First Drive: 2015 Acura TLX

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It has been a long time, more than a decade, since you could put “Acura” and “fun to drive” in the same sentence. But the Japanese automaker unleashed its engineers and let them create a car that is indeed a watershed.

The 2015 Acura TLX replaces the Acura TSX and TL. Neither midsize sedan could be called a rousing success. Worse, the TL grew to be almost as big as Acura’s flagship RL sedan, throwing the automaker’s lineup out of whack.

The premium and luxury car markets used to be mannerly, almost sedate, but not anymore. Though it was the first Asian luxury brand in the U.S. market, Acura got left at the gate by Infiniti and Lexus. Now, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have risen to their challenge, and from Acura’s standpoint, there is a resurgent Audi and a rejuvenated Cadillac too compete with as well.

In short, you’ve got to have a great product to even call yourself a premium or luxury brand these days. It seems that Acura’s head honchos have gotten that message and allowed some of the best engineers around to develop the all new TLX. The midsize luxury sedan’s overall length has been shortened from the old TL, but the wheelbase length remained. That means the back seats of the TLX are spacious, comfortable and can carry two full-sized adults with no problem. But the real story here is under the TLX’s hood.

First, there’s a 2015 Acura TLX with a 2.4-liter four cylinder engine with an eight-speed dual clutch transmission and P-AWS. This engine makes 206 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. There’s also a TLX with a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic. The model comes with either P-AWS or Acura’s SH-AWD.

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First Drive: 2014 Acura MDX

Acura practically invented the segment for luxury CUVs with three rows with the introduction of the first MDX in 2001, and now Acura is introducing the third generation of this vehicle with the 2014 model year with significant upgrades over the previous model. The market for 7-passenger luxury CUVs in now crowded with very healthy competition from other luxury brands, but Acura will remain very competitive with this all-new MDX. I had the opportunity to drive the new model and I came away very impressed.

Exterior

The changes to the exterior design of the MDX aren’t dramatic, as Acura sticks with its wedge-shaped grille for the front end, but the Jewel Eye LED headlights give the vehicle a much more modern look and feel as you can see from the photos above. The new headlights also provide superior road light and visibility as well. Acura slightly altered the size of vehicle, making it slightly narrower and longer. The new MDX is two inches longer with a 2.8-inch longer wheelbase which helps to enhance ride quality. Meanwhile, the vehicle width was reduced by 1.3 inches. The frontal area of the vehicle is also 2-percent smaller which helped to provide for greater aerodynamic efficiency. While the vehicle looks more modern with a number of refinements to the design, it retains the sporty essence that makes it an attractive option in this segment.

Interior

Acura strived to make significant improvements to the interior of the MDX with the goal of creating “synergy between man and machine.” The result was a very luxurious and practical driving experience that will appeal to buyers in this segment. The overall feel is modern and sophisticated and I experienced a very comfortable drive that will meet the expectations of the target market.

I particularly liked the improvements to the center stack. The center console storage area is large and well thought out with a handy slot for mobile phone storage. The sliding lid above the storage area and below the leather-trimmed top is equipped with rubber strips which prevents items like phones from sliding around.

Another feature that stood out for me was the turn-by-turn navigation feature in the main dashboard which compliments the main navigation system in the center stack, letting drivers see instructions in their direct line of site without needing to turn their heads to the main display panel in the center stack. The MDX also features a new 7-inch color On Demand Multi-Use Display touchscreen with haptic feedback which helped to reduce the number of hard buttons in the center stack from 41 to 9.

For the third row seats, Acura wanted to make it easier to get in and out, so they added a very convenient “one push” button in two different places for second row seats. With the longer wheelbase, the new MDX now has 4.5-inch wider foot entry point for third-row passengers along with a 1.8-inch lower floor height for easier step-in. With the new
Extended Slide second-row seats the process of getting into the third row is now much easier.

