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).
Ford’s Lightning has stolen the spotlight this week, but another hotly anticipated vehicle is jumping around and waving its arms (metaphorically speaking, as cars don’t have arms) to remind buyers it exists and goes on sale soon. That vehicle is the 2021 Acura TLX Type S.
With the historic Pikes Peak International Hill Climb delayed — but miraculously uncancelled — this year, Acura has decided to showboat its updated TLX sedan. While the Type S everyone wants to see take a whack at the course will sit out the competition to serve as the event’s pace car, two gently modified sedans from the 2021 model year will be on hand to dazzle prospective customers.
They may even perk up a few disenfranchised Acura enthusiasts who’ve strayed from the brand.
The prototype TLX Type S comes with the much discussed 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 (355 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque) while the more pedestrian racers come with modified 2.0-liter inline-four engine. Those units would have made 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque unmolested, but Acura has assured us they aren’t factory spec anymore — giving them an air of mystery, albeit slight.
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.
We’re still a day away from the (online) debut of Acura’s next-generation TLX sedan, and already there’s catnip to be had for the performance and handling crowd. And for lovers of tradition and heritage, too.
Late Tuesday, Acura revealed that the TLX won’t just feature a slinky body and potent — yet unspecified — powertrain. The new sedan will also break from its predecessor by reaching further into the past, returning to a suspension type that made past Acuras top performers in their class.
Last year, Acura previewed the Type S Concept at Pebble Beach, making itself an exciting brand for the first time in years. The model heralds the return of the marque’s performance nomenclature and gives us a taste of the next-generation TLX sports sedan — which will be the first Acura product to wear the Type S badge in quite a while.
On Wednesday, the company announced the new model will debut on May 28th. Not surprisingly, it also confirmed the next TLX will share as much with the concept car as regulators allow.
Acura is trying to get its act together by placing a stronger emphasis on performance in the years ahead. We’ve seen the physical manifestation of that strategy in the Type S Concept. While not intended for production, it foreshadows the next-generation TLX — which is presumed to offer improved powertrain options (as well as returning all-wheel drive) and a sporting variant bearing formerly defunct Type-S badging.
While Acura hasn’t exactly been secretive about its plans regarding performance models, the company has avoided confirming anything for production. But we’re getting closer to that moment. An application filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the name “TLX Type S” on March 25th indicates Honda is readying its luxury division for something special.
Deep within the wild jungle that is Ohio sits a facility in Marysville called the Performance Manufacturing Center. Right now, it’s responsible for crafting examples of Acura’s halo car, the NSX. Soon, however, it’ll also be hucking out hand-crafted copies of the company’s midsize TLX sedan.
As a limited-production car limited to 360 examples, the 2020 Acura TLX PMC Edition will be built by the same master technicians who assemble the NSX. Hey, everyone has to share their toys eventually, right?
The Buy/Drive/Burn series has ventured into unpopular cars territory a time or two before. Most recently we discussed three large American sedans that are most unpopular indeed (two of those three are now on their way out). Today we pick a Buy amongst three lower-volume midsize offerings from second-tier luxury brands.
Acura has a tough job ahead of it. As the brand tries to grow volume and retain some of the clout it lost in past years, it finds itself with too many cars and two few SUVs in a market that demands more of the latter, not the former. Meanwhile, the impressive reborn NSX, now a hybrid, hasn’t captured the imagination of sports car fans in the same way as its long-lived predecessor.
Keeping up with — and in some cases, getting in front of — technological trends is part of Acura’s comeback plan. Naturally, in the interest of technological advancement and environmental appeasement, it was necessary to bring a multi-cog automatic transmission on board. However, a series of manufacturer service bulletin point to two potential weak points in the company’s nine-speed.
Is it possible to move this elephant out of the room?
