Test Drive: 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD

Good news: Acura has just launched an updated version of their mid-size TLX luxury sedan, with the revised 2018 TLX going on sale June 1.

The TLX is sensibly designed in a way that’s sure to offend no one.

That means the outgoing 2017 Acura TLX will likely be wearing attractive discounts in the coming weeks and months, and with the changes appearing to be little more than a mid-cycle refresh for the new machine, we’ve spent a week with the ’17 TLX to refresh ourselves on its strengths and weaknesses.

Introduced three years ago as a means to help streamline the Acura model lineup, the TLX replaced both the TSX and its slightly larger sibling, the TL. Offered with either a front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder format, or the all-wheel-drive, V6 configuration of our test car, the TLX has been a competent car whose anonymous styling has likely held back some otherwise would-be buyers.

The TLX is a handsome car with good proportions and short overhangs, but aside from its multi-lens headlight treatment, there’s little to make it stand out from, say, a Hyundai Elantra. Nevertheless, sales of the TLX have been decent, bettering the likes of the Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50 and Cadillac ATS, though falling well short of its three main German competitors. The 2018 model’s more appealing black grille will thankfully replace this outgoing model’s controversial silver beak, creating a more sporting look that may help draw more positive attention to the car.

One other note about the TLX’s styling: despite being a top-trim Elite model, our test car wore what must be the most uninspired wheel design in the category, doing nothing to help the Acura look like a sports luxury sedan.

Inside, the TLX is sensibly designed in a way that’s sure to offend no one. There are sweeping lines across the dash, creating a waterfall effect in the middle that houses the central controls. The primary gauges are as they’ve always been from Acura: bright, highly legible and dominated by a large, round speedometer and tachometer with traditional white digits on a black surface.

That middle waterfall of controls houses a stacked pair of screens to manage the infotainment system and climate readouts. With manufacturers seemingly making their infotainment systems a focal point of all new-car development these days, every new year presents bigger, better and brighter systems, making Acura’s system appear bland, dated and cumbersome. With Android Auto and Apple CarPlay coming for 2018, the system will at least become more user-friendly in terms of mobile device integration.

The chocolate brown leather seats of our test car were both heated and cooled, and offer reasonable comfort and support for spirited driving. Other interior materials are assembled with the precision expected of Acura; however, the swaths of soft-touch black dashboard plastic are fairly plain and the high-gloss plastic wood isn’t all that convincing. A few additional stylistic but tasteful flourishes could help make the TLX feel more of the luxury sedan it’s supposed to be. Little details like contrast stitching or piping go a long way to spice up otherwise dour settings.

If there’s one major ergonomic gaffe in the TLX, it’s with how Acura handles the gear selection process. Where most competitors utilize a stalk of some sort, Acura has provided a row of randomly shaped buttons for P-R-N-D that never seem to be easy to manage without looking carefully before selecting. This set up doesn’t appear to free up any space for extra cubbies, so aside from needless gimmickry, it’s tough to fathom why they’ve done this.

The transmission attached to that keyboard shifter is not without fault, either. Acura has fitted all V6 TLX models with a nine-speed automatic that shifts smoothly, but seems to hunt incessantly for the proper gear. Worse, in a quest for fuel efficiency, it’s programmed to race up the gears as quickly as possible, meaning that even moderate requests for more speed generally require two or even three downshifts before any meaningful progress is made.

In the Honda-Acura tradition, the engine itself – a 3.5L V6 – enjoys revving to the upper reaches of the tachometer (and has a pleasing snarl to it when it does). But when compared to many of its turbocharged contemporaries, waiting for the TLX’s 267 lb-ft of torque to arrive at 4,500 rpm makes the power delivery seem sluggish. Once underway, its 290 horsepower does a decent job of keeping the 1,700 kg Acura moving swiftly (assuming you aren’t caught in too tall a gear).

Rated at 11.2 L/100 km city, 7.5 L/100 km highway and 9.6 combined, the TLX, while not as efficient as its peppier, turbocharged four-cylinder counterparts, is nevertheless reasonably miserly. During its week with us, we covered nearly 1,000 km of mixed driving and averaged 7.3 L/100 km as claimed by the car’s trip computer.

Dynamically, the TLX’s greatest triumph is its handling. Acura’s SH-AWD (“Super Handling all-wheel drive”) and suspension tune deliver good turn-in response and very impressive balance throughout cornering. More impressive still is the way the TLX sends the power to all four corners, making the Acura a stable and engaging car to drive quickly. That said, the Goodyear Eagle LS2 all-season tires are better suited for efficiency, or quietness, or smoothness, or pretty much anything other than spirited motoring. They howl at the slightest on-ramp provocation and lose grip disappointingly soon. We wouldn’t mind more steering feel through the wheel, either.

Acura is bringing us a new A-Spec package as part of the 2018 lineup that will be tuned to deliver even better handling and hopefully wear stickier tires.

Like its infotainment system, the active safety features fitted to our Elite trim test car now feel a generation behind. Where competitors’ adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assist functions seem to have programming baked in that make them behave more naturally, the Acura tends to react abruptly and strongly to anything it senses might be a danger, slowing down aggressively even when not really necessary at all.

For drivers feeling particularly confident in their ability to safely operate the car without digital nannies, skipping the $48,190 “Elite” trim and settling for the $44,590 “Tech” trim will keep most of the creature comforts and save some cash, while foregoing some of the active safety functions. Speaking of cash savings, Acura is currently offering $4,500 discounts on 2017 TLX models, though such rebates tend to change often.

The outgoing Acura TLX is a very good car in competition with a few excellent cars that are dynamically and stylistically superior to this sensible Japanese sedan. The updates for 2018 will largely enhance the TLX’s strong points (its handling, in A-Spec trim), without improving on some of the drivetrain’s deficiencies. A strongly discounted TLX could represent a solid value and, with Acura’s reputation for longevity and build quality, should serve to be a decent long-term road companion.

2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD Elite
Engine Displacement: 3.5L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 290 hp
Peak Torque: 267 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 11.2/7.5/9.6 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 405 L
2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD Elite
Base Price $48,190
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,045
Price as Tested $50,335
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.9
6 Styling
7 Powertrain
8 Quality
7 Comfort
7 Practicality
7 Drivability
6 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
7 Features
6 Value