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Acura RLX Sport Hybrid-Super Handling Wheel Drive – Dancer

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Early in its life, Acura was a brilliant attempt to establish an upscale Japanese brand that was a smart buying decision.  The Acura Legend and Acura Integra carried the brand at first with the Legend being a very rational buying desicion vs. a Mercedes 300 or BMW 525.

Unfortunately, Acura lost its way when it went further upscale and changed from using names for its vehicles to alphanumeric nomenclature.  This was a move that Honda insiders once admitted cost $1.5 billion in lost sales revenue and damaged the Acura image immeasurably.  At the same time the third generation of the Acura range topper was launched replacing the well-liked Legend.  This was the RL.  It had boring style, was heavy, slow and expensive.  It had completely abandoned the Legend’s Unique Selling Proposition.  Wags called it the “Ruined Legend”.

2014 Acura RLX Hybrid F342014 Acura RLX Hybrid R34The RL never caught on except with buyers heavily engaged in technology.  Adding the Super Handling All Wheel Drive System as an optional drive package helped handling, but was very heavy.  The engine did not have the oomph to handle all the weight.  RL sales slumped into the range of hundreds per month – an unsustainable level.

Now we come to the introduction of the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid in Spring, 2014.  The front wheel drive RLX was launched in early 2013 as a 2014 model.  The RLX is arguably better styled than the RL it replaces.  However, it is still a very heavy car (3,933 lbs base) and with its standard 310-horsepower 3.5L V6 it is a lot of weight to push around.  The solution?  Add a Sport Hybrid model as the new top-of-the-line RLX – the Sport Hybrid system adds 350-lbs to the weight of the car, but the power of the hybrid powertrain more than offsets the weight gain..

Officially, the hybrid is a mouthful – Sport Hybrid – Super Handling All Wheel Drive.  The hybrid absolutely transforms the car.

With one of the most technologically advanced powertrains in the industry, the RLX hybrid puts out a combined 377 horsepower.  Impressive.  We won’t go into the details of the technology much beyond the fact that it has Honda’s Earth Dreams Three Motor Hybrid System combining the RLX’ 310-horsepower 3.5L V6 with one 47-horsepower and two 36-horsepower rear electric motors.  The resulting 377-horsepower combined with the 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission makes the car into a dancer.

Think of Disney’s Fantasia.  The front drive RLX can be the dancing hippos in tutus.  The Sport Hybrid with SH-AWD plus DCT in sport mode becomes a completely different car.  A star.  The transmission downshifts in the blink of an eye anticipating what you want it to do.  Fantastic!

The Sport Hybrid adds equipment not available on the front wheel drive car:  larger front brakes, electric air conditioning, power distribution monitor added to the 8-inch color display, head-up display, Chestnut wood trim, premium audio system with 14 speakers, electronic gear selector, unique wheels, smoked chrome plating for grill.2014 Acura RLX Hybrid Cockpit2014 Acura RLX Hybrid Shifter

The front wheel drive base car gets 20/31/24 (City/Highway/Combined) mpg with a city range of 370 miles and highway range of 575 miles from its 18.5 gallon fuel tank.  The hybrid is rated at 28/32/30 mpg giving city range of 425 mile and highway range of 475 miles from its 15.1 gallon tank.  While the hybrid does get much better city fuel economy, its smaller fuel tank hurts its maximum range.  Clearly the hybrid in the RLX is about technology and performance, not maximum range.

While Acura has not released pricing the the hybrid, the 2014 RLX with the top of the line Advance Package is priced at $60,450, $12,000 higher than the base RLX.  Given this price range it’s reasonable to expect a price of between $65,000 and $70,000 for the RLX Sport Hybrid.  Given the dynamic improvement the hybrid system gives the car, this may be worth every penny.


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2014 Acura MDX: The No Shame Crossover

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Acura’s MDX has been the shining star in their lineup for years now.  Having invented the three-row crossover, Acura has polished that shining star in their lineup for the 2014 model year with an all-new model.

