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2021 Acura TLX Review

Updated: Nov 19, 2020


2021 Acura TLX A-Spec in Performance Red Pearl

Vehicle: 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec (courtesy of Acura West in London, Ontario)

MSRP as tested: $49,790

Specs: 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder (272hp, 280 lb.-ft. torque), paired with an 10-speed automatic transmission

0-100kmh as tested: 5.9 seconds


Much like many Japanese sports sedans, the Acura TLX has been in desperate need of an overhaul for quite a while. Well, change is finally here, and it was well worth the wait. With sharper handling, more power, and a lower + wider exterior design for a more aggressive look, Acura has improved on virtually every aspect of the TLX, bringing it back into the modern era. But it’s on the inside where the improvements are most drastic, injecting robo-futuristic styling and a dash of luxury, and elevating TLX from a ' practical alternative' to a truly worthy luxury competitor that can hold its own against the Germans.



Driving Impressions:

The old TLX had always been good at delivering a bit of excitement to your daily commute, and it’s good to see that Acura isn’t watering down the sport-aspects in favour for a tamer, mass-appeal experience, like many are doing nowadays. The ‘Precision Crafted Performance’ motto is fully embraced, with steering as sharp and responsive as ever thanks to a new quicker steering rack, and Acura’s ‘Super-Handing AWD’ working wonders to make TLX feel agile around corners by automatically delivering extra power to the outside wheels in tight turns, despite its FWD-based platform and 2-ton curb weight. Credit also has to be given to the rigid new chassis and suspension, which does a great job balancing solid-feeling road feel and delivering a refined ride, even without the optional adaptive damper system.


In comfort mode the TLX remains quiet and pleasant to drive, and though the suspension is firm it never feels jarring or unrefined. Turn the giant drive-mode selector into sport however, and suddenly the cabin is filled with the artificially enhanced sounds of the turbo-4 (along with sharper handling + throttle response), supposedly lending to a more emotional driving experience. While I’m not usually a fan of enhanced engine noises (especially from a 4-cylinder), TLX’s is one of the better sounding ones out there, and admittedly does enhance the excitement a bit without sounding like a droning lawnmower. Still, it’s a little loud and can get obnoxious over time, so its odd that Acura doesn’t let you disable it while in sport mode.

The large drive-selector knob is as attention-grabbing as it gets, emphasizing the TLX's drive-focused nature

If there’s one thing holding the TLX back, it’s weight. Despite not offering much more interior space than compact-luxury sedan rivals, the Acura has a wider and longer footprint, tipping the scales at a porky 2 tons. Thankfully the new turbo-4 engine delivers an extra 66 hp and 98 lb-ft torque over the outgoing base engine that more than offsets the extra 200 pounds put on this generation (0-100kmh takes around 5.9 seconds, compared to last generation’s sluggish 7+ seconds). It certainly feels quick enough, especially with massive low-end torque giving it quite a bit of pick-up at launch and during city driving, but it still can’t quite match any of its 4-cylinder German rivals in raw acceleration, despite the power advantage. Acura’s 10-speed transmission also does a great job when left to its own devices, but is disappointingly slow to respond once you take over with the paddles.

New 2021 Acura TLX POV
Behind the wheel of the 2021 Acura TLX

Overall, there’s no denying the TLX feels more agile and sport-oriented than rivals such as the Audi A4 and Mercedes C300, but while it's arguably more exciting than the BMW 3-Series during everyday city driving, the 3-Series would still be my pick for tackling some proper twisty back roads. With such a well-sorted platform we’re very excited to see how performance-oriented Type-S TLX will fare, making its long awaited return early next year.



Interior:

The inside is where the changes are most appreciated. Whereas the last generation TLX looked extremely outdated in design and frankly felt a little cheap with its abundance of hard plastics, this generation adopts a sleek angular design, first previewed in the all new RDX. The sharp angles and button-filled centre console give the TLX’s cabin a unique robo-futuristic look, and even though it can look a bit busy with all its buttons, its balanced quite well with a leather slab on top and a sleek 10.2 inch infotainment screen above.


Right smack in the middle of the interior is a giant metal drive-mode selector knob with a glowing Acura logo on it, and below that sits Acura’s 4-button gear selector. A bit of an odd design choice especially given how much valuable centre-console real estate they take up, but it does help emphasize the TLX’s driver-focused mission and doesn’t look quite as out-of-place in the busy centre console as on the RDX. Elsewhere, materials and build quality is, with an abundance of brushed aluminium and leather tastefully appointing the cabin, and even suede + leather combo for the sporty A-Spec seats.