Perhaps not, but whether we try to move the elephant or allow him to stay, a review of the revamped 2018 Acura TLX, even in this top-spec V6 SH-AWD A-Spec trim, will forever be set against a backdrop that is the all-new 2018 Honda Accord, a veritable wooly mammoth.
It can’t be helped. Acura knows the new 10th-generation Accord offers features unavailable in the Acura lineup. The TLX, meanwhile, features an interior that’s more than a little reminiscent of the ninth-generation Accord’s cabin. Fonts, buttons, switches, two-screen format — the upmarket/downmarket connections are too obvious to be dismissed as simply the mandatory parts-bin sharing of a global automaker with justifiable cost concerns. The new 2018 Acura TLX and the old Honda Accord are remarkably similar cars.
But is that so bad? The Honda Accord is, with good reason, consistently one of America’s most popular sedans, and the refreshed 2018 Acura TLX is a particularly nice interpretation of that car. Besides which, the Acura TLX isn’t just an Accord. It’s not merely an Accord. The TLX’s more powerful V6, a nine-speed automatic, and a very effective all-wheel-drive system make sure of that.
True, the elephant hasn’t exited the premises. But now that it’s standing out in the hallway, we can judge the 2018 Acura TLX V6 SH-AWD A-Spec on merit, rather than simply distinguishing the degree to which the TLX is or is not a Honda.
It made perfect sense. In 2009, when Hyundai wanted customers to view its new Genesis luxury sedan as a premium bit of kit, Hyundai did not compare the Genesis to the Sonata. In an early marketing campaign, Hyundai’s voiceover said the Genesis is “as spacious as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, yet priced like a C-Class.”
When the time came to market the Genesis R-Spec, Hyundai reached way upmarket to compare 0-60 mph times with the Porsche Panamera. Hyundai wasn’t under the mistaken impression that the Genesis would steal thousands of sales from $100,000 Benzes and Porsches. But Hyundai was crafting an image. Hyundai didn’t require you to believe that the Genesis was a viable S-Class alternative — the company just wanted you to understand that this is premium-oriented S-Class-sized sedan at a C-Class-like price.
Long before the Hyundai Genesis tried to cultivate a premium persona, Acura was failing to keep up with Lexus in the quest to be viewed as a true luxury rival for the German establishment. It’s still a problem. So Acura dealers are now just trying to make sure you understand that the Acura TLX is better than the [s]Audi A4 Lexus ES Infiniti Q50[/s] 2018 Honda Accord.
Upon its debut in late 2014, the Acura TLX had big shoes to fill. Not only was the TLX intended to replace the Acura TL, the TLX would also serve, at least in part, as a replacement for the Acura TSX.
Not surprisingly, the TLX never sold as often as that duo did at their peak. Acura sold over 113,000 TLs and TSXs in 2005. Yet by the end of their run, in 2013, Acura managed to sell fewer than 42,000 TLs and TSXs. As a result, the arrival of the Acura TLX — and yes, it’s difficult for both reader and writer to keep the letters straight — was heartily welcomed by Acura dealers. The TLX represented a simpler lineup, one sufficiently spacious car, and 47,080 sales in 2015.
But TLX sales have trailed off rather precipitously ever since, and Acura is counting on a thorough refresh for the 2018 model year to spur TLX demand once again.
And quite a spur it must be. Wards Auto is reporting that Acura’s goals for the facelifted TLX are loftier than ever.
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?
“We’ve really upped the ante in terms of styling, emotion and road presence,” Acura general manager Jon Ikeda said, talking about the refreshed 2018 Acura TLX shown by Honda’s upmarket brand at 2017’s New York International Auto Show.
And for once, an auto executive’s hyperbole matches reality.
The 2018 Acura TLX’s ante has been upped. It appears as though the grille that’s somewhat awkward on the refreshed Acura MDX is far more cohesively adapted to Acura’s affordable 3 Series alternative.
Given the anonymity of the first TLX, which ran for three increasingly less successful model years through 2017, an aggressive exterior is a positive step in the right direction.
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