Race car review: We put the Acura TLX GT to the test

RealTime Acura TLX GT World Challenge car Photo 1

Acura‘s 600-hp TLX GT is easy to learn, impossible to master

Question: Would you give up everything you have for a chance to be a race car driver?

Before you blindly shout “yes,” let’s see what a few laps behind the wheel of an actual race car entail.

We were invited out to the 2.14-mile, 11-turn GingerMan Raceway in western Michigan to check out the two RealTime Racing Acura TLX GT Pirelli World Challenge competitors, and get a little info on the TLX street car, too.

Let’s get the stock TLX out of the way first. The AWD street car is fun to drive on the track. Even though it has a nine-speed automatic transmission — which we’ve had problems with previously — we found the shifting logic in Sport Plus mode to be perfect for attacking corners slowly and coming out fast. We didn’t have to touch the paddle shifters at all, and usually we do that no matter how good the slushbox is. By the way, Acura told us that it’s done putting manual transmissions in its cars, at least for now. The take rate is running less than 5 percent.

The body exhibits a medium amount of roll, in line with what we expect from a near-luxury sports sedan, but the optional Michelin Pilot Super Sport XL tires surprised with their quiet yet grippy behavior. The brakes showed no signs of fade, though admittedly we were just biding our time until we suited up for the real action.

Acura TLX GT i1

Now about that race car.

We were a little nervous, pulling on the Nomex and lacing up our fireproof shoes, because this was serious business. There are only two of these 600-hp, all-wheel drive cars, and they’ll both be racing again in a few weeks. Factory drivers Peter Cunningham and Ryan Eversley were there for support, anxiously watching their babies in the arms of others.

We knew we were going to be wedged into the cockpit like a sardine and strapped down like a mental patient. What we didn’t expect was the poor visibility from the cockpit. Of course, these seats were built for someone else, but our eye line barely cleared the dash, and the view from the rearview mirrors was laughable. All we could see was a trapezoidal piece of sky through the mess of chassis bracing and hoses stashed back there.

It ended up being just enough to spot the other car peeking through, suspiciously on our tail after just a few laps. Maybe it was because we almost stopped completely after we put a few tires off, or maybe the driver behind us had a bit more experience behind the wheel of a race car…more likely the latter.

On the track, we were blown away by how easy the electric power steering was. The suede-covered wheel felt super light on center, though some of that had to do with the power. It only tightened up a bit in the corners. The throttle was similarly light. The weight of our foot would push it down to the floor if we let it. But we didn’t, considering the car felt plenty fast at half throttle. It took skill even to keep the car straight. The TLX GT wiggled on hard acceleration, and weaved too; we had to counter with the steering wheel constantly. It must have looked a little like a drunk taking the family truckster out for a Sunday drive.

Both the steering and throttle are weighted for minimizing fatigue, we’re told. We suppose even in a 45-minute race a heavy steering wheel would become a chore.

The brakes, however, were always a chore. With only a few laps under our belt, they never really heated up, and it took a hard push with the right quadricep to scrub any speed. If anything’s fatiguing about driving one of these cars, it’s that. There’s no better reason to break into panic mode than seeing a turn coming up too fast, and not feeling what you expect from the brakes. Once we understood that it takes a bodybuilder’s leg to slow down, it was a little less unnerving.

Acura body surfaces

We didn’t pay attention to speed at the track, and that’s probably a good thing. With the sound and fury coming from the engine, it felt like we were flying. If we had to guess the top speed, it was maybe 120 mph on the back straight. It could have been more, if we could have kept the damn thing in line. As for the sound, imagine a street bike exhaust pumped directly into your ear canal. We didn’t think to put in plugs, regretfully, and we felt physical pain in our heads once the revs got passed 6,000 rpm.

If all of that isn’t enough to make you rethink your race-car driver dreams, how about the smell?

If you get woozy with weird smells, this sport isn’t for you. Once we were on the track, everything was fine, with a cool wind blowing through the netted open window. But while we were burbling in the pits, the smell of hydrocarbons wafted into the cabin and just stayed. The real drivers with the real helmets have special ventilation for that sort of thing. Our plain Bell bucket did not.

There’s obviously a lot of junk that goes along with the glory of being a race car driver. Knowing all of it — or at least the sampling we got at GingerMan — would it be enough to keep us away if the chance was offered? Absolutely not. We’d do it in heartbeat, and we’d do it for free.

The problem is that it just doesn’t behoove Acura, or any automaker for that matter, to put every Tom, Dick and Harry in the driver’s seat, risking life and limb for a chance at a career. The company’s better off finding seasoned veterans like Cunningham and Eversley to do the dirty work of actually racing. For us, that means back to the cubicle, unfortunately. But Acura, if you just gave us a little more experience behind the wheel, we could do it. Call us! We’ll make time!

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