AWD, the end result is massive understeer, excessive for even a large rear-drive luxury car. The XTS, MKS and S80 use a Haldex system, with an open differential in the front and rear and none in the center. Instead of a center diff, there is a clutch pack that can vary the mechanical connection to the rear. When fully engaged, the input shaft of the front and rear differentials are mechanically tied together. Acura’s SH-AWD system on the other hand is far more complicated. By making the rear wheels spin up to 5.8% faster than the front wheels, SH-AWD can essentially shift 70% of the power to the rear, and direct 100% of that rear-bound power to one wheel. If you want to know more about that, check out our video link.

The system’s ability to “overdrive”  the outside rear wheel in a corner makes the RL feel strangely neutral even when pressed hard. While SH-AWD is as close to a miracle worker as Acura can get, sales indicate that the snazzier AWD system isn’t a good reason to spend $6,000 more over the cost of a comparably equipped TL. What a pity.

The RL is perhaps one of the most forgotten and misunderstood vehicles of our time. Looking at the sales numbers, you’d think there was something horribly wrong with the RL. In 2011 only 1,096 RLs found a home meaning even the unloved Volvo S80 outsold it nearly 5:1 and the MKS bested it by 12:1. However, the problem with the RL isn’t that the Volvo, Lexus and Lincoln competition is more modern. The problem is the new TL with SH-AWD. With a thoroughly modern interior and electronics, the TL might have a less capable AWD system, but with a lower price tag it is no wonder it outsells the RL 31:1. Still, if you’re shopping for a $50,000 luxury sedan, the RL isn’t a bad choice, but the new RL couldn’t come any sooner.

Acura provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gasoline for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.31 Seconds

0-60: 5.9 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.4 Seconds @ 97 MPH

2012 Acura RL, Trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, SH-AWD badge, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Acura badge, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Acura logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, 3.7L 300HP V6, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, 3.7L 300HP V6, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, beak, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, headlamps, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, infotainment screen, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, rear door, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, door, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, front grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura RL, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 78
Review: 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT Wed, 10 Aug 2011 18:13:01 +0000

Even if the Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT were not a good car, it would still deserve our support as the only upscale midsize sedan available with both all-wheel-drive and a manual transmission in North America. Even BMW has vacated this space. You can still get the 5-Series with either all-wheel-drive or a manual transmission, but not both in the same car. If you need all-weather capability and ample space for four adults, but also want to row your own, the TL is it. So, what are you stuck with?

The 2004-2008 Acura TL was an astonishingly attractive car. There was nothing flashy about the exterior, but its athletic proportions, its angular (but not too angular) lines, its size—everything was just right. But then the Accord was super-sized, and took its Acura platform mate with it. At the same time, Honda had somehow received the message that its designs were too subtle. So the 2009 TL was cursed with bulky bodysides, pointy ends, and a chunky chrome cheese grater for a grille. A unique look, certainly, but also one with many vocal critics. For 2012 the pointy ends have been blunted and the grille genericized, yielding a blander exterior that, while still not likely to inspire lust, should at least blend safely into the crowd.

The 2012 TL’s interior received no readily evident changes. So the atmosphere remains high-tech and the materials semi-premium, roughly on a level with Buick and Lincoln. Ergonomics are first rate, with the secondary controls logically arranged and close at hand. Many functions are handled via a large knob mounted just ahead of the shifter—so close that I bumped it a couple of times while grabbing third. The instrument panel isn’t nearly as low or compact as those in classic Hondas, but the A-pillars are thin by current standards, the windshield rake and instrument panel depth are both moderate, and the view forward is open. The view rearward is compromised by the high tail and sweeping roofline, but this is typical of current sedans. The nav system includes a rearview monitor to aid in rearward maneuvers.

While other auto makers shape and space their front bucket seats’ side bolsters to fit the average NFL linebacker, those in the TL are shaped and positioned to actually provide lateral support for the average adult. Yet the thickly padded seats are also comfortable unless your posture is more upright than most, in which case the headrests jut too far forward. In the rear seat, knee room is plentiful and headroom sufficient for adults up to 6-2 or so. The shortcomings here: minimal toe space under the front seats and a cushion that’s a little too close to the floor. At 12.5 cubic feet, the trunk is small, especially considering the 194-by-74-inch exterior. And, as in other Asian upscale sedans, the rear seats don’t fold to expand it. The glove compartment and center console are similarly minimal.

Honda’s engine technology remains about a decade behind the bleeding edge, so there’s no boost and no direct injection. While even “nothing wrong with pushrods” GM finally coughed up the nickles for DOHC, Honda remains wedded to a Rube Goldberg valvetrain that connects the dozen valves in each head to a single belt-driven cam. So the valleys between said valves aren’t as deep as they’d optimally be. No matter. While 305 horsepower is on the low side for a modern, premium-burning 3.7-liter engine, the big V6 delivers where it counts, with strong, immediate responses and a song that gets sweeter the closer you get to the 6,700 rpm redline. Even without a turbo it’s possible to get to sixty in well under six seconds. GM’s, Ford’s, and Hyundai’s V6s might employ more recent technology, and Infiniti’s might be stronger, but the Acura powerplant sounds and feels the best in this bunch. But when you don’t want to hear the engine, you don’t. When cruising at highway speeds the exhaust, so throaty at full throttle, is barely audible. Despite a 3,889-pound curb weight and all-wheel-drive, fuel economy isn’t bad, either, with low twenties reported by the trip computer in suburban driving. (The EPA reports 17/25.)

Though not the engineering powerhouse it used to be, Honda remains the master in a few areas, and manual transmissions are one of them. Despite some softening in the car’s overall character, the TL’s six-speed shifter retains short throws that positively engage each gear with the direct, mechanical feel of a rifle bolt. Though clearly under pressure to cater to a broader market, Honda’s engineers drew the line here. The gear ratios are near ideal, with a short first gear then a minimal drop with each shift. While it would have been easy given the minimal sales potential to toss a manual transmission into the car and call it a day, someone clearly sweated the details.

