2018 Acura TLX First Drive Review - Accord Brougham

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
2018 acura tlx first drive review accord brougham

Stop multi-tasking and listen to me for a minute, because I’m going to tell you the most important thing you’ll read this week.

Many years ago, when I was still in the pharmaceuticals game, I had a business mentor of sorts. He was a thick-set, bald, African-American fellow in his early 60s who dressed exclusively in velour tracksuits and, at the time of this story, had a custom-ordered pink S500, an SL500, and an aftermarket-droptop Lexus SC400 in his garage.

We were sitting at dinner one night and I was griping about a fellow we knew who had been given every chance possible by both of us to become remarkably wealthy. Yet every time one of us gave him a chance, he pissed it away through random acts of fiscal impropriety or domestic violence. I couldn’t understand why this dude could not get his act together and handle his business in an appropriate manner.

“Listen up, young blood,” my mentor said, stabbing me in the chest with a finger about the size of a Mag-Lite flashlight, “you cannot want something for someone they do not want for themselves.” I think I dropped my fork. He was right, of course. In the years since then, I’ve had occasion to remember those words again and again. You cannot want something for someone they do not want for themselves.

I need you to keep that in mind as you read this review. If you are like most automotive enthusiasts, you want Acura to return immediately to the glory days of the beautiful first-generation Legend and the sublime twin-cam Integra. But you cannot want something for Acura that it does not want for itself. Acura is perfectly content with being primarily known as the manufacturer of the RDX and MDX sport-utility vehicles. Those two products are market leaders and they’re more than enough to guarantee Acura’s continued existence. If you continue to hope that Acura will build razor’s-edge sporting compacts and M3 rivals, you will continue to be disappointed. Period, point blank. Got it?

Let’s continue.

I’d like to start by offering by heartfelt thanks to the organizers of the 2018 TLX press launch, because they permitted me to fit the event into what was a very cramped schedule for me. Due to some pre-existing commitments, I had to arrive at the host hotel well past midnight, hustle through the four-segment media drive, and get back on the road home before 2 p.m. This didn’t leave any room for the usual press-trip amenities, but it did give me a chance to put 270 miles on my personal 2014 Accord V6 EX-L both before and immediately after driving the TLX. That’s important, because the TLX is, not to put too fine a point on it, a sort of Accord Brougham.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. When the TLX first appeared three years ago, I put nearly 3,000 miles on two different examples of the car, driving them around both Summit Point’s Shenandoah course and Watkins Glen. I liked the car just fine. Compared to an Accord, it was quieter, featured better interior materials, and offered a few techno-tricks not available on the store-brand Honda sedan. Honestly, that’s all the TLX needs to do to be a worthwhile purchase for some people. There are a lot of middle-aged Accord loyalists out there with enough money to upgrade to an Acura. Their primary concern: the car be no worse than an Accord.

I know this because I’m one of those people. Unfortunately for me, the TLX is worse than an Accord in one way that really counts: the absence of a manual transmission. Had there been a six-speed V6 TLX available in 2014, I’d have bought one without hesitation. Acura offered a six-speed in the previous TL SH-AWD, but apparently the take rate wasn’t enough to justify doing it again. Sucks to be me, right? But it also sucks to be Honda, because I’d have cheerfully given them $45,000 instead of $31,000 for what is essentially the same car.

It’s alright. There aren’t enough people like me to matter — and after sitting through Acura’s presentation the morning of the press event, I realized I’m not the target market for the TLX anyway. The intended demographic appears to be people who lead exciting, urban, food-centric lifestyles with a diverse cast of hip friends. I’m none of those things; I’m just some jackass who can afford to buy a different-colored TLX for every day of the week if it would just come with a clutch pedal. Too old, too staid, too rural. Like Ralph Ellison’s narrator in the first chapter of his best novel, I’ve simply become invisible to Acura’s marketing division.

