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Accord gets the goodies, while Acura waits

LOS ANGELES — Tucked in the corner of Acura's portfolio, behind the hot-selling crossover duo of the MDX and RDX, the poster-worthy NSX hybrid supercar and the refreshed TLX sedan, is the lonely RLX.

The flagship luxury sedan of American Honda has fallen on hard times, not that it ever soared. Introduced for the 2014 model year, the RLX — starting at $55,400 — has sold fewer than 13,000 units total. This year has been particularly brutal: 619 sales through July, down 26 percent from a year earlier. Dealer inventories are at an all-time high.

With a refreshed model for 2018, Honda is looking to pump some life back into its premier car. The updates include new sheet metal at the front and rear, and Acura's new diamond-pentagon grille replacing the unloved metal-beak look. There are upgraded materials inside the car, a new 10-speed automatic transmission on the base V-6 version and a simpler trim structure.

But with so few sales and an abundance of ultra-sharp competitors in the segment from the U.S., Europe and Japan, why does Acura bother?

"Having that NSX there to help us leverage, to let everybody understand that this is really a supercar technology that's in the sedan is important."
Jon Ikeda, Acura general manager

For one thing, Acura and General Manager Jon Ikeda still believe in the importance of sedans, despite the industry shift toward crossovers. Under Ikeda's watch, Acura has also embarked on a push into the performance side of the market, amping up its messaging under the tag line "Precision Crafted Performance," a throwback to Acura's launch in the late 1980s.

A large car at the top of the sedan lineup helps reinforce this point, especially if Acura can connect the dots between the powertrain in the RLX Sport Hybrid and that of the $200,000 NSX hybrid — as much of a stretch as that may be. From there, Acura hopes, the halo effect will trickle down to the higher-volume ILX and TLX sedans.

"Having that NSX there to help us leverage, to let everybody understand that this is really a supercar technology that's in the sedan is important," Ikeda told Automotive News. "Plus all the emotion of bringing it back in and having another go at RLX, I think it's a good thing for the brand."

A simplified trim structure — one trim for the base V-6 model and one for Sport Hybrid — has Acura hoping more buyers will see the Sport Hybrid as a worthwhile option over competitors known for their sportiness.

Acura expects the Sport Hybrid to make up a significantly higher mix of RLX sales with the 2018 model. Acura's Sport Hybrids use an electric motor attached to the driveshaft to boost power.

Beyond this midcycle refresh, the RLX (or something like it) does have a future within the Acura lineup, Ikeda hinted, though he wouldn't outright guarantee its return for the next generation.

"We don't want to just become a truck brand with a supercar on top," Ikeda said, adding: "Cars like the RLX, sedans, are a great way to express what we do."

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Accord gets the goodies, while Acura waits

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