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Honda Launches the Acura RLX in Japan, Renames it "Legend". Could the U.S. Model Be Revived?

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On: Thu, Nov 13, 2014 at 1:30PM | By: Teddy Field

Honda Launches the Acura RLX in Japan, Renames it "Legend". Could the U.S. Model Be Revived?

Things are starting to change at Acura, and the new flagship 2014 Acura RLX is a big step in the right direction. For its home-market debut, the Acura shield was ditched for a Honda badge (Acuras aren’t sold there) and ‘Legend’ replaces that RLX cryptogram. The Legend name evokes as much respect in Japan as it does here, so we may actually see another Acura Legend on our shore...

Honda was the first Japanese automaker to create a dedicated luxury brand for the American market. Shortly after the Acura Legend was launched in 1986, it was heralded as the most reliable luxury car on the market. Sporty models like the Acura Integra and the Acura NSX soon followed, and the brand enjoyed a loyal following throughout the rest of the 20th century. Then something changed, and Acura started to build cars that were wildly out of step with the market (remember that chrome-beaked Acura ZDX sports coupeUV-thing?). Renaming their models with a can of alphabet soup only added to the awkwardness that had become Acura.

The 2014 Acura RLX is a midsize luxury cruiser that replaces the forgettable Acura RL (we think the RL stood for Really Lame). It looks sort of like a fat Honda Accord, but its polarizing LED Decepticon headlight arrangement hints at the car’s exclusivity. Regular issue models get a 310hp 3.5L V6 that powers the front wheels...just like a fat Accord would have. The top-spec Acura RLX Sport Hybrid has an electric motor sandwiched between the V6 and a new 7-speed dual clutch gearbox, and fuel economy jumps to 28/32/30. It also has an electric motor mounted to each rear wheel, giving it AWD, and a total of 377hp. As you fling this two-ton boat into a curve, the Super Handling AWD system will use those electric motors to accelerate the outside wheel and brake the inside wheel. This effectively steers the back of the car through curves, making it handle shockingly well. The RLX might look like a boring ol’ bingo-mobile, but the big girl can dance. And it can hit 60 in five seconds dead.

Since its introduction in late 2013, just 8,000 RLXs have found buyers. Rivals like the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, and Lexus GS350 have handily outsold Acura’s all-new flagship, bringing into question Acura’s ability to remain relevant. To shake things up, the Acura Division has been spun-off from American Honda, which will allow the struggling luxury brand to make product and fundamental decisions independent of Honda’s sensible-shoes management team. They have the forthcoming 2016 Acura NSX which will serve as the brand’s halo car, and an actual Integra replacement is rumored to be in the pipeline.

Although Americans haven’t embraced the conservative Acura RLX, its subtlety will likely be adored by traditionally conservative Japanese luxury car buyers. Years ago, the Honda Legend was extremely popular in Japan, so if the revived Legend name can help spurs sales there, it’ll likely be applied to a future Acura flagship. We just hope they find it’s worthy of the name.

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