Test Drive: 2018 Acura TLX A-Spec V6

There are several reasons most folks consider buying an Acura TLX that have little to do with how it looks, feels or drives.

The revvy little gem of an engine calls to mind that high-RPM all-motor charm of Acura models gone by.

Brand reputation, the promise of a no-nonsense ownership experience, leading safety scores and top residual values are strong among them. Want a luxury sedan that’ll be reliable and trustworthy for years? One that doesn’t shout at passers-by with gawdy chrome? One that won’t be worth what you paid in tax after 10 years? One you’re not horrified to own once the warranty expires? The 2018 Acura TLX should likely be on your radar.

Pick your powertrain: the 3.5 litre V6 is a charmingly-smooth all-motor unit with 290 pleasing ponies, a mill that likes work, and one that sounds good doing it. Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system is available (only) with this engine, and it’s largely invisible and seamless, even in the nastiest winter conditions available to your writer on a past test drive.

The four-cylinder TLX makes 206 horsepower from 2.4 litres, and comes front-drive only. This setup means less weight over the front axle, which improves steering feel and eagerness. That’s bolstered by Acura’s Precision All Wheel Steer (P-AWS) system, which uses four-wheel steering to help turn the car. Four-cylinder units also get the TLX’s superior transmission: an 8-speed dual-clutch box with paddle-shift that shuffles gears more smoothly and quickly than the V6’s lazier nine-speed automatic.

My pick, at last check with the TLX model range a few years ago, would have been a four-cylinder model. Give up 90 horsepower, and you get all loveable TLX attributes, and an engine, transmission, and overall drive that are feistier when pushed on a winding road. Best thing? The revvy little gem of an engine calls to mind that high-RPM all-motor charm of Acura models gone by.

New A-Spec variant the big news for 2018

For 2018, TLX gets a facelift that updates parts of the cabin, and tidies and enhances its looks for a character that’s more alert and athletic. This year also sees the introduction of the TLX A-Spec grade, available with both powertrains.

Opting for the A-Spec package basically makes you a genius: if you were considering even a tire and wheel upgrade, you’d be most of the way to its $2,500 premium – but you get plenty of other goodies too. These include said tire and wheel upgrade, smoked lights, uniquely sporty fascias with a dark chrome grille surround, a rear decklid spoiler, flared side-sills, a rear diffuser, four-inch exhaust accents, dark window surrounds, and special badging.

On board, A-Spec upgrades include a thick-rimmed sports steering wheel, red instruments, doorsill trim plates, and sports seats with improved bolstering. Models with AWD get their power steering retuned for quicker response, and a slightly tweaked suspension with revised spring rates and a stiffer stabilizer bar for flatter cornering.

The A-Spec kit helps the updated-for-2018 TLX become something new: a sharp-looking head turner of a sports sedan that draws some attention. Where earlier models flew under the radar, likely on purpose, the facelifted A-Spec rolls down the road with added presence and flair. It’s the first Acura I’ve ever driven that consistently turned heads in traffic.

This tester was a V6-powered TLX A-Spec in Tech grade – priced at the better part of $47,400 with SH-AWD and a nice collection of toys.

Finished in black, the body’s deeper post-facelift sculpts seem to pop, and it looks formal, fit, and commanding. The unique grille and oversized badge are proudly displayed, and the rear fascia, with giant chrome exhaust outlet finishers, looks distinctively energetic.

Entry and exit to the driver’s seat are as easy as can be – you drop down slightly and slide in over slippery-smooth leather, passing through a wide door opening with a thin doorsill. No issues getting in or out, and once seated, your 5’11” writer found his environment to be roomy enough in every direction. It feels a touch snugger than some larger machines available in this pricing ballpark, but not cramped.

Nearby are numerous storage bins and cubbies – some deep and reconfigurable – as well as door bins and storage pockets in the interior door handles for added flexibility in storing smaller items needed nearby.

Rear seats pack room to spare for two average sized adults – though headroom will tighten up quickly for those of above-average height. The trunk is relatively deep and wide, fitted with a clever bin at each outer corner for keeping smaller items from rolling around.