I know, it really doesn’t look all that new.  Trust me, it is.  I’ve seen it from the inside out.  Everything you can’t see is new and even the exterior (YES, it is!) is new.  The MDX is a formula not to be messed with and Acura knows this quite well.  So, they made an all-new MDX but modernized the exterior a bit and significantly improved the interior.  The MDX is one of the few crossovers that has enough cojones that men of all types need not fear that it looks like they are driving a glorified minivan.


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New York Auto Show – A3 and Cherokee Most Important

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The 2013 New York International Auto Show was full of important reveals this year… renewed crossovers –  Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, an all new Range Rover Sport, the new BMW 335GT, freshened Dodge Durango, the all new Cadillac CTS and many more.  The most important, however, were the Audi A3 and the Jeep Cherokee.  Why?  Both vehicles are very important to their brands and have the potential to generate substantial sales.

Audi Takes the Safe Route with A3: The 2015 Audi A3 really was not at the New York Auto Show.  The A3 will be officially introduced at the Shanghai Auto Show in late April 2013, but there was a reveal for about 120 journalists the evening before the first press day.  It will be launched in the USA in early 2014.

The smaller Audi A3 has anchored the Audi lineup with a five-door hatchback (“Sportback”) that never had much sales potential in the USA.  American buyers continue to perceive liftback cars as cheaper, flimsier and less desirable.  In Europe, the five-door is the preferred bodystyle primarily because European car-owners do not have the American-style family fleets where there is a vehicle for every purpose. For a one vehicle family,  the hatchback can carry out a multitude of duties.

Recognizing that to really succeed in the USA market, the 2014 Audi A3 becomes a much more traditional three-box four-door sedan.   This gives Audi an opportunity to really step up sales in the face of the upcoming front wheel drive Mercedes-Benz CLA and the already-on-the-market BMW 1-Series.  Audi did not stray from its own winning formula.  Audi DNA is present in the exterior styling and the interior with an A8-like sweep at the front of the instrument panel.  Very nicely done, but not one obvious risk.

The A3 comes with four 4-cylinder engine choices – 170HP 1.8L turbo, 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 230HP), 150HP 2.0L turbo diesel and high output 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 275HP).  The high output goes in the S3 model.  The Sportback will return in the 2014 calendar year with e-tron plug-in hybrid technology.

The A3 will not be a Spartan A-Segment car.  Audi is positioning it as a fully-featured Audi – just smaller.  It will offer Audi’s MMI system, 4G LTE connectivity and even Audi’s Bang & Olufsen audio system.

One key takeaway from the A3 reveal is that the car is the same size as 1994 model year A4.  A very successful car with solid sales results, the A4 was key in establishing Audi as a very desirable premium brand in the USA.

Something tells us that the A3 will not be an inexpensive car with its impressive standard equipment load (leather seating, bluetooth, rain sensing wipers and panoramic moon roof standard).  With the slightly larger Mercedes CLA announced at a sub-$30,000 price we are wondering where the new A3 will be positioned?

Jeep Cherokee Returns While the Audi A3 is a low risk opportunity for volume growth, Jeep’s new Cherokee is at the polar opposite on the risk scale.  Jeep describes the Cherokee’s styling as “polarizing” and it certainly is.  Mike Manley, President of Jeep cautioned journalists in a December briefing before the Detroit Auto Show that “you might not understand” the vehicle.  This was somewhat reminiscent of Wayne Cherry’s (head of GM styling in the late ’90s) statement that “you are too old to understand the (Pontiac) Aztek.  In Manley’s defense, he describes the styling direction for the Cherokee as “something that will be fresh in 2019”.  So Jeep has not taken this path lightly.  It is a calculated step.

What is so polarizing about the Cherokee?  First, it takes the name of one of the most successful SUVs ever produced.  The 1980s Cherokee was the first high volume SUV to add a 4-door bodystyle to the lineup and soon proved that 4-doors, not 2-doors, were the way to go.  The Cherokee had the seven vertical slot grill that is part of Jeep’s DNA, but it had rectangular headlamps that, while modern for the time, broke away from the traditional round headlamps Jeep used.

While the new Cherokee is relatively conventional from the A-Pillar rearward, its front end design is the most surprising and, yes, controversial.  Instead of round headlamps, the Cherokee has horizontal units styled into the front fascia and fenders.  Cherokee still has the seven vertical slots in the front fascia – part of Jeep DNA since the beginning – but they now are bent in the center giving the vehicle a more aerodynamic appearance.  The story of the capability of the vehicle is being lost in the commentary about its front end styling.