For 2018, the TLX receives a suite of mild but impressive upgrades and a brand-new A-spec model, all carefully calculated to appeal to the above-mentioned unicorn Millennials. You can judge the new front and (on certain models) rear fascia for yourself; I like it. The top-spec V6 Advance offers some new features: wireless charging, power-folding mirrors, heated rear seats, and a “bird’s-view” camera system like what you see on an Infiniti or Mercedes-Benz. But all TLX models get the comprehensive suite of active safety features, called AcuraWatch, which includes lane-keeping assist and is fundamentally identical to the “Honda Sensing” feature pack available on every trim of the Accord.

The belle of the TLX ball, in Acura’s opinion, is the A-Spec. At $42,800, it’s cheaper than the $43,750 V6 Advance. You get a special front and rear fascia, big wheels, chrome exhaust tips, some badges, and a tuned-up suspension. I found it impossible to make a significant distinction between the A-Spec and the V6 Advance on the drive route provided. Both of them are hugely competent and quite fast thanks to the always-stellar 3.5-liter V6. You can get a four-cylinder TLX for as little as $33,000, but the base six starts at $36,200 and you’d be a fool not to spring for it. Acura has a lot to say about the virtues of the TLX compared to the German competition, but I can sum up all the salient and/or worthwhile advantages Hitchhiker’s Guide-style:

  • First, it is slightly cheaper than the Germans;
  • Secondly, it has a V6.

Or to misquote Hilaire Belloc: “Whatever happens, Acura has got / the Honda J35 V6 / and they have not.” In the TLX, this engine is matched to the infamous ZF nine-speed automatic. This is unique to the TLX; with the Accord, the V6 is paired with Honda’s common-and-garden six-speed auto or a CVT if you stick with the four-pot. If you drove both back to back, I think you would prefer the Accord’s less complicated automatic, which doesn’t hunt between gears or stall for discernible periods of time during the many double-downshifts required by the narrow-ratio gearing in the ZF transmission. I cannot, however, argue with the very solid fuel-economy numbers displayed by the TLX during my drive, which hovered in the 28-29 mile per gallon range even with a bit of the ol’ back-road ultraviolence.

The other primary mechanical distinction between the Accord and the TLX is the availability of all-wheel-drive on V6 models of the Acura. If this is important to you, then you should get it, but the dry-road handling benefits of the system are mostly cancelled out by the additional weight. I’m reasonably certain that my Accord Coupe could dust any TLX around a racetrack, thanks to the mass advantage and the manual transmission.

Should you put a 2018 TLX in your garage? If you have an older TLX, I don’t think that the improvements warrant a trade-in, pleasant as they may be. If you’re an entry-level Audi or BMW “intender,” you should give the Acura a quick look-over to see if the extra power and likely better reliability are enough to mitigate the loss of perceived prestige that comes with the Acura badge vis-a-vis the Germans.

All the mandatory marketing hype aside, surely the buyer for the TLX is the same person he or she has always been: an Accord owner who wants to spend a little extra money. So let’s be forthright about that. The Accord Touring is thirty-five grand. The $8,000 you spend over and above that for the V6 Advance nets you a better interior, a better sound system, a SIGNIFICANTLY QUIETER CABIN — I put that in all-caps so my fellow Accord owners can hear it over the road noise — a variety of minor luxury features, and a better warranty.

You could pay more and get less. You really could. And we could conclude there, except for one thing: Shortly before departing for the trip home, I saw a very handsome brown TLX V6 Advance with all the options. It kind of spoke to the Brougham fancier in me. I opened the door and was impressed by the quality and tactile appeal of the interior. If there had been a stick-shift between the seats, I would have called my local Acura dealer on the way home and made a deposit. I’d like to have the extra Acura features and I’m willing to pay for them. I just want to shift for myself, the way I could with a BMW or with my current Honda. But Acura doesn’t want my business — and you can’t want something for someone that they don’t want for themselves, can you?

Acura provided lodging and food to this writer during this event. Jack provided the Accord used as transportation to and fro.

