Acura is Honda's luxury line, but does the TLX bring the luxury and performance?
Story by: Will Sabel Courtney
There’s a little-known secret hidden beneath the skin of the Acura TLX. Underneath that chrome “A” badge, that hawk’s beak front end, and those sweeping rear haunches…there’s the skeleton of a Honda Accord. Acura doesn’t talk much about this—they’re a luxury brand, trying to sell a luxury product, and nobody sells a luxury product by reminding everyone of how much it shares with a more plebeian item.
But just because Acura doesn’t mention it doesn’t mean it’s something to be ashamed of, because the Honda Accord is a damn fine car. And the new TLX is, simply, a faster, fancier Accord—which turns out to be one hell of a good proposition.
If the TLX name sounds vaguely familiar, it should—it’s a portmanteau of “TSX” and “TL.” Which makes a lot of sense, as the TLX itself is basically a portmanteau of those two (now discontinued) cars in Acura’s lineup. It’s sized right between the two models—which were based on the European- and U.S.-market Accords, respectively. It’s big enough to fit a family of four, (even if the back seat is a bit tight for a second set of six-footers) but small enough to slip into parking spaces like a mouse into a hole.
More importantly, it drives like a Honda. The TLX has the sort of deliciously complex personality the best Hondas have: patient and content in the daily grind of traffic, but willing and alive when the road opens up and turns twisty. It’s that remarkable set of characteristics that makes for an ideal daily driver - a flexible engine, a Goldilocks suspension, a strong chassis - and they’re characteristics the TLX has in spades.
The entry-level TLX comes with a 206 horsepower inline-four that connects exclusively to the front wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch torque converter automatic, an unorthodox arrangement that Acura claims eliminates the jerky off-the-line shifts that DSGs can be known for, even though everyone from VW to Porsche makes DSG-equipped cars that get around the problem. (I’d complain about Acura making this more complex than they need to be, but I fear they’d retaliate by throwing a CVT in the TLX instead. So I’ll just shut up.)
Upper-level TLXs, however, come with Acura’s tasty 3.5L V6—a direct-injected, VTEC-packing engine that makes 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft. It seems Acura’s bought into the trend of packing as many cogs into the gearbox as possible, as the V6 TLX comes with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Which is two too many to shift manually, in this car guy’s opinion, but luckily the transmission’s shift logic is smart enough that you rarely need to take matters into your own fingertips. Nine speed-equipped cars also come with a push-button shifter that looks straight out of a Ferrari, so…that’s a plus.
The shifter’s not the only thing that feels lifted out of some high-dollar exotica, though. Like the hardcore metal rolling out of Woking and Maranello these days, the TLX comes packed with techno-wizardry designed to make it handle better than it should. Acura’s awesomely Japanese-sounding Super-Handling All Wheel Drive is tops on that list, constantly redirecting power between the four wheels not only to enhance traction, but to fight understeer by pushing extra power to the outside rear wheels while taking turns. It’s a little unnerving the first time it really kicks in—the car suddenly seems to take a tighter line than expected, leaving the driver momentarily startled. Learn to trust it, though—which means keeping your foot down through the turns—and the SH-AWD pushes the TLX through with speed that verges on, well, super.
The TLX’s standard Integrated Dynamics System adds to the good times, too. Unlike a few similar systems from car companies who I’m too polite to name here, the different levels of Acura’s IDS actually feel different: “Econ” makes the car feel like Ben Stein sounds, “Normal” feels passively unremarkable, “Sport” feels active and alert, and “Sport+” makes the TLX feel like it’s had six cups of coffee on an empty stomach and it’s ready to go, right now, c’mon, let’s tear some shit up, dude! It’s too extreme for anything short of actual 8/10ths-or-faster driving, just like Porsche or AMG’s sportiest dynamic setting. Which means it’s awesome, and I love it.(On the minus side, though, “IDS” sounds like some sort of gastrointestinal disorder.)
The TLX isn’t just a backroad hustler, though; it’s a solid interstate cruiser, thanks to a smooth (if pleasantly firm) ride and a nicely-designed interior…with the slight exception of Honda’s confusing bifocal screen center stack and its occasionally maddening controls. (Why are the controls for the upper screen located below the lower screen? Why do I get a physical volume knob, but have to endlessly tap the touchscreen to tune the radio? Why does the giant top screen still not display the entire name of a song when ninety percent of its screen space is going unused?)
But like any infotainment system, you get used to it. And once you do, you’re left with a sedan that ponies up the best of both the sporty and luxury worlds—and that costs barely more than $45,000 fully loaded. A BMW 335i xDrive specced to match costs about $15,000 more. And the repairs will cost more down the line, too. That’s a deal that’s hard to beat.
Now, Acura—how about cranking the red line up to eight grand to pull another 60 horsepower out of the engine and giving us a TLX Type-S?
Model Tested: 2015 Acura TLX V6 SH-AWD with Advance Package
Price as Tested: $45,620
Power: 290 hp, 267 lb-ft
MPG: 21 city, 31 highway