Under the skin, the Cherokee uses the same Alfa/Fiat platform used by the new Dodge Dart.  It has a 9-speed automatic transmission and three advanced 4×4 systems.  The Trailhawk model is fully “Trail Rated”. Think of Trailhawk as the Cherokee Rubicon.  Powered by a 184HP 2.4L Multi-Air TigerShark 4-cylinder engine, Jeep claims a cruising range of up to 490 miles and highway fuel economy of 31mpg.  The optional 3.2L Pentastar V6 gets 271HP.

Cherokee has a full array of Chrysler’s latest features available from its UConnect information system with an 8.4-inch center screen and programmable instrument cluster, new steering wheel controls, parking assist systems, blind spot monitoring, cross path detection and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability. These features are becoming the price of entry in mid-size vehicles and even some smaller entries.

When Bob Lutz was a Chrysler he once said (of the early 2000’s Peterbilt style Ram pickup), “I don’t care if people love it or hate it as long as 15% of them love it enough to buy it”.  That may be the case with the new Cherokee.  A Polarizing design will certainly get people talking and writers writing.  So far, it seems that the negatives are outweighing the positives on the Cherokee.  It won’t take long to tell if the vehicle is a sales success.  It begins production in April 2013.


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Acura TSX – AutoPacific’s Most Ideal Luxury Mid-Size Car

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AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) recognizes the vehicle that best hits the target its buyers demand.  Winning an IVA shows the product planners, engineers and designers of the manufacturer understand what their target customers want and have created the vehicle to best meet their demands.

TSX Outpoints Lincoln MKZ for IVA Win: The 2012 Acura TSX comes closest to the ideal of any Luxury Mid-Size Car.  The TSX is 29 rating points higher than the second place Luxury Mid-Size Car – the Lincoln MKZ.  Having eighty-percent or more of owners rating a characteristic ideal is outstanding.  Achieving a score of ninety-percent is even more impressive.  Ninety-percent or more of TSX owners rate these characteristics ideal:  exterior size, driver’s seat comfort, tires, and safety features.  Eighty-percent or more of TSX owners find these additional characteristics ideal:  interior lighting, exterior styling, wheels, ride and handling, interior storage compartments.

A Few Shortfalls – Some Could Have Been Corrected by Selecting Available Options: The TSX is derived from Honda’s European Accord so it is a bit smaller than the North American Accord.  About 30% of TSX owners want more passenger roominess.  About 22% want more power and acceleration – a want that could have been satisfied by opting for the 3.5L V6 engine.   About 15% of the owners want more infotainment/entertainment technology, but 12% would give up available technology for better ease of use.

You can find an Autobytel review of this IVA award winner at  http://www.autobytel.com/auto-news/awards/consumer-s-ideal-cars-revealed-in-2012-iva-awards-112116/

For a complete summary of all AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award results contact karin.turner@vehiclevoice.com and title your email “IVA Results”.  A copy of the results will be emailed to you within 48-hours.


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2013 Acura RDX – Familiar Territory

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The previous generation Acura RDX was a moderately successful contender in the small crossover SUV (XSUV) wars.  The RDX was a bit pricey – almost $33,000 – coming from a premium Japanese brand.  It was heavy.  It was powered by a very thirsty turbocharged 2.3L 4-cylinder engine.  Competition had left the RDX behind and with its source vehicle – the Honda CR-V – being updated for 2012, 2013 is the obvious time to re-do the RDX.

2013 Acura RDX

Honda is expecting sales on the order of 30,000 units per year for the new RDX.  This is not an unreasonable number for a product selling in one of the growth segments in the American car and light truck market.  In fact, this sales volume seems a bit timid for a brand forecasting a 45% increase in sales for the 2012 calendar year.