The TL’s all-wheel-drive system, though largely unchanged since it debuted in the 2005 Acura RL, similarly remains the standard towards which other manufacturers should aspire. Perhaps if Acura’s marketers had coined a catchier trademark than “SH-AWD” (doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the way “quattro” does) the engineers would receive the recognition they deserve. While active rear differentials intended to provide all-wheel-drive cars with the feel of a rear-driver have become increasingly common, they often fail to make a substantial difference. Acura’s system goes a step further than simply shunting torque to the outside rear wheel—it actually spins this wheel a little faster than the others. Get on the gas through a curve, and the effect is readily evident. Like the best rear-wheel-drive cars, the TL can be precisely steered with the throttle. Despite the TL’s decidedly nose-heavy 58/42 weight distribution, underteer is minimal to begin with. With even a touch of acceleration it’s gone altogether. Press on and the chassis progressively transitions into oversteer.

And then you run up against the not-so-good changes. Last year the car was available with sticky 245/40YR19 Michelin PS2s. For 2012 these have been replaced with 245/40VR19 Goodyear Eagle RS-As that, according to the Acura flacks, “offer significantly improved performance in snow and ice.” What they also offer: much less grip and squishier steering feel on dry pavement. Adding insult to injury, the 19s are now only available together with a blind spot warning system and cooled front seats as part of the Advance Package, and this package is only available with the new-for-2012 six-speed automatic transmission. There’s now only one tire available with the manual: 245/45VR18 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4s. A touring tire, these readily (and loudly) give way when subjected to more than half of the capability of the drivetrain. Go for a quick corner exit, and the rear end rolls over into a mushy slide. If they were going to make only one tire available in conjunction with a clutch, it shouldn’t have been this one.

The aforementioned roll indicates that all isn’t quite right with the suspension tuning, either. The suspension is far from soft, with a somewhat lumpy, busy ride. The 2010 I drove a couple years ago felt harsher, but the suspension tuning supposedly remains the same so this is probably because the 2012 car is quieter. Bumps are still felt, but they aren’t so much heard. Despite this firm tuning, when pushed the car doesn’t feel as tied down or as precise as the best, partly because the body structure isn’t as solid, and body roll is especially evident at the rear end in hard turns. While the TL initially feels responsive and agile thanks to quick steering and the trick AWD system, push it and those inches and pounds make themselves known.

The 2010’s electric-assist system didn’t provide much in the way of road feel, but at least it had a heft commensurate with its quickness. For 2012 they’ve lightened the SH-AWD’s special steering calibration to, in the words of the press release, “generate a more relaxed on-center feel at normal road speeds— a steering feel that more closely matches that of the front-wheel-drive TL.” More relaxed? Try comatose. There’s now a dead zone on-center that, in combination with the quick ratio, makes it too easy to dial in too much angle. Even off center and at higher speeds the lobotomized steering never approaches its former firm feel. Some manual transmission intender asked for this?

If you want a 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT, then it’s going to list for $43,770. With the manual transmission the Tech Package (with nav and ELS audio) is mandatory while the Advance Package is not available. As mentioned in the intro, there are no direct competitors to this car. The closest match: an Audi S4, which has tighter handling but also a tighter interior. Equipped like the TL SH-AWD Tech, the Audi lists for over $12,000 more. Adjusting for feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool narrows the gap to just under $11,000.

Don’t need the premium brand or the perks that attend it? Then (as some readers reminded me below) Subaru offers the Legacy GT (or at least did in 2011; changes for the 2012 haven’t been announced). The LGT with nav lists for $9,600 less, and adjusting for feature differences cuts this to about $6,800. There’s actually more room inside the Legacy, but the interior materials and driving experience aren’t what they were in the 2005-2009 car.

My criticisms notwithstanding, the Acura TL is a good car, even a very good car. If you need the traction of all-wheel-drive and a midsize interior, but also want to have fun, this is your car. Nothing beats a manual transmission for driver involvement, and the TL’s is one of the best. The highly responsive engine and chassis similarly encourage uncivil behavior. But the TL could have been a great car. The engine, transmission, and drivetrain carry the ball within a couple yards of the goal line, only to have the steering and tires promptly fumble it. With the 2012 revisions, Acura has tried to address the shortcomings of the 2009-2011 car, but it’s hard to see what they were thinking with these tweaks. The powertrain remains optimized for driver involvement, while the lighter steering and mandatory touring tires do a mushy 180 in the other direction. Tires, of course, can be swapped in an hour. With any luck, it’s also possible to have a dealer reflash the steering system with the 2010 software. So perhaps these changes for the worse can easily be reversed. But to put so much brilliance and sweat into the powertrain and then hobble it makes me wonder about Acura. Who do they think this car is for? Unless they’re trying to kill what remains of 6MT sales (and perhaps they are), they should pair the SH-AWD with tighter, more communicative steering and stickier, sharper-handling treads pronto. Marketers can’t identify the tastes of the target buyer? Just ask the engineer who fine-tuned the transmission or the one who dreamed up the trick differential what he’d like in his car.

Acura provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

2012 TL interior 2012 TL front quarter 2012 TL trunk 2012 TL engine 2012 TL rear quarter 3 2012 TL rear seat 2012 TL instrument panel 2012 Tl rear quarter 2012 TL rear quarter 2 2012 TL side 2012 TL rear Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 2012 TL front One of a kind? ]]> 129
Review: 2012 Acura TL Fri, 24 Jun 2011 14:28:58 +0000

Here’s a mind game I sometimes like to play: imagine your car was destroyed by some horrible accident while you were away (e.g., Godzilla was in the neighborhood). To your good fortune, your insurance company gave you a sufficient settlement to buy a brand new version of whatever it was you were driving. Would you consequently buy that brand new car, or something else with the same money?

