Expert Reviews

2021 Acura TLX First Drive Review

The long, chiselled design of the new 2021 Acura TLX is remarkably alluring, and it’s easy to get caught up in all the details that make this sedan stand out. Maybe the grille and headlights are the elements that draw your attention, or perhaps the deep red paint finish. In a world overrun with derivative-looking crossovers, the TLX stands out as a concept car for the road.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but in 2016 the brand debuted its Precision concept, which then evolved into last year’s Type S concept. Today, we see those concepts impact the final product, and major kudos should go to the design team that helped shine a spotlight on a nameplate that’s been forgotten in recent years.

It’s fair to say the makeover has reinvigorated the TLX, giving it a proper attitude in the process. Under the hood is a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder that’s shared with the RDX crossover. The motor is a highlight of the RDX, but Acura will be giving the TLX a bit more attention soon by offering a turbocharged V6 option for the sedan in the new year.

In the meantime, the four-cylinder – paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive regardless of trim – makes 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. That all-wheel drive is equipped on all models is a departure from the previous generation, which sent power to all four wheels in V6 guise only. Ditto the uptick in engine output, which is closer to the outgoing version’s V6 (290 hp; 267 lb-ft of torque).

The new four-cylinder is impressive, although it lacks a bit of the pizzazz you may expect of a sedan claiming performance chops. While it sounds a bit dull, it hustles the TLX around with ease. The 10-speed automatic is a satisfactory partner – it gets the job done, even if it isn’t as quick as the transmissions found in a few German competitors. Fortunately, it rarely stumbles or gets hung up making gear selections at speed.

Although we haven’t had the joy of experiencing this TLX in winter conditions where its all-wheel drive system should put on a show, it’s very well sorted on both dry and wet pavement, delivering torque to specific rear wheels with precision. It provides a lot of confidence while also feeling fast and fun. Acura managed a delicate balance and executed it perfectly.

But hop into the cabin, and the thoughts about fine-tuning, precision, and craftsmanship are dimmed. The dashboard is overloaded with buttons, and while this may be better than the two-screen setup of past models, Acura has also dropped a large knob smack-dab in the middle of the experience. It’d make sense if this were a volume knob; but no, it’s a drive mode selector, and for it to dominate the interface seems a bit unnecessary. Instead, the volume knob and media buttons stick out awkwardly at the base of the console. It’s as if they don’t want to be too close to the touchpad.

The touchpad itself is split in two to command the two panels in the infotainment system. While infotainment controls are always evolving, these touchpad-based systems prove tricky to use in motion, as one small movement can cause you to unintentionally select a feature or move the cursor in the wrong direction. Add in a bumpy road, other motorists, or some other unexpected item on your route, and it can be frustrating to use.

The white-backed gauge cluster uses bright red fonts, which is a very bold approach. There is a sense, however, that Acura missed the mark by not offering a digital cluster or head-up display. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are supported, and the vehicle offers an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot, as well as the ability to get over-the-air (OTA) updates for better functionality in the future without requiring a visit to the dealership.

The rest of the cabin feels great, with excellent use of materials that give the interior a high-end and premium vibe. A thick steering wheel and suede-like accents help seal the deal in this A-Spec trim model. The cabin is spacious, and rear-seat space – long a highlight of the TLX – is generous.

The TLX gives off the impression of a low-slung sports car, and it feels that way on the road, too. It’s longer and wider than the outgoing model, and even a bit lower. The dynamics of this play out nicely on the road, the TLX feeling stable and confident – even when the road gets twisty or the surface uneven.

The automaker has switched to a double-wishbone suspension up front, further emphasizing the TLX’s focus on being an above-average handler. Acura delivers here, a surprise considering other sport sedans make it happen through rear-wheel-drive-based platforms.

The steering is also well balanced with a nice weight, and the vehicle responds very nicely. It’s nimble, agile, and, despite the smooth driving experience, the TLX feels faster and more exciting than the actual speeds it’s travelling, which is a rarity as premium-badged cars can feel a bit insulated at times, dulling the enjoyment as a result.

You can find all of the usual driver assistance features and safety gadgets here. Lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and rear-cross traffic alert are all present and working well. The parking sensors and forward collision warning systems are a tiny bit sensitive, but as the adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The TLX offers quite a lot at a starting price of $43,990 plus a freight charge of $2,075. Tick the following off your checklist: all-wheel drive and a turbo-four motor that’s almost as powerful as the outgoing V6. It’s also plenty spacious for an entry-level luxury sedan. We tested the sporty-looking A-Spec model, with a $500 upgraded paint finish for a total pre-tax price of $49,790; the top-trim Platinum Elite costs an extra $2,400. The high-performance Type-S models, meanwhile, are set to arrive sometime in spring 2021, though pricing hasn’t been announced yet.

It feels like it’s taken a while, but Acura is finally making its move. The new 2021 TLX really helps drive the point home, with its slick design, carefully engineered chassis, and impressive handling characteristics. It should be more than enough to turn the heads of shoppers looking for a high-end, fun-to-drive sedan.