2021 Acura TLX: If This Doesn't Work, Nothing Will

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Teased nearly to death in the run-up to its online debut, the 2021 Acura TLX revealed on Thursday lives up to the brand’s boastful pronouncements, at least on paper.

Athletic in stance and aggressive in design, the next-generation TLX arrives with a dedicated platform, double wishbone front suspension and turbocharged V6 in tow, ready to tempt premium import sedan buyers who can’t bring themselves go the safe-and-steady Lexus ES route.

The new TLX looks much like the Type S concept car that preceded it; true to that design study, the TLX adopts a wide, long-wheelbase look that mimics traditional rear-drive sports sedans via a lengthened dash-to-axle distance. Your base TLX won’t motive those rear wheels, however, remaining sensitive to the model’s front-drive origins.

It is an Acura, though, which means the brand’s so-called Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, now with torque vectoring, will be available, as will another piece of Acura heritage: the Type S. For 2021, the TLX brings back the designation that once inspired excitement among go-fast import types.

Pinched in the middle and voluptuous over the hips, the TLX’s new body earns applause. “Jewel Eye” LED lamps flank Acura’s signature diamond pentagon grille, while “Chicane” taillamps adorn the TLX’s abbreviated rear, sitting atop four exposed exhaust pipes.

“Relative to the previous model, the new TLX features a 3.7-inch longer wheelbase, 2.2-inch wider body with wider front and rear tracks (+1.2 in. and +1.6 in., respectively), lower roof (-0.6 in.) and an extended dash-to-axle dimension (+7.8 in.),” Acura explained.

That’s quite a bit of body modification going on up front. If the 1990s taught us anything, it’s that men (and some women) will take notice of such surgery. For Acura’s sake, let’s hope they’re in a spending mood.

Motivating the stock TLX is a powertrain owners of the RDX might find familiar: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to a 10-speed automatic. This engine makes 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, handily stomping the previous generation’s base 2.4-liter and topping the optional 3.5-liter in terms of twist.

While A-Spec variants can still be had, the biggest news for ’21 is the return of the Type S. Moving up to the top of the heap now means a 3.0-liter turbo V6 of undetermined strength, though Acura does promise “dramatic gains in peak horsepower and, more critically, in torque, across the engine’s full operating range, including a more than 50-percent increase in low-end torque.”

In this guise, the transmission receives a tune geared towards improved performance. And if you’re wondering whether the push-button transmission trend carries over into the TLX, the answer is yes. They’re oriented vertically on the angled center stack.

Standard with the uplevel engine is SH-AWD (optional on 2.0L models), which biases torque delivery to the rear wheels. Regardless of engine, drivers can row through the 10 available speeds via paddle shifters. The fourth-generation AWD system apparently beefs up rear-axle capacity while speeding up the transfer of power from front to rear, with torque sent rearward 40 percent faster. In normal driving, up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque funnels to the rear wheels, with either rear wheel accepting up to 100 percent of the axle’s torque, depending on conditions.

If there isn’t a drifting TLX Type S flinging dirt in the brand’s marketing materials, Acura doesn’t know what’s good for it. At each corner of the Type S, buyers will find 20-inch Shark Grey alloys that further separate the trim from lesser TLX variants carrying either 18- or 19-inch hoops.

Inside the cabin, engineers and designers opted for a twin-cockpit layout. In Acura’s view, the “high and wide center tunnel and wrap-around instrument panel create a more personal and strongly delineated space for both front-seat occupants. The brand boasts of class-leading hip and shoulder room. Opting for the Type S, of course, means badging galore inside and out, so occupants won’t remain ignorant to the fact that they’re riding in a Type S, not a haywagon. An ambient light selector controls the mood.

Atop the dash you’ll find a 10.2-inch display screen controlled by a console-mounted touchpad (with ergonomic wrist rest), backed up by actual button stereo controls placed immediately to the touchpad’s right. A 7-inch multi-information display in the gauge cluster can be supplemented by an optional 10-inch head-up display.

Featuring seven interior color options, the 2021 TLX goes on sale this fall, with the Type S holding back until next spring. Pricing, like the Type S’ output, is TBD.

Acura’s been on a losing streak with its sedans of late, recently putting its flagship RLX out to pasture, and a winning streak with a stable of crossovers too few in number. Looking at all the engineering and design work that went into the latest TLX, one has to assume that this is its final effort. It’s now or never to get buyers into a midsized Acura sedan.

If this car’s looks and proportions can’t sway departed buyers back to the brand, away from the Germans, Lexus, and the upstart, value-oriented Genesis brand, nothing will. At least Acura can say it gave it a good shot.

[Images: Acura]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on May 31, 2020

    I think this effort should be praised! Even though I'm not sure this sort of expensive midsize and front-drive sedan will sell to any great extent. The styling looks pretty good, apart from the front 3/4 angle which highlights just how badly misaligned the door handles are. I think if you're going to do an offset door handle that way then you need to make the handle more integrated and discrete. This has the same sort of issue as the Dodge Charger. This will be in the market against the Genesis G80 (about due for refresh) and the upcoming rear-drive Mazda 6 with inline-six engine. both those are tough competitors, and given the engine in the Mazda will probably come from Toyota, I would give that car a head-start over the other two. The Q50 is ancient about now and is not really competitive from a platform or interior perspective, and it's not really engaging to drive unless you get the RS 400, and then you have that drive-by-wire steering. Finally, I will say that the a-spec interior theme needs to go away or be matured and overhauled. The red and black gym bag effect is very low-rent and they make it mandatory on that trim. Poor taste.

  • IBx1 IBx1 on Jun 01, 2020

    Pathetic automatic scum.

  • Lou_BC Ironic, the Honda Ridgeline, a truck that every truck guy loves to hate is in 6th place.
  • 28-Cars-Later I keep forgetting I own it, but the space look on the ext cab reminds me of my 'Yota pickup of the same model year. I'm pretty sure there is some vintage of Hilux which features the same looking ext cab window (maybe '88?) its a shame these things are mostly gone and when available are $1,000,000,000 [INSERT CURRENT CURRENCY].
  • Sayahh Imagine if Ford had Toyota design and build a Mustang engine. It will last over 300k miles! (Skip turbo and make it naturally aspirated.) Maybe Yamaha will help tune it...
  • Sobhuza Trooper Isuzu's crime was to build some damn good trucks.Shame on them.
  • El scotto Listen, unless you were Lord Headly-Stempmoor or such when you got off the off the boat, boot in Canada, you got the short end of the stick. People got on the boat, these days a plane, to escape famine, becoming cannon fodder in yet another stupid war, or the government thought it was A-OK to let soldiers kill you. Juneteenth is just a way to right one of the more bad ideas in the American experiment. Instead we have commenters who were buying tater chips and diet soda at Wal-Mart and got all butt-hurt because they heard someone who wasn't speaking English. I'm going to go fix a couple of frankfurters with salsa and guacamole and wash them down with a lager or three
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