The Acura types who are engineering the top-to-bottom remake of Honda’s upscale brand will talk about many things, from sales to customer service, from ongoing improvements to the ILX compact entry to the upcoming all-new MDX sport-utility and even the importance of the next new Acura, the RL replacement now dubbed the 2014 RLX.
And, yes, this new sedan is important, aimed at competing with BMW’s 5-Series, Jaguar’s XF, the Audi A6, the Lexus GS, Infiniti’s M models and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The RLX, for the record, is a packaging marvel. It has a huge cabin with limousine-like space in the back seat and a trunk that will hold four full sets of golf clubs, 14 clubs in each bag, extra balls, umbrellas, shoes and rain gear.
The car’s design is clean and modern and the instruments and controls are simple to understand and generally intuitive to use, right down to the dual display screens that separate various functions for ease of use.
Yes, you read that right. The miasma of buttons and knobs and switches that have plagued Acura models for years – and confused customers – has been tidied up. The new 310-horsepower, direct-injected V-6 has plenty of power, nails the fuel economy race (10.5 litres/100 km city/6.4 highway/8.6 combined). And an all-wheel-drive “sport hybrid” version (370 hp) promises to be a showcase for new thinking about gasoline-electric hybrids when it arrives in November or so.
But before I discuss anything else about Acura’s renovation, before I navigate the spin about the Concierge service Acura buyers will be able to get as an option with their new car, let me turn to the one thing Acura types are reluctant to delve into beyond a few cursory comments: the 2013 Acura NSX concept. Oh, my.
That car is still dancing about in my mind’s eye. As one wag at the Detroit auto show said in conversation at the car’s debut last month, Acura may yet find ways to remove the car’s coolness before putting it into production, but for now we should all admire this design. It’s stunning.
When will it be in showrooms? Ah, well, this is where the Acura people hedge, hum and haw. In Detroit, Honda/Acura’s marketing boss, Mike Accavitti, said the car will go into production in about two years. So 2015 or thereabouts? Ah, yes. Thereabouts.
The successor to the brilliant NSX, which went out of production in 2005, is something to behold – at least the concept we saw in Detroit. It was an updated version of the NSX concept we saw at the 2012 Detroit show; that earlier version made Acura dealers weep with joy and admiration when they first saw it. No doubt some of them were dreaming of the money they might make selling Acuras if this NSX were actually on the dealership floor bringing in gawkers and buyers.
Why? Well, think about it. When the first NSX arrived in the 1990s, just three years after Acura launched in Canada as the first Japanese luxury brand (that was 26 years ago and I’m feeling old because I remember it like yesterday), Acura’s mid-engine, all-aluminum supercar was a revelation. If the 2015-or-thereabouts NSX comes close to matching that NSX as a Ferrari/Lamborghini killer, gearheads and art lovers together will weep for joy. I remember too well slashing through corners in the lightweight, 270-hp original. Brilliant. Imagine what 25 years of engineering advances will have wrought in a Honda/Acura supercar. Just imagine.
As John Pearley Huffman recently noted at BBC Autos, the NSX forced Ferrari to build better Ferraris – lighter and more powerful and, because the NSX had bullet-proof reliability, less finicky supercars, as well. If the next NSX is what we’re told it will be, if it is a hybrid with three electric motors (one at each front wheel and a third at the rear), a powerful direct injection V-6 and all-wheel-drive, then the upcoming NSX might revolutionize exotic sports cars in ways that make the original NSX look like the Flintstone-mobile by comparison.
The point here is that Honda has a plan for Acura and it’s wrapped up in a combination of products and customer service. The new NSX will be the cherry on top of this layer cake of Acura improvements, each coming to the marketplace, one by one. I want to drive that cherry NSX, sooner not later.
In the meantime, I’ve put some seat time into the 2014 RLX and I’m impressed. I will tell you though, right up front, that if you are a BMW or a Mercedes person, then even the Acura people don’t expect you to jump the German ship and buy their RLX. Not going to happen. Audi aficionados aren’t likely to make that move, either.
But your Lexus GS type? Maybe. And certainly Accord buyers who have moved up from middle management into the corporate vice-presidential ranks, those in the $200,000/year income bracket, they might see the RLX as a reasonable step up into the world of premium automobiles.
Acura’s selling points for the RLX – which will be priced in the $50,000-$70,000 range, depending on trim level and options – boil down to this: compared to rival sedans in the mid-luxury segment, the RLX has a more spacious cabin, more high-end content and equal or better performance.
Meanwhile, against higher-end luxury models, the RLX has dramatically better fuel economy, more features for the price, a cabin and trunk space equal or better than the class leaders and loads of technology: what Acura is calling P-AWS for Precision All-Wheel Steering; Adaptive Cruise Control; the Lane Keeping Assist System; three-zone climate control; the interactive AcuraLink interface that will do all sorts of high-tech hijinks; and the Krell sound system exclusive only to Acura.
Meanwhile, to clean up the control layout, Acura has also wisely gone with a touch-screen interface for the navigation system, while below is a second touch-screen display for the audio and climate control system. Gone are all the redundant controls that plagued past Acuras and were a visual nightmare of complexity.
So forget about the old RL, the outgoing one that was overpriced and an under-performer. The 2014 RLX is entirely new, one for which I will have driving impressions in a few weeks’ time.
Until then, I’m going back to my 2015-or-thereabout NSX daydreams. By the time that car goes on sale, we’ll also know if the Acura remake is real in every way, from the showrooms to, more importantly, what’s shown in them.