Performance

The new MDX is powered by a direct-injected 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 engine, generating 290 horsepower at 6,200 rpm; 267 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm and 267 lb.-ft. of peak torque. The aluminumV-6 engine is paired with a reengineered 6-speed automatic transmission that provides reduced friction and smoother gear changes. I drove the all-wheel drive model and was very impressed with the responsiveness and acceleration. I’m partial to vehicles that offer different driving modes so I was happy to see that the MDX offers Sport, Normal and Comfort modes. You can really have fun with the Sport mode option and the paddle shifters, and when you’re stuck in slower traffic you can save more fuel with the Comfort mode. Speaking of fuel, the 2014 MDX also achieves best-in-class fuel economy with 18/27/21 MPG city/highway/combined for the AWD package.

Overview

The MDX is a family-friendly vehicle that also meets the expectations of luxury buyers. It’s a beautiful vehicle, inside and out, and it’s loaded with all the luxuries and amenities you’d expect from today’s luxury vehicles. Buyers with families will also appreciate all of the safety features as well. Prices range from roughly $42,290 for the base 2-wheel drive model to $56,505 range for the fully loaded SH-AWD model. If you’re in the market for a luxury CUV the MDX should be on your list.

  

First Drive: 2014 Acura RLX

He kept taunting me from the rearview mirror, daring me to bury the needle even further, to more aggressively attack the relentless twists and turns ahead of me, to see just how far I could push this beast of a car I was driving. The motorcycle driver behind me had an advantage, of course, being able to take the hairpin curves of the road at a higher speed than I could, and he also seemed to know the area intimately, weaving his way around each bend in the road with confidence, no matter how severe, as if he knew each was coming miles ahead of time. I too had an advantage, however, specifically the 310-HP V6 engine under the hood of the all-new 2014 Acura RLX I was driving through a winding road in Napa Valley. The biker may have had the upper hand on the curves, but I owned the rest of the road. He’d inch closer when I slowed down ahead of a particularly sharp corner, but the RLX left him in the dust when the road opened up ahead of us again, effortlessly accelerating as I watched the biker shrink in my mirror. Unfortunately, the RLX handled the curves on our route much better than my wife’s stomach did, so I wisely chose marital peace with my white-knuckled passenger over my inflated ego and eventually let the biker pass. But he knew. And I knew he knew.

PERFORMANCE

Clearly, Acura’s new luxury sedan is a blast to drive, which is why they invited us out to Solage Calistoga in Napa Valley to drive the RLX. The twists and turns in the surrounding roads were the perfect setting to test the limits of this direct-injection 3.5L V6 sedan, whose Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) system offered instantaneous and precise control through even the tightest of corners during our test drive. While my wife would argue that I took the turns too fast, the precision the P-AWS system offers assured me that I was only scratching the surface. My biker friend got off easy!

During our time at Solage, Acura talked about the three pillars of their Smart Luxury approach, the first of which is sustainability. The four-door RLX drives and responds like a sports car, displaying impressive agility through the winding roads with instantaneous acceleration, particularly when Sport Mode is enabled. And yet, those 310 horses deliver class-leading economy with 24 combined MPG, including 31 MPG on the highway.

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We also really enjoyed the Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow, which is easily activated from the steering wheel. As someone who relies on cruise control during long drives, I loved how easily this system works, and just how responsive it is. Just set the speed as you normally would with cruise control, then set your desired distance from the car in front of you. The RLX will then speed up and slow down based on how fast or slow the car in front of you is driving. If they come to a stop at a stop sign, you’ll stop too. But, as Acura warned us when we buckled up for our test drive, if that car rolls through the stop sign, you’ll roll right with them! Combined with the Lane Keeping Assist system, this Adaptive Cruise Control speaks to the second pillar in Acura’s Smart Luxury approach: Time is luxury.

