For too long, Acura has purveyed perfectly bland sedans with equally bland names, a far cry from when the division was selling Legends, Vigors and Integras, sports sedans that satisfied driving enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike. And while the automaker has recently fielded fun-to-drive crossovers, its sedan lineup lacks the spark that was a hallmark of the brand.
With the arrival of the redesigned 2021 Acura TLX, that has finally changed, and not a moment too soon.
In the U.S., sedan sales peaked in 1991 with a market share of 44.8 percent. Since then, that slice of the pie has dwindled to 19.2 percent through July 2020, the lowest share since 1987, according to IHS Markit. In the luxury-vehicle segment, sedans accounted for 27 percent of sales last year, larger than the overall market but still far lower than in the past. Declining demand for sedans has affected Acura’s U.S. market share, which finally stabilized in 2018 after 13 years of declines and is now on the rise.
And it’s vehicles like the new TLX that are bolstering the brand’s appeal.
All-new for 2021, the TLX is the best iteration of Acura’s midsize sedan since the 2004-2008 Acura TL, a car designed by Jon Ikeda, now Acura’s vice president and brand officer. That a designer is overseeing the brand says much about Acura’s renewed commitment to more exciting vehicles, one that dates to 2015 and the rebirth of Acura’s NSX sports car. That same promise can be seen in the new TLX, which was developed, designed and engineered mostly in California and Ohio.
Looking much like the gorgeous Acura Type S Concept, the new TLX thankfully inherits its good looks. Yes, it’s 2.9 inches longer, 0.6 inches lower, and 2.2 inches wider than the old TLX. Better yet, the design execution looks sporty and aggressive without feeling childish. And it’s filled with interesting details, such as the texture on the diamond pentagon grille. The edgy new looks cloak a chassis that once more incorporates a double wishbone front suspension along with a multi-link rear suspension and a high-output 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that generates 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is the standard; Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (or SH-AWD) all-wheel is optional. A 10-speed automatic transmission is standard.
Of course, whether you should buy this one depends if you can be satisfied with this TLX once Acura’s high performance TLX Type S returns this spring with a new 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6, and SH-AWD and more than 350 horsepower, according to published reports.
For most drivers, this TLX 2.0T with the A-Spec Package, one of three packages offered, will do just fine, thank you. Its turbocharged four packs a significant performance punch, delivering an enthusiastic feel that’s enhanced by the car’s well-timed shifts and adept handling. Of course, its SH-AWD system, and the A-Spec’s 19-inch wheels, provide an extra measure of performance and composure, and the piece of mind of knowing all four wheels are working to deliver power and maintain grip. Its chassis tuning also makes it a delight to drive, with a pleasurable athleticism that still provides a comfortably firm ride. But, as is common with many Honda and Acura products, there’s an abundance of road and tire noise, too much for its price.
While experiencing driving thrills, you’ll find the new TLX’s cabin to be a fairly rewarding place to pass the miles. The front seats have sporty, cockpit-like feel, with lots of head and leg room, although the rear seats are notably short on legroom. Still, Acura clearly spent more money on the cabin, particularly the instrument panel, which is trimmed in aluminum, open-pore wood and full-grain Milano leather. Soft-touch padded surfaces abound, and the sporty ambiance recalls a great chronograph, thankfully eschewing the archetypal look of most luxury car cabins.
When it comes to tech, you’ll find the infotainment system, a notable weakness in Honda products, has been redesigned yet again. This one is elegantly simple in appearance, and it would be easy to use if it were a touchscreen. However, it’s activated by a touchpad, which is impossible to use without taking your eyes off the road. The screen is split, with a smaller display that’s activated by a separate slim touchpad. It’s a very clever design, but not as easy to use as those found in some competitors. The automatic transmission’s buttons, like those in other Honda or Acura products, prove far easier to use without looking.
On the flip side, the “ELS STUDIO 3D” premium audio system furnishes better sound than many home audio systems. It’s sure to turn you into a music aficionado. Other tech goodies include a standard 7-inch full-color information display in the gauge cluster and an optional 10.5-inch full-color head-up display. There’s also a 4GLTE Wi-Fi hotspot with over-the-air software updates capability and a number of cloud-based services, including emergency roadside assistance, remote locking/unlocking, stolen vehicle tracking, remote diagnostics, geofencing, speed tracking and Acura concierge services. There’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and wireless charging.
Overall, the 2021 Acura TLX is a welcome return to form for a brand that has been far too blandtastic for its own good for far too long.
Maybe they should have called it a Legend. You just might.
2021 Acura TLX A-Spec
Base price: $47,275
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 21/29 mpg
Observed fuel economy: 24.5 mpg
Fuel required: 91 Octane
Length/Width/Height: 194.5/75.2/56.4 inches
Ground clearance: 5.3 inches
Cargo capacity: 13.5 cubic feet