Selection galore to fill two pairs of shoes
The latest ride out of Acura’s Ohio-based operations is the TLX. Replacing both the TL and TSX in Acura’s lineup means the TLX has two pairs of comfy shoes to fill -- and that it’s available with heaps of selection to help it cater to a wide base of shoppers.
So, this new TLX serves up 4- or 6-cylinder power, two- or four-wheel drive and an 8- or 9-speed transmission, both automatic. The 2.4L 4-cylinder makes 206 horses, comes front-wheel drive only, and is teamed with a new 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. The V6 is a 3.5L unit with 290 horsepower and comes only with a 9-speed automatic. A new, lighter, smaller, faster-acting, and more torque-vectoring SH-AWD system is available (V6 only), and all two-wheel drive models have four-wheel steering, called Precision All Wheel Steer or P-AWS.
Anyhow, Acura says that all of this selection is important when trying to balance the scales after several years of very strong SUV sales and several years of not-so-hot sales of sedans.
A familiar feel, and a not-so-familiar feel
From inside the car, the efforts of the TLX’s team of engineers has created a very honed and tuned ride. Drivers can expect to feel as though the suspension and body are carefully tuned to block unwanted noises and sensations from entering -- they’ll only hear the soft pitter-patter of tires over expansion joints and a subtle roar from the tires beneath. Near-nil levels of wind noise and carefully tuned suspension damping to filter out smaller and unwanted vibrations contribute to a relaxing atmosphere.
That’s all taken in from a cabin that’s typical Acura. There’s plenty of soft dash material with depth-y, swooping character lines, exposed stitching, and graceful curves of metal-plate accenting that flow down the centre console. If you’re coming out of a few-year-old Acura model, much of the materials and colours, and a good portion of the controls, will feel familiar.
The V6-powered TLX -- which is smaller overall than the TL before it, but just as big inside -- has a heavy, planted character to it, even when pushed. The TL was a solid, dense and creamy car, and the TLX maintains that -- while turning in a quieter ride than the outgoing unit and perhaps feeling a touch softer. The new engine is a little less furious-sounding when opened up, though just as snippy at high revs, the steering still clamps the thing to the driver’s selected line, and the suspension is, perhaps, a touch less busy on rougher surfaces. It’s much of what owners of the last-generation TL liked, but a little more upscale around the edges.
Then, there’s the 4-cylinder model, which is a riot.
Contrasting the big smooth V6, the 4-cylinder operates with a growly, purely mechanical sound that calls old high-strung Honda four-bangers of days gone by to mind. Like those engines, it works best when spinning fast, breathes to 7,000 revs with a curious enthusiasm, and isn’t shy about making its voice heard. Former owners of a custom import compact car who now require something more sensible and responsible will feel right at home.
It lacks the full-throttle punch and low-RPM effortlessness of the V6, but the 4-pot is a notably more entertaining machine overall -- especially when drivers get on it hard on some winding roads and exploit the leaner and more agile front end and the lighter and more energetic steering feel. With the 2.4L under the hood, the TLX feels less like it’s clamped to the road and more like it’s dancing over it. It’s less locked-on and more playful, frisky and exciting.
Further, the fast, perfectly rev-matched gear shifts accessible via paddles are more entertaining than the hesitant and deliberate ones executed by the 9-speed box in the V6.
Gripes and Notables
Complaints? On a brief introductory test drive, my only one was the navigation display on the centre screen is the same one I’ve been hoping Honda would bring up to speed with the rest of the market for several years. It looks old school and plain and the graphical display horsepower is on par with the average late-‘90s flip-phone.
There’s modern high-tech elsewhere though, and the TLX can be equipped with various degrees of technological knick-knackery employed for added convenience, linking your smartphone to the vehicle, and using radar waves to help prevent whacking into fellow motorists or pieces of highway infrastructure.
At the end of the day, the new TLX should be considered for a test drive by shoppers prioritizing sensibility, overall value, refined driving character, upscale styling that doesn’t overdo it, and a dose of discreet sportiness delivered in one of two ways. Pick your weapon: a silky six that’s a secret hot-rod, or a frisky four that’s eager to please.
Pricing starts $34,990, when the TLX goes on sale later this month.