We’ve got a 2005 Acura TL, manual transmission + satnav, purchased new back in the day and currently with a modest 60K miles on the clock. It’s driven cross-country. It’s driven to the supermarket. It’s had parking lot abuse. It’s had toddler abuse. And it keeps on running. I had it in the shop recently for it’s “B2″ service (oil change, assorted air filters, and wipers: $230 — whee!) and to fix what turned out to be a busted power steering pump ($450 or thereabouts). Of note, the dealer gave me a chance to play my imagination game by loaning me a brand new 2012 Acura TL (automatic transmission, no satnav, no options at all). With one day of driving it around, here are my observations.

Several things have decidedly improved. The seats seem more comfortable and supportive, and the driver’s seat now includes a power lumbar bolster. The car suspension has radically improved (alternately, our 2005 TL’s has seriously degraded). On the cracked up, uneven streets around our house, the new TL is significantly more composed. You still feel the bumps, but you’re less worried that they’re going to destroy your car. It’s similarly better mannered on the freeway. This is a car you’d love to drive cross-country. Some of the smaller electronic gadgety bits have also improved. I’m happy to see a proper tire pressure monitoring system and an auxiliary music input for phones and whatnot. (I didn’t have time to see how well it does at integrating music from my Android phone via USB much less Bluetooth Audio, but the Bluetooth pairing process was painless enough and Bluetooth Audio (A2DP) is claimed to be supported, albeit with some debate as to how well.)

Like the 2005 Acura TL, several things are good, but still frustratingly not quite right. Freeway mileage is excellent and stop-and-go city mileage is an embarrassment; I clocked 31mpg highway and from 13-20mpg stop-and-go city — a marginal improvement on the freeway and a marginal downgrade in the city compared to what our 2005 TL gets.

The car has zillions of things you might like to configure, like what happens when you click the unlock button on your remote. Does it just unlock the driver door or the whole car? Many such settings are handled with the arrow buttons on the steering wheel and the tiny screen between the tach and speedo. That’s good. But, how about that giant selector knob with the huge screen above the center stack? It’s only good for changing the radio station and setting up the audio balance. Similarly, the Bluetooth pairing process can only be done via voice, which talks to you slowly. Very slowly. With modern in-car networks, you’d think they could do everything on the big central screen, making it easier, providing more help with options, etc.  Could they, should they centralize all these disparate systems, from no-doubt unrelated parts suppliers, to have a grand unified user interface? Could it be accomplished without reaching iDrive levels of incomprehensibility? For the 2005 TL, such thoughts would have been future fantastic. For the 2012 TL, such thoughts should be entirely achievable. Everything in the car is networked together. Make it so!

Frustratingly, several things have gotten decidedly worse. Foremost is the trunk. If you’re loading something heavy, you’ve now got a 10.5 inch lip to hoist your bags over, versus 7 inches in the 2005 TL. Why? Similarly, if you’re going to the airport, one giant wheely bag will fit without issue, but two of them? Good luck with those bumps on the floor. You can’t blame AWD, since this particular car is FWD. So, again, why? Also from the Department of Fail, you’d think they’d test a family car with family accoutrements like a booster seat. I’ve included a photo of my daughter’s booster seat. You’re supposed to run the seatbelt under both armrests. See the belt latch? It’s way around the back. The old TL was better in this regard, but stil not great. Why not have more slack in the belt latch? (Credit where credit is due: they significantly improved access to the LATCH anchors for younger kids’ car seats.)

Another concern is trying to park this thing into a tight space. The car’s beltlines are higher up and the car feels enormous. It’s notably trickier to park and maneuver in tight environs. Does anybody test these things? I’ll also insert a gripe about the ventilated seats (not present on my loaner car). If I read the options list correctly, it’s not possible to get a manual transmission and ventilated seats, at any price. Really? Do Acura engineers like sitting in a car with Godzilla barbecuing their backside? Do customers who want manual transmissions always wear Nomex racing suits? Hop in my car after a day outside in the Houston summer…

Cosmetically, I’m pretty happy with the new schnoz. It won’t win any beauty contests, but at least it doesn’t cry out for you to put it out of its misery. Also in the cosmetic department, they’ve redone the dashboard and center stack. The gauges are bright and readable, as always. Somebody smart said they should get rid of the blue halos around the old gauges. Somebody less smart decided to add giant fake-chrome rings around them, in a perhaps-confused nod at a Porsche 911. Please revisit the clean, spartan gauges of the previous-generation Acura TSX. No really, please do. Also, I’m baffled by the curvy/slashy lines inside the car. Has somebody been spending too much time looking at Frank Gehry buildings?

So, if Godzilla paid an unfortunate visit to my car and I hit the insurance jackpot, would I buy the new TL? Sadly no. But what? Does anybody make a car with a manual transmission, rear wheel drive, decent tech and luxury features, decent mileage yet good performance, good styling, and high reliability ratings? At any price at all? Yeah, fantasies never quite work out, do they?

P1020948 P1020954 P1020973 P1020945 P1020946 I can live with this schnoz. Not beautiful but at least no longe Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail P1020952 Spaceman Spiff's steering wheel has arrived. Volkswagen-esque switchblade key. 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD P1020976 P1020955 2012_acura_tl_rear P1020958 P1020951 P1020959 ]]> 100
Review: 2011 Acura TSX V6 Fri, 22 Apr 2011 18:50:46 +0000

Detroit has a long, sad history of self-delusion when comparing its cars to premium imports. Could you tell the difference between the Ford Granada and the Mercedes-Benz 280SE? Murilee’s take: people on ‘ludes should not drive. But what choice does Buick have? The Regal Turbo I reviewed a few weeks ago lists for $35,185. So they’d prefer that people not compare it to the Sonata 2.0T. Rather, the Acura TSX. And so, ever the agreeable reviewer, I did.

The first-generation Acura TSX lacked the striking good looks of the half-size-larger TL, but it was cleanly styled and wasn’t an unattractive car. The current TSX, with its chrome beak, chunky wheel openings, and fussy detailing? The surprisingly tasteful Buick scores an easy win here. The situation is much the same inside the two cars. The Acura’s cabin, with a faux tech vibe, generally seems less solid and more plasticky (though the door panels are nicely upholstered).

