Luxury sport sedans may not be big sellers, but they are excellent brand ambassadors and generate considerable cachet.
With the reengineered 2021 Acura TLX, the automaker has its sights set on boosting exactly that. There will be a 355-hp twin-turbocharged 3.0L V6 on the menu soon, but for now all TLX variants run with a 272-hp 2.0L turbo four-cylinder hooked to a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Here, we test the top-spec Platinum Elite with a price of $52,190 before freight and taxes. Can this car claw back some sport sedan glory for Honda’s upscale brand?
The 2021 Acura TLX is longer, lower, and wider than the outgoing version and rides on a new structure that is 40 per cent stiffer. While still immediately identifiable as a TLX, it’s a sexier beast, with styling cues that stray not too far from last year’s Type S concept. The nose has been stretched, giving it a more rakish profile, and up front we see Acura’s cool jewelled LED headlights, LED fog lights, and a revised fascia. The base TLX rides on 18-inch alloy, but the Platinum Elite benefits from 19-inch alloys. This tester shows off a new colour for 2021: a deep purple metallic hue dubbed Phantom Violet Pearl (I would have called it Smoke on the Water, but that just shows my age). Overall, this new TLX’s sheet metal successfully blends elegance and athleticism.
All 2021 TLXs are equipped with all-wheel drive along with collision mitigation, forward collision warning, hill start assist, lane-departure warning with haptic steering wheel feedback, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, front windshield de-icer, and road-departure mitigation. This Platinum Elite model adds blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warnings, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, a surround-view camera, and a crisp head-up display.
The TLX’s trunk has shrunken marginally in size with this redesign, but with a large opening, useful depth, and a 382-litre capacity, it’s plenty functional. Fold down the 60/40-split rear seat and the large opening will swallow a bike or enable the odd Ikea run.
The TLX shows well for cabin storage. There is a good-sized cubby between the seats that’s large enough to fit a DSLR camera, and in front of said cubby a tray for holding/charging a smartphone. The door pockets are well configured and easily accessible, although I wish the glove box was larger.
User Friendliness: 7.5/10
It seems all carmakers are trying to figure out the best way for us humans (read: opposable thumbs and eyes that can only look at one thing at a time) to access and safely operate ever more complex infotainment systems. Since the TLX’s dashtop 10.2-inch display screen is out of reach here, Acura’s solution is a console-mounted touchpad. Touch the part of the pad that corresponds with an icon on the screen and press to activate. Like anything, it takes some practice and gets better with familiarity, but it’s not a complete winner. It’s better than rival Lexus’s system but not as good as BMW’s more tactile rotary controller.
There’s also an array of buttons under the screen to control HVAC and seat heat/ventilation, and I like the volume knob and tuner rocker switch just to the right of the touchpad. Additionally, Acura’s voice activation is quick to respond (correctly) to most requests, something that can’t be said for many out there. Inputting navigation destinations was as simple as clearly stating the address.
There is an array of buttons on the console for gear selection that initially presents itself as an ergonomic puzzle, yet works fine once you get the hang of it.
The TLX’s cabin is low slung, so getting in and out might not be the easiest for some, but the benefit is an excellent sportscar-like driving position, and with the car’s low cowl and low-profile dash architecture, forward visibility is good. The gauge cluster is not fully digital like those of its German rivals, and these analogue gauges are not the easiest to read in some lighting conditions.
This Platinum Elite tester is the TLX’s top spec, and buyers are not wanting for much here. Along with the comprehensive list of safety features and driver aid systems, this model gets full leather, heated rear seats, heated and ventilated 16-way power front chairs, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a Wi-Fi hotspot, head-up display, sunroof, 19-inch wheels, and adaptive damping. At night, you’re welcomed by puddle lights, and soothed by violet-hued interior accent lighting.
Interior quality is vastly improved over the outgoing model. Acura says, “If it looks like metal, it is real metal. If it looks like wood, it’s wood.”
The star of the show is the spectacular 17-speaker audio system that fills the cabin with exceptionally clear, beautifully separated, and well-balanced sound; one of the best I’ve heard in any price range.
