By on September 17, 2021

2021 Acura TLX. Tim Healey

2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance Fast Facts

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (272 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm; 280 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,500 rpm)

Ten-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive

21 city / 29 highway / 24 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

11.3 city, 8.1 highway, 9.8 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $48,300 (U.S) / $46,505 (Canada)

As Tested: $49,325 (U.S.) / $46,505 (Canada)

Prices include $1,025 destination charge in the United States and $2,175 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Mid-size luxury sport sedans sometimes come up short when it comes to the sport part of the equation. Acura’s TLX, for the most part, does not.

Yeah, I know, I just gave away my conclusion upfront, thus violating a basic guideline of writing a review. Stick around to find out why I came to that conclusion after the local press fleet tossed me the keys all those months ago (hence the snow).

The biggest reason the TLX mostly succeeds as a sport sedan – luxury or not – is that Acura has imbued it with lively handling, at least up to a point. Push too hard and you’ll get reminded that this version isn’t the Type S, and that there are compromises involved when luxury ladled on. In this case, it results in tire-squealing understeer and body roll.

Still, you’ll have fun before you reach that point, thanks to steering that’s relatively lively and accurate – though still imbued with some of the artificial feel that plagues most modern cars using electronic systems.

2021 Acura TLX. Tim Healey

A new double-wishbone front suspension surely helps, along with a five-link rear setup. My test car’s Advance Package also included adaptive dampers. It also had Acura’s SH-AWD all-wheel-drive system, which includes a rear stabilizer bar that’s 0.5 mm larger than the one on front-drive cars.

Underhood is a 2.0-liter turbo-four that makes 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. The turbo four has plenty of grunt for merging and passing, though the car feels a tad heavy. Putting the car in sport mode seemed to give the car a boost – and it also made the handling a tad better, though it was still possible to reach the limit without too much effort. The transmission here is a 10-speed automatic.

As befits a luxury sport sedan, the ride isn’t sacrificed at the altar of handling. It’s pleasantly compliant with minimal softness.

2021 Acura TLX. Tim Healey

The TLX may be fun to drive – again, up to a point – but it’s not without flaws. The front passenger area felt roomy and spacious, but the rear seats felt tight. As already noted, the car feels in need of a diet. The interior materials look good, though some feel cheap. I actually had to confirm with Acura that the wood in the cabin was real, as it didn’t feel that way.

The biggest con involving this car is the confounding touchpad infotainment-system controller. It requires a bit too much of a learning curve, and it’s almost as bad as what Lexus has served up in recent years. Maybe I’d feel better about it if I owned the car and got used to it over time.

2021 Acura TLX. Tim Healey

I also took issue with panel gaps that looked a tad too wide to the naked eye (see below).

Standard features include LED headlights and taillights, 19-inch wheels, leather seats, heated front seats, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and starting, and a power moonroof. The Tech package added nav, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and parking sensors. The Advance package adds the adaptive dampers, a 360-degree camera, LED fog lights, cooled front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, head-up display, premium audio, and wireless phone charger.

2021 Acura TLX. Tim Healey

AcuraWatch is the name for the driver-aid suite, and here it includes adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigation braking, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, road-departure mitigation, and traffic-jam assist.

That’s all for $48,300. Add the $1,025 destination fee and it’s $49,325.

The EPA lists fuel economy at 21/29/24.

2021 Acura TLX. Tim Healey

The TLX makes for an all-around package that offers up a decent amount of driving excitement, within reason, while not sacrificing much in the way of comfort. If only the infotainment controls weren’t so annoying, and if the rear seat was a skoosh bigger. Still, if you have a budget for a luxury sedan and want to spice it up once in a while, the TLX deserves a look.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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40 Comments on “2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance Review – Sleek, Yet Flawed, Sport...”


  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Maybe this is the Honda fan boy in me, but I really like this car. You get a lot for your money, it looks really good (especially in that color), high quality interior, and it has to be a lot more fun to drive than any crossover in that price range. I am not a CUV fan at all, and am glad to see that sports sedans aren’t totally dead yet.

    The deal breaker is the touchpad. I tried it in a Lexus and thought it was one of the most dangerous ways to interface with a car. It just takes too much focus to line up what you’re doing. Audi mates a touchpad with their MMI knob so you get the handwriting feature and can keep your eyes focused while you know how many clicks you need to go before landing on what you want. Hopefully Acura fixes that soon.

    I’m interested in seeing how this compares with the Germans. It undercuts them in price, and Acura’s SH-AWD is a decent system. Could get interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Still falls short of the Accord when they share the sane 2.0T and again with single turbo v6 in the Type-S.