Acuras no longer have remarkably low instrument panels, but visibility from the TSX’s driver’s seat remains at least as good as in the competition. The windshield has a reasonable rake, and its pillars aren’t overly thick. The rear seat is tight and too close to the floor, but this is typical of the class. One place Acuras continue to shine: the front seats are aggressively bolstered yet are also very comfortable. Even though the Buick’s buckets benefit from four-way power lumbar adjustments (compared to two-way manual), they don’t compare.

For the Regal’s uplevel engine, Buick opted for a 220-horsepower turbocharged four rather than a V6. Rumor once had it that the second-generation TSX would similarly receive the RDX’s 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.4-liter four. But it did not. Instead, in its second model year it gained the TL’s 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. A V6 might not be fashionable, but it’s simply better. Especially this one. Responses are stronger and more immediate than with any turbo four, and a lusty soundtrack rivaled by few other sixes (much less any four) encourages frequent trips to the 6,800 rpm redline. Unfortunately, Acura’s excellent six-speed manual is not an option with the V6. The mandatory automatic transmission has an industry-trailing five ratios, but with so much engine to work with and an aggressive “sport” mode this isn’t a major disadvantage. Up two cylinders and down a ratio, the TSX V6’s fuel economy should suffer. But according to the EPA it slightly outpoints the Buick, 19/28 vs. 18/28.

Enthusiasts didn’t often buy the first-generation TSX because of how quickly it accelerated. Rather, they prized its handling. The current TSX has a smaller, sportier steering wheel than GM seems willing to fit to ANY of its cars, much less a Buick. Partly as a result, the TSX’s steering initially feels reassuringly firm and aggressively quick. But it’s all downhill afterwards. Despite its heft, the electric-assist steering isn’t communicative. Partly because 62 percent of the car’s 3,680 pounds reside over the front wheels, understeer arrives early and builds rapidly. Suspension tuning is supposedly firmer than in the base TSX, but it’s still considerably softer than in a TL SH-AWD. So there’s also quite a bit of lean in hard turns. The first-generation car’s tight, precise feel is more present in the Buick.

Though there’s still some tire noise on concrete, the TSX V6 is quieter inside than past Acuras. The quality of the noise that intrudes generally supports the premium branding—the TSX sounds more upscale than the Regal. But, while the TSX V6 filters out pavement irregularities better than the fidgety TL SH-AWD, the Regal rides better still, especially over larger bumps.

Acura charges dearly for the V6: it lists for $36,010. The Technology Package (nav, upgraded audio) adds another $3,100. TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool indicates that, when both cars are similarly equipped, the Buick Regal Turbo lists for about $5,500 less—nearly the same amount the V6 and its attendant plus-one wheels add to the Acura’s price. This is somewhat justified, as the Regal’s acceleration falls closer to that of the four-pot TSX.

Nevertheless, the V6, nice as it is, costs too much. Another $3,705 will get you into an Acura TL SH-AWD. The larger sedan’s torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive and firmer suspension much more effectively transfer the V6’s power to the pavement and induce grins on the driver’s face. And, if you want a manual, one is offered. For enthusiasts, the TL SH-AWD is the clear choice among Acura’s sedans. For non-enthusiasts, what’s the point of the V6? Same as in the Accord and Camry, I suppose. But American drivers increasingly realize they don’t need the extra cylinders to safely merge onto the freeway.

Ultimately, no mind-altering substances were needed to legitimately compare the new Regal to the Acura TSX. The latter feels stronger and more responsive with its optional V6, but the Buick is priced against the four. The Acura also has better front seats and quicker steering, but in just about every other area the Buick does at least as well, and often better. Most notably, the Regal handles more precisely, rides with more composure, feels more solid, and is easier on the eyes.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t only reflect how good a job GM did with the Regal. Acura’s strategy over the past two decades has been to take whatever qualities led people to buy its cars—and eliminate them. The Integra and Legend nameplates? Gone. Tasteful styling? Communicative steering? Faultless ergonomics? Gone, gone, gone. The glorious V6 and supportive front seats remain, but for how much longer? If Acura had instead built on its early successes, the target posed by the TSX would have been higher.

Suburban Acura in Farmington Hills, MI, provided the car. They can be reached at 248-427-5700.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

TSX side TSX IP 2 TSX engine TSX front quarter TSX IP Imported from... somewhere else TSX rear quarter TSX front seats TSX rear seat TSX trunk Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD Wed, 07 Jul 2010 16:06:11 +0000

Pity Acura. Honda gambled in creating the first Asian luxury brand, and enjoyed four years in the spotlight when this bet paid off, only to then be completely overshadowed by Lexus. Acura has spent the last two decades trying to regain car buyers’ attention. The logical solution: offer cars that look and drive like no others. But what is distinctive it not necessarily desirable. And so we have the Acura TL SH-AWD.

There are over six billion people in the world. Six of them might find the current Acura TL more attractive than its predecessor. This car introduced the cheese slicer grille that has since spread to Acura’s other models. Can’t remember the grille on earlier Acuras? Well, that’s the problem Acura sought to fix, and the new menacing face is certainly distinctive. But sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. One suggested solution: opt for silver paint, so that the grille will blend in.

The problem with this solution: light colors accentuate the massive block of sheetmetal ahead of the TL’s front wheels. This unfortunate overhang, yet another sign that the “man maximum, machine minimum” Honda is no longer with us, is best mitigated by darker colors and the 18-inch alloys optional on the base TL and standard on the SH-AWD. So, light or dark? Well, in dark colors the TL’s crisply chiseled shoulders and fashionably arching roofline are somewhat attractive from some angles, which is better than unattractive from all angles. So dark.

