The SUV may be ascendant these days, but some carmakers still have room in their hearts, or more accurately their product portfolios, for the four-door sedan. Among them is Acura, the high-end arm of Honda in North America, which recently debuted its second-generation TLX. But don’t assume this is a case of badge engineering; the second-gen TLX is unique to Acura—you won’t find it wearing a Honda logo in Japan or Europe.
Acura is mostly known as a luxury brand, competing for customers with Lexus and Infiniti, but the company’s roots are actually much more sporty than plush. Acura wants to reconnect with that heritage as a way of differentiating itself from those rivals, and to that end, it says the new $40,000 2021 TLX is the most performance-focused sedan it has ever made. It starts with a monocoque chassis that’s 50 percent stiffer overall, with even higher rigidity at the parts where the suspension is attached. There are braces for the underbody, more rigid mounts for the front dampers, and a very stiff center tunnel. But at the same time, there’s extensive use of aluminum, even in some of these high-stiffness areas, to cut weight over the old model.
Further to its sporting intentions, Acura opted for a double-wishbone arrangement for the front suspension, which it says has 85 percent more lateral stiffness than the MacPherson struts on the first-generation TLX. That means the tires’ contact patches don’t shrink too much under cornering.
For now, there’s just a single engine available for the TLX, a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder that provides 272hp and 280lb-ft. That makes the engine slightly less powerful than the 3.5L V6 in the old model, but the turbocharged four is not only more torquey overall; it also has a much broader torque plateau, from 1,600-4,500rpm. Similarly, there’s only a single transmission choice—a 10-speed automatic transmission—although the TLX is available either in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (SH-AWD in Acuraspeak, and the version we tested).
We’ve experienced versions of this SH-AWD system in other Acuras, like the RDX crossover and NSX hybrid supercar. In this application, up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque can go to the rear axle, and 100 percent of that torque can be sent to either the left or right wheel, should the conditions demand that.
In addition to the $2,000 you’ll need to find if you want AWD, you can also expect to lose a little fuel efficiency—25mpg (9.4l/100km) combined for FWD, 24mpg (9.8l/100km) combined for AWD.
As ever, everyone will have their own take on whether or not they like the way a car is styled. This TLX has grown quite a bit over its predecessor and is now closer to the size of its competitor, the Lexus ES. The wheelbase has expanded by 3.7 inches (94mm), and the overall length has grown by 2.9 inches (74mm). But the most noticeable change is the increased dash-to-front axle length, which has grown by 7.8 inches (198mm).
That gives the car a rather different proportion when viewed side-on. It’s also wider overall (by 2.2 inches/56mm) and has a wider track than the last TLX—the front wheels are 1.2 inches (30mm) further apart, with the rears at 1.6 inches (40mm). Curb weight is also a little higher, despite the use of lightweight materials where possible—the FWD TLX tips the scales at 3,702lbs (1,679kg), and the SH-AWD variant comes in at 3,920lbs (1,778kg).
Even though it’s a bigger car, the TLX is actually quite easy to place on the road thanks to the prominent creases that run the length of the hood. As I’ve noted before, putting complex creases into body panels is one of the ways car makers flex on each other, and with this, TLX Acura is flexing pretty hard (unlike the chassis itself).
I liked the TLX’s interior. The front seats are very comfortable, with decent room in the back as well. Acura is sticking with conventional analogue dials for the main instrument display, but there’s also a 10.5-inch full-color heads-up display as an option. The infotainment system has a 10.2-inch display on the dash, which you control via a touchpad on the center console.
If you’ve never used Acura’s touchpad before, it can be a little strange at first, as there’s a 1:1 relationship between the touchpad and the screen. But with a little familiarity—a day or two should do it—it becomes extremely natural. A big advantage is that you can build up muscle memory, which means being able to operate the infotainment without taking your eyes off the road. Acura’s native system is perfectly fine and has an intuitive UI, and there’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for those who prefer to use their phones.
Since it’s 2021, you can and should expect a full complement of advanced driver-assistance systems in a midsize luxury car, and the TLX does not disappoint. The additions for this generation are a new kind of front passenger airbag (that we explored recently), traffic-sign recognition, traffic-jam assist, a driver-monitoring system, and pedestrian sensing and automatic emergency braking. I never experienced AEB activating, but the TLX’s forward collision warning is very sensitive and even a little jumpy. Some might find that overly annoying, but with safety systems like FCW, I’ll take overeager over asleep.
As for the driving experience, while it is a sharper-handling car than the last TLX, in Advance trim I still found the car wallowed a little during direction changes, with just a little too much lag between input and reaction. This was partially ameliorated by increasing the weight of the steering, but I suspect keen drivers will want to opt for the A-Spec version.
Listing image by Acura