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?
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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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.