Finally, the much anticipated 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec has arrived. Acura is claiming the TLX to be a performance focused sedan. The design from top to bottom is all performance oriented to rival the best sports sedans in the world. Intending to take their design philosophies back to their roots, Acura has poured their 30 years of performance car building into the all new TLX.
In recent years, products with this DNA have been missing from Acura’s line up. Their brand following has made it clear they want the performance back, and the new TLX is supposed to be Acura’s commitment back into the right direction. With big claims come big expectations, and we got our hands on the 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec to see if it holds true to Acura’s promises.
Even in their exterior design, Acura is aiming to evoke performance with boldly designed lines. The hood is long and sculpted flowing into a sloping roof line finishing off into a short trunk lid creating a profile resembling a sports coupe instead of a traditional sedan. Acura has also given the TLX what they call a “power stance”, lower and wider body. The grill and sleek LED headlights create a wide front end.
The rear fenders are super wide like bulging muscles of a powerlifter on steroids. The A-Spec model adds even more sporty flair with a blacked out grill and LED fog lights, 19-inch dark chrome finished wheels and a gloss black rear spoiler. Finishing it off with a wide rectangular dual exhaust, the TLX shows that Acura is serious about their designs.
The interior of the new TLX is an excellent place to be. Material choices are excellent with quality soft touch materials everywhere. A high transmission tunnel and a dash sloped towards the driver creates a cockpit like atmosphere. The flat bottom steering wheel is perfect, sculpted to allow for a secure but relaxed grip with shifter paddles right at the driver’s fingertips. The red contrast stitching breaks up the mainly black interior very nicely.
The seats are plush with a leather and suede finish, but disappointingly do not have nearly enough bolstering to deliver the right amount of support for aggressive driving. And despite the TLX’s long wheelbase, interior space is only mediocre. Adults will fit comfortably both front and rear but the car does not feel as spacious as its exterior footprint suggests.
The centerpiece of the dash is the Dynamic mode selector along with the button operated shifter. The large chrome Dynamic mode selector indicates the car is all about the driving experience. However during the first few days drivers will repeatedly reach to that knob in an attempt to adjust the volume. In an absence of a traditional shifter, Acura has placed a leather pad for drivers to rest their hands; a nice touch.
Infotainment is through a sharp 10.2” HD colour center display which draws enough attention to keep the interior looking modern. It’s controlled through the True Touchpad interface which takes a bit of getting used to. When navigating a screen with more details such as the navigation system, it becomes frustrating. The TLX is equipped with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for enhanced connectivity, but the experience is also detracted by the touchpad interface.
The instrument cluster surprisingly still retains two analogue gauges with a large and crisp colour TFT multi information display in the middle. The silver gauge with red numerals reminded me of my Acura RSX Type S, which is a brilliant throwback. The steering wheel controls lack dedicated call answer and end buttons, so taking calls require drivers to read the prompts on screen to execute functions.
The drivetrain of the TLX follows the global trend of going turbocharged. The engine is a Civic Type R derived 2.0-liter direct injected VTEC unit producing 272 horsepower at 6,500RPM and 280 lb-ft of torque from 1,600 to 4,500RPM. This version of Honda’s 2.0-liter engine does not pull all the way up to the redline like the one in the Type R, but the torque band is wider and maximum torque is achieved much earlier. What this translates to is an engine that does not like to be wrung out to its redline.
The engine is mated to Acura’s 10-speed gearbox. Rolling onto the throttle always results in a wave of thrust and with the engine’s powerband, we found it best to leave the gearbox in its normal setting. The Sport mapping of the transmission needs more tuning; there is too much rev hang, the engine is too eager to hover at high revs which does not match its character. The transmission shifts slowly by today’s standards with slow and sluggish shifts made more evident in manual mode.
Acura has even brought back the double wishbone suspension geometry which made the Acuras of yesteryear handle so admirably. The benefits of the can be felt; the TLX drives with excellent stability and steering response which have not been felt from the brand for a while. It must not be forgotten that it’s not a lightweight; you cannot dive hot into a corner. You need to scrub off speed early then use the low end torque along with the Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system to rocket the TLX out of corners.
One neat touch with this all-wheel-drive system is that drivers can give more throttle mid-corner and feel the system shuffle power to the outside rear wheel helping rotate and track through the corner. It is a peculiar yet satisfying sensation with uncanny level of corner grip and ability. This is more of a GT cruiser than a high precision sports car.
The base TLX starts at $44,490 with our as tested A-Spec trim at $49,790. Without getting into the top Platinum Elite at $52,190, the TLX already feels generously equipped with luxuries such as automatic seat warming or cooling. Hit the automatic button the butt warmer or cooler will turn on automatically depending on cabin temperature. It also includes all active safety features such as lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring. These features are still costly optional extras in the German sports sedan market.
The TLX will closely compete with the Genesis G70 and the Cadillac CT5. The Genesis by comparison is a bargain with a similarly equipped model at $47,000. The Genesis G70 is an excellent vehicle which is a previous Car of the Year winner with our magazine, but the brand’s lack of awareness still holds buyers back. The Cadillac is an excellent choice but becomes pricey very quickly. The TLX is a lot of car for the money and a great value for all the equipment and engineering you get.
The Acura TLX A-Spec is an excellent product, full stop. It is a great package with lots of luxury equipment, great handling characteristics and bold styling which will win the hearts of many. It doesn’t necessarily live up to all the hype the brand have generated, but is an excellent grand touring sedan which will carry a family of four is absolute comfort. Acura has intentionally left a lot of performance on the table as the Type S model has yet to be released.
At the end of the day, the 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec is meant for the masses and hopefully will be a cash cow for the brand. In the A-Spec form I am absolutely confident it will reach that and become a common sight on the roads. For us enthusiasts and past Acura owners looking for the sports car Acura promised, we will have to wait for the Type S model.