      “…We recently reviewed the 2021 Acura TLX Type S, a direct competitor of the CT5-V, and it doesn’t seem to deliver the same level of soul-stirring enjoyment that the CT5-V does. That’s partly because the Cadillac has 51 additional lb-ft of torque versus the Type S, but also because the Acura also feels heavier and less enthusiastic about in its movements…”  Motor Trend 

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      “You get a lot for your money”

      It depends how you look at it. Compared to much of “premium” competition, yes. But even non-premium plated cars, have been so darned good for the past 30 years, that premium plates don’t net much more than just “exclusivity” over, say, an Accord.

      Not saying you get a hard zero nothing in improvements, but when the Accord is already 90% there, there’s just not much possible improvement left.

      While at the same time: If the Accord lacks something specific which is important to you: This slightly improved-in-all-areas rendition, still suffers compared to more tightly focused kit: The Si and GTI will handle and drive better. The Avalon will have more space. The ‘Stang more power etc. All things to all people are a tough sell, when non premium sedans are already 90% of all that.

      • 0 avatar
        Varezhka

        This car feel like an “Accord+” which is not the worst place to be given how good the current Accord is. The only problem is that there’s not enough “plus” and too much more money compared to the Accord.

        I know “premium” has never been a Honda’s strong suit and it looks better than the last TLX, but it unfortunately doesn’t feel like a mid-$40K car. Acura desperately need to bring in outside people with luxury car background to lead the way.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The interior falls short of most of the competition, as does the performance.

      Other than its bloated size/weight, doesn’t really offer more than the competition.

    • 0 avatar
      wjtinfwb

      As an Acura owner (MDX) I was anxiously awaiting the TLX figuring it was finally going to be the A4 with Japanese reliability I’d been hoping for. But it’s not. The A4 Prestige Quattro is about $1500 more expensive but brings a whole different driving experience to the table. I’ve spent time in the TLX, it feels like a slightly nicer Accord, a great car in it’s own right. But it lacks that driving “character” that used to be province of BMW, Audi, etc. but BMW abandoned that market as well. And if a bit more speed and power for a bit more money is important, the S4 widens the gap compared to the Type S TLX. And the reliability argument is pretty moot, our MDX has been decent but not exactly defect free in it’s first year. New cars are just too damn complicated to be perfect anymore. C’mon Honda, dust off those old Integra/Legend/S2000/Prelude driving dynamics and inject it into your current products. I’ll be the first one back in your showrooms if you can build some friskiness into your products.

  • avatar
    carguy

    While I loved the design of the TLX, the ride and the comfortable interior, there are some issues that I couldn’t get over. The first is the weight of the vehicle. At 3,800 lbs (and 4,200 for the Type S) it takes the edge of any sporting aspirations and delivers sub-par MPGs. The second is the infotainment system which seems overly complex and trying to be a novel solution to a problem that other OEMs have already solved. Even small tasks such as zooming a map are difficult and not intuitive.

    I think it would have reviewed better if they had marketed it as a luxury sedan instead of a performance vehicle.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    A dash that looks like a dog’s breakfast, double-wishbone front suspension (every Honda fanboi’s fantasy which one hopes has more than the 4.5 inch travel of yore) that delivers tire-howling understeer, a heavy ponderous feel, all replete with built-in panel gaps to make you wince like the Civic hatchback before the new very latest model which I haven’t looked at up close. I mean, what’s not to like for $50K? It’ll probably be semi-reliable unlike the VW Arteon, which in all other ways slays the TLX stone cold dead. Nice job, Acura!

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    SH-AWD should be standard.

    I hate that the only option to upgrade the stereo is a pretty hefty charge for a package I largely don’t want.

    Get off my lawn!

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      The “Tech” option on my 2014 TLX had a backup camera I wanted. But for $2000 it was a bit steep. So years later I finally put in an aftermarket head unit with back up camera for about $800 installed. The base unit is actually easier to upgrade as a bonus.

  • avatar
    wdburt1

    Six-time Honda owner here.

    The idea that we should have a touch-screen on the dash is nuts, and if the NTSB was doing its job it would condemn the practice.

    In my 1981 Mazda RX-7, I could rest my arm on the stick shift and find everything I needed to on the dash, in the dark, without looking down from the road. Back then I was doing a lot of long drives and playing a lot of music to stay awake.

    I watch drivers coming at me–it keeps it interesting. About a third are not looking at the road. Usually they are looking at something in their lap or on the seat, or something stuck to the dash to their right. The percentage goes up if I drive to the suburbs of the nearest city. Very common now is the trick many drivers have adopted of watching the road until they are almost upon an approaching car, at which point they look down. They must figure that I am not going to do something unexpected.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      NTSB is doing it’s job. It’s responding to it’s partners, the automakers, by selectively not reporting on how distracting a touchscreen is compared to using hard buttons.

