When Acura’s TLX arrived for 2015 as the dual replacement for the discontinued TSX and TL sedans, it was a decent entry-luxury machine, albeit one whose best attributes were its relative affordability and its nice interior. Alas, there were numerous better, sportier, and more exciting sedans in its competitive set.
Improved performance, if only just; plentiful standard equipment; roomy, well-appointed interior.
Slow-witted transmission, still not rear-wheel drive, A-Spec diminishes the value proposition.
A New A-Spec
For 2018, Acura wants to shoulder the TLX into consideration alongside that stronger company (read: rear-wheel-drive four-doors such as BMW’s 3-series and Infiniti’s Q50) with a new $2900 A-Spec sport trim. Designed to buff up the TLX’s handling, the kit differs slightly depending on which drivetrain is ordered. On the top-of-the-line TLX V-6 with Acura’s torque-vectoring Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system, as tested here, the A-Spec gains firmer dampers and springs, a larger-diameter rear anti-roll bar, retuned electric power steering, and Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires in place of the regular model’s taller-sidewall Goodyear Eagle LS-2 rubber. Front-drive A-Spec TLXs lack the stiffer rear anti-roll bar and the firmer springs.
Every 2018 TLX adopts a sleek new five-sided mesh grille—wave goodbye to the maligned Acura beak look—along with new bumpers and headlight and taillight detailing. The A-Spec ups the ante with dark-gray 19-inch wheels, black exterior trim, and LED fog lights, all of which lend a sense of purposefulness sorely lacking from the 2015 original.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
While the rest of the A-Spec upgrades are worthy, the wider, lower-profile tires are the difference maker, nixing our complaints about the original TLX’s lackluster factory tires. The tires’ bite is more easily felt than measured, as grip on our 300-foot skidpad increased by only 0.04 g to 0.86 g, yet combined with the retuned electric power steering they improve turn-in response significantly. The steering wheel now operates with a pleasant heft, even if it doesn’t communicate anything about what the front tires are doing. (Few modern cars do.) The firmer suspension similarly adds just the right amount of starch to the TLX’s moves without introducing any discomfort.
These enhancements elevate the six-cylinder, SH-AWD TLX’s sense of athleticism and tossability to the same level as the lighter, front-drive four-cylinder TLX, previously our favorite version. This all-wheel-drive model, however, can power out of corners like a scared cat. Wringing the most out of the SH-AWD system requires that the driver chuck the TLX into a corner, point the nose at the exit, and mash the gas. The computers figure out how best to apportion engine torque among the front and rear axles and between the left and right rear wheels to power the sedan out of the corner with minimal understeer.
The TLX still isn’t class leading in this regard—and that’s also the case under its shapely new hood. There aren’t any power increases for the A-Spec or for the TLX lineup in general for 2018. The 290-hp V-6 and carryover nine-speed automatic combine to send the all-wheel-drive A-Spec to 60 mph 0.1 second quicker than a non–A-Spec, V-6 AWD TLX and in the exact same 5.7 seconds as a front-wheel-drive, 2015 TLX V-6. That is about a second behind other six-cylinder sports sedans.
At least the A-Spec allows more of the V-6’s sweet intake noise into the cabin. The effect is semi-electronic, with Acura dialing back how much of the sound the active-noise-cancellation feature quells and using the tech to shape the noise. We’d love it if there were more exhaust notes mixed in, but for the first time the TLX accelerates with some figurative soul, if not more literal verve.
We’d appreciate quicker moves from the transmission. In every one of the driveline’s driver-selectable modes—Econ, Normal, Sport, and Sport+—the transmission takes a beat to deliver the correct downshift. Sport+ nearly masks this delay with zesty throttle blips and dramatic shifts when you brake hard and begin to turn the wheel, but the lowest gear it grabs still always feels one gear too high. And forget slapping at the shift paddles to speed things up; their responses aren’t much better.
Consider the TLX a car massaged, not transformed. It is a little better to drive, at least in A-Spec form, while retaining its positive attributes such as its roomy and nicely assembled interior. The A-Spec’s front sport seats, gray-colored stitching, and thick new steering-wheel rim look and feel great, too.
Acura even has found a partial cure for its bizarre dual dashboard displays (one is a touchscreen while the other, situated above it, is not and is controlled by a knob beneath the touchscreen). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto take over the upper screen with facsimiles of iPhone or Android home screens; these graphics are far preferable to the dated, pixelated look of the onboard navigation system that normally displays there. We plugged in our iPhones each time we drove the TLX just so we could look at Apple Maps instead, and we appreciated the ability to simultaneously run CarPlay (or Android Auto) and manipulate the onboard audio and HVAC controls via the touchscreen rather than switching between the built-in infotainment menu and the phones’. The downside? You must manipulate CarPlay via the control knob, not via touch.
At $45,750, our range-topping TLX V-6 SH-AWD A-Spec test car still qualifies as a bargain compared with segment leaders such as the Audi A4 and the BMW 3-series. Even with no options offered, key features that would cost thousands more in competitors are standard: forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, heated and ventilated front seats, LED headlights and taillights, navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-speaker ELS audio system, and power front seats.
As great as value is, however, that’s not the way to win competing sports-sedan buyers’ hearts and minds—better performance is. The TLX remains a car best represented against its peers by its price, at least until Buick’s similar and better-looking new 2018 Regal GS hits dealerships for even less money.