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TOKYO -- Honda has developed the world's first automatic braking system that can keep a vehicle traveling as fast as 60kph from colliding with a pedestrian, part of a race among automakers to improve safety using automated functions.
Automatic braking systems detect obstacles using radar and cameras, and then slow down or stop the car to prevent an accident. Automakers have introduced braking systems that detect other vehicles, but technologies that can accurately distinguish pedestrians are increasingly in demand in Europe and Japan.
Honda's new technology employs millimeter wave radar and a high-resolution camera to identify pedestrians sooner than conventional braking systems can. It is able to prevent a collision even if the vehicle is traveling at 60kph, twice as fast as similar systems developed by other automakers. Honda is expected to install the braking system in its Legend luxury sedan slated for release this year, with its global strategic models likely to offer the technology as well. The price has not yet been set.
Meanwhile, Toyota plans to develop an automatic braking system for its mass production models around 2015, based on an existing technology installed in its Lexus LS luxury sedan that can safely stop the vehicle from a speed of 40kph. The price of a braking system that combines other safety features is about 1 million yen ($9,480) now, but Toyota aims to bring down the price of the braking system alone to less than 100,000 yen. The automaker hopes to make the system work for cars traveling at 70kph by the second half of the decade.
Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (7270), the company behind Subaru cars, plans to launch a new braking system capable of stopping vehicles going 50kph by installing it in its Levorg sports wagon coming out in May. Expected to be available as an option, the technology will likely cost about 100,000 yen.
Declining prices of necessary components have triggered the latest race to develop collision prevention systems. The price of image processors used to detect people has plunged by three-quarters from two years ago.
Advances made in automatic braking technologies are certain to contribute to the development of self-driving cars, which major automakers in Japan and abroad hope to commercialize by around 2020.
Being a sea turtle isn’t easy. Moments after taking their first breath, they have to embark on a death-defying crawl from the nest to the sea across a beach filled with predators waiting for an easy meal. It’s estimated that only one in 1,000 baby sea turtles ever makes it to adulthood.
The new 2015 Acura TLX can relate. Although we're quite certain more than 0.1 percent of TLXs will survive their first few years of existence, the road ahead for the compact luxury sedan is not going to be easy. Built as a replacement for both the Acura TL and TSX, the TLX must undertake the daunting task of competing with the heavyweights of the compact luxury sedan segment head-on.
Looks like an Acura
The TLX is instantly recognizable as an Acura thanks to familiar styling cues and the controversial corporate grille. Of course, like all new Acuras, the TLX features the Jewel Eye LED headlights as well as a whole complement of LED lighting around the exterior.
Claiming customers found the TL was a little too large for the class while the TSX wasn’t sporty enough, Acura has built the TLX to bridge the gap between the two. With an overall length 3.8 inches shorter than the 2014 TL, the TLX rides on a nearly identical wheelbase and offers similar interior space. Adult passengers will have no issue fitting in the rear seats thanks to an understated 34.5 inches of rear legroom.
All the usual luxury amenities are offered inside including heated and cooled front seats, the latest version of AcuraLink, Siri Eyes Free technology and an optional ELS 455-watt, 10-speaker audio system. The front seats provide good comfort and the materials used inside the TLX are what we expect from Acura, but nothing more. Soft and pleasant to the eye, the materials don’t have a rich, upscale feel to them as found in some of the TLX’s competition. The dual infotainment screens on the center stack, an Acura staple, are excellent.
Even if the exterior and interior of the TLX aren’t exactly ground breaking, what’s under the skin is. Two all-new engines and two innovative new transmissions have been fitted in the car. Base TLXs come with a new direct injection 2.4-liter four cylinder making 206 HP and 182 lb-ft of torque. Despite similar displacement numbers, this engine is not a carryover from the TSX.
Eight or Nine Speeds?
Paired exclusively to the four-cylinder is Acura’s new eight-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT) that sends power to the front wheels through a torque converter. Unusual for a DCT, Acura installed a torque converter in this transmission to eliminate the jerky initial engagement found in most DCTs. We didn’t get a chance to drive the car in any stop and go traffic, so it’s hard to say if it works. What does work though is the short spaced gearing. Gears one through seven in the new transmission have shorter ratios than fifth gear did in the old five-speed automatic.
2015 Acura TLX 6Gear changes are quick for both up shifts and down shifts and the new four cylinder loves to rev. Near redline, the four-pot does get a bit buzzy, but it’s well worth the noise to play with all 206 HP and the downshift rev matching dual-clutch transmission.
If you want more power, there is a new 3.5-liter direct injection V6 that makes 290 HP and 267 lb-ft of torque. Not available with the eight-speed DCT, the V6 uses an equally innovative nine-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the four-cylinder TLX, the V6 is available with Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, which now relies on a smaller rear differential that doesn’t impede trunk space.
Drives like an Acura
The V6 and nine-speed auto are adequate for this car, but don’t feel all that special. Throttle lag is noticeable in AWD-equipped models, especially outside of Sport Plus mode. Acura offers four drive modes with this model as part of what it calls an “Integrated Dynamics System” that offers the choice between fuel economy minded Econ mode, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus.
It might come as a surprise, but the more powerful model is also the less engaging car to drive. Capable cruisers on the highway, the V6 and nine-speed auto don’t add up to be a joy to drive. Think of this combination more for the right lane crowd while the four-cylinder and DCT are better suited for left lane bandits.
TLX models with the V6 engine get an electronic gear selector that uses buttons to operate the transmission instead of a conventional shift lever. Acura claims this is to save space. It’s unique looking, but it requires acclimation. For example, I kept grabbing for a shift lever that isn’t there, sort of like reaching with your left foot for a clutch pedal after switching between cars with a manual and automatic.
With so many gears available in either configuration, fuel economy ratings for the TLX are impressive. Four-cylinder models are expected to get 24 MPG city and 35 MPG highway while the front-wheel drive V6 TLX is rated at 21 MPG city and 34 MPG highway. All-wheel drive equipped V6 models lose three MPG on the highway, but Acura claims the car will average 25 MPG just like its front-wheel drive sibling.
The four-cylinder TLX has an entry level weight of 3,483 lbs and V6 models are lighter then similarly equipped 2014 TLs. Some of the weight savings comes from the new nine-speed automatic that is actually lighter than the old six-speed automatic in the TL.
“P-AWS” and “AHA”
Every TLX comes standard with Acura’s Precision All-Wheel Steering (P-AWS) system that turns the rear wheels slightly, making the car more maneuverable. For those who want even better handling, there is Agile Handling Assist (AHA). This system uses the TLX's stability control to modulate the brakes individually, helping the car rotate through a corner better. Handling for all models is composed, but not overly sporty. Four-cylinder models feel noticeably lighter and more agile.
Pricing for the TLX will be aggressive with base models starting at just $30,995, which is less than a BMW 320i. Even a fully loaded TLX V6 SH-AWD with the Advance Package will cost only $44,700.
Acura is positioning the TLX against the likes of the Infiniti Q50, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. That may seem a bit ambitious, but it depends on which TLX we’re discussing. Although higher end versions of the TLX will have a tough time stacking up against this competition, the four-cylinder, dual-clutch version is an engaging, spacious, premium sedan at an excellent price. Even if Acura does not succeed in winning conquest sales, the manufacturer has built a car that should keep loyal customers happy.