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2018 Acura TLX Test Drive Review
The Acura TLX has offered competent performance since it was introduced in 2015, replacing the old TSX and TL sedans. With a redesigned face, a faster infotainment system, retuned transmissions and extra standard safety, Acura aims to woo new customers to the segment who have so far largely ignored this “also-ran.” But it’s the sporty new A-Spec trims that are the real winners for 2018.
Look and Feel
The midsize luxury sedan is one of the most competitive and demanding categories in the auto industry, and the TLX is the perfect evidence for that claim. When a manufacturer can deliver a vehicle that’s as well built, well mannered and well,… all-around competent as the TLX and still be largely forgotten, it's a testament to the high stakes of the segment. The problem with the TLX is that people have come to expect one of two things in their midsize luxury sedan—performance or luxury—and the TLX didn’t deliver an overwhelming abundance of either. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good performer or wasn’t well built. It certainly was and is. It just never delivered either well enough to stand out.
And that’s a shame. With a stout, eager V6, an elegant all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, and Honda build quality behind it, the recipe for success was already baked right in, but the TLX starts with a 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive (FWD), enhanced by Acura’s 4-wheel steering, dubbed Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS). That’s what you’ll get with the base TLX FWD trim: a 2.4-liter, direct-injection engine pumping out a not-unimpressive 206 hp and 182 lb-ft of torque that’ll get the TLX to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. That power is pushed through an innovative 8-speed, dual-clutch transmission that still uses a traditional torque converter, mitigating much of the harshness experienced with dual-clutch gearboxes. For its $33,000 MSRP, you’ll get 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, keyless entry and ignition, push-button start, dual-zone auto climate control, heated sports seats with faux leather and 10-way power for the driver (4-way passenger), a tilt-and-telescoping wheel, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and the usual tech add-ons like Bluetooth. You’ll also get Active Sound and Active Noise Control systems. The former augments the sound of the engine and pumps that into the cabin, while the latter is a noise-canceling system that keeps the cabin artificially quiet.
Additionally, every TLX gets standard AcuraWatch for 2018—a suite of safety features including adaptive cruise, auto high beams, lane-departure warning and intervention, forward-collision warning with auto brake and road-departure mitigation.
The TLX V6 trims offer a 290-hp, 267-lb-ft of torque 3.5-liter V6 engine that will get you to 60 in less than 6 seconds and can be had with P-AWS for $36,200 or Acura’s Super-Handling AWD system (SH-AWD) for $38,200. Regardless of drive configuration, you’ll get a new 9-speed transmission, 18-inch wheels and a driver’s seat with 12-way power, including power lumbar and power thigh-support extension.
Any TLX can be enhanced with a $3,700 Technology Package, which was a prerequisite when opting for AWD until this year. Now any TLX can add AWD for another $2,000, but if you go for the Tech Package, you’ll add navigation with real-time traffic, rain-sensing wipers, real leather for the seats with contrast stitching and piping for the V6, GPS-linked climate control, an upgraded, 10-speaker stereo with HD Radio, a color multi-information display and a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic.
However only cars with the V6 can access the Advance Package, a $3,850 collection that’ll get you LED fog and puddle lights, power-folding auto-dimming side mirrors, remote start, front and rear parking sensors, a wireless phone charger, heated steering wheel and windshield, 6-level heated and ventilated front seats with 3-level heated rears, a surround-view camera system and a host of visual upgrades like unique 18-inch wheels, rear spoiler and ambient lighting.
Finally a new package debuts this year—the A-Spec—which is a $2,900 package available to any V6 TLX already equipped with the Tech Package. The version Acura sent me had this package, and it really helps the TLX come into its own. It includes a lot of aesthetic improvements with round fog-, head- and taillights in dark chrome trim, restyled front and rear bumpers with side skirts and a gloss black rear spoiler and diffuser with 4-inch fake exhaust tips. The visual massage continues inside with a black headliner and Alcantara inserts for the door in red or black, red ambient lighting and special red-on-black gauges, and lots of metallic trim. But you also get heated and ventilated sports seats and the front and rear parking sensors and wireless charging from the Advance Package. That’s all great, but it’s under the car where you should really pay attention. Here, the A-Specs enjoy stiffer springs, more aggressive dampers and a thicker rear stabilizer, as well as a sportier steering ratio—upgrades that would go largely underutilized if it weren’t for the wider, 19-inch wheels that come with the A-Specs. They transform the character of the car and make the $42,800 MSRP well worth it. Mine was also outfitted with AWD, and with a $950 destination charge, my walkaway price came to $45,750.
With the base 2.4-liter engine, performance is stout if not impressive, with the TLX's 7.5-second 0-60 time and a combined 27 mpg rating, calculated from 23 mpg city, 33 highway. Go for the V6 and that’ll drop to 20 mpg city, 32 highway, for a combined rating of 24, but you’ll also get to 60 in less than 6 seconds. That’s a lot of improvement for a small penalty. Throw AWD into the mix and the highway figure drops to 30, while the city figure actually rises to 21, evening out to the same 24 mpg combined figure. With the A-Spec package, you can expect to shave another 1 mpg off all those figures, though in real-world terms I was actually able to best the TLX's 29 mpg highway rating, and despite all the fun I had in the twisties throughout the week, I still managed the claimed 23 mpg combined rating.