Feature content favourites included the high-output USB port, running 2.5 amps to juice your power-sucking smartphone in a jiff, and the low-profile push-button shift console, which opens up space between the front seats by skipping the conventional lever. Many reviewers gripe about push-button electronic shift consoles, though the reality is that after using it about 10 times, the concept of pushing a button to shift gears becomes second nature.

On the dash, two on-screen displays stacked over one another combine with a central control knob for easy, but sometimes illogical, access to numerous functions relating to navigation, climate, entertainment and more. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are on board. The back-up camera uses an ultra wide-angle lens for a full 180-degree view rearward, though the resolution is relatively poor.

In all, cabin styling is distinctive – a tidy world of black and aluminum set off with red accents and rich red sports seats. Don’t miss the red LED light-pipes, accents and instrument lighting, which create a unique and welcoming environment after dark. Performance from the LED headlights is impressive too: especially with high-beams engaged, you get clean white light thickly flooding the road ahead, and into roadside culverts and tree-lines.

Drive straddles line between performance and comfort in A-Spec

The drive? With revised suspension and steering, the 2018 TLX A-Spec sits on a precise line drawn smack down the middle of sporty and comfortable.

You feel more of the road, but not too much. The body is sprung more closely to its wheels, more of the time, but not too much. Whack a bump, and there’s a more pronounced sensation, though the suspension maintains a sturdy and hearty feel. It’s a touch tighter, firmer and flatter than a standard TLX, and well-sorted throughout. If you’re arriving from an Accord V6 Coupe or Civic Si, you’ll feel right at home.

The V6 engine is as it was. Naturally aspirated, it offers something increasingly rare in a segment that’s rapidly switching to turbo engines: a powercurve with a shape to it, and a peaky, exciting surge of thrust that wells up as the revs close in on redline. Don’t miss the step-up of thrust and snarl as the VTEC system kicks in, enhancing breathing at higher engine speeds.

This V6 lacks the mountain of turbocharged torque you’ll find in numerous competitors, though the short initial gears in the 9-speed transmission help enhance low-RPM throttle response and pulling power.

The transmission can, at times, feel a bit clumsy or slow to pick the right gear when prodded for a pass, at least until it gets used to your driving style. Use the paddle shifters for manual control, and gearshifts are quick, not instant.

Brakes are strong and precise once worked a little, and steering is heavyset and quick enough to inspire confidence in fast corners, though not so much that the TLX feels hyperactive or nervous on the highway. The AWD system is notable here: really drive the pants off of the A-Spec, perhaps in Sport or Sport+ mode, and its ability to apportion drive power with precision to each wheel, and to overdrive a single rear wheel, incites grins as the car pitches and rotates beneath you like a little rear-drive coupe.

The standout attribute of note is a thin layer of numbness around many of the controls. Gearshifts are smooth and soft, quick, but not too quick. Brakes are a touch numb until you work them hard. There’s a touch of carefully-calculated lag to the throttle response. Steering is thick and responsive, but not ultra-precise. It all speaks to the TLX A-Spec’s apparent intention of being set mid-way between a sports sedan and a highway cruiser, as a machine that’s happy to fill both roles. Shoppers after comfortable hours-long drives, as well as confident browsing of sequential corners at speed should find the setup largely ideal.

And, on that highway cruise, expect a relatively quiet ride and fuel use at a rate of about 8.0 L/100 km – all with that touch of extra responsiveness dialled in through the chassis.

So, if you’re after a creamy and willing V6 and AWD, a unit like this tester is worthy of consideration. I’d still take the four-cylinder model though: in A-Spec trim, it finally looks the way it drives.

End of the day, where shopper priorities centre around a solid and sporty overall package that’s ready for no-nonsense long-haul ownership, and a ride with lots-of-toys priced for barely the base-model sticker of a European competitor, the TLX A-Spec is a solid bet.

2018 Acura TLX V6 Tech (A-Spec)
Engine Displacement: 3.5 L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 290 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Peak Torque: 267 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
Fuel Economy: 12.0/8.2/10.3 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 405 L
2018 Acura TLX V6 Tech (A-Spec)
Base Price $47,390
A/C Tax 100
Destination Fee 2045
Price as Tested 49535
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.1
9 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
7 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
8 Features
9 Value