Acura continues to stake out a position between mainstream brands and true luxury brands with the quality of its interior materials. It’s a clear step up from, say, a Nissan Maxima, but about even with Buick and no match for Lexus or the Germans. The TL’s interior styling is somewhat sporty, with a “high tech” ambiance, but even with the faux wood on the center console it feels overwhelmingly plastic and lacking in warmth. One glaring oversight: sunlight often washes out the LCD display for the HVAC and audio systems.

One clear strength: the front seats excel in both comfort and lateral support. Thick C-pillars impede the view rearward, but relatively thin A-pillars and a properly-sized and -positioned instrument panel contribute to an confidence-inspiring view over the hood (if not the wide open view that used to be part of Honda’s DNA). The TL’s 195.3-inch length, nearly equal the RL’s, affords decent rear legroom, though the arched roofline precludes a comfortably high rear seat cushion. The conventionally-hinged trunk isn’t expansive, and the rear seat does not fold to expand it.

GM might have finally caved to logic and introduced a modern rear-wheel-drive sedan platform eight years ago, but “innovative” Honda stubbornly sticks with front-wheel-drive. For those applications where front-wheel-drive just won’t do, Acura lately follows Audi with all-wheel-drive. And so the TL is offered in two forms: front-wheel-drive with a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and all-wheel-drive with a 305-horsepower 3.7-liter. I drove the TL to compare it to the 280-horsepower front-wheel-drive Buick LaCrosse and 290-horsepower front-wheel-drive Nissan Maxima. I opted to drive the TL in SH-AWD form anyway. Why? Because I have a pulse.

Most cars these days, even some acclaimed German sport sedans, feel lazy in day-to-day driving. Their engines and steering systems react slowly and deliberately to inputs, lest they prove tiresome in traffic or on the highway. All-wheel-drive tends to further dull a car’s handling by removing throttle inputs from the equation.

Well, the Acura TL SH-AWD is a refreshing departure from this norm. Blip the throttle, and the lusty, sweet-sounding six immediately snaps you back into your seat. Twitch the small diameter steering wheel even a few degrees, and the chassis similarly reacts RIGHT NOW. The steering doesn’t provide much feedback, but it is quick and firm. Through a rear differential that spins the outside wheel faster than the inside wheel, the all-wheel-drive system contributes to rather than detracts from the dynamism of the chassis. Pair this differential with the strong, responsive V6, and enjoy easily controllable oversteer on demand, a rarity with all-wheel-drive. Thanks to its nose-heavy weight distribution, the TL has an inherent predisposition to understeer, but this is readily overcome. Overcome it overly much, and the stability control kicks in unobtrusively. Even Buick now offers an active rear differential, but Acura’s is far more dramatic than others in its effects.

The transmission is the drivetrain’s weakest link. Shifts aren’t the smoothest, manual shifting is available only via paddles and not the shift lever, and there are only five ratios (in case you needed another clue that Honda’s mission has drifted). Honda recently introduced its first six-speed automatic in the MDX and ZDX, well behind even Chrysler. Perhaps the TL will get this transmission soon. A six-speed manual is available with the SH-AWD, and Honda continues to engineer excellent shifters, but good luck finding a dealer with one in stock.

All in all, the TL SH-AWD is a surprisingly fun car to drive. So why aren’t all cars this responsive? Taut tuning has a price. The TL’s immediate responses to even the smallest inputs would prove tiresome to the non-furious in traffic or on the highway. The ride is very firm, even brutal. Typical of Acura, road noise levels are higher than the luxury car norm. Buick, much less Lexus, has little to fear here.

Ultimately, the Acura TL falls between two stools. Enthusiasts want a more compact car with a more even weight distribution. As well as the SH-AWD system compensates for the TL’s inherent understeer, an inherently balanced chassis would be even better. Non-enthusiasts want a smoother, quieter, more relaxed ride. Both groups want a more attractive exterior and higher quality interior. Honda now seems to realize that it has lost its way, so the next TL should include fewer potential deal-killers. Hopefully the current car’s outstanding responses aren’t refined away in the process.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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Review: 2010 Acura MDX Wed, 23 Jun 2010 17:15:43 +0000

The MDX was the first luxury brand crossover to offer three rows of seating, and Acura was rewarded accordingly. For its tenth model year the second-generation MDX has received a refresh. But is there enough here to maintain Acura’s position in an increasingly crowded segment?

Much of the Acura MDX’s exterior remains the same with the 2010, with the front end receiving the most noticeable changes. With the 2007 Acura introduced its first highly controversial front end. The grille opening was largely filled with a faux-metal shield that no other Acuras received. Instead, their grilles have sent owners in search of especially large blocks of cheese in need of grating. For 2010 the MDX’s shield has been replaced by the cheese grater. A pair of chrome-ringed openings have also been inserted in the upper half of the bumper, above the gray fascia that houses the fog lights. The overall effect, also found on the related ZDX, is more aggressive than the previous nose, and it looks better here than on Acura’s cars. The rest of the exterior remains clean and well-proportioned, it’s only fault being a lack of distinctiveness.

If there have been any changes to the Acura MDX’s interior for 2010, they aren’t readily apparent. A mild high-tech vibe continues with the various metallic trim bits, countered a bit by the wide band of faux wood that spans the dash and covers the top surface of the center console. The wood at least looks real. The metallic plastic looks and feels less than premium. Sadly, the interior door pulls, the first point of contact when getting into the car, are composed entirely of the stuff. The switchgear might be good by the standards of a decade ago, but the target has been moving upwards. The overall fit and finish of the interior (or lack thereof) is clearly second tier among premium brands. The door-to-dash panel fit is downright awful.

Even GM’s interiors are more tightly and precisely constructed lately, and the new SRX looks and feels much nicer inside than the latest MDX. Then again, the SRX also costs quite a bit more. The MDX probably competes more directly with the Buick Enclave, which it continues to lead in interior quality.

The best thing about the interior: the front seats. Large and amply bolstered, they provide both comfort and lateral support to such a degree that I wonder why so many front seats clearly make tradeoffs between the two. The driving position provides very good forward visibility and doesn’t place the various controls too far away. A wide center console contributes to a somewhat sporty ambiance, but might leave larger people wishing for more space.

