WILL YOU TAKE ITS FIRST LOOK?
Enthusiasts fell in love with Acura because its cars offered excellent Honda engineering with more luxury at an attainable price. But like its parent company, Acura drifted from the original formula in the 2000s and 2010s, and while sales remained strong, the thing that made Acura special faded away. But over the last few years, Acura has tried to win back enthusiasts. First with the amazing NSX, then with the surprisingly sporty RDX crossover, and now this, the second-generation TLX.
Here’s how you know Acura is serious—the new TLX has a double-wishbone front suspension. It’s more expensive and harder to package than a McPherson strut, but it also provides superior ride and handling characteristics. Throughout the Nineties, Honda and Acura bucked the compact-car norm with double-wishbone front axles, but eventually switched to simpler, cheaper setups. The 2021 TLX rides on a dedicated platform with double wishbones at the front and a five-link setup out back. This is no fancified Accord, proof that Acura is putting in the work.
We appreciate the effort, and the chassis is the highlight of this new TLX. Our top-spec Advance trim tester felt more sport than luxury sedan, with a reassuringly taut ride. It’s a little harsh on bad city roads at low speed, but opens up beautifully as speeds rise. Acura engineers worked on stiffening up the body structure for the new TLX, and this has provided the best combination for a great ride/handling balance—a stiff shell, with suspension that actually suspends. Advanced models also come with standard adaptive dampers that never feel too firm, even in their sportiest setting.
As standard, the TLX drives its front wheels, with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) a $2000 option. You should tick the box for SH-AWD. This isn’t a system that simply sends a little torque rearwards when it detects wheelspin. It can push 70 percent to the rear wheels, and of that, 100 percent can be split to either side. The effect? Amazing agility. Maintain a decent amount of throttle mid-corner, and the TLX will overdrive the outside rear wheel to help the car rotate. You can feel it working, especially in Sport mode, and it’s great. SH-AWD makes the TLX corner unlike any other sport sedan, contributing to a wonderfully neutral balance.
The steering is lighter than you might expect, but it’s quick and accurate. Like the NSX, the TLX uses a brake-by-wire system, and just as with the supercar, it’s flawless. If no one told you it was by-wire, you’d probably never know. Pedal feel is excellent, with great bite right at the top, and even after some spirited runs on great sports-car roads outside of New York City, there was no fade.
I had higher hopes for the engine, though. The TLX comes standard with a version of Honda’s familiar turbocharged K20 2.0-liter four-cylinder, here making 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Peak power comes at 6500 rpm, though torque is a plateau from 1600 to 4500, and there’s not much point (or fun) revving beyond that point. It’s effective, if a little joyless. You could accuse us of being too nostalgic for old Honda screamers, but this engine is a lot more fun in the Civic Type R, where it wants to rip to redline as soon as it comes on boost. Engine sound is also digitally enhanced in the TLX’s Sport mode and the digital augmentation is so coarse and unmusical, you might be tempted just to leave it in Normal. It’s not a rough engine, so why give it a fake, gruff character?
2021 Acura TLX: Strong Proportions
Look at the TLX, and its proportions leap out. The long dash to axle dimension (7.8 inches longer than the outgoing model), expansive hood, and short overhangs give this front-drive-based car a rearward stance to emphasize its sportier nature. The wheelbase has been extended by 3.7 inches, measuring 113.0 inches. With a wider body and lower roof, the TLX delivers presence to the road. In person, the TLX’s handsome lines also should gain a lot of attention.
The front fascia gets a bolder version of Acura’s pentagonal diamond grille, which is more upright than the one we’ve seen in the RDX. The new generation of the Jewel Eye headlights—borrowed from the Type S Concept—add four LED elements and bright daytime running lights. The front fender also adopts its sharp lines from the concept, showing a large radiator grille and hiding the foglights on the corners. The hood’s strong character lines add more muscle to the front, helping with the aggressive stance that Acura designers were chasing.
From the side, the creases are more subtle and cleaner, but 19-inch wheels (18-inch are standard) add more to the look. The rear is probably the TLX’s best angle; the new taillights mimic the shape of the daytime running lights, while two wide exhaust tubes add presence to the rear.
The A-Spec sport appearance package continues in the 2021 TLX, adding unique 19-inch Shark Grey wheels, gloss black accents around its body, a rear spoiler, and darker headlights and taillights. The Type S grows from there, adding quad exhaust tubes, a front splitter, and a rear diffuser. All the chrome from the regular car is subbed for black matte accents on the Type S, giving it a sportier look.
2021 Acura TLX—A Familiar Cabin
Following a similar design to the RDX’s interior, the TLX gets a new-look cabin with much-needed improvement. The driver’s seat carries a lower seating position from which to look out over that expansive hood. The center console has been redesigned, with a 10.2-inch screen standing on top of the dash.
The infotainment screen can be controlled using a track pad that sits near the driver and now has a larger hand rest for a more comfortable position. This is the system used in the RDX, and after reviewing one for a full year, we found ways it needed to improve. Acura says it keeps updating the software to get rid of bugs and make the system more intuitive to use, but there’s no doubt that there’s a learning curve for buyers new to the Acura interface.
Like with all Acuras these days, instead of having a transmission lever, gears are selected via an array of buttons. A big knob in the middle of the center console allows the driver to select from four different modes—Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Individual. The latter allows the driver to individually adjust the engine response and transmission mapping—and even the suspension stiffness if the TLX is equipped with the available adaptive dampers.
Engines, Power, And Safety
The base engine is the familiar 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, a 66 hp and 98 lb-ft increase over the previous 2.4-liter engine. Later next year, the TLX Type S will go on sale with an all-new 3.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged V6. Official power figures are not yet available, but Acura does add the engine was developed by the same engineers assigned to the NSX supercar’s twin-turbo V6. All we know is this new V6 will have “dramatic gains” compared to the old naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 and a 50 percent increase in low-end torque.
Both 2021 TLX engines will be paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels in base 2.0 models. The Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system is optional on 2.0 models and standard on the 3.0.
The new TLX rides on an all-new platform equipped with a double-wishbone front suspension, variable-ratio steering ratio system, active dampers, and even Electro Servo brake-by-wire technology inspired by the NSX. Type S models receive four-piston Brembo brakes. Three driving modes are offered: Comfort, Normal, and Sport. Type S models also receive a Sport+ setting that incrementally increases throttle response, electric power steering, the AWD system, and available adaptive dampers.
The AcuraWatch suite of safety technologies comes standard, as well as the first application of the brand’s new three-chamber airbag technology that protects the front seat occupant’s head in a crash to help offset serious injuries.
Is The TLX A Good Buy?
Before we can rank the TLX among its peer group, we need to spend more time with it, but on paper and during this brief first drive, it made a great impression. SH-AWD remains a strong selling proposition, and audiophile buyers will definitely find the 17-speaker ELS Studio 3D setup to be a bargain relative to competing Burmester, Bowers & Wilkins, and Mark Levinson offerings
|2021 Acura TLX Specifications
|Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
|2.0L/272-hp/280-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
|3,700-4,050 lb (mfr)
|L x W x H
|194.6 x 75.2 x 56.4 in
|5.7-6.9 sec (MT est)
|EPA FUEL ECON
|Not yet rated