The Speculator: Advancing Acura Further

2015 Acura TLX
The first order of business… Photo by Randy Stern

For those of us who thought Acura for "lame," you have seen the NSX prototype right?

Before we get into the NSX and the potential to give Acura some legs in this market again, this Speculator was rooted in a challenge. You see, Honda North America wants to position Acura back to what it once was – the original Japanese premium brand in this market. By "original," Acura wants more than a piece of the Lexus/Infiniti business and cache, but to do so the way they originally set out to be.

Remember when Acura actually stole sales from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac? That was the late 1980s when Honda sold the Integra and Legend to a new kind of consumer. Their pricing was on point – a discount off of the Germans and American luxury brands. They were also well built, well designed and lasted quite a long time. Not only that, Acura raised the level of sales and post-sales relationships with their customers. Consider the four J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Index wins Acura achieved in their first years as a brand.

Instead of lamenting what happened since 1991, Acura is looking forward – advancing the brand further. Their lineup is shaping up to a three sedan, two crossover/SUV strategy. The NSX is to be the halo. The question is…what is Acura? How will the Caliper return to the prominence it had when they were the only brand of its kind?

We may be witnessing some of it already. However, the Speculator figures there may be more coming our way.

THE TLX: Before the NSX shows up in Acura showrooms, the next big launch is the mid-sized model that will replace two products. The idea is to merge the TSX and the TL into a singular model aimed at the likes of the Infiniti Q50, Lexus ES and GS, Volvo S60 and Audi A4. Price points should reflect the competition, but enticing enough for consumers to want to own.

We already know of three drivelines for the TLX. The corporate 2.4liter four-cylinder will drive the front wheels with a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. The only confirmed upgrade is the familiar 3.5liter V6 mated to a new nine-speed automatic transmission with a choice of front- or the Super Handling All-Wheel drive (SH-AWD). The TLX will also receive the option of P-AWS, the all-wheel steering system currently on the RLX – only available on the front-wheel-drive models.

There is one thing that could lock in the TLX's future – Sport Hybrid. There are two options Acura could take. Either it could drop the Honda Accord Hybrid's i-MMD driveline or the RLX's V6/three electric motor Sport Hybrid system with SH-AWD. It might be logical to add Accord's four-cylinder system to differentiate from the RLX, while promoting potential fuel economy figures that would entice green consumers from other premium brands.

But, would you call it a "Sport Hybrid" if the TLX used the Accord's i-MMD driveline? Maybe…

FURTHER EXPANSION OF "SPORT HYBRID": If the RLX Sport Hybrid becomes a smash, one would expect Acura to add this across their lineup.

The opportunities are there considering what other brands have done in this arena. The MDX would be a natural candidate for the system. Yet, the MDX would have to have some substantial engineering changes done to accommodate the RLX's system with its multiple electric motors and battery pack. The RDX is a possibility. As with the TLX, it would depend on which system Acura would choose for their premium small crossover.

Yet the Sport Hybrid expansion should not take a "me, too" approach. It has to be methodical with an air that this system works better than its competitors. The system has to fit the vehicle that would be a donor for the system.

WHAT ABOUT THE ILX? When it was introduced, you could hear the whispers of whether this sedan is a true successor to the Integra line. Many fellow pundits walked away with mixed feelings – none of them agreeing on its succession of the Integra's heritage. Sales have not reflected these notions either.

How do you do justice to Ye Ole Integra to bring their enthusiasts back to the fold? The ILX sedan is a good start. Yes, you do need the hybrid to placate upcoming Federal fuel economy rules. But, one should examine the four generations of Integras/RSXs to unlock the ILX's potential.

Could a coupe solve the problem? Not a reconstituted Civic Coupe, but a true hatchback that has a good cargo hold along with the practicality you expected from the Integra/RSX. There is a problem, however. Presently, only a few diehard enthusiasts would want a coupe. Hatchbacks are a crapshoot, which only works in mainstream subcompact and compacts cars. But, hell, why not? Integra 3-doors traditionally outsold their 4-door counterparts – hence why the RSX was made as a 3-door.

If at all else, the ILX needs to not be as stodgy as it is today. It needs an infusion of sport to go along with that luxury. It needs to harken back to the days of the Integra and RSX. It has to induce some excitement for a small luxury car.

THE NSX: There is no doubt in anyone's mind that this car is for real. The prototype has been out and has since been revised serving only as a reminder that Acura has not forgotten the sports car owner.

However, we already know what it looks like. We already know some of the technology the new NSX will employ. The questions only focus on the details. Yes, it will have SH-AWD, but what is really going to be under the hood? Is it a Sport Hybrid system with an emphasis on the electric motors over the gas engine? What are the horsepower and performance benchmarks the NSX need to make to ensure its place in that segment? Are there other engineering details that are unknown – gearbox details, for example?

The NSX is a car that fields many questions. None of which is the big one: When will we see it in an Acura showroom in North America? It is at the point where the allure of the enigma is wearing off.

But, before we get to "job one" in Ohio, a few points need to be made about what to expect from the new NSX. If it is to be attainable by enthusiasts, it needs to clear 500 horsepower at the minimum. That has to depend on the gas-electric combination to achieve such performance and power. Regardless of horsepower point, we would expect sub-four second performance on the 0-60MPH sprint. Maybe the target would be in the low three-second mark. If you peruse the photos on the Acura website, the tale is simple: This will not be any old sports car or supercar. This is going to be a well-thought out and targeted machine that enthusiasts will celebrate – or fear.

Acura needs to build the NSX. Not just for the Acura brand in North America, but for the world. And, it has to be built right the first time and many times over – just like the original.

BRING BACK THE NAMES: As a former Acura owner, I understand the need for letter nomenclatures. The premium car game is littered with them – thank you, Germany. But, what will sell an Acura if it is not as distinctive as its name?

What happened to "Integra" and "Legend?" Not sure, but one could speculate why names had to be shelved in favor of letters. The original NSX could be to blame, but why do that to one of the most iconic cars of its time? It is not without argument that a brand simply ran out of names, yet I could see the RLX eventually be called the Legend again. The current model truly befits that lineage. Yet, to rename that model as such as to speak of heritage and the positive affects of the first two generations of Acura's big car.

The ILX – if you read above – would probably help its own cause by being called the Integra again. The name has a cache that evokes enthusiasts' memories of SCCA races, sports compact customizing and a car that truly held its own in its time.

Which leaves the other models to find names. What would you call the RDX, the MDX and the TLX if it had a proper name? That is actually a good problem to have. However, it is best to leave the NSX name alone. That nomenclature has a cache of its own.

Understand that this Speculator piece is done with love. Acura has been a good brand for V&R and we certainly want a good thing to continue, grow and return to a position of leadership it once had over two decades ago. Acura is regaining an identity for the brand – which cannot be said of a few others amongst it competitors.

Once it hones in its six-vehicle lineup, expect that special feeling to return to the Caliper badge. Think of it as 1986 all over again. That we want to see!

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