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Acura ILX to Boost Brand’s Sales with GenY

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The upcoming Acura ILX sedan is expected to boost Acura consideration among Generation Y buyers – those under 33 years of age.  The ILX will be the smallest and least expensive Acura (starting at $27,000 and topping out around $33-$34,000) and is forecast – by Acura – to generate sales on the order of 2,500 per month or 30,000 ILXs per year (Acura managers say 30-35,000 per year is “about right”). By adding the ILX to the Acura lineup and a refreshed RDX crossover SUV Acura hopes to improve sales by 45% in the 2012 calendar year achieving total sales of 180,000 units.  A 45% bump is impressive in anybody’s book, but this comes after 2011’s traumas of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the floods in Thailand which damaged Acura production in Asia and component supplies for vehicles assembled in the USA.

2013 Acura ILX

The ILX’s GenY target is a youthful customer with a mature mindset who wants a “Near Premium” small sedan.  They see themselves as individuals with taste.  They live in and around big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas.  They will sacrifice acceleration for fuel economy and innovative design.


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Jealous George – No Detroit Auto Show This Year

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North American International Auto Show Logo

An annual pilgrimage for the auto industry is to attend the press days at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit each January.  Unfortunately, this year I cannot attend because my physicians caution that I should not be heaving carry-ons into and out of overhead bins and baggage carousels.

So, I’m jealous.

One of the primary businesses of AutoPacific is to keep on top of what is the latest in the auto industry worldwide, so AutoPacific will still be well represented at Detroit.

I asked each of our staff members to remind me why I should or should not be jealous of them attending instead of me.  Read below the break for their input.


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2010 Acura MDX: New Look, New Features

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Acura‘s showroom has been substantially revised for the 2010MY. Along with a new coupe-SUV flagship in the ZDX, several other models take midcycle improvements. We recently brought you up to speed on TSX and RDX, but the MDX also takes a laundry list of updates this year.
Acu_10_MDX_bl_5.jpg
Several of the updates to MDX are thanks to advancements developed with the ZDX, but no less appreciated. Sheetmetal changes were not extensive, most every aspect of the SUV saw improvement.
Thanks to the ZDX, there is a new six-speed automatic transmission. A short suburban Michigan drive revealed a refined powertrain and comfortable transmission setup. MDX’s engine still delivers 300HP from a 3.7L, Acura has heavily revised the powerplant. Among the beefed elements are a more rigid cylinder block, high-strength crankshaft, heavy-duty connecting rods, high compression ratio pistons, new intake valve springs, new EGR system, a larger throttle body, and revised cylinder heads.Acu_10_MDX_bl_2.jpg


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2010 Acura RDX: Family Nose and Front Drive

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While you might not know it from some of the creepy ad shots initially floating around on the ‘net, in the tin, the updated RDX is an improvement. The 2010 RDX takes its midpoint change with nips and tucks inside and out.Acu_11_RDX_6_bl.jpg
Looking like it stopped off at the tailor’s on the way to our drive event, the exterior changes involve typical revisions to headlights, taillights, fascias, and grilles, and the unloved Acura beak is now firmly in place. Despite the family grille, this is a nice example of minor changes, a tuck and crease here and there, that refine the overall look. With that nose, we may not call the new RDX beautiful, but it does look more refined and expensive than the outgoing car.


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2010 Acura TSX V6: First Drive

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Acu_10_TSXV6_front.jpgWith the second generation, launched for 2009MY with a 201HP I4, much of that sweetness continued. With the 2010MY, the TSX is available with a 280HP 3.5L V6, mated to a five-speed automatic.
Though perhaps poorly timed, Acura gave in to criticism that their smallest sedan needed a V6. Acura expects that 20% of sales will be of this faster TSX, which seems a reasonable plan. But in the midst of today’s decimated car market and with no near-term relief from a nearly 10% unemployment rate, Acura expanded the TSX line with a more expensive, less efficient model. Market conditions may see the car not get the recognition it deserves.
As we noted in our December 2009 I4 TSX review, TSX has a sweetness hidden beneath a nice (once you get past the beak) but subtle and easy to overlook exterior. That evaluation stands, as opting for the V6 won’t make you stand out at the TSX owners club. Visual cues are limited to larger wheels (eighteens for the V6), revised front fascia, and a V6 badge on the decklid. Acura is betting TSX owners looking to step up are a naturally conservative, subtle lot.Acu_10_TSXV6_badge.jpg


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