Putting three rows of seats inside a 191.6-inch long vehicle tends to compromise rear legroom and cargo room, and this is certainly the case in the MDX. Legroom in the comfortable second row is adequate, if not outstanding. Adults won’t want to spend much time in the third row. But then most people will use it for kids, anyway. There’s less cargo space behind the third row than in longer competitors. So when traveling families with have to either pack very light, fold the third row, or add a rooftop luggage carrier.

Beyond-sufficient power continues to be supplied by a 3.7-liter V6 that sounds a little less sporting and a little more truck-like than the related unit in the Acura TL. Honda has yet to announce its first direct-injected engine for the U.S. market. The big powertrain news with the 2010 MDX: while other luxury car makers are introducing seven- and eight-speed automatics, Acura is introducing its first six-speed. Remember when Honda was a powertrain innovator? Since it’s so late to the party, hopefully the new six-speed is at least solid. Honda’s past record with transmissions for its larger vehicles has been spotty. Time will tell. The new transmission’s shorter first gear (14.3:1 vs. 12.2:1 when multiplied by the final drive) translates into more punch off the line. The top gear overall ratio, little changed, makes for an EPA highway rating of 21. What could a taller top gear do? The quicker, heavier 2011 BMW X5 manages 25.

When I drove the 2007 MDX three years ago, with the optional auto-adjusting shocks set to “Sport,” I thought it handled well for a 4500-pound crossover. Partly because I drove the base model this time around, the 2010 felt large, with excessive understeer in hard turns despite the trick SH-AWD system and a disjointed overall feel that borders on clumsy. Here as with the interior I felt as if I were driving a domestic car from five years ago. The steering, overly light at low speeds, never provides much feedback. Other manufacturers have been making major improvements in the handling of their large crossovers, and Acura has some catching up to do.

With the standard, non-adjustable shocks the ride is less floaty than with the optional shocks set to “Comfort,” but still absorbs pumps pretty well. The problem here is a traditional one for Honda: road noise. There’s more of it here than in the typical luxury crossover.

Pricing for the Acura MDX is commensurate with its interior ambiance. You’ll spend much less for it than any three-row crossover wearing a European badge—even a Volvo XC90 V8 (the base I6 doesn’t provide competitive performance) lists for about $6,000 more. But the MDX seems little if any more upscale than a Buick Enclave or even a top-level Mazda CX-9. The Buick is priced about even with the MDX, but the Mazda is about $5,000 less than either, based on comparisons run using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool. Both the Buick and the Mazda provide more space in both the third row and for cargo behind it. And yet both also handle better than the more compact Acura.

Overall, with the 2010 refresh Acura hasn’t done enough to keep the MDX competitive. The Acura brand image calls for tighter, more precise handling. The interior ambiance positions the Acura between the mainsteam and luxury brands rather than as one of the latter. But then the pricing isn’t at luxury brand levels, either. The third row seat is a match for those from BMW and Volvo, but cannot compete with those from Buick and Mazda. IN the end, we have a good vehicle for people who want a slightly upscale vehicle with an occasional-use third row. People who want a crossover that handles especially well, that has a truly luxurious interior, or that can handle six people AND their luggage will be better off elsewhere.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of auto pricing and reliability data.

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Review: 2010 Acura TSX V6 Fri, 15 Jan 2010 17:52:54 +0000 The V6 that nobody asked for?

Remember the ’86 Acura Legend Coupe, the definition of elegant muscle? Or how about the ’97 Integra Type R, the weekend racer you couldn’t break? These were Acuras that inspired passion, joy, and a special place burned into my long-term memory. Even though it’s been 24 and 12 years ago respectively since I drove these high points for Honda’s luxury brand, I remember them like it was yesterday. In contrast, I drove a TSX V6 a mere three days ago, and already my primary remaining impression of it is a longing for those Acuras of yesteryear. And my memory isn’t even that bad.

I’ve always liked Acuras. At least the idea of them. I don’t demand rear-wheel drive and V8s in my sport luxury cars. I appreciate the Honda work ethic, attention to detail and sense of assurance. The difficulty is, if you like them, you go to the dealership and wonder where they are. The TSX V6 is the perfect example. It’s a Honda Accord with a pretentious snout and three-times the buttons.

YeeshThe interior is Steve Jobs personal Hell. Every necessary button comes with an average of four attendants. I stopped counting at five thousand.Things  look very nice inside, in the current black and silver style, but nothing generates a ‘wow’. Nothing generates a ‘where’ or ‘what’ either, so I shouldn’t complain.

Ergonomically, everything is pretty much at or near where you’d guess it would be. Every switch and knob feels firm but pliable, like a good assistant or yoga trainer. Which is what luxury’s all about in the end.

Based on the European Honda Accord, the TSX exterior design is more crisp than its underlings. Cues like the hip crease are tense and sophisticated, but overall Acura’s design language has a limited vocabulary. There is not enough to give this car – the whole line, really – distinction. There is nothing terribly wrong with the TSX, it’s just not as attractive as, well, everything else in the class (the Lexus ES being the only possible exception.)

On that pretentious snout rests the Acura crest, a stylized caliper, signifying the company’s devotion to engineering. It is rightly placed over the hood. This is where the discipline shows. The V6 is new for 2010, offering the TSX’s first-ever step up from the four-cylinder. The 24-valve, single overhead cam with variable valve timing puts out 280 horses and 254 pound feet of torque. This is not insubstantial. The engine revs freely, effortlessly and on an easy to understand path. And there’s no shortage of grunt, despite the 3700 pounds. tsxv63

The five-speed automatic transmission is equally attentive. As opposed to many competitors, this one is a worthy dance partner, never falling behind or stepping on the wrong cog. Downshifts were on time and correct, without the three-blind-mice effect, bumping around in search of the right gear. The automatic clipped to the four-cylinder actually achieves better gas mileage than the manual.

