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Detroit 2014: Acura TLX Spearheads New Three-Sedan Lineup

In typical Honda/Acura fashion, Acura showed off a so-called "prototype" at the 2014 Detroit auto show that closely previews its next sedan, the Acura TLX. The 2015 Acura TLX combines the previous TL and TSX sedans into one model, giving Acura a more streamlined, three-sedan lineup going forward. Though Acura still has a ways to go before challenging true luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz or Audi, the 2015 TLX at least moves the brand forward with two advanced transmissions.

When it goes into production at the end of the first quarter of 2014, the 2015 Acura TLX will come standard with a 2.4-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder which is paired with an in-house developed eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Interestingly, Acura says that this new DCT has a torque converter as well, meaning that it is meant to develop the quick shifts of a dual-clutch while eliminating much of the low-speed jerkiness. The optional engine on the TLX will be a direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6 similar to the Earth Dreams powerplant in the Accord, but this engine will be paired with an all-new nine-speed automatic transmission. Although Acura is tight-lipped about further specifications at this point, our bet is that this nine-speed is the ZF unit found in many Chrysler products. If so, this would confirm exactly what we predicted two years ago when we heard that future Honda and Acura could make use of this transaxle at some point in the future.

Acura says that both new transmissions will make for class-leading fuel economy, and we're hopeful that Honda's focus on engineering excellence can pull off the dual-clutch with few of the hiccups that have plagued brands like Chrysler and Ford with the same type of transmission. Clearly, Honda and Acura are using this new TLX as a showcase for new transmission technology that Honda senior vice president of automobile operations Mike Accavitti says should to see trickle down to the rest of the company's lineup within the next few years.

Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system remains optional on the TLX, and will be paired exclusively with the V-6 and nine-speed transmission. Front-wheel-drive models will also have an available version of the Precision All-Wheel-Steer (P-AWS) found on the larger RLX, which is said to improve high-speed stability and cornering performance. We were reasonably impressed with this system in our drive of the Acura RLX, and it's possible that this system could have a greater effect in a smaller, lighter car like the TLX.

The Acura TLX may be smaller than the RLX, but it's definitely not small. It rides on the same wheelbase as the previous TL, which was always slightly larger than entry-level luxury competitors like the Lexus IS and BMW 3 Series. In fact, the TLX is eight inches longer than a 3 Series but rides on a slightly shorter wheelbase.

Acura referred to the 2015 TLX as a "red carpet athlete" at its reveal, but we don't see much athleticism in the looks of this sedan. It looks much like the slightly boring, larger RLX with its jewel LED headlight array, Acura shield grille, and slab-sided profile with a slight upward kink just before the C-pillar. Expect the production Acura TLX to do away with the prototype's huge wheels and bodykit treatment, but otherwise look much like this concept. The Acura TLX GT race car that Acura also premiered in Detroit is at least more exciting and will begin competing this year in the Pirelli World Challenge race series.

Accavitti said he has high hopes for this TLX, saying that it will be a "shot of adrenaline" for the Acura sedan lineup. The Acura crossovers, MDX and RDX, have been selling well lately, but the brand's sedans are not as lucky. This TLX should be the top seller among Acura sedans, and Accavitti says this clear hierarchy between ILX, TLX, and RLX will help eliminate the brand's "crowded showroom" with overlapping models that are more likely to confuse customers.

Look for the production 2015 Acura TLX to debut within the next few months before it goes on sale in mid-2014.