Acura TLX — A rewarding marriage

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Our favorite Acura sedan up to now was the third-generation TL (2003-2008), which caught our imagination with just-right styling, a perfect size, excellent handling traits and a hearty V-6 engine. It was a mature interpretation of what we thought a luxury sports sedan should be. Then Acura seemed to lose focus, producing softer more mainstream sedans with questionable styling features.

In the meantime, Acura managed to keep the fun factor alive with the smaller and less horsepower-infused TSX sedan that provided the tossable handling excitement we had come to enjoy with Acura.

Today the Acura ship has been righted with the 2015 TLX, a sedan that merges the two cars into one cohesive unit retaining the fun-to-drive nature of the TSX with the technology-savvy, spacious, and luxury-appointed TL. We were delightfully surprised at how well this homogeneous blending works in a new sedan that offers improved styling with shorter overhangs, and outstanding handling capabilities.

For rev-happy TSX fans an available 2.4-liter four will now feature a beefier 206-horsepower (182 pound-feet of torque) direct-injection with i-VTEC valve timing. That's five horsepower and 10 pound-feet more than in the outgoing TSX. And here is the really big news — the engine is mated to an all-new eight-speed dual clutch automatic with a torque converter for smoother off-the-line performance.
The four-cylinder as well as the front drive V-6 gets Acura's handling-enhanced four-wheel steering as standard. The system acts in two distinct ways on the rear wheels. At slow speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction of the front helping to mitigate understeer, and at high speeds all wheels turn in the same direction increasing stability.

For ultimate performance we recommend the 3.5-liter V-6. The new engine makes 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a first-for-Acura nine-speed automatic transmission. Although not as powerful as such competitors as the BMW 335i, it will bring a smile to your face — especially in the all-wheel drive edition — on the twists and turns of back-road America. The sedan is lighter — and feels lighter — than the outgoing TL, bringing its new-found road-carving prowess to the forefront.

Unique is Acura's new push-button transmission on V-6 models. It's an elegant design found on the center console next to the driver's right hand. Also available is Acura's Integrated Dynamics System that allows four selectable drive moves: Econ, Normal, Sport and Sport+. The driving modes alter steering weight, throttle response and shift mapping. And standard on the all-wheel drive model is automatic stop-start, which shuts off the engine at stoplights to save gas.

Our 3.5L SH-AWD (super handling—all-wheel drive) test car lived up to our expectations not only in the way it handled all driving eventualities, but in the satisfying way it felt inside the roomy, handsome and quiet cockpit loaded with the latest safety and infotainment technology.

The front seats are comfortable, ample and supportive. It was easy to reach the optimum driving position with 10-way power adjustments and the tilt and telescoping steering wheel. The rear seat provides excellent legroom and a decent seating position for two passengers. As in most sedans this size, putting a third adult in back is an exercise in low-level torture.

Although we found gauges easy to read with helpful information screens, getting to the climate controls and infotainment features through the touchscreen proved tedious and distracting. On the plus side, Acura has included a real volume knob for the radio.

Safety is well covered in the TLX with the usual standard features — numerous airbags, antilock brakes and traction and stability control, along with a rear backup camera. But you will have to add the Technology package to get such worthwhile technology as blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and forward collision warning. To go even further, you will have to add on yet another option, the Advance package. That brings adaptive cruise control and a road departure mitigation system that can determine if the car is going off the road and will apply steering and brakes in an attempt to put it back on the proper path.

TLX prices mimicking the TSX and TL start at $31,890 for the base 4-cylinder up to the SH-AWD Advance Package V6 at $45,595. Our test car came in at the top price giving us the opportunity to experience most of the good stuff the TLX has to offer.

And we were rewarded with a satisfying sports sedan experience that should bring Acura back to the forefront of the luxury mid-sized segment.

Base price: $31,890; as driven, $45,595
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 290 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 267 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Length: 190.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,774 pounds
Turning circle: 39.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.2 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 31 highway, 21 city
0-60: 5.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW 3 Series, Volvo S60, Lexus IS

The Good
• Sporty handling with AWD
• Excellent V-6 fuel economy
• Quiet, well-appointed interior

The Bad
• Distracting touchscreen buttons

The Ugly
• Lackluster-for-the-segment 4-cylinder engine