In reporting Acura’s business history, past products and present lineup, notes on that history typically chronicle those instances when Honda’s upscale division has lost its way. Whether touching on the well-established ‘Legend’ nameplate and the decision to replace it with ‘RL’, or discontinuing the entry-level RSX not long before rival automakers (notably, BMW and Mercedes) fully embrace lesser equipped models with significantly lower price points, the ‘down’ periods of Acura typically get as much ink as the ‘up’ periods, when Acura appears to be running on all (six) cylinders. With all of that, with the debut of Acura’s all-new 2015 TLX we had such high hopes.
In an aggressive attempt to revive Acura’s sedan mojo for the 2015 model year, Acura’s management elected to drop the at-one-time-entry-level TSX and mid-level TL, replace both with a merger of the pair’s best attributes and dub the end result TLX. If observers and consumers had failed to notice the absence of the TSX and TL…well, that’s at least part of the problem. The TSX, in occupying the lower rung of a three tier strategy, closely resembled the Euro-spec Accord from a footprint standpoint, and handled like the Euro-spec chassis from a dynamic standpoint. Arguably the most tossable platform since the RSX, the TSX was an extremely nice blend of competent design, recreational handling and an accessible price point. And no one noticed…
In the mid-2000s the midsize TL (then in its 3rd generation) appeared as a sweet spot in the Acura lineup. With proportions and detailing that recalled – at least to this eye – Alfa Romeo’s 164, the TL was perhaps the most elegant offering to have come (at least in 4-door form) from Honda’s design studios since, perhaps, the Legend. In the 2009 redesign the needle had definitely moved, with the model’s elegance displaced by more controversial design cues. Those were eventually reined in, but the damage appears to have been done; the ‘TL’ tag is dropped from Acura’s lexicon.
The TLX takes a footprint similar to that of the last TL, applies sheetmetal that is at once both more expressive (in its side sculpting) and more conservative (in its front fascia) than that which it replaces, and equips the platform with both four cylinder and V6 powerplants. The drivetrain is either front-wheel drive (four cylinder and V6) or Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (V6 only). And for those models with front-wheel drive, Acura has added Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS – get it?). In adjusting the toe angle of each rear wheel, the driver will experience an increase in both agility and stability.
Throw in – or, more accurately, engineer – a supple suspension, quiet interior and comfortable accommodation, and it would seem as if Acura had regained its stride. Regrettably, the end result left me feeling flat, especially in light of a $46K window sticker. While sheetmetal is wholly subjective, the expressive nature of the TLX sheetmetal is more Altima than allegro; at a time when Acura wants to be on the consideration list of Audi, BMW and Mercedes prospects, a look that seems to recall – if not mimic – Nissan’s volume sedan would seem to miss the mark (and marque).
From a platform standpoint, the TLX’s Integrated Dynamic System provides four choices for your motoring pleasure, but ‘Sport’ seems less than sporty, while Sport+ is overtly abrupt, with throttle blips and rev-matching downshifts. That abruptness would be just fine were I a male millennial, but if that I wouldn’t be shopping for a $46K Acura. I might, however, consider the TLX’s 4-cylinder alternative with front-wheel drive. There, the price of admission is below $35K, and seems a fair price for a fair amount of content. With that, if someone – like CarBuzzard’s editor-in-chief – were to hand me $46K to spend on Honda product, I believe I’d head toward a Honda showroom; or, more accurately, a couple of them.
In meeting my needs for a 4-door sedan, I defy anyone to justify spending more than the $34K Honda wants for its Accord in ‘Touring’ trim. Equipped with essentially the same 3.5 liter V6 as the TLX, a leather-appointed interior and virtually all of the connectivity, there is only the absence of available all-wheel drive to cause any head scratching. And as most of us remember, winters in the snowbelt were safely negotiated for any number of years with only front-wheel drive and a good set of winter snow tires. Subjectively, we think the Accord sheetmetal will look better after 48 or 60 monthlies, and most Honda retail outlets offer both good coffee and a credible sales process.
With the $12K (or so) remaining in our vehicular fund we’ll head to a Honda motorcycle showroom. And while there are numerous on-road or dual-purpose choices for that $12K, we’ll put ourselves on Honda’s retro-esque take on the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle). For a window (if it had a window) of $10,400, Honda’s CB1100 provides four cylinders of refinement, styling cues that will transport you back at least 25 years, and an ease of ownership that will allow a recreational purchase to remain fully recreational. And – thankfully – it doesn’t need an Integrated Dynamics System, as on a 4-cylinder bike it’s all Sport+.
The marketing and product mavens at Acura should beg, borrow or steal a 2005 TL, take it home for the weekend, and then take it apart. If Acura’s sedan offerings are to go forward, the product team could do far worse than gazing backward.