Acura TLX — Bigger and better

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Acura merged the luxury-focused TL sedan with the slightly smaller sport-minded TSX in 2015 resulting in the TLX, a solid mid-sized addition to the near-luxury sedan segment, but falling short in terms of both performance and luxury compared to German competitors. Now comes the second generation TLX that goes a long way in correcting those shortcomings. The 2021 TLX is built on a new platform improving on virtually every aspect of the outgoing model.

It's longer, lower and wider with four inches of added wheelbase, a much longer hood, and a front axle pushed almost eight inches father forward from the dash. This gives the TLX more exciting proportions — a genuine sports sedan stance, and an overall sophisticated design.

The new design brings an interesting front end with thin pinched lighting and a slightly revised Acura grille, a sculpted hood with sharp creases that converge at the front, and an attractive profile that features a dominate crease rising from behind the front wheel and up and over the rear haunches. The rear is wider and lends to a sportier more hunkered down appearance. We very much like the look of the bulging hood from behind the wheel that gave us a feeling of being in the driver's seat of a Corvette.

A much stiffer structure, upgraded suspension design, and the availability of the fourth-generation Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD), will make handling very rewarding on your favorite stretch of mountain highway or winding rural road. The new SH-AWD can send 70 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels faster than before — and even to just one rear wheel to provide serious torque vectoring performance.

We switched our A-Spec trim level test car with SH-AWD into Sport mode on our favorite rural road "test track" and the suspension noticeably firmed up giving the TLX the corner carving ability to convince us it has a legitimate claim to European sports sedan credentials. Drive the top trim Advanced and the TLX comes with adaptive suspension, which reportedly keeps the body under even more control.

For the time being all models are outfitted with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque mated to a 10-speed automatic
transmission. The engine-transmission setup is adequate for all driving situations with 0-to-60 measured at 5.8 seconds. The TXL's power seems to wane as the car reaches higher speeds, however, but it's still good enough for 14.4-seconds and 97 mph in the quarter mile. While Sport mode kept things humming, we did find that the Normal driving mode left us wanting for a bit more forward momentum in certain situations.

If you like the new TLX but crave more performance, be patient. The TXL Type S with a 355-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 is expected to arrive in showrooms this spring and should give the sedan some serious muscle.

In the meantime expect decent gas mileage with the front-wheel drive base car rated at 22 mpg city, 31 highway, and 25 combined on premium gas. The AWD models are rated at 21 city, 29 highway and 24 combined.

Acura has improved the interior with better materials including real metal and wood trims. The overall look is designed to highlight the car's sporty character. The dashboard is highlighted by attractive analog gauges and a big rotary drive-mode selector in the middle of the dash. Gauge enclosures are red with a gray background. And the 10.2-inch infotainment screen is clear and attractive. The TLX, like all new Honda and Acura vehicles, get a unique and somewhat controversial push-and-pull button transmission shifter. We had no problem with it.

While gauges are easy to read, Acura continues to use a touchpad to access infotainment, which creates driver distraction, even if it is simpler to use than the infamous Lexus touchpad. The pad is a bad idea in both brands. We did like the volume knob and seek button in the center console right where the hand falls. But we found it much easier to access a radio station using voice commands, which worked well.

There's attractive white mood lighting on the doors and the dashboard.  The lighting turns to a bright red and the gauges glow red when the Sport mode is selected. It's a unique touch that we thought was a bit over the top.

The front seats are comfortable and there's ample space for two people. Despite the sedan's size increase, rear-seat space is cramped for a car that stretches out 194 inches with a 113-inch wheelbase.

The TLX comes in four trim packages — Base, Technology, A-Spec and Advanced — and in front drive starting at $38,525. All-wheel drive can be added for $2,000. The base is well priced considering the large amount of standard equipment that includes simulated leather upholstery, heated and power-adjusted front seats, a 10-speaker audio system, dual-zone climate control — and such safety features as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition.

The Technology Package begins at $42,525, the A-Spec Package at $45,275; and the Advance Package at $47,325. Our well-equipped A-Spec with SH-AWD carried a bottom line of $47,775. All prices include a $1,025 destination charge.

2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD


Base price: $38,525; as driven, $47,775
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4 cylinder
Horsepower: 272 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 280 pound-feet @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Wheelbase: 113 inches
Length: 194.6 inches
Curb weight: 4,028 pounds
Turning circle: 40.2 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 21 city, 29 highway, 24 combined
0-60: 5.8 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CT4, Volvo S60

The Good
• All-new fetching design
• Many standard safety features
• Sports sedan handling traits

The Bad
• Stronger V-6 has not yet arrived

The Ugly
Cramped rear seats