Even better, the engine delivers its 290 hp and 267 lb-ft in a predictable, linear fashion, pulling hard from just off idle all the way through the rev range. There’s no waiting for turbos to spool up, and the 9-speed transmission (with paddle shifters) is eager to downshift and get you into the meaty part of the power band for quick passing power.
More impressive is the TLX's handling. All the changes made to the suspension and steering with the A-Spec package are a wonderful collection of improvements, devised by the guy who sorted the NSX, but it’s the tires' width increasing from 225 to 245 mm that really makes the difference, as they’re able to take advantage of all those upgrades. To be honest, the car is still quite under-tired, and with stickier rubber I can’t imagine the levels of grip the AWD system would be able to deliver. The SH-AWD system is one of my favorites on the market, with its hydraulic clutches adjusting torque distribution between the two rear wheels nearly unnoticeably to improve cornering and limit understeer. Personally, the TLX was always an invisible choice in a segment that includes the 3 Series and the C-Class, but with the A-Spec package it becomes a worthy contender. It’s not the best performer in the class, but it deserves a look.
My one performance issue is with the brakes. If you really start driving the TLX hard, there’s a bit of fade to deal with after a handful of hard hits on those pads. Actual braking distance of 118 feet from 60 mph is 10 feet or more longer than most of the competition, and that’s something to consider. I have no doubt Honda/Acura can do better, and they should. That’s the one concern I have that would dissuade me from considering the TLX.
Form and Function
Too often the midsize luxury segment is dominated by discussions of which is the fastest, and that’s a short-sighted approach to car shopping. Not everyone is obsessed with being the top performer, and that sort of tactic will always lead to compromises elsewhere. There’s little of that with the TLX, other than the braking issue I mentioned.
My big issue here is the interior. The TLX is still outfitted with the dual-screen setup for the infotainment system, and that’s a trend that’s thankfully ending. The overall interior design isn’t bad, it’s just starting to look a little dated, and I’m sure that will dissuade a lot of customers from pulling the trigger for a 2018.
If you can get past the idea that the interior isn’t on the razor’s edge of fashion and trends, you’ll find it a very comfortable place to spend some time. The fact that the TLX is a bit longer than most of the competition translates into more legroom for passengers, though rear-seat occupants will find headroom at a premium if they’re over 6 feet tall. Otherwise, the fit and finish are very competitive, materials are high quality and 14 cubic feet of total storage in the trunk positions the TLX in a good place amongst the alternatives.
With those caveats in mind, the TLX finally offers a well-rounded alternative to the 3 Series and the C-Class—a car that can be luxurious or sporty or simply a good value for a no-nonsense sedan, all depending on how you outfit it.
Despite the infotainment system getting a refresh that Acura claims results in a 35 percent speed improvement, the old graphics and dated layout are going to be a weak point in the sales pitch for the TLX. The dual screens simply complicate things unnecessarily, and when other Acura/Honda products have already moved on, it’s harder and harder to overlook this oversight. Acura is sure to further update the cabin and infotainment system for the TLX in a few years at the latest, so if that’s supremely important to your auto experience, it may be worth waiting.
Standard LEDs, dual-zone auto climate control, P-AWS, SH-AWD, the innovative transmission and Active Sound and Active Noise Control systems put a lot of technology in the TLX that will make your base experience a much more comfortable, relaxed affair. The fact that AcuraWatch’s suite of safety systems is standard this year as well only underlines the fact that Acura deserves some tech-refinement praise here. Spend a bit of extra money, and your TLX can be about as decked out as you can imagine.
The TLX benefits from an unblemished, 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in all categories, though the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the TLX a second-best rating of Acceptable in the Driver’s Side Small Overlap and Headlight tests, as well as a Marginal rating for the ease of use of the child-seat anchors. I'm not crazy about its braking distance of 118 feet, nor the tendency of the brakes to fade during repeated hard use, however, and that's something to keep in mind when shopping.
The AcuraWatch suite of safety features, including standard adaptive cruise, auto high beams, lane-departure warning and intervention, forward-collision warning with auto brake and road-departure mitigation, certainly helps the argument, though blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors and cameras are relegated to optional packages or higher trims.
You won't get the performance of some of the competition, but with an A-Spec TLX you’ll get close—and do it for much less. If you want a 6-cylinder 3 Series with the same features as a TLX, you can expect to pay $10K or more just to match it, and there’s a lot of performance you can forgive for that kind of money. Still, some will be willing to pay that much to have a more prestigious emblem on the hood. My suggestion is to drive both and see if you can feel $10K worth of difference. If not, the TLX is a great way to save some money in the luxury midsize sedan segment.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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