The V6 also comes with enhanced steering, which feels like they added a couple of clock weights to the standard electronic set up. The result is more satisfying than the over-juiced wheel in the base TSX. It is not better, just heavier. Heavier has a shorter learning curve which makes me wonder if I’d get used to the lighter settings, adapt my driving, and not care after a while.

One thing is certain: the brakes aren’t stopping potential buyers in their tracks. They are simply not as good as most of the competition. While not unsafe, they lack the precise feeling and sheer stopping power this drivetrain deserves.

The fact that the suspension is decent makes the inferior brakes even more disappointing. The car’s roll is minimal, keeping you fairly flat, without making your fillings fly out. The car is waggle free. Combined with the frictionless engine and alert tranny, the TSX is hardly short on fun.

tsxv64But neither are the Audi A4, BMW 3, Mercedes C, Infinity G, Cadillac CTS, Hyundai Genesis, Volvo S80 . . . All of which have more personality in one department or another. The TSX is a conservative entry in a broad market segment. So while the car is not bad, it fails to stand out against a dozen direct competitors. And I’m probably forgetting some . . . Oh, right, the V6 Honda Accord, this car’s fraternal twin.

The suspension is assembled from the same components (albeit a tad softer.) The engine lacks a mere eight horsepower, though for that compromise your gas mileage climbs by two (city/highway average.) Though nearly identical in exterior measurements, the Accord offers six more cubic feet of cabin space. It might not be of the useful variety, but that’s not the point. It’s eight grand less (our tester stickered at $38,881) and, in many respects, it’s better.

The TSX’s luxury appointments are just that: appointments. The guts are too similar and style too tame. If you’re fond of Hondas and have more money than you used too, buy a V6 Accord, swap out the tires for a stickier set and donate the remaining six and a half Gs to your favorite charity. You’ll be better off, the world will be better off and maybe, in the long run, it’ll help make Acura better. Till then, thanks for the memories.

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Review: 2009 Acura RDX Mon, 11 May 2009 14:25:55 +0000

Some vehicles are doomed from the start. Take the Acura RDX: a not-inexpensive CUV with aesthetically challenging looks nestling amongst Honda's "Huh?" brand. The RDX seems carefully designed to appeal to the few, the proud, the pistonheads. You know: enthusiasts who absolutely must have a willing engine, a chassis that's a suitable dance partner and the elevated driving position of SUV---all at a price that's significantly higher than more sensible (if dull) alternatives made by brands whose street cred didn't die with the Integra. You see how that doesn't work?]]>

Some vehicles are doomed from the start. Take the Acura RDX: a not-inexpensive CUV with aesthetically challenging looks nestling amongst Honda’s “Huh?” brand. The RDX seems carefully designed to appeal to the few, the proud, the pistonheads. You know: enthusiasts who absolutely must have a willing engine, a chassis that’s a suitable dance partner and the elevated driving position of SUV—all at a price that’s significantly higher than more sensible (if dull) alternatives made by brands whose street cred didn’t die with the Integra. You see how that doesn’t work?

The RDX shares design cues with every other Acura, done in bizarro-land supersized fashion. Like Toyota’s not-a-RX Venza, Acura’s not-a-CR-V tries hard avoid the whole chubby, tall station wagon thing. And fails. The RDX’s front is this awkward beastette’s best viewing angle, especially when compared to the hideous snow shovel prow blighting its brand brethren. At the other end, the RDX’s unnecessarily projecting rear bumper gives the Nissan Quest a run for its money in the “Saggy Bottom of the Year” award. It’s the sort of ugly that makes Subaru owners stand just a little taller.

The RDX’s interior sports strangely rubbery leather on most of the interior surfaces, with shiny faux-metal (or faux-shiny metal, hard to tell which) sprinkled about. A disgustingly plastic steering wheel that looks like it was lifted straight off a Honda Accord (but wasn’t) does the CUV’s upmarket aspirations no favors. Compared to standard brands, it’s a cut above. Compared to luxury marques, it’s the cruelest cut of all. The rear seats and cargo space are small for one so large. The trunk’s odd shape puts the “ewww” in “utility.”

As for luxury features, Acura abides by a strict don’t ask, don’t give policy. The technology package gets you the sort of stuff other luxury players have done for years, and there are no features to set it apart from any other maker. The voice recognition is a nice trick, especially since trying to find the right button to change anything will drive you insane. And like all Acuras, the RDX has impeccable safety ratings.

The RDX’s raison d’être—at least for those “in the know”—lies under the CUV’s hood. Honda put a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-banger therein. It’s everything you ever wanted to drive . . . in any other chassis. Push the RDX’s go-pedal and the mill sings like a fine Italian tenor, gracefully swooping its way through the rev range. Tip-in and acceleration are tightly regulated and perfectly balanced. You don’t feel like you’re driving a two-ton vehicle; the car feels a lot faster than it is.

The RDX sits on a bespoke unitized body; so it’s not so big, it’s just tall (that’s all). With independent McPhersons up front and a multi-link out back, the RDX handles like a Honda sedan through the corners. Relatively small 18″ wheels help the ride quality; the all-season shoes do not. Net: a bit of a rough ride around town. Net net: there’s a disconnect between luxury interior and pavement crashing, but Acura probably reckons the RDX’s sprightliness and handling prowess justify the compromise.

So explain this glaring omission from the sports-sedan-on-stilts gestalt: a manual transmission. The RDX’s gearbox does a fine job of picking its shift points, so you won’t miss rowing the boat too much—unless you’re one of those few people who knows how to drive a manual transmission. The RDX’s automatic can be manually shifted, but it’s joyless and quickly abandoned. In compensation, the RDX’s shift knob fits in your hand perfectly, as if reassuring pistonheads that it’s not that bad. But it is.

But wait! There’s less! I mean, more. All that power and weight yields punishing gas mileage. While the RDX is EPA rated at 17/22 mpg, user-reported mileage is far lower, and does not improve much after break-in. Not that I blame the users; I’d probably drive the RDX like I stole it too. Otherwise, what’s the point? And why not? Gas is (comparatively) cheap right now, and I like warm summers.