[Images: © 2017 Jack Baruth]

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2 of 135 comments
  • Synchromesh Synchromesh on May 21, 2017

    I've owned 2 Hondas back to back - a '93 Accord and a '00 Integra GS-R sedan. Loved both, they were great cars. Thought I was a diehard Honda fan. Until they discontinued the RSX and started going "upmarket". The '04-08 TL was the last decent-looking Acura and then when I saw the beaked '09 models I realized straight up that I will not be buying any Acura/Honda for a long long time. Let's face, the Civic Si doesn't hold a candle the the WRX and they simply have nothing else that's at least vaguely resembles old Hondas. And the new ones - just cookie-cutter trash. But I get it, it's all about sales and not enthusiasts.

  • Rjg Rjg on May 25, 2017

    Go back and check the price of a 540 when you were a kid. Inflation adjusted, it will be much more than a current 540. Then again, the current version of an e34 or 39 540 is a 550. A 95 540 was about 48k back then or 78k in today's dollars. An m550 is 72. And of course even a base 530 could outperform an e34 or 39 540 while blowing it out of the water in terms of features, safety and reliability. Lament the fact the bmws of our youth were way more engaging to drive but they certainly weren't cheaper.

  • Jeanbaptiste Any variant of “pizza” flavored combos. I only eat these on car trips and they are just my special gut wrenching treat.
  • Nrd515 Usually for me it's been Arby's for pretty much forever, except when the one near my house dosed me with food poisoning twice in about a year. Both times were horrible, but the second time was just so terrible it's up near the top of my medical horror stories, and I have a few of those. Obviously, I never went to that one again. I'm still pissed at Arby's for dropping Potato Cakes, and Culver's is truly better anyway. It will be Arby's fish for my "cheat day", when I eat what I want. No tartar sauce and no lettuce on mine, please. And if I get a fish and a French Dip & Swiss? Keep the Swiss, and the dip, too salty. Just the meat and the bread for me, thanks. The odds are about 25% that they will screw one or both of them up and I will have to drive through again to get replacement sandwiches. Culver's seems to get my order right many times in a row, but if I hurry and don't check my order, that's when it's screwed up and garbage to me. My best friend lives on Starbucks coffee. I don't understand coffee's appeal at all. Both my sister and I hate anything it's in. It's like green peppers, they ruin everything they touch. About the only things I hate more than coffee are most condiments, ranked from most hated to..who cares..[list=1][*]Tartar sauce. Just thinking about it makes me smell it in my head. A nod to Ranch here too. Disgusting. [/*][*]Mayo. JEEEEZUS! WTF?[/*][*]Ketchup. Sweet puke tasting sludge. On my fries? Salt. [/*][*]Mustard. Yikes. Brown, yellow, whatever, it's just awful.[/*][*]Pickles. Just ruin it from the pickle juice. No. [/*][*]Horsey, Secret, whatever sauce. Gross. [/*][*]American Cheese. American Sleeze. Any cheese, I don't want it.[/*][*]Shredded lettuce. I don't hate it, but it's warm and what's the point?[/*][*]Raw onion. Totally OK, but not something I really want. Grilled onions is a whole nother thing, I WANT those on a burger.[/*][*]Any of that "juice" that Subway and other sandwich places want to put on. NO, HELL NO! Actually, move this up to #5. [/*][/list=1]
  • SPPPP It seems like a really nice car that's just still trying to find its customer.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I owned an 87 Thunderbird aka the second generation aero bird. It was a fine driving comfortable and very reliable car. Quite underrated compared to the GM G-body mid sized coupes since unlike them they had rack and pinion steering and struts on all four wheels plus fuel injection which GM was a bit late to the game on their mid and full sized cars. When I sold it I considered a Mark VII LSC which like many had its trouble prone air suspension deleted and replaced with coils and struts. Instead I went for a MN-12 Thunderbird.
  • SCE to AUX Somebody got the bill of material mixed up and never caught it.Maybe the stud was for a different version (like the 4xe) which might use a different fuel tank.