Inertia Report: Acura Is Pointed in the Right Direction, a Slight Change in Ideology Is All That's Needed
Life Comes At You Fast
"They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."
~ Andy Warhol ~
Oh indeed, how times have changed. And how Acura has slowly changed it’s public perception and is still doing so. I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that I haven’t been this ecstatic for an Acura to be released since the NSX took 10 years to respawn itself. Yet here we are, in the looney year of 2020 awaiting the 2021 Acura TLX, specifically, the Type-S variant. And I am pumped. Super Handling All-Wheel Drive is standard. With a turbocharged 3.0L V6, and performance DNA from that very aforementioned NSX, the car is gearing up to be a strong rival for the germans.
Now, let’s take a breath. Let’s come back down to reality, and look at the facts presented to us. It is without doubt, now more than ever, that Acura wants to be taken seriously among the Japanese luxury brands. Whether they will be taken seriously depends on Acura’s actions beyond the TLX moving forward, but dropping a TLX Type-S sized bomb, in the wake of Lexus being very complacent with F Division cars and Nissan doing god knows what with Infiniti, is a clear sign of war. Acura, if the right moves are made, will do what those brands failed to execute properly. But will they?
Reality check: I personally believe the Type-S is a flash in the pan. Specs have not been revealed at all yet, but simply looking at it and acknowledging the fact that this is still, at the end of the day, a Honda, I don’t expect much. This car isn’t swapping hands with the incoming M3, although I feel Acura should aim that high with it. It will instead target the M340i and Audi S4’s of the world, quite simply, because its a Honda.
According to Edmunds, the interior is nice but looks very Honda-ish. It borrows a 10-Speed Automatic from the Honda Accord. And everyone expects the TLX Type-S to make about 350-400 HP, maybe less. It is a Honda. Suspend your belief in realism.
In doing all of this, Acura has used this initial barrage to get into the room. But a pass to stay in the room is hard to come by, just ask Cadillac. And a reservation to sit at the table requires even more credentials. How does Acura take its rightful seat at the table? The answer is simple: Truthfully extend this new performance-based ideology towards your entire brand.
This does indeed start with the 2021 TLX. Not much can be done about the Inline-4’s initial power output rating of 272 HP, which is healthy for this segment, as the BMW 330i only makes 255 HP. That said, the outgoing TLX’s V6 makes 290 HP, so during the mid-cycle refresh, a healthy 200 HP bump-up to 292 HP wouldn’t hurt the four-banger one bit. Acura should also take great care in making this sound like the best Inline-4 they can because sound attracts. And having an Inline-4 sound good definitely does not hurt when trying to get customers into dealerships. Or in these times, customers ordering the car online.
To further add on to this, during the TLX’s mid-cycle refresh, a number of other changes should take hold. A newly designed interior for one, with a primary focus on the Infotainment System. While the rear seat space the TLX provides is very welcome, the experience from the driver seat could definitely be improved. And this is something I can already tell without even needing to drive the car. Furthermore, get rid of the FWD as an option. Embrace the Subaru way of life and make the entire lineup AWD. Acura is definitely proud of its Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, so it should flaunt it in the boldest way possible. This also distinguishes the cars further from their Honda roots. And finally, that M3 killing Acura we all want. That’s what the Type-S should be. A 500-515 HP dog-of-war. Yet, that would leave a mid-ranged hole in the lineup. This is why Acura should take the A-spec trim a bit more seriously. Treat it as more than an appearance package. With a 360-380 HP 3.0L Turbocharged V6, it would be a good foil to a BMW 340i. And that would definitely leave the door open for a 500+ HP, M3 hunting Type-S.
This leaves the rest of the lineup, I was initially taken aback to find out that Acura only has six vehicles for sale right now, including the NSX. (I didn’t pay much attention to Acura in the grand scheme of things admittedly) However, this low-volume output actually makes things more manageable. The Acura RDX should get redesigned for 2020, with a more sport-oriented approach. Borrowing the powertrain & Interior approach from the TLX, including the new 500+ HP Type-S powertrain, should make it more than formidable enough as a performance SUV.
The Acura ILX follows in much the same vein, getting relaunched sometime around the 2022 model year. With a 242 HP, 2.0L i-Vtec engine as the base engine mated to a 10-speed auto, the car should be fine starting out. Taking from the lessons learned from the TLX interior refresh design experiment, the ILX gets a better interior as well. In fact, these new Interior cues spread towards the whole lineup as well. An A-spec mid-level performance model comes out making 363 HP from a tuned version of that i-Vtec engine. An even more powerful Type-S model comes out making 414 HP, also from a turbocharged version of the i-Vtec 2.0L Inline-4. Acura can also launch a new SUV with the same powertrain options to become an entry-level stablemate to the ILX at this end of the market.
Acura has openly said that they are discontinuing the RLX, but I feel a 2022 return of the nameplate would do Acura some good. A BMW 5-Series competitor, especially after the pushes made above, would do wonders for the brand, which has invigorated itself. Its SUV counterpart, the Acura MDX is no exception. Taking into account that these vehicles are meant to be driver-focused from their conception, they will be brilliant driving machines. Combined with the upgraded interior quality & standard AWD, we find ourselves with Acura’s that compete with the big dogs of the field. But what is competing in the full-sized luxury sedan/SUV segment? While the 10-Speed Auto doesn’t change, this is still a Honda, a 380 HP, 3.0L turbocharged V6 starts your lineup off proper. A performance package, called the PMC, adds some power, boosting output to 424 HP. The A-spec trim brings on the 500-515 HP 3.0L first introduced in the TLX Type-S. But the Type-S variants for the redesigned MDX & all-new RDX should be special. Drawing on the hybrid tech from the NSX, a 626 HP total output is reached, using a 505 HP 3.0L Turbocharged V6 as the base engine.
Going a step further, I’d say that around 2024, Acura should flex to truly show what it’s capable of. Bringing back the Integra or Legend nameplate as a mid-level sports car or Mercedes S-Class competitor would truly be bold. Show off that performance-oriented hybrid tech, along with the brand's new approach to interior luxury. Hell, go so far as to make the 3rd generation NSX, the current one is starting to age, it’s been 5 years since it’s release. And its things like these that will put Acura on the map again, from irrelevancy to blindingly in your face. The changes I've proposed would truly revamp Acura’s lineup, making them serious contenders for years to come if they keep up the good work. Is any of this fantasy rebrand likely to happen? Most likely, it will not. Being real, these are still Honda's, and a very Honda approach will be taken. But Acura has said that during its development, it nicknamed the 2021 TLX "the Seven-Second Knockout," because the goal of the brand's new sports sedan is to knock you flat on your ass. Let’s hope this train of thought spreads to the rest of the lineup in the years to come, so Acura can truly return to form. They have my attention now, more importantly, they have the world's attention now. We will be watching closely.
© 2020 Joshua Nightshade