Acura TLX: Identity crisis solved?

As the waiting game churns on for the infinitely teased Acura NSX supercar, Honda’s luxury subsidiary still needs to keep the lights on.

At the penultimate media conference at the 2014 Detroit auto show, Acura unveiled its TLX Prototype, a thinly veiled conceptual representation of its response to low-to-mid-level luxury machines such as the Infiniti Q50 and Lincoln MKZ.

If Acura’s history of show cars is any indication, the production-ready TLX’s exterior will differ little from that of the Prototype. The TLX will effectively replace two models in the company’s lineup – the TL as well as the TSX sedan and wagon – in an effort to resolve a decade-old crisis of branding, whereby Honda Europe’s best bits were largely rebranded and sold in North America at a premium, with minor modifications.

The Prototype radiated at Cobo Center in a manner difficult to capture in photography, which flattened many of its muscular ridges and creases. The simplicity of its lines is a welcome change from the overstyled TL sedan, and proportion is doled out with a careful but ever-so-slightly daring hand. Alas, it wouldn’t be surprising if the needlelike, V-shaped front splitter were scratched before production.

To compete directly with a subset of luxury sedans that is shedding cylinders but maintaining power levels, the production-bound TLX will feature two distinct powertrains: a direct-injected four-cylinder engine that displaces 2.4 litres, and an uprated 3.5-litre V6, a stalwart of the model line. The bigger news is on the transmission front, as Acura has developed a proprietary eight-speed dual-clutch transmission for the four-cylinder model, and will spec a nine-speed transmission for the V6. Extra forward ratios have reached everything from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class to the Jeep Cherokee, so it’s encouraging to see Acura getting on board. All-wheel drive will be standard equipment on the V6 model only, while the mild rear-wheel steering system of the upmarket RLX will be available on both models.

Mike Accavitti, senior vice president of automobile operations at Honda and Acura, said that the brand had “never put so much serious technology on one car before” – a double-edged admission, considering the tech-laden, more expensive RLX flagship sedan in his midst.

At the press conference, Acura also pulled the wraps off a racing version of the TLX it plans to campaign in the Pirelli World Challenge Championship series. Seeing Honda allow its luxury brand to stretch so far beyond its comfort zone was encouraging. But we really, really want to drive that NSX already.