August 19, 2014

Confession #53: The thrill of an Acura isn't what's on the outside

2015 Acura TLX (Photo: Acura)
For a while now, people (myself included) had written off Acura as a maker of extremely competent sedans that didn't shout about themselves. Since the high-water marks of the mid-2000s, they took to making cars with bizarre styling that were kind of ho-hum overall.

And since then, Acura made a name for itself by building the insanely popular MDX crossover. Then they made its little brother RDX all V6 and conventional and sales took off. So why even bother with sedans anymore when the market is shifting to crossovers anyway?

Acura apparently bothered with the TLX, their new midsize sedan. Except for its overall appearance.

Acura TLX (Photo: Acura)
For years, we'd heard the successor to the once-popular TSX and TL sedans would be more fun and edgier. Then we saw the TLX "Concept" in Detroit this year and it was just a snooze-fest of marketing words.

Then we saw the real TLX in New York a couple months later and it was another 17 minutes of noise and aggressive driving videos and promises. The car itself looks like a squished Acura RLX in front, joined by various generations of Lexus IS in the back. It's not ugly, but the newness is lacking.

Between all of the talk of "dynamic" and the need for coffee, I suspected there was something good under the TLX during the New York press conference. The specs and the tech in it looked like they'd add up to something good. Then they said the magic phrase: "Don't let the power-to-weight ratio fool you."

I love a car that isn't all about 0-60 times, and I love Acura admits that they are giving us by and large the same kind of engine that was in the old TSX – a sweet 2.4-liter four with 200-ish horsepower, but mated this time to a clever dual-clutch auto. And it's apparently the pick of the bunch, which will no doubt confuse shoppers.

I'm seeing the TLX ad featuring Sid Vicious-meets-Frank Sinatra nonstop right now. I laugh when the word "thrill" is used to describe an Acura sedan, but after seeing it a few dozen times it isn't quite as silly now.

Except when you get to the end of the ad and there's this mash of Japanese design from the last decade.

2009 Acura TL
Historically, Acuras have never been styling statements. When they tried, they got the Power Plenum grille that sabotaged TL sales and made every car they made look buck-toothed. Sure, they're giving the lineup googly headlights now, but the design has shifted far too much into the restraint category. And that undermines any interesting traits they want to promote. Who is this car for, then?

Acura customers will like the TLX. Honda customers will like it, too. But who else will, after all the technical explaining is done?

Perhaps instead of "It's that kind of thrill," Acura could've been honest and said "It's some kind of thrill." Ad people will scoff at that, but hey, the truth works sometimes. Those of us who nerd out on technical stuff will be amused, but I don't think that's the kind of thrill they were talking about.

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