Until the 355-hp twin-turbo V6 arrives in the spring of 2021, the new TLX only runs with a 2.0L turbo four that generates 272 hp at 6,500 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque from 1,600 to 4,500 rpm. It’s a class-competitive engine that provides good thrust once past the initial laggy business of spooling up and waiting for the 10-speed auto to kick down. Plant your foot at highway speeds and you’ll be waiting a couple of beats before all systems are on board with your request. Selecting sport mode via the big dial on the dash puts the transmission in a more aggressive setting, which keeps the revs up a bit, giving better throttle response
Nonetheless, once on the boil this four-cylinder TLX is plenty quick, and the 10-speed transmission keeps the engine in its powerband when you are pressing on.
The 2021 Acura TLX Platinum Elite plays the comfort card well. The front seats are superb, offering an expert blend of long-distance comfort and snug support. Front seat room is very generous. Outboard rear seat passengers get decent legroom and nicely contoured – and heated – seats, but those over six-feet tall might be rubbing their noggins on the headliner.
This top-spec TLX is the only model to get adaptive damping, with three levels (sport; normal; comfort) that correspond with drive modes that are selectable by the big dial sitting just ahead of the shift selector buttons. It’s an effective system, with clear delineations in ride quality. Sport firms up the chassis considerably, delivering flat cornering and good path control along with a somewhat busy ride. Normal is just that – a nice sport/comfort compromise. However, I found myself driving around in comfort mode most of the time. This is where the TLX seems to be the most at home in its own skin. The sedan glides with impunity over almost all crappy surfaces (and there are many here in the Great Toronto Area), yet avoids feeling floaty. Whichever mode selected, there is always a sense of well-tuned refinement.
The new 10-speed automatic is smooth, and an improvement over the outgoing – and occasionally jerky – eight-speed dual-clutch unit. Yes, 10 gears is a lot, but overall, it slurs them nicely and avoids unwanted hunting.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
People buy sports sedans for their engaging dynamics, and while this TLX is quick and hangs on in the corners, it doesn’t show the dynamic harmony or fluidity of the best in class like the BMW 330i or the Jaguar XE P300, both of which are built on rear-wheel drive-based architecture with longitudinally-mounted engines. The Acura is still a front-drive-based car with its engine mounted sideways.
The steering is a bit numb, and while turn-in is quick, the back end of the car takes a blink before it plays along. Still, put the hammer down in the corner and the TLX’s clever all-wheel drive apportions the power appropriately; the car hunkers down and blasts forth.
This new 10-speed auto, while very smooth, doesn’t shift with the crispness – nor respond to paddle shift inputs – of the industry-best ZF eight-speed unit that is found in everything from BMWs to Dodges to Jaguars. However, the TLX is a pleasant car to drive, and if you’re not intent on taking every on-ramp at ten-tenths (who is?), its high luxury quotient and moderate sportiness make for an agreeable combination.
Fuel Economy: 7.5/10
The 2021 Acura TLX asks for premium fuel and is rated at 11.0 L/100 km city, 8.6 highway, and 9.9 combined. The BMW 330i xDrive is more frugal, with ratings of 9.5 L/100 km city, 6.9 highway, and 8.3 combined. My week of mostly relaxed driving netted 9.8 L/100 km.
With an all-in price of $52,190, the 2021 Acura TLX Platinum Elite presents good value if you are cross-shopping European hardware. Equip a BMW 330i xDrive to these levels and you’ll be shelling out at least another $10,000 as the option and package boxes are ticked off. Same deal with the Jaguar XE P300. The Acura makes for a less stressful shopping experience, but the biggest threat to the TLX comes from Korea in the form of the superb – and just refreshed – Genesis G70 that is priced in the same ballpark but handily runs with the big dogs. To many pundits is arguably the best in class.
The 2021 Acura TLX in top-tier Elite Premium trim plays to its strengths by leaning heavily on the luxury side of the sports sedan equation. It’s not as athletic as it looks suggest, having been tuned more for comfort than driving engagement, and this will be a disappointment for who were hoping this upscale Honda would carry more of the brand’s racy DNA. However, many buyers should find the TLX’s style, interior appointments, swift pace and bucket-load of kit just the ticket. And that crazy-good ELS audio is icing on the cake.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||272 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||280 lb-ft @ 1,600–4,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||11.0/8.6/9.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||382 L|
|Model Tested||2021 Acura TLX Platinum Elite|
|Price as Tested||$54,365|
$500 – Phantom Violet Pearl, $500