Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Editorial: Is There Really No Replacement for Displacement?

"There's no replacement for displacement!" This was a common phrase I heard throughout high school, as most of my car nerd friends were into good 'ol fashioned "American Muscle." That phrase was their rallying cry. "Oh, you got a tiny little 2.0 liter turbo charged four-banger? You ain't got nothing on my 352 Hemi!" or some variety of that would be their attempt to put down cars with forced induction. I didn't really care much for the phrase, but I also didn't really care all that much for forced induction at the time either. In my high school years and throughout college, I was into high revving, small displacement, naturally aspirated engines. Honda's F20C, K20A, and B18C5 were my engines of choice. The largest displacement motor that had my attention was the Honda C32 3.2 liter V-6 found in the Honda/Acura NSX. 

Now that I live with a turbo engine for daily driving, I started to think about the whole "no replacement for displacement" argument again. Why? Because the 1.5 liter turbo four in my Civic Si makes nearly as much horsepower (post ECU reflash) as my S2000, and makes way more torque. Heck, after reflashing the ECU in my Civic, it almost makes as much torque as the V-6 in our departed 2016 Accord Touring. In the age of almost every vehicle coming off the factory line with a turbocharger, it almost feels like the argument for larger displacement should no longer exist. 

Of course, the troll in me always felt the "no replacement for displacement" argument was a load of garbage anyway. Even when I was in high school, I would always argue back, "well, what if I stuck a turbo or supercharger on your giant engine...wouldn't that make more power?" More often than not, my muscle car friends would always bring up the Dodge Viper's enormous V-10 as the "crowning achievement" of displacement over forced induction. I would always argue back, "but they make turbocharger kits for the Viper's V-10..." or "XYZ engine with less displacement and forced induction makes more power..." For those of you not familiar with Dodge's ginormous V-10, the 2017 version of the  admittedly old school 8.4 liter V-10 makes 640 horsepower and 600 lb/ft of torque. For comparison's sake, you can get a 2017 C7 Corvette Z06 with a 6.2 liter supercharged V-8 that makes 650 horsepower and 650 lb/ft of torque. Yes, more horsepower and torque from an engine that is an entire F22C size smaller, all because it has a (giant) supercharge strapped to it.  

In this day and age where factory forced induction is now the norm (for emissions/fuel economy purposes though), the "no replacement for displacement" saying really means absolutely nothing anymore. If you want to really get technical, a lot of today's electric cars are faster than big displacement muscle cars, and their electric motors aren't even measured by displacement at all! I love big block engines as much as the next car nerd, but even I know that the future of performance lies in forced induction, hybrid technology, and pure electric power. There will always be a place for good 'ol fashioned Detroit Iron, but I have to question for how much longer.      

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

News: The Acura RLX is Dead After 2020

It's official: Acura is killing off the RLX after the 2020 model year. The RLX, Acura's flagship sedan, replaced the aging RL (better known as the Honda Legend overseas) for the 2014 model year and soldiered on for six model years before Acura decided to drop the axe on the model entirely. Years of low sales numbers, despite a fairly attractive mid-cycle refresh and a reasonably power and efficient hybrid variant, put the final nail in the coffin for Acura's 5-Series/E-Class competitor.

To be honest, I'm a little torn about this announcement. We had a 2014 Acura RLX P-AWS Tech for three years starting from the end of 2013 all the way through the end of 2016. I personally like the car. It was reasonably powerful, comfortable, quiet, and handled surprisingly well despite its weight. That's not to say that the car was without its flaws. Much of the technology in the car was at least one generation behind parent company Honda's vehicles, specifically the ninth generation Accord that we acquired just before we retired the RLX. Ultimately, that seems to always be the problem with Acura's vehicles though. You can read our comparison of the 2014 Acura RLX P-AWS against the 2016 Honda Accord Touring here.

The main reason of why I'm torn over this announcement is because of the announcement of the next generation TLX. It's obvious Acura is ready to turn a new leaf, so why kill the model off completely rather than redesign it? Obviously, there's no guarantee that the model will go the way of the ZDX and stay permanently dead. At some point, Acura will need its flagship sedan again. My hope is that when the RLX does get a redesign, Acura will finally get it right and distance it from the highest end Honda Accord Touring. There seems to be enough distance between Acura's engines and overall handling capabilities versus its parent company cars, but I just hope Acura will finally get the packaging right so that the new RLX is actually a decent competition for the 5-Series/E-Class. 