2021 Acura TLX Interior
2021 Acura TLX Interior
The waterfall design centre console looks modern and unique

One other note, we hope you like the colour red because you’ll be getting a LOT of it if you opt for the A-Spec trim. From the glowing analogue dials and starter button, to the foot well puddle lights and the ambient lighting stripes accenting the interior angles, the entire cabin glows a shade of crimson, especially at night. It looks great and honestly fits the sporty nature of the cabin quite well, but if this isn’t your cup of tea you’ll have to settle for lower trims (which come with white accent lighting), or jump up to the fully-loaded Platinum Elite trim, where you’ll be able to choose between 24 ambient interior lighting colour themes, each of which Acura says is "inspired by iconic drives around the globe".

Tech + Practicality:

Gone is the outdated dual-screen infotainment setup, replaced by a sleek 10.2 Inch display controlled via a touch-pad. People always seem to complain about this infotainment system, but after the steep initial learning curve, it’s actually not as bad as most make it out to be. It uses a touchpad system that’s mapped 1-to-1 with the screen, which makes it a relatively predictable input system after some short practice. Keyboard inputs might be an issue without a touchscreen, but the ability to draw out the letters you’re trying to type make it much less of a hassle than you’d think. TLX can also be optioned with most tech you’d expect from a luxury sports sedan (including the amazing 17-speaker ELS Studio 3D sound system), though the one missing item is a fully digital instrument cluster. Once again, not a big deal as the analogue gauges are attractive enough as is, and the smaller customizable digital display does a good job displaying all the information you would ever need. Enthusiasts will also appreciate the fun bits of performance information on the digital display, such as lateral g-forces, turbo boost indicator, or the SH-AWD (Super Handling AWD) power distribution to each wheel.

New 2021 Acura TLX Instrument Cluster
The angry-red analogue instrument cluster is an Acura staple

As mentioned above, the TLX’s large exterior proportions doesn’t translate to a more spacious interior. Rear seat space is on par with most of its compact luxury sedan rivals (despite having a 10 inch length advantage over the C-Class), but it’ll do fine for kids, or adults during short journeys. Cargo space sits at a very average 13.5 cubic feet, and the fold-down seats help to haul larger items.



Exterior:

Rather than a radical redesign, Acura has re-sculpted the TLX to give it a lower, wider, and more muscular look. The front end gets Acura’s latest iteration of their sharp-looking Jewel-Eye LED headlights, along with a re-sculpted front fascia and low hood to emphasize its wider stance and more aggressive personality. Additional body lines help to highlight the longer and lower profile, and the massive flared hips by the rear is probably my favourite design element here, really giving the TLX that coveted haunched muscular look. It actually looks surprisingly similar to the Type-S Concept in person, which is quite an achievement.

2021 Acura TLX A Spec Red Rear


Final Thoughts:

Overall, TLX remains one of the most enjoyable-to-drive luxury sport sedans in its class, with this new generation addressing most of the shortcomings of its predecessor. Base models are no longer underpowered thanks to a potent new powertrain, handling is as sharp as ever, but most importantly, its massively improved interior means it can now hold its own not just as a niche sporty sedan, but also as a proper luxury sedan. And with such an excellent and well-handling platform, we have very high expectations for the more powerful performance oriented TLX Type-S making its comeback very soon.

Recommended Configuration: TLX A-Spec ($49,790)

TLX now starts at $44,490, which represents a hefty premium over the outgoing model (now starting at $37,490). To be fair, the vast improvements more than justifies the price increase, and Canadian models currently only comes in relatively loaded trims which results in the higher starting price, with features such as the SH-AWD (a must have for any enthusiasts) included as standard.


With only 4 packages currently available with $8000 of each other, it;s hard to go wrong with any of them, but if we had to choose we’d recommend going for the A-Spec, which comes in just below the $50K CAD mark before taxes and fees. With this you’ll be getting virtually all the creature comforts you’d need including heated steering wheel + heated and ventilated seats, wireless charging, traffic safety systems, red interior accent lighting, the excellent ELS Studio® 3D Premium Audio System w/ 17 speakers, and some A-Spec exclusive styling inside and out. The only things you’ll be missing from the fully-loaded Platinum Elite model is the surround view camera, customizable interior accent lights, head-up display, and the new adaptive damper system, though for an extra $2500 over the A-Spec trim, it’s actually quite a bargain if you’re willing to spend a little extra, and give up the A-Spec’s additional sporty styling touches.