2021 Acura TLX

PHOENIX — For 2021 Acura — Honda’s up market luxury brand — has just unveiled the second generation of its TLX “sports sedan.” Better known for its popular MDX and RDX SUVs that outsell its three car offerings nearly 3-to-1, Acura wants shoppers to know that their sedans are an important part of the caliper-badge product offerings. The new TLX is a vehicle that shoppers of premium sedans should put on their consideration list.

For this review, the folks at Acura delivered a TLX SH-AWD Advanced trim level for our week of testing. The TLX is a midsized five-passenger four-door sedan that aims to take on vehicles like the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Genesis G70 and other luxury midsize sedans. A tall order to be sure. Further, the TLX is Acura’s flagship sedan, since the recent demise of Acura’s RLX sedan.

While the new TLX is priced like a BMW 3-Series, its size is more like the larger 5-Series having grown four inches longer on a longer wheelbase and adding 2.2 inches of width compared to the outgoing 2020 TLX.

The 2021 TLX is available in a choice of four models starting with the base TLX at $37,500. Next are the Technology trim ($41,500), the A-Spec® ($44,250), and Advanced ($46,300). Front-wheel drive is standard with SH-AWD — Acura-speak for Super Handling-All Wheel Drive — available on all models.  

Regardless of which model you choose, all are powered by 272-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. That power ranks near the top of the class and, performance-wise, is similar to the 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 it replaces from last year’s TLX.

Acura has already announced that it is bringing back the Type S high-performance version of the TLX in the spring of 2021; it will be powered by a 355-horsepower/354 lb.-ft torque turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6.

Style-wise the new TLX is noticeably wider and lower than last year’s model, not only to accommodate its wider tires, but also to increase the track and improve its looks. New multi-beam headlamps are standard and add to the wide appearance. The Diamond Pentagon grille is nearly identical to the outgoing model and consistent with the entire Acura product line. Out back, there are full LED taillamps and dual exhaust tips that accentuate its muscular upswept rear decklid and rear shoulders.

Inside, the TLX has new design that’s meant to highlight its sporty character, and includes attractive analog gauges and a rotary drive-mode selector in the middle of the instrument panel. The cabin materials are a step up from last year and include open-pore wood trim and real aluminum accents. While most liked the new look, I thought it was much too busy, overwrought with an array of over emphasized wraparound styling angles, curves and unrelated design elements, especially on the instrument panel.

Still, there’s no shortage of high-quality luxury appointments, including a leather-wrapped steering wheel; 16-way power, heated and ventilated front and rear seats; Acura’s ELS Studio 3D premium 17-speaker audio system that includes slim in-roof speakers and the new Twin Telford subwoofer; power moonroof; and a 10-inch head-up display, wireless charging pad, and other amenities.

The TLX also comes with the Acura True Touchpad Interface, a finger-operated cursor-based system that maps and tracks actions on the 10.2-inch HD dual-content center display for things like navigation, audio, climate control and other vehicle operation input. It isn’t as accurate nor as easy to use as a touchscreen, and I really wish Acura would give up on the touchpad system.

Consistent with its Honda siblings, the TLX uses the “hunt and peck” drive selector mode of push and pull buttons for gear selection, located on the center stack rather than a conventional shift lever. We’ve never been a fan of this setup since it isn’t intuitive and requires the driver to physically look at the console to accurately select the desired choice of park, reverse, neutral or drive.

Up front, the seats are excellent, comfortable with ample adjustment for most drivers to find a likable seat position. Acura offers a multiple choice of interior colors, distinct leather upholstery, and 27 different customizable ambient lighting settings that are cleverly named after epochal driving destinations and racetracks to enhance the mood.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that the back seat isn’t very big. It’s one of the smallest in its class and therefore we strongly suggest you bring the family along should you want to test drive the vehicle.

Last but not least is the standard AcuraWatch suite of advanced safety and driver-assisted technologies that includes new features such as traffic sign recognition, driver attention monitor, and traffic jam assist, as well as adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow. Additional standard safety features include lane keeping and lane departure assist and warning, autonomous emergency braking, and forward collision warning. Depending upon trim level, other safety features include blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic detection and front/rear parking sensors.

So how does the new TLX drive? Overall, we found it very entertaining to drive with excellent handling. Acceleration was about average for the class with a zero to 60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. The TLX comes with Acura’s Integrated dynamics System (IDS) with distinct modes you can select from via a large knob on the center stack. You can tailor your preference to meet particular road conditions whether on dry highways, wet or snow-covered roads or under sporty or normal driving conditions. These choices include a spirited driving experience when Sport+ mode is selected to sharpen the car’s engine, transmission and handling responses.

We think the new second-generation TLX is an appreciable improvement over the outgoing model, with more of everything a discriminating driver desires in a premium sports sedan. We really like the new exterior styling, additional standard features, the comfortable seats and spirited driving. We’ll be especially interested in doing a full review on the Type S when it’s launched next spring.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $48,300
Price as Tested: $49,325
Engine/Transmission: 2.0-liter 272-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 24, 21, 29 mpg – City, Highway, Combined
Seating: 5
Where Built: Marysville, Ohio

Crash Test Results: Overall “Good” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It has not been crash test rated as of this writing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  

Competes With:
Audi A5, A6
BMW 3-Series
Cadillac CT4, CT5
Genesis G70
Lexus ES
Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Fab Features
Dramatic exterior styling design
Customizable ambient lighting
Killer ELS 3D Premium Audio system

— Jim Prueter