INTERIOR

Acura aimed for customization, ease of use and intuitive controls with the RLX. Mission accomplished. Most notable is the debut of the next-generation AcuraLink connected car system, a cloud-based application that allows drivers to access information like near real-time surface street traffic information and media feeds from sources like Twitter and Facebook while providing a Pandora interface, Bluetooth connectivity, text-to-voice SMS texting and much more, all without taking your eyes off the road or even picking up your phone. The RLX also comes standard with a beautiful seven-inch On-Demand Multi-Use Display with audible and tactile feedback, and audiophiles will want to upgrade to the Acura/ELS Studio Premium Audio System, a 14-speaker marvel that was developed with the help of Grammy winning producer and engineer Elliot Scheiner. This system must be heard to be believed.

Gadgets and gizmos aside, the interior of the RLX exudes luxury, with its heated 12-way adjustable seats and the stitched leather on the steering wheel, console and instrument panel, which looked even more impressive all lit up at night. In fact, after our initial late-afternoon test drive, we hopped back into the RLX with a couple of our fellow testers and headed to nearby Cade Winery for an amazing dinner, and the panel was quite a sight. Additionally, the RLX boasts the most spacious five-passenger seating in its class, which our backseat passengers most definitely appreciated on our way to dinner that night.

EXTERIOR

The RLX is quite an impressive piece of machinery, inside and out, with a look that will surely help it stand out in this crowded class. Most striking are the Jewel Eye headlights, a set of 10 LEDs stacked in two rows which give the RLX a distinctive appearance while providing improved brightness, distribution and down-the-road illumination on our drive to Cade Winery.

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While the RLX doesn’t necessarily break any new design ground, it clearly is an improvement over its predecessor, the RL. Most impressive is the RLX’s ability to appeal to those looking for the room of a full-sized sedan while still maintaining the look and feel of a mid-sized sedan with its wide, athletic stance that just begs you to see what’s under the hood.

CONCLUSION

The final pillar of Acura’s Smart Luxury approach is value, and with a base of around $48,000, the RLX has an advantage over competitors like the Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6. Those are some heavy hitters, to be sure, but with the RLX representing improvement by leaps and bounds over the RL, and with a truly impressive set of features that enhances the driving experience, Acura is ready to do some heavy hitting of its own with its new flagship sedan.

  

Acura’s badass NSX Concept

Acura unveiled an updated version of their NSX Concept at the Detroit Auto Show that they first showed off last year. As you can see from the photo above, this supercar is going to get some serious attention when it goes into production for 2014. See more photos of this gorgeous vehicle here, and you can read about the interior features added to the NSX Concept 2.0 here.

  

First Drive: 2013 Acura RDX

At first glance the new Acura RDX may not seem entirely new, but underneath the revised sheet metal lies an entirely new car. Not only is it new, but it has been reconfigured for the customers that actually bought the original one. The first RDX was meant for young, aggressive A-type personalities, but this one is meant for the aging boomers that actually bought the car. However, that doesn’t mean that this car is any worse for it.

Refined Looks

To attract the young go-getters, the first-gen RDX was chiseled and sharp. But older professionals aren’t known for their edgy styling and forward thinking outfits. Because of this, the new RDX has been softened all around. Gone are the chiseled shoulder lines and aggressive taillight treatments, and in their places are rounder, friendlier items. The result is a more refined, professional image that fits this compact CUV nicely. It no longer looks like it’s trying too hard to act tough.

The story stays the same in the interior. Material quality is the same as before, but the interior design has benefitted from a mellowing out. It also comes very well equipped at any trim package, but navigation is not standard. The upgrade is well worth it for the ESL stereo system though. Even if grandpa isn’t going to be blasting dubstep while out on errands, he will appreciate the low range punch and high range clarity of the upgraded system.

New Powerplant for a New Personality

The original RDX, to fit their target market, was a jittery mess. Its turbo four and SH-AWD system combined to make the car eager to chase apexes, but never settled down and enjoyed the ride. With a new motor, drivetrain, chassis and suspension, the RDX has been taken off Ritalin and finally learned to calm down. The major change is the switch to a V6 instead of the old turbo 4. This 3.5L unit delivers more power (273hp) but is smoother and more relaxing than the frantic old mill. The 6-speed transmission has also been revised to prioritize smoothness over quickness.

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