As a final note, anyone who is interested in picking up a 2020 Acura RLX before it's completely gone can now get one for $12,000 off MSRP. Acura is really trying to get these things to move, so if you don't mind the somewhat old infotainment system and are looking for a 377 horsepower, hybrid luxury car, this could be your calling!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Preview: 2021 Acura TLX

To say that I've been eagerly awaiting this car is a huge understatement. My current job has me working literally a block away form Honda's R&D facilities in Torrance, CA, so I occasionally catch glimpses of the camouflaged test mules roaming around my area. I once even tried to chase one down in the S2000 after work one day. My family has had two third generation TL Type-S (East Brother had a silver 6MT and I had a white 5AT) and it is still, to this day, one of my absolute favorite cars. When Acura finally announced the second generation TLX last week, complete with Type-S variant, I was ecstatic.

From the outside, the car looks fantastic. It takes a lot of its cues for the Type-S concept introduced last year, which is precisely what many people were hoping for. I think my favorite angle of this car is the rear three quarters. It looks like a grown up version of the current ILX, which isn't a bad thing. I like the current ILX A-Spec's look and think it's a a good look to build upon. With the Type-S quad exhaust, it just looks aggressive in the best way possible. The front of the car also looks great, with Acura designers doing a great job of integrating the new corporate front grille into the design of the car.

Now we get to the big one: power, handling, and content. This is where, for the last near decade, Acura has really done a disservice to the brand. In the early 2000s, around the time of the third generation TL, Acura was seen as an equal alternative to the likes of Lexus, and even in some cases, BMW, Mercedes and Audi. Despite being front wheel drive, the third generation TL performed as well and was as luxurious as its class rivals. The second generation RL, which was the first vehicle in its class to introduce torque vectoring all-wheel drive to the class, also blew its competition out of the water in its early years. But as the fourth generation TL was introduced and the second generation RL continued on largely unchanged, Acura began its long downhill slide. Its horsepower figures were no longer competitive, the luxury factor started to fall due to cost cutting, and the looks...oh lord the looks. Luckily, the MDX and RDX crossovers kept the brand alive, and Acura did see a brief resurgence with the introduction of the TLX and RLX. Unfortunately, the TLX was never considered a worth alternative to the 3-Series or C-Class due to its lack of power, and the RLX is effectively dead after this year (which will be discussed in a future article).

However, my biggest gripe with the Acura brand actually has to do with parent brand, Honda. Acura in the last few years has always been one step behind Honda's cars when it comes to new content. The reason why we ended up with at 2016 Honda Accord Touring instead of a 2016 Acura TLX was because the Accord had newer and better content than the TLX, not to mention nearly identical horsepower ratings and more room. Our last article before we bid goodbye to our 2014 Acura RLX highlighted the discrepancies between our Accord and the Acura flagship, showing that for over $25,000 less, you can get an Accord that out classes Acura's flagship in many respects. This is also the reason why I ended up with a 2020 Civic Si instead of a 2019 ILX A-Spec. Sure, the Civic may be missing a few luxury features, but it is in every other way, the superior car compared to the ILX.

With the introduction of the second generation TLX, this will hopefully change. Yes, the base vehicles will share some version of the 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder Honda currently uses in the Accord (and RDX and Civic Type-R), but what I'm more interested in is the 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 in the Type-S. Finally, Acura will get an exclusive engine not previously designed for a Honda application. We don't know how much power it's going to make, but rumor has it that it should make 35% more power than the current 3.5 liter V6 in the TLX. That puts it in the 390 to 400 horsepower range, which will be fantastic. Double wishbone suspension (which is making a return), the latest version of SH-AWD, and an interior featuring the latest technology Honda has to offer, Acura is finally making a divide between itself and parent Honda's vehicles. As far as I can tell, the only piece of equipment that might be carried over from the Accord is the 10-speed transmission, but even that should be significantly different from the Accord's since it'll need to be able to handle far more horsepower and torque.

It's still going to be a while before the 2021 TLX hits the market, but all things are pointing in the right direction for this car. The automotive press is hailing the TLX as a return to its early 2000 sporty roots, and boy I sure hope they're right. Acura needs a new renaissance, and they need it quick. Sure, the NSX brought some attention back to the brand, but Acura needs something more available to the masses, and they needed it yesterday. Let's see how things go...