Acura wants to remind you, in the words of LL Cool J, to "don’t call it a comeback."
I know, this theme is getting old. But, consider the entire story of Honda’s luxury brand. Where it started some 35 years ago with two models – the Integra and Legend. The path where it showed the Europeans and Americans that you can deliver on the promise of offering something special and backing it up with a great dealer network and dedicated staff from the Acura division.
Yet, after four J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Index trophies, everything changed. Lexus arrived to conquer the luxury car market. Infiniti brought a whole new spin on Japanese luxury. Meanwhile, the rest of the luxury car market began to regroup to target their wares towards the Japanese brands.
Even though they had the NSX, Acura started to lose its initial mojo. There were some bright spots over the years, but it seemed that luxury car buyers wanted something else.
There are new signs of life at Acura. Starting with the RDX, this brand started creating compelling new products that returned to its roots in combining sports with luxury and Honda reliability. The newest TLX is the second of these new vehicles aimed at bringing customers back to Acura.
Believe me, this former Acura owner was waiting for this one. Then again, how many times I have said that over the past ten years?
I keep on saying it because I believe Acura can sell relevant vehicles for their customers, including those who have been dancing with other luxury nameplates for decades.
Let me cut to the chase, it is a sedan worth looking at. It is quite the looker, considering how low it looks, with the long hood and short deck. The sporty disposition does mix well with its luxury ambitions.
The brand’s diamond-shaped grille compliments the low front end, flanked by two LED headlamp units. After the long hood is a three-glass roof silhouette that is not usually an Acura trademark. It does work to make the TLX more distinctive in its own right. The short rear deck is clean with the license plate mounted on the bumper instead of the trunk. The LED taillight design is also clean and fits well with the overall aesthetic.
The finishing touch on my Advance package tester is a set of 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. In all, the TLX is handsome without drawing too much attention to itself. Yet, it is far from mild mannered.
Stepping inside the TLX, I found the cabin to be well-executed with a few twists. The low cowl reminded me of my old 1991 Integra, with the entire fascia sitting below the windshield line. The instrument binnacle was easy to read, with two large dials for the speedometer and tachometer and bridged by a very informative and easy to read TFT information screen. The thick-rimmed steering wheel was great to rudder, with solid switches that were logical and easy to use.
The most important controls stretch from the lower center stack all the way down onto the center console. Climate controls and the Dynamic Mode knob work logically. You select your gears through a push-button shifter that dominates the front-center of the cabin. If you have driven a recent Honda or Acura model, then the shifter setup will be familiar to you. I’m actually fine with it, especially when you have a pair of paddle shifters on the steering wheel to fine tune your gearing.
The 10.2-inch infotainment screen was controlled by what Acura calls its True Touchpad Interface. That is where I had the most issues with the TLX. You can "set it and forget it," as I have with similar infotainment setups but getting there is quite a challenge with this touchpad. It does require some patience to use it. There are other redundant controls all around the touchpad and on the steering wheel, once you "set it and forget it."
Acura offers its 17-speaker ELS STUDIO 3D Premium Audio System for the Advance package. It sounds terrific piping SiriusXM and the music files from my iPhone to my liking. Just when you thought Panasonic has stepped away from the music reproduction game, they continue to develop great systems, such as the ELS for Acura.
When I sat in the TLX’s front seats, I swore that I lost weight over the past decade or so. The bolsters on the seatbacks are there to lock you in behind the wheel. At first, I felt that I did not fit in-between them. They did ease a bit over time and offered support when I needed it. Rear seat space is average, but I would not recommend anyone sitting behind me when I’m driving – unless you’re a child or a below average sized adult. Yet, four average-sized adults will enjoy the cabin quite nicely.
There is a 13.5 cubic foot trunk that looked more accommodating than its size. Just take care when loading luggage with the “step-down” from the bumper. You can fold down the rear seatbacks for longer items.
If you want to know what makes the TLX tick, press the accelerator. You have access to a 272-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Combined with the 10-speed automatic transmission and Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive, the TLX drives exceptionally well.
Remember I mentioned the Dynamic Mode knob? Flip it towards the right and you get Sport mode. It improves the driving experience from "exceptionally well" to "that’s more like it!" The shifts hold a bit more, which encourages you to throttle in and use the paddles more.
As for fuel economy, I averaged 23.0 MPG. Not bad, really. Though Acura and the EPA said I should have gotten better than that.
One thing I expect from an Acura is a driving experience that puts a smile on my face. That’s usually a good payoff, right? I am happy to report that the TLX delivered on my expectations. The ride quality is pretty good. The front double-wishbone and rear multi-link suspension system does its best to smooth out the rough spots on the road.
As advertised, handling was superb. The TLX cornered near-flat and does evasive maneuvers with no drama. This was attributed to a sharp electric steering rack that was quick to respond. On-center feel is fine, although I prefer the heavier weight of the steering wheel in Sport mode overall. Pedal feel for the brakes was very good, which lends to a very powerful braking system. I experienced good stops in normal, panic, and winter situations.
This 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance tester came with a sticker price of $49,325. With four trim levels currently, pricing for the TLX starts at $37,500.
You are probably wondering why I received the Advance package rather than, say, an A-Spec? The sportier A-Spec is cool with some darker finishing and sportier cabin and fits the brand’s demographic on target. However, Acura is also a premium brand that caters to the luxury set. The Advance package fits those consumers quite well, especially when they have to shop it against the competition.
There is a question that you have that needs to be answered: "Where is the Type-S?" As Jada Essence Hall, the winner of season 12 of RuPaul's Drag Race, once said, "that is a question…look over there!"
No, seriously, the Acura TLX Type S is the reason why you’re interested in this sedan. This 355-horsepower turbocharged V6 version of this car will bring in the enthusiasts. The basis for that performance edition is already good. The Type S promises to take it to the next level. We are just a few months away from seeing one at your local Acura dealer.
For now, we have the newest TLX available to us. It is a very nice premium touring sedan that is wonderful to drive and can reward you after a few hours behind the wheel. Moreover, this sedan will keep Acura relevant among premium/luxury/enthusiast consumers looking for something that is not…ahem…German.
That's how you celebrate 35 years as an automotive brand!
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
All photos by Randy Stern