The way today’s automotive market is laid out, it’s getting harder to distinguish between luxury and non-luxury. The line gets even blurrier when we’re talking about Honda and its not-so-longstanding American luxury brand, Acura.
For a while, Acura has been the low man on the totem pole in terms of luxury and performance. But an all-new, all-original TLX hopes that it can make an impact in a segment dominated by foes to the East.
TL + TSX = TLX
Math was never our strong suit, but it’s pretty easy to put two and two together. Acura took all that was good about the outgoing TL and TLX, and combined the two into a vehicle that, in their mind, was the best combination of luxury and sport. The latter remains to be seen.
The design of the TLX is distinct enough to separate it from cars like the Volkswagen Passat. The signature ‘beak’ style has been much subdued, and the sharp body lines herald back to the glory days of cars like the TL Type S.
While the exterior grows up, the interior isn’t something you’d go out of your way to see firsthand. It feels dated, and the lacquered wood—not only in this car but in general—needs to go the way of the dodo. Though aging (and not like a fine wine), the layout was mostly clean, something reminiscent of the Cadillac ATS.
Acura’s infotainment system needs an update. It’s not the worst we’ve seen by far, but already feels outdated to newer, more tech-focused vehicles from competitive marques. Technology moves fast, Acura.
It doesn’t include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (yet), and the general usage of the touchscreen system is difficult. Not to mention the dual screen setup that’s not only confusing, but kind of pointless. A larger, single center screen and instrument cluster directions for navigation would easily do the trick.
Engine Light: On
It’s kind of alluring when you see the Acura TV ads with engineers chest-bumping, touting the new TLX’s sporty credentials, and track-focused performance. Then you actually drive the thing…
Before we go into all the driving details, the specs of the new TLX should be noted. The one we tested featured Honda’s new 3.5-liter V6, torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, 290 horsepower, and a top speed of 129 mph. It’s the introduction of that new V6, though, we’re particularly interested in.
Honda calls it the J35Y6, and it’s actually not the same engine you’ll find in the Accord. It’s brand new for 2015, and has a home under the hood of not only the TLX, but also the new Honda Pilot. That’s particularly interesting for a number of reasons.
The first of which being that we didn’t really like the way the Honda Pilot put that engine to use. Paired with the same ZF 9-speed automatic on the TLX, it was somewhat jumpy and unrefined, but not all that unexpected in a big SUV. When you pair the two with the new TLX though, that’s when issues arise.
In the TLX, the engine still felt unrefined—shaking at high speeds—while the transmission was jumpy and continually searching for the proper gear. Nine speeds might just be too many in this application. The result was a car that didn’t really do much to inspire confidence both on city streets and on the highway. Except, there was a bright spot…
Per any luxury sedan, buyers love the option of choosing between different driving modes. Who doesn’t? In the new TLX, the top end Sport+ actually performed admirably when it needed to.
Never use Sport+ in the city. Never. In this particular mode, the transmission and engine fail to work in unison at any speed under 40 mph. Take it on the highway or a particular twisty set of roads, and the TLX shines like you never would have imagined.
Honda’s all-wheel drive system, a tight steering rack, and an engine that’s not really refined or quick somehow work marvelously in unison. Those chest-bumping commercials flash in your head as your carve the corners just barely hard enough for the TLX to resemble something with two doors and a turbo. We’re talking about an Acura sedan here, people.
The Acura TLX is about as near to the middle of the pack as you can get in a mid-size luxury sedan, followed miles behind by cars like the Buick Regal and Lincoln MKZ. But the TLX, while very much average, feels mature. It’s simple, it’s handsome, it’s not going to grab anyone’s attention, but in brief moments, it shines.
Acura and Honda still have plenty of work to do with this car, and pretty much the entirety of the lineup. It’s saving grace is a lower price point than any other car in the segment ($32,385), and a respectable 21 city/31 highway mpg.
Engine: 3.5L V6
Price (base): $32,385
Handsome, subtle design
Shines of goodness
Unrefined engine and transmission
Poor driving dynamics