      This helps the automaker in 2 ways – it reduces the complexity/cost of interiors by using screens instead of buttons, and it justifies cost increases to carbuyers/leasees by saying, “Look at this UUUGGGEEEE screen! Isn’t it GREAT?!”

  • avatar
    kuehnmk

    Proud owner of a 21’ TLX ASpec SH-AWD here….it’s so funny how the reviews on this car are ALL OVER THE SPECTRUM. Lots of good reviews, followed by some not so good ect.

    I owed prior a 2019 Accord Sport 2.0 6speed for 2 years and 25K miles….I loved that car as well, but grew tired of its ride and handling characteristics, road noise and absolute TERRIBLE SOUND system.

    As a longtime Honda fanboy, this car completely rectifies the Accords downfalls and I can tell you in my opinion that Honda/Acura is back with this 21’ TLX! They have truly put some heart and soul into this car, what the Accord lacked. They both share the K20 Turbo engine, which is an absolute gem. The Acura technically is a decent engine code, different mountings for AWD.

    The handling and ride is spot on, the sound system, seat comfort and EVERYTHING else about this car makes it definitely a luxurious Honda. From the weight and thud of the doors, from the animation in the dash at start up, and overall paint and build quality compared to the Accord, makes this a worthy upgrade….and I myself have a panel gap that is not so great…but my Accord was worse.

    I know some of you might say the Accord and TLX are not comparable, which they are not…two different types of cars. But consider most first time Acura owners are prior Honda owners.

    I’m just saying, give this car a look…it’s a looker especially in Apex Blue Pearl. The one downfall I will say, and Acura’s problem with this car, is that it is overpriced. I would never pay $48,000 for my TLX. I only upgraded because I was able to trade in my used Accord for 2K more than I paid for it new and I got 4K off MSRP.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      It’s nice to hear from someone who actually owns one. I had made a comment on this story before, which got deleted for some reason. The upshot was, it looks good in many areas, but the price is a bit rough. I wouldn’t say it’s a deal-breaker, but it limits the appeal for me.

      If I set out to spend $48k on a sedan, I think I would end up somewhere around here:
      https://www.alfaromeousa.com/bmo.giulia.2021#/build/exterior/77494/CUY202103GAFT41B/2DU/APA,PGB,XW,EC2,DFW,TAQ,WP9,DL,RAN,SDD,XTL,LM9,22U

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I’m biased toward liking Hondas and Acuras. I’ve enjoyed a lot of them over the years. But I just can’t see wanting this car.

    The elephant in the room is weight. The FWD version of this car weighs nearly 500 pounds more than my 2004 TSX did, and SH-AWD adds another 220 pounds on top of that. I don’t get what that weight does for me. There are more features in the interior, a turbo on the engine, and a few extra gears in the transmission, but this is not a fundamentally different type or size of car. And 500 pounds extra would have totally ruined what was so wonderful about that TSX—the feeling of fleetness, agility, and eagerness to move. Indeed, Tim complains that it “feels heavy.”

  • avatar
    mpalczew

    I like this car. A nice reliable, large sporty sedan. Like a sportier Lexus ES.

    What I can’t get over is the dong in the center dash layout that looks ugly in pictures and even uglier in real life on all these Acura’s.

  • avatar
    Rick Astley

    I wanted this car to be a hit very badly. I am a “sedan guy” and wanted a manual transmission, higher spec car to replace my current Mazda6 GTR.

    The TLX immediately went onto the short list once announced, but failed pretty much every requirement after that point.

    – Price of entry is too high for what you get
    – No manual transmission option
    – Looks are not far enough away from the past 10 years of Acura whatever-they-are-doing
    – Heavy
    – Dull
    – Ridiculous interior
    – falls exactly at the bottom of it’s class, again, like pretty much every Acura over the past 10 years, while priced above the middle of it’s class.

    After test driving the TLX, I really don’t see how my current Mazda6 wouldn’t beat this in every appreciable category if equipped with equal tires, and it’s a 3-year old car built on a 7 year old chassis from a company that has no luxury market pretenses like Acura does.

    Here’s to buying yet another non-Honda product while Honda/Acura get their act together!

    Perhaps the new Integra will change that (almost surely it won’t)?

  • avatar
    steverock

    I test drove one of these last year and I really wanted to like it. I’ve had a TSX Wagon and TL SH-AWD in the past and I really liked them both (I loved the TSX). I love how they look but I didn’t think it drove all that great, plus the materials inside seemed cheap for 50k. The backseat is pretty tight as well. I ended up going with a certified 2017 A6 Quattro that was much nicer inside and drove better.

  • avatar
    BSttac

    When the Accord is simply better in every way if you can “live” without AWD

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I’d go for a 2012 330i instead of this abomination. Update the VANOS system and you’re sorted for another 15 years. Actual handling and no touchscreens – for half of the price. Or less.

