2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec review: Return to form

When the TSX ceased to exist after the 2014 model year, Acura lost the last truly engaging sedan in its stable. Yes, the company rolled out the larger TLX as a replacement, but it failed to wow audiences with its sloppy, lackluster styling and somewhat boring driving character. With the all-new TLX 2021, Acura hopes to recapture some of its old sedan magic. And with a sleek appearance, a good dose of technology, and most importantly, better on-road manners, the new TLX is well positioned to do just that.

I do not like

  • Silent shifting
  • All season pneumatic grip
  • Heavy empty weight

High-end Acura

The new TLX is the best execution of Acura’s sedan design in a long time. While I was a fan of the company’s older TL and TSX models, none of those vehicles turned heads, but the latest TLX definitely is. Based on the Type S Concept from 2019, the TLX boasts a decent dose of character with a fast roofline, subtle Jewel Eye headlight treatment, shortened posture and sizable rear thighs. Compared to the previous model, it is 3 inches longer, 2 inches wider and half an inch lower.

In the case of my A-Spec test car, the TLX gets a more aggressive touch with 19-inch dual-spoke wheels (18 is standard on the base model), a black grille, black window trims, decklid-specific lip spoiler of the model and fog lights.

Enter the cabin and throw yourself into the extremely comfortable and supportive anatomic front seats covered with soft Milano leather and suede inserts. These seats offer a lot of adjustment possibilities, allowing me to find the perfect position behind the steering wheel with the thick frame. While some Roadshow staff find the TLX’s dashboard layout busy, I like the layered design and prefer its plethora of traditional, clearly marked buttons to tactile screens or sliders.

A high score also goes to the quality materials that make up all the main parts of the TLX’s cabin. The dashboard and door panels feature wide strips of leather-covered areas with contrast stitching, brushed aluminum trim and parts in piano black. There’s also a useful amount of space up front, and there’s enough legroom for adults in the back, though taller people might like a little more headroom. For cargo, a trunk with 13.5 cubic feet of space is ready to gobble up a lot of cargo.

Strong technological hand

Acura’s True TouchPad interface runs TLX’s infotainment software, offering better touch accuracy than before, making it easier to control navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and Bluetooth. Working through the various screens is intuitive enough, but entering navigation destinations takes a little longer than I’d like, especially since the crisp 10.2-inch center display isn’t a touchscreen. However, I appreciate the addition of a volume knob and jump buttons to the right of the touchpad, which make audio adjustments a lot easier.

The addition of the True Touchpad system of a volume knob and jump button is welcome.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Speaking of audio, the A-Spec features a fully oscillating ELS audio setup. With 17 speakers and 710 watts of power, you’ll want to have the best quality uncompressed audio files you can get your hands on to truly enjoy this system. It sounds great and goes tiptoe with anything from Bose or Harman Kardon.

Acura’s safety menu is substantial, with all TLX models coming standard with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assistance and traffic sign recognition. My A-Spec packs a few other standard goodies like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic warning, and front and rear parking sensors.

Back to performance well

While the best looks and technological improvements are important, the performance of the new TLX is the title here. Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that delivers 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, with the latter available from 1,600 to 4,500 rpm. Performance specs are more than competitive against competitors like Audi A4, BMW 330i and Mercedes-Benz C300. Front-wheel drive is standard on the TLX, but the company’s Super-Handling all-wheel drive system can be added for an additional $ 2,000.

TLX’s I4 turbo is a smooth and powerful operator.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

The power transmission to the wheels in each TLX is a 10-speed automatic transmission, built in-house for Honda / Acura products. My AWD A-Spec tester is rated to return EPA-rated 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29mpg on the highway.

The smooth engine delivers quick throttle response, a lively mid-range grunt, and pulls hard all the way to the 6,800-rpm redline. The transmission, on the other hand, would benefit from fine tuning to cope with its slightly damped shifts and while the manual shift mode isn’t horrendous, it’s far from the best in this class.

The increase in maneuvering IQ of this Acura is a chassis that ditches the MacPherson front suspension of the previous TLX in favor of a wishbone configuration. Together with the multilink rear suspension, the new TLX is compliant enough to absorb small to medium impacts, but is also extraordinarily competent when cornering. There’s the smallest body roll part at corner entry, but then the TLX crouches and follows confidently.

The TLX A-Spec wants something stickier than its all-season Michelins.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

The main factors limiting performance are the A-Spec’s not-so-trimmed 3,990-pound curb weight and Michelin Primacy all-season tires. These are good all-season tires for balanced daily driving performance, but say the frame can withstand a lot more. In addition, the latest generation SH-AWD system is now capable of directing up to 70% of the engine torque to the rear axle, which the technician can then fully distribute to the left or right wheel. Combined with the well-tuned suspension, the TLX is just asking for more grip.

Even with the all-season Michelins, the TLX is quick to turn and the steering provides satisfying feel and feedback. The brakes are a little fatigued with a strong initial bite, but they quickly slow this nearly two-ton sedan with confidence.

How would I specify it

TLX 2021 starts at $ 38,525, including $ 1,025 for the destination. To specify my ideal version, I’d start by checking the box for the excellent $ 2,000 SH-AWD system, given my Midwestern residency. From there I’d skip for the $ 2,750 A-Spec package for the sportier look, and that also allows me to option the fantastic $ 500 Apex Blue paint job. The A-Spec treatment also requires the addition of the tech package. from $ 4,000 for gadgets I’d like anyway like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alarm, and stellar ELS sound system. All in all, my perfect Acura sedan would be sticky for $ 47,775 – the exact same price as my Performance Red Pearl tester.

This 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec is priced at $ 47,775, including $ 1,025 for the destination.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

A complete package

As a Honda / Acura enthusiast, I was thrilled with all the promising news leading up to the arrival of the 2021 TLX. The style expected from the Type S concept, the return of the double wishbone front suspension and the upcoming TLX Type S sound great. Now, after driving the TLX A-Spec and experiencing some familiar driving traits that made older Acura models so eye-catching, I’m even more optimistic about Acura’s future.

No, the new TLX isn’t perfect, but it’s a strong and competitive package. Acura’s latest sedan offers style, technology and performance that should entice anyone considering an Audi A4, BMW 330i or Mercedes-Benz C300 to take a second look.

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