Mostly terrific new TLX points the way toward an even nicer future for Acura
By Jim Bray
It's handsome, it's fast (enough), it's luxurious and it's comfortable. Is there anything the 2021 Acura TLX isn't?
Well, it isn't a panacea for all the Honda-isms I've complained about for several years, but it is a big step forward in many ways.
The TLX, which started life as a kind of blending of the old TL and TSX, is a mid-sized luxury sport sedan, the type of car the company has made for decades – right back, really, to the original Legend. It goes head-to-head against such tough competitors as the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS and Genesis G70. The Acura and the Audi are based on front drive platforms, though both offer all-wheel-drive options – as do the rear drive BMW and Genesis.
Tough competition, indeed, and that's only a few of the models the TLX has to beat out in this busy segment. Does it?
Click on the image to open a slideshow.
Well, if it doesn't beat them out, it's certainly very competitive. And later this year, Acura says, it'll become even more competitive as the company adds a turbo V6 to the mix, supposedly its most powerful V6 ever - which says something, since the mighty NSX has always been V6-powered and no one ever accused it of being slow.
Right now, the TLX only comes with a turbo four and, while I'm sure I'd prefer the six a lot more, the four banger is very good – and its specs are competitive with both the Audi and the BMW's turbo fours. The A4, for example, boasts 261 horses from its two litre four, while the BMW 3 series offers 255 nags. The TLX's four puts out 272.
I was actually quite surprised just how robust this engine is, because I got into the TLX directly after getting out of the V6-powered MDX. Now, granted, the MDX is bigger and heavier, but its 290 horses don't seem a lot more potent than the TLX's 272, which makes me salivate at the thought of the Type S version's turbocharged V6 (coming this summer, they say) with its 355 horsepower. Heck, that's the stuff about which V8's used to brag!
Hope they send one to test!
Meanwhile, starting with the exterior, this TLX is a real winner. It's handsome and quite aggressive in a way that doesn't assault your sense of sight, unlike such Honda products as the current Civic. In fact, I think this TLX may be the nicest-looking Acura sedan ever; its aggressive styling reminds me of what a four door Ford Mustang could look like if the blue oval folks ever embrace sedans again.
The terrific exterior includes a kind of "scalloped" hood that almost reminds me of a Klingon's forehead (though not as much as some cars do!). There are also design creases along the side, and the TLX' bum features four "coffee can exhaust-sized" tailpipes. While I generally prefer a simpler, more straightforward ("less creasing!") look, it must admit it works here beautifully. It may come off like a four door Mustang, but mostly it looks like an Acura – and in this case that's a good thing. One couldn't always say that about earlier versions of the mid-size sedan.
In Canada, every TLX gets Acura's Super Handling All-wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, which turns the front drive car into one where torque is delivered not only to the rear wheels, but side to side as well when the little electronic brains in the car sense it's needed.
And it works really well. Roads were bare and dry when I had my seat time in the TLX, but on twisty mountain roads you can still feel the system operating when you press the gas pedal, working to keep the car's keister where it should be.
Power gets from the engine to the wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission, which is a shame. Audi's A4, for example, "only" gets seven speeds and, though I haven't driven a new Audi in several years, I'm willing to bet it's a more interesting transmission to use than the Acura's if only because it isn't always upshifting to save gas, which means it has to downshift through too many gears when you want to savour its power again. Like when passing, on onramps – or just when you want to smile through some miles.
Acura isn't the only carmaker inflicting these transmissions on customers so I don't mean to single them out here; I'm just whining generally about a government-caused trend ("better gas mileage saves the world!") to emasculate cars and those who love them.
At least you get paddle shifters and, for the most part, they work as they should (by which I mean, when they should rather than you shifting the paddle and then waiting for the car to deign to shift).
There's a generous trunk out back, a nice and roomy place to put the ankle biters in when they get too noxious. The rear seats are better than I expected, too, and they fold down to give those ankle biters some oxygen passthrough when they're housed in the trunk. Or you can use it for skis or whatever.
The main instrument cluster looks kind of old tech in this age of digital displays, but it's attractive and efficient; you just can't configure it as many ways as you can in some vehicles, and this may not bother you a whit. It didn't bother me even half a whit.
The centre stack is topped by your typical LCD screen, and you don't need to use it to avail yourself of the HVAC stuff (there are buttons, etc. for that)– and there's even a Mazda-esque volume control knob on the centre console.
Alas, the infotainment is operated best – if that's the right word for this abomination – by a damn trackpad that makes the one I hate so much in Lexus vehicles look like a nice thing. It isn't something you'll want to operate while you're driving, so do your programming before you head out and then use the redundant controls on the steering wheel (where you can) or the (alas) slow and annoying voice recognition.
Also threatening to be a fly in the ointment are Acura's annoying nannies, such as one that flashes "BRAKE!" on the instrument panel when the car thinks you're about to rear end someone – even if you aren't. These nannies are annoying enough to give me second thoughts about ever heading to a Honda or Acura dealer – though to be fair, they can be shut off completely and that's as it should be. But why should you have to pay for something you're just going to shut off?
Customization is pretty much like in the new MDX, reviewed here, in that you can opt for drive settings ranging from "boring but Gaia-friendly" to "robust and racy" via a knob on the centre stack. There's a custom setting you can use to choose which parameters (engine, suspension, transmission, etc.) you want to tweak which way. The car defaults to its default every time you turn it on, alas, but a quick press or twist of the knob puts you right back where you want it.
There's a wireless charging station on the console and, perhaps to help facilitate using that trackpad in front of it, there's a wrist rest over it that makes a nice rest for your wrist.
I admit to not being a huge fan of the original TLX generation, but I really liked this new one and hope it – along the lovely new MDX – points to a new direction in which Honda and its luxury arm build vehicles that are not only efficient and durable, but fun and attractive, too.
The Acura TLX starts at $44,605 Canadian, which puts it right in the ballpark for this niche. The top-line Platinum version starts at $52,305, and Acura says the upcoming V6 Type S will sell for about $60,000
I have a feeling they're going to sell quite a few of these things and it's nice to see the company coming back from a few years in the automotive design wilderness.
Copyright 2021 Jim Bray