Honda and Acura fans can rejoice with the addition of the brand-spankin’-new 2021 Acura TLX. While everyone seems to be flocking to crossovers, SUVs, and trucks these days, Acura still seems to think that there are enough sport sedan buyers to warrant a brand new product. In fact, the company expects the TLX to account for about 20 per cent of its total sales volume despite its RDX and MDX crossovers.
Re-engineered from the ground up, the TLX is based on Acura’s Type S Concept which made its in-the-metal debut in Monterey California during CarWeek.
Acura’s current crop of A-Spec vehicles are designed to draw younger shoppers into their showrooms and like the RDX, the TLX is also offered with this sportier trim level, as optioned out on my test vehicle.
With a stiffer new structure, a new multi-link suspension setup front and rear, a longer, lower, and wider new body, the TLX is a looker especially with its A-Spec specific sportier trim bits such as the black mirror caps, trunk lid spoiler and larger 19-inch wheels.
The new TLX really has what it takes to grab your attention and does away with the controversial shield-like grille that was such a front-and-centre element just a couple of model years ago.
From the slim LED headlights and tailights to its lowered stance, the TLX is perhaps my favourite Acura design in its line-up. Despite being 3 inches longer, 2 inches wider, and half an inch lower than its predecessor, the 2021 Acura TLX still looks sleeker and more agile than its predecessor.
Compared to its main competitors, the BMW 3-Series, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Audi A4, the Acura is a tad larger. Its front-wheel-drive architecture does mean that its snout isn’t quite as compact as its rear-wheel-drive based competitors (the BMW and Mercedes), but it is a solid fashion forward effort either way.
Under the hood is the familiar Honda/Acura 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine also found under the hood of the RDX, with 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel-drive is standard equipment, but my A-Spec tester was optioned out with Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system which can vector torque between the rear wheels for more agile handling. Unfortunately, only a 10-speed automatic gearbox is available with no manual transmission offered.
How does it drive?
The previous generation TLX was criticized for its ride and handling that fell short against its European and Japanese rivals. While it was sound, it lacked the entertaining athleticism found in peers from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. While the taut suspension resulted in stable and controlled dynamics, the TLX’s ride quality took a hit as a result.
For the 2021 all-new model, Acura did away with the less-sophisticated MacPherson strut setup from before and switched to a double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspension. This new combination has resulted in the greatest single improvement with the TLX, its ride quality and handling. The ride is mostly supple and nicely controlled, though well short of being plush.
While my A-Spec tester only fitted with the stock dampeners, the Advance trim-line and upcoming Type S model will receive more sophisticated adaptive dampers. As it stands though, the stock tune seems to be nicely sorted out and closer in terms of feel when compared to its rivals.
The TLX has an easy-to-drive character, with a lightness that is evident in the brand’s older and more celebrated products. The steering is quick but I found it to still lacks a bit of the direct, precise feedback that make the Euro rivals truly fun to drive.
One of Acura’s strong points has always been their powertrains and the TLX is no exception. The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder feels energetic and revs easily, with a decent punch even at lower revs.
The 10-speed transmission is shifts smoothly, delivering quick, direct shifts. However, sometimes it almost feels like there are one too many gears. Part throttle kick-down sometimes requires a deliberate prod of the throttle pedal, but 0-100 km/hr dashes are class-competitive at around 6.6 seconds.
Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive
Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system has become a company staple. Able to vector the vehicle’s torque fore and aft, as well as side-to-side (up to 100 per cent at the rear), the system pairs well with the more performance-orientated image that once helped Honda’s luxury brand stand out.
As long as you’re on the throttle pedal, even in dry weather, you can feel the SH-AWD system proactively improve the TLX’s agility on twisty roads by funnelling more power to the outside rear wheel. This results in the Acura tracking ore aggressively towards the inside corner of the curve, maintaining the driver’s line even at higher cornering speeds. In case you are doubtful of the system at work, a display in the instrument cluster shows which wheels the torque was flowing to.
Needless to say, compared to the front-wheel-drive model, the SH-AWD models have increased grip when existing corners, and the TLX can be hustled more aggressively than you might expect. Switch to Sport mode and the system shuffles torque more aggressively for even more responsiveness.
What about the interior?
Like the exterior, the 2021 TLX’s interior is also sharply designed to match the car’s new exterior. The 2021 model shares a lot of its interior design with the RDX crossover, which is a good thing. Gone is the old clunky dual screen infotainment which was distracting and awkward with its mix of hard and virtual controls.
Acura’s new touchpad-based infotainment system still unintuitive at first until you figure out the logic behind it. Once you figure out that each quadrant on the touchpad corresponds to each corner of the infotainment screen, it quickly makes a lot more sense.
Unlike a computer touchpad which has a pointer, Acura’s system does not have a pointer and guesses what you’re trying to choose based on where you are pressing the pad.
Although I disliked the system initially, after a couple days of trial and error, I quickly got used to it. While there were still rather peculiar UX quirks, it became less of a dealbreaker. Nonetheless, I still find the touchscreen or touchscreen + controller wheel infotainment systems a lot easier to use.
Despite these UX issues, Acura has done a good job with the system’s crisp and modern looking graphics to match the TLX. I only wish that they had taken the opportunity to completely rework the system into a full digital display.
Infotainment-system aside, the TLX’s interior is a nice enough place to be with comfortable and roomy front seats, and even a thoughtful centre console cutout that accommodates drivers with longer legs. In the back, the rear seat is a bit tight on knee room but the rear seatback angle is comfortable enough.
One of the TLX’s “highlights” is the 24-colour ambient lighting system and its ability to set the cabin to an array of colours.
Despite improvements in cabin isolation, I still found the TLX’s cabin to be a bit noisier than the German competitors, with more wind and road noise punching through at highway speeds. At least the powerful ELS sound system is there to drown out some of this noise.
While there has been some criticism over Acura’s push-button electronic gear selector, I’ve never found it to be a problem on the Honda Odyssey, the Acura RDX, or the TLX.
On the safety front, all TLXs come with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assistance. Getting blind spot warning and rear cross traffic warning require opting for the Technology and higher packages.
The 2021 Acura TLX marks the second generation of this vehicle. To my eyes, Acura hit the exterior styling out of the park this time around, particularly on the A-Spec appearance package model with its 19-inch Shark Grey wheels, gloss accents, and more.
With a perky powertrain, a comfortable ride, available SH-AWD, the TLX is much improved over its predecessor. While it may not be as sporty as its competitors, its high level of tech content, competent handling and nicely-controlled ride, should appeal to those looking for something other than a Lexus or a European-branded compact sport sedan.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.