    • 0 avatar
      here4aSammich

      A 10 year old BMW? Keep your local mechanic on speed dial.

      Personally I’d have to pass because simple things that should be on a “luxury” car require a package full of stuff I don’t want.

      • 0 avatar
        Tele Vision

        @here4aSammich

        Mechanic on speed dial?! I do all of my own wrenching.

        It’s easy and informative.

        All you need are hand tools and a floor jack and jack stands. I don’t know why so many people are hard on owning old cars: they’re easier to fix than new cars and parts are both plentiful and cheap. The youngest car I own is 11 years old. The oldest is 20 years old. All of them run perfectly with no car payments/touchscreens/connectivity ( onstar disabled on the caddy ) and only Bluetooth in one of them. Yes, they need the occasional part replaced at sudden notice but that’s part of the charm – and part of why one needs several older cars in the fleet…

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      Maybe the previous model TLX with a natural V6 and manual would be a more reliable option.

  • avatar
    Dan

    I like big sedans and this is a nice looking car but I won’t buy a four and $55,000 for the V6 – which only comes in angry boy racer trim that ruins the ride while keeping the 60/40 understeer – is a bridge too far.

    I’m no fan of the Koreans and still can’t comprehend buying this in a market where Genesis exists.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Nice looking car and glad to see Acura has lost the beak. I like others don’t like too many features being controlled by a touch screen.

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    I still don’t like any vehicle that has that iPad-stuck-onto-the-dash look. Even sideways into a crack like this one.

  • avatar
    VWGolfGuy

    The ancient Q50 is the better buy in the sort of sport luxury market

  • avatar
    ajla

    Seems like Acura missed the mark with the new TLX. Neither the 2.0T nor the Type-S are quick enough to draw in the acceleration crowd but the car is too heavy and automatic to appeal to the Jinba Ittai folks. Also, despite the FWD design and larger body proportions, it isn’t especially roomy inside or in the trunk.

    It isn’t a terrible vehicle or anything but I think it’s only going to win over Honda fans that either need AWD or can’t be seen in a nonpremium brand for some reason.

  • avatar

    The dash design looks bad, and so does the door handle placement. Not too impressed here.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I echo some of the comments above: “too heavy”, “too expensive”. I have had either personally, or in my family, 6 Hondas and 4 Acuras in the last 40 years. Honda/Acura have lost their way. I used to really enjoy the easy to maneuver Honda feeling (not truly “sporty”) and the great open view over the hood. Reliability and gas mileage were great. Now the economics of autos has changed so much that there is a convergence of the upper end of the lower part of the market with the lower end of upper price “near luxury” cars. Honda are very nice, especially in upper trim, but their pricing is well within the $30K zone. The lower offerings of Mercedes are, to me, cheap interiors and iffy mechanicals.
    A $50K sport sedan that is somewhat “porky” and has a smallish back seat, means to me a compromise that provides neither sedan nor sporty in amounts that would justify $50K. Who is buying these things??????

  • avatar
    kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh

    If Hondata can crack the ECU.. this is a tune away from a bunch more torque .. That would solve a number of the ‘lumbering’ ‘sluggish’ comments. A little weight reduction would help to.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      They’ve already done so with the Accord. There’s power to be unlocked, but the elephant in the room is durability.

      I wouldn’t want the 2.0T, which is adequate in my 2019 Accord Touring, in a vehicle nearly 1,000 pounds heavier! I can’t imagine how the RDX would be either, though it depends on the weight.

      That Accord does most of what this thing can do! Hard pass!

  • avatar

    I really like the looks of these. I like the interior in front. And I don’t care that it’s heavy. But the rear seat room is pretty bad given the size of the car, and it seems mighty expensive for what it is. Not sure but at a quick glance it looks like this is priced above the ES feature for feature which seems like a mistake to me given the ES feels bigger inside. I like bigger sporty sedan as a daily driver but the rear seat room stinks for those with kids. Also at least locally these don’t seem to have the resale value as the Lex making them a much better used buy.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I haven’t driven this car but I sure would have to give ’22 Stinger 2.5t a hard look before signing the papers. For the price of the advance Acura 4 cyl awd, a loaded awd GT line could be had, or for that matter, a GT1 rwd with plenty of money left over for a proper winter tire setup. I know the dealership experience won’t be the same, but from a friend of mine who owns one, they’re getting better.
    BTW , is anyone going to review a 2.5T Stinger?

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    I just don’t see the interior being 14k more than my Mazda 6 grand touring reserve.

  • avatar
    AK

    Not much of a review and even less of a photo shoot.

    Since the comments are carrying this post, I guess I’ll add that the thought of spending over 40k for this TLX is depressing. Looking at a base TLX (the only one I’d consider paying for), all you’re getting over an Accord is exterior style (debatable), better seats and less road noise. That’s not worth 7k to me.

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