Will the All-New 2015 TLX Solve Acura’s Sedan Woes? – Forbes
My close friend, Greg, has spent the last 5 years complaining about Acura’s sedan offerings. He bought a new 2004 Acura TL a decade ago and loved it. His opinion wasn’t unique, as the 2004 TL was the best-selling model in Acura’s product line 10 years ago. But Acura’s ability to put a sedan at the top of its sales charts has slipped, along with the brand’s overall sales, since the mid-2000s. My friend, who hated Acura’s styling in recent years and had no interest in the current TL, was finally forced to make a decision when his 2004 model died last year on a road trip between Los Angeles and Chicago. After the dealership in Las Vegas told him the transmission was shot (the car had over 250,000 miles) he settled for a new TSX so he could complete his trip. But the TSX has left him cold, and he told me, “In a perfect world I’d find a 2004 TL with zero miles and in perfect preservation, so I could buy it and start on another 250,000 miles.” My friend Greg’s fixation with a 10-year-old model might sound like an enigma, but I met a another gentleman, Chris, during the New York auto show last spring who also owns and loves his 2004 TL. He told me he can’t find a new luxury sedan worthy of replacing it, and that includes the current TL.
Acura hopes to change the minds of customers like Greg and Chris with the all-new 2015 TLX. Mike Accavitti, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Acura Division, knows the brand needs to up its sedan game. While strong demand for the new Acura MDX and RDX crossovers has helped the automaker maintain its overall volume, sales of the RLX, TL and TSX sedans continue to struggle. After acknowledging the success of Acura’s crossovers, Accavitti told reports during the TLX press launch, “We’re turning our attention and our efforts to the sedan side of our business.” He also boasted that 40,000 online requests for information (or “hand raisers”) have been received for the new TLX, which is more than any previous Acura product launch and double the number of inquiries received during last year’s successful MDX launch. This is good, because after nearly a decade of sedan duds Acura desperately needs the TLX to succeed. At Kelley Blue Book we’ve watched cross-shopping between sedans and crossovers increase over the past year, suggesting toddy’s midsize luxury sedans face more competition than ever before, from both within and outside their traditional competitive set.
In a move that streamlines Acura’s sedan offering (and undoubtedly reflects increasing pressure from parent Honda to streamline costs at Acura…), the TLX will replace the current TL and the discontinued TSX. Acura representatives told us the current TL was too large to be a fully competitive midsize sports sedan, while the TSX didn’t have the performance or refinement needed for the segment. The 2015 TLX will straddle these outgoing models. It will feature a lower roof (by .5 inch) and smaller front and rear overhangs (making it 4 inches shorter overall) compared to the 2014 TL, yet it will offer two updated VTEC engines, two new transmissions and Acura’s next generation of advanced handling aids. This represents a level of technology the entry-level TSX never approached. According to Accavitti, Acura “…brought more new powertrain technology to bare than on any Acura model ever” when engineering the TLX. The new sedan will also benefit from the largest marketing effort Acura has ever invested in a new model. Clearly the expectations for — and pressures on — the 2015 TLX are not to be discounted. Will it deliver?
After spending nearly 300 miles in Acura’s new TLX I can confirm it’s extremely capable and highly refined. Acura did the usual body stiffening that happens during every vehicle redesign, but it also added a new sound deadening twist by sealing the body with acoustic spray foam in 10 specific areas. The result is the one of the quietest sedans I’ve experienced at highway speeds. The lower, smaller exterior, with a 15 percent reduction in aerodynamic drag, likely added to the reduced wind noise. Did shrinking the body shell reduce interior space? Not according to TLX Project Leader Mat Hargett, who told us functional interior space was not impacted, a statement backed up by our own front and rear seat tests for head and legroom. While interior space hasn’t been compromised, the new TLX continues Acura’s tradition of a dual-screen control interface and wide array of cabin materials that gives the interior a somewhat busy demeanor. It shouldn’t be a deal-killer for potential buyers, but a simpler approach with a shallower learning curve would be appreciated. Conversely, the 2015 TLX’s exterior presents a straightforward design, with standard front and rear LED lighting that’s new this year. It’s a return to the cleaner, simpler look of years past, and one that should appeal to fans of that much-acclaimed 2004-2008 TL.
Of course the primary focus of the new TLX centers on technology, which has been an Acura tradition since the brand debuted in 1986. The acronyms were flying fast and furious during the car’s technical presentation, but the biggest news comes in the form of two new drivetrains and updated versions of Acura’s Precision All-Wheel-Steer (P-AWS) and Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD). Both the smaller 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and the 3.5-liter V6 get direct injection, bumping horsepower, torque and fuel efficiency. The 2.4-liter also uses a dual stage intake manifold for a wider torque band, with peak horsepower now at 206 hp and peak torque at 182 pound-feet. Connected to a new 8-speed, dual-clutch transmission, this base drivetrain provided a superb combination of performance and refinement in a lightweight package (the 2.4-liter only comes with front-wheel drive). Acura’s Precision All-Wheel Steer and Agile Handling Assist make the 4-cylinder TLX as entertaining on a twisty road as anything sold by its German rivals. It’s also quite fuel efficient, earning 24 city, 35 highway and 28 combined mpg. At a starting price of $31,890 (including destination charge) this seems like the best value, though you can upgrade the base model with a Technology Package (navigation system, Elliot Scheiner 490-watt audio system, HD radio, dual-zone climate control, rear camera, etc.) for another $4,000.
The 3.5-liter V6 in the TLX delivers 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It’s connected to a new 9-speed automatic that earns either 21 city, 34 highway and 25 combined mpg in front-wheel-drive form or 21 city, 31 highway, 25 combined when connected to Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive. We drove both versions and enjoyed the extra power over the four-cylinder, but probably not enough to spend $36,115 for the base V6 model or $42,345 for the V6 with all-wheel drive. The all-wheel-drive technology is particularly impressive, as it can send power to an individual wheel based on steering input. This gives the TLX an almost hyperactive personality when driven aggressively through tight corners. It’s a sensation owners will likely adapt to and enjoy over time, yet we found the car’s rapid yaw rate almost disconcerting at times. Admittedly, this was when we’d placed the TLX’s Integrated Dynamics System (or IDS — more acronyms!) in its most aggressive Sport+ mode. Using the IDS’ default setting reduces the SH-AWD yaw rate to a more subtle level.
There’s no denying the 2015 Acura TLX’s technical pedigree, but are all these acronyms enough to redirect buyers of simpler (and more successful) models like the Audi Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz C-Class? Maybe, but at this point Acura should be thrilled to just win back buyers like Greg and Chris — brand loyalists waiting for a luxury sedan worthy of replacing their 10-year-old TLs. The 2015 Acura TLX, with its combination of refinement, performance, technology and styling, should finally accomplish this.