Acura TLX: blending two cars into a different type of hybrid
By Jim Bray
Take two long in the tooth Japanese luxury sports sedans and toss them into a blender and what do you get? A single replacement that takes bits of both parents and puts them into an attractive new package.
So is the whole of the Acura TLX more than the sum of its parts?
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I think so, at least as far as Acura Canada's review sample is concerned. The TLX is the replacement for both the TL and the TSX, the former of which was originally a very nice mid-sized luxury sedan while the latter was originally a very nice but more "entry level" luxury sedan. And the resulting "hybrid" version of the two cars into one turns out to be a pretty nice car. It isn't a traditional hybrid, in that it isn't a gas/electric vehicle, but it's a hybrid in that it blends two quite different cars into a single entity.
Both the TL and the TSX seemed to lose their focus toward the end of their runs, which was a shame because I really liked earlier versions of them both. The last generation TL was an excellent car but for some reason Honda/Acura designers had decided to make it so butt ugly (beauty being in the eye of the beholder, of course) that its looks may have prevented some people from getting close enough to actually test drive it. And while the original TSX – which was based on the European-spec Accord – was about as much fun as you could have in a small sporty sedan, the second generation TSX lost its edge, getting more luxurious but appreciably less sporty.
With the introduction of the ILX as the entry level Acura a year or so ago, the TSX became more than a tad superfluous (even though in Canada, the ILX actually replaced the Civic-based CSX, which was never sold in the U.S.). So I guess Honda/Acura decided the TSX was expendable - and I can't really blame them – so it appears they took its basic goodness and made it part of the new TLX line in the guise of two, four cylinder "entry level" models called simply the TLX and the TLX Tech, the latter of which piles on a few options compared with the basic car.
Fortunately, the TLX designers decided to make the new model fit in better with their current design mien as first presented in the ILX and then, to a certain extent, in the new RLX. So the last TL's blandly unpleasant exterior is gone, thank goodness, the new TLX turning out to be more reminiscent of TL's from a couple of generations past. So they're off to a good start! And adding to the new car's modern, clean and high tech look is LED lighting front and rear.
Acura says the all-new TLX was designed to deliver "a unique and compelling blend of sports-sedan athleticism and premium luxury refinement, appealing to a broad cross-section of luxury sports-sedan customers with a wide range of powertrain and drivetrain options." It's compelling, indeed, though not particularly unique in this crowded niche that includes such competitors as the Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50, BMW 3 series, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C class, Volvo S60 and others, some of which also offer multiple engine choices and model configurations.
TLX's are available in three distinct models, with seven versions of those models, including the Technology package that's available on all of them and an Elite package that's offered as an option for the V6 versions. All feature one of Acura's direct-injected i-VTEC engines, one of two transmissions and two dynamic handling systems.
Acura Canada's sample was the V6 Elite model, which was equipped very well and was fun to drive. Mostly, anyway. I thought this version's nine speed automatic transmission was a tad jerky, as if it were trying unsuccessfully to imitate a dual clutch automatic (an eight speed version of which is the other transmission choice offered – both equipped with paddle shifters), but I don't think that would be a deal breaker were I shopping for a TLX. One thing that might be a deal breaker is the four cylinder engine choice, which I thought was inadequate in the second generation TSX and – though I haven't tried it in a TLX yet – would undoubtedly be the same here even though it does offer a bit more power than in the ex-TSX (206 horses vs. 201). Oh, it performs well, but if you want to put the "sport" in this sports sedan, you should think seriously about opting for the V6, which is definitely up to the task.
The four cylinder engine displaces 2.4 litres and besides its 206 horses at 6800 rpm it puts out 182 lb.-ft. of torque at 4500 revs. This is competitive for a normally aspirated four, but since the car is very solid and stuffed full of features and comforts that add weight, a turbo would be nice. Or they could just drop the four and only offer the six: if you insist on a four banger, buy the lighter ILX. The 3.5 litre V6 cranks out a much healthier 290/267 horses/torque, the horses available 600 rpm sooner than with the four. Needless to say, it moves the TLX along smartly and is a good match for the car's size and weight.
The TLX defaults to front wheel drive, but those versions also feature Acura's P-AWS "Precision all wheel steering" and you can really feel the difference when you hit the curvy bits. V6 models are also available with Acura's Super Handling All wheel Drive system (SH-AWD), though the sample didn't have that option. I've driven other Acuras that "sport" it, however, and it's an excellent system. Both configurations have their joys and I'm not sure which I'd opt for if I were TLX shopping; make sure you try them both in your test driving sessions.
Further enhancing the driving experience are multiple driving modes (Econ, Normal, Sport, Sport+), which change the throttle, chassis and shift points for those who enjoy the proverbial spirited ride. And, a really nice touch, you can configure the car via its setup menus to default to whichever mode you drove last. You select modes via a button located with Acura's current transmission selector styling fad, which is laid out as a row of button-like things on the centre console that seems kind of weird. It works fine, though, and perhaps I'll warm to it more with subsequent Acura rides.
The TLX is balanced nicely, and exhibits only modest body roll when you toss it around. The electric power steering and drive by wire accelerator offer good feel and performance, as does the brake pedal and the four wheel disc brakes with ABS (and the rest of the usual aids).
The interior will be familiar to anyone who's been in an Acura of the last couple of years, with a driver-oriented cabin that's well thought out and executed, mostly. I still don't get the redundant LCD screens – one touch and one controlled by a knob – but they work all right once you figure them out and are better than the seemingly hundreds of buttons and switches that used to populate Acura interiors.
The V6 Elite test sample also came with auto-dimming side mirrors, a collision mitigation braking system, cross traffic monitor, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, parking sensors, auto stop/start and a lot more. The seats are very comfortable (power-operated up front and heated front and rear), the driver can take advantage of a heated multi-function steering wheel (I thought heating was silly until I experienced it a couple of times during cold day driving) and there's decent room in the rear seat.
One area in which Acura has let me down – though probably not most people, who aren't insufferable audio snobs like I am – is with its high end audio systems. Time was when the ELS system, which the sample car had, would play high end music sources such as DVD-Audio discs. Not anymore. When I tried DVD-A, SACD and Blu-ray audio discs the ELS system threw up its little electronic hands in disgust and suggested I had inserted faulty discs. At least it didn't tell me to insert them somewhere else more personal! Fortunately, the audio quality from my regular CD's and my streaming music (via Bluetooth) sounded great anyway – once I finally got my phone paired.
A really annoying touch is the voice interface which, when my wife undid her seat belt as we were pulling into our parking spot at home, piped up and admonished her to do it back up. Do we really need our cars to talk to us as if we're children? At least it illustrated to her what back seat driving is like for the driver…
Acura TLX pricing starts at $34,990 for the basic version, which the company says is cheaper than the TSX it replaces. The V6 version, with two wheel drive and P-AWS and the tech package starts at $41,690 (supposedly $1,900 less than the outgoing TL Technology package model) and the top line V6 with the Elite Package starts at $47,490. These seem like reasonable prices for this niche.
It's nice to see Honda/Acura getting its styling ducks in order again, and I hope the TLX does well for them. It's a very nice car.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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