Back in October, Acura dealers couldn’t give the RDX away; you could buy a brand new example with all the trimmings for about $30K. And no one is buying now, either. Economic uncertainty, the prospect of skyrocketing energy costs, and a lack of overall value conspire heavily against this heavyweight.

Few cars leave me with such mixed feelings. The RDX’s engine and handling are the best you’re going to get short of the best you can get from the SUV set, but the brand’s invisibility, the CUV’s lack of practicality and efficiency, and the depreciation all steer you in a different direction. ANY different direction.

What I want is the RDX’s engine and AWD system in a 3,200lb car, not a 4,000lb tank. God only knows why Honda refuses to give us a properly turbocharged Integra replacement and hands us this instead. Wrong answer.

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Review: 2009 Acura TL Take Two Thu, 22 Jan 2009 12:27:05 +0000

Once upon a time, I mistook an automotive journalist for a member of ZZ Top. After a proper introduction, L.J.K. Setright subjected me to a twenty-minute lecture on the Euro-Accord's five-spoke wheels. He was deeply offended by the fact that the lug nuts didn't line up with the spokes. I got the message: people who truly understand and appreciate engineering excellence are wrapped WAY too tight. And yet, the desire for a meticulously designed automobile transcends geekery. The market rewards over-engineering-- or at least the aura of over-engineering (cough Mercedes cough). In that sense, the Acura brand is not without inherent appeal-- despite the TL's inability to live up to the marque's upmarket aspirations. Which is a fancy way of saying the TL is an epic fail.]]>

Once upon a time, I mistook an automotive journalist for a member of ZZ Top. After a proper introduction, L.J.K. Setright subjected me to a twenty-minute lecture on the Euro-Accord’s five-spoke wheels. He was deeply offended by the fact that the lug nuts didn’t line up with the spokes. I got the message: people who truly understand and appreciate engineering excellence are wrapped WAY too tight. And yet, the desire for a meticulously designed automobile transcends geekery. The market rewards over-engineering– or at least the aura of over-engineering (cough Mercedes cough). In that sense, the Acura brand is not without inherent appeal– despite the TL’s inability to live up to the marque’s upmarket aspirations. Which is a fancy way of saying the TL is an epic fail.

You don’t need a degree to reach that conclusion. Let’s put it this way: when a buff book says a car’s looks are “a matter of personal taste,” you know it’s Medusa-class ugly. Personally, I don’t find the Acura TL’s smiling snow plow prow grossly objectionable. Not like, say, a maggot-ridden squirrel carcass. The TL’s snout is a bit… ungainly. Like a confused squirrel before it gets run over. The TL’s central crease– an over-literal interpretation of “cutting edge”– is just plain silly. The car’s profile shows the design team how it should have been done. It’s subtle, elegant and vaguely European; a striking differentiation from the mass market machine with which the TL shares a platform.

Yes, there is that. Suffice it to say, there’s more than aesthetically challenged sheetmetal to separate the sibs. The TL offers a few extra inches of lebensraum here and there. The TL’s materials are also suitably luxe, except for the buttons, which are not. (L.J.K. would have had a conniption over the power outlet cover’s herky-jerky sliding action.) The TL’s meaty steering wheel and hooded dials are the cabin’s finest hour. But there’s no disguising the fact that there’s no “there” there. The TL is as generic as a blank box of Kleenex.

Lurking within the TL’s all-too-familiar interior: enough gizmology to annihilate the car’s resale value in ten years or less. I mean, mandate an hour-long handover and at least five post-purchase phone calls. I’m slightly skeptical about some of the toys’ utility. Why would I want to burn CDs onto a built-in hard drive when I can just plug-in my iPhone? The more I use voice recognition systems the less I use them. (Although I’m always amused by a car’s answers to life’s big questions. What’s the meaning of life? “XM channel 18 on.”) And if I can upload ten images to wallpaper the nav screen, why can’t I create a slideshow? Or can I? GPS-linked climate control? Real-time power distribution meter?

Ah yes, power. A 3.7-liter V6 powers the top spec (of the two) TL. With 305hp and 273 lbs.ft of torque on tap, the TL makes a powerful case for itself as a performance sedan. In theory. In reality, the TL’s engine is a sonic affront at anything less than 5000rpm. Whiny. Tinny. Cheap. Although the TL’s five-speed autobox has a class-leading ratio spread (how’s that for a boast?), it’s a couple of bolts short of class-compliant silkiness. Traditionally, steering feel is a Honda/Acura strong suit. In this case, the electric variable power-assisted helm is, as the Brits say, pants. The TL’s brakes are effective enough, hauling the porky four-door down from speed with fade-free confidence. But the stoppers are numb in both initial bite and subsequent modulation.

Ask any Lexus driver: a novocain nature is not the worst thing that can happen to a car. Which is why the TL’s suspension is such a shock. Literally. As far as I can tell, K Mart supplied the Acura’s independent double wishbone (front) and independent multilink (rear) components. The TL’s 18″ wheels and all-season rubber crash and thump over the slightest imperfection. At city speeds, the TL feels nervous. Jumpy. Cheap. It’s an unforgivable sin for a car cresting the $30k mark.

The only possible justification for a ride that reminds me of the last gen GT-R: super handling. While the all wheel-drive part of the TL equation keeps the Acura planted, the two-ton sedan feels more like an oak than a willow through the bends. Worse, the seats don’t offer enough bolstering when you get stuck in. The TL’s sweet spinning six delivers a lovely grinding growl at maximum revs, but there’s only one situation where the TL feels the equal of a BMW 3-Series. No wait, there isn’t.

As L.J.K. would tell you, a well-engineered car adheres to a coherent philosophy. By trying to be everything to everyone, the TL is nothing in particular to anyone, save expensive. Back to the drawing board, then. Next time, start with the wheels.

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