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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
2021 acura tlx if this doesnt work nothing will

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]

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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.

  • Jeff S Some of us don't care either way we are not into this type of car. Most of these will be stored in garages waiting for their value to go up. As someone above noted this is an old body style which is retro 70s Challenger which after researching it came out in the 2008 MY which means a long run for a model that is in its 16th year. I have always liked these but if I bought one I would not spend this kind of money on one probably get the V-6 version and use it as a family car but then I am not into drag racing or muscle cars. For the type of car it is it has a decent rear seat and not too bad of a trunk. Most of us are not going to spend 100k for any vehicle at least currently so its not something most of us will buy and stick in a garage waiting for its value to increase. I am glad that these editions came out for those who can afford them and it keeps a little more color into what has become a very dull vehicle market but then with age I pick the dull appliance like reliable vehicle because that's what I need. Impressive car but not for me.
  • Jonathan The Germans. So organized they can appear disorganized. I agree with some others, classic names like Thunderbird, Imperial, Grand Prix, Ambassador etc. just have more appeal.
  • Bobbysirhan A friend had one when they first came out. He was CFO of some green California company and could charge the Volt at work. At home, the PHEV gave him an excuse to make his wife park her nicer car outdoors while the Volt get their condo's one-car garage. He liked the Volt, and he spent very little on energy during the 'first one's free!' era of EV ownership. Of course, the green company went bust soon after, and he wound up with a job that involved far more driving and ultimately the need for a more substantial car. I drove the Volt once after his wife had made a return trip to Los Angeles, depleting the battery. I don't know what a first gen Volt drives like with a charged battery, but it was really gutless with two adults, a yellow lab, and a dead battery. My other memory of it was that it had a really cramped back seat for a car that was about as large as a Civic. My friend who bought it liked it though, and that's not always been the case for GM vehicles.
  • MrIcky I think the Shakedown is more my speed of the last call editions- but this is impressive.
  • Dukeisduke I tried watching the live reveal last night, but after 15 minutes of jawing by MT+ personalities (and yes, I like Chris Jacobs and Alex Taylor), I turned it off.