Acura’s 2015 TLX makes a quiet statement – MarketWatch

Posted: Saturday, November 01, 2014

There are a lot of lovely sedans you can buy for between $30,000 and $50,000. Indeed, so many that I can imagine car shoppers, especially couples, reaching an impasse over the decision. This is a chink of daylight for the new Acura TLX.

It’s the upscale midsize family sedan you buy when you can’t make up your mind. Not too spendy, not too speedy, not too gassy (although the four-cylinder version drinks premium gasoline, which stings a bit), and not too pushy. The new TLX is pleasantly rounded and averaged and harmonized in a way that could be catnip for suburban un-deciders.

This is not a trivial position in the market. As any car dealer will tell you, consumers are blithering idiots in showrooms. They don’t know what they want. Not only that, the products in the TLX’s competitive segment—call it premium/entry luxury, including Cadillac ATS, Lexus ES 350, Volvo S60—are photo-finish close in many metrics. Who can decide?

Common sense suggests if competitive cars are materially and functionally equal—and market forces would almost guarantee they are, big picture—what people buy is the image, the brand, the styling. This is no earthshaking insight.

But has anyone given any thought to upscale consumers who don’t particularly care to make a statement? These consumers would like to abstain, if it’s all the same to you, from the sweaty exertions of Cadillac’s and Lexus’s styling departments. They don’t want a car that looks like a filter feeder or a spaceship. Maybe they don’t like Volvos because Sweden has Obamacare.

Maybe you like the German cars in the 2- and 3-liter class—BMW 3 and 5 sedans, Mercedes-Benz C and E class, Audi A4 and A6—but you just can’t bring yourself to pay the brand premium that you know in your heart is baked into the price. I feel you. Some ancient Scottishness roils my guts when I think about paying that kind of ransom to the Hun. Arr!

The naturally aspirated six doesn’t have the cammy edge and bite of the German competitors’ turbo engines, and the TLX steering mechanism feels connected to the wheels by way of a seance.

(An aside: It may make you feel better to know German car makers take a beating on price in the U.S.)

Maybe, for whatever reason, you resist the optics of owning a high-tone European sedan. Perhaps you are in public service or a member of a religious community. Suddenly, from binders full of possible cars, you’re reduced to one.

Built for Americans by Americans, in Marysville, Ohio, the TLX is a new car for Honda’s premium Acura brand, which discontinued the TSX (smaller) and TL (larger) for model year 2015 and split the difference with the TLX, a close relative of the Honda Accord. But the two cars feel quite a bit different. Among the TLX’s soothing attributes is a deep quietude across a range of frequencies. This thing punches way above its weight class in cabin refinement.

The nice man from Honda explained that, seizing a competitive advantage in NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), the TLX is stuffed to the gills with sound-deadening foams and panels; the 3.5-liter V6 is mounted to the chassis with computer-controlled active engine mounts to quell transient rocking during gear shifts or, in the case of the V6, the cycling of the idle stop. Also on the menu: Active noise cancellation in the cabin.

The sum acoustical effect is persuasive, if just a bit too much like a decompression chamber for me.


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