ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: We had an Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance tester in the office a few months ago, which was underwhelming from a performance standpoint. The direct-injected V6 was plenty strong with 290 hp, but in corners, there was much to be desired. The car felt heavy and not so responsive to steering inputs. And then there were the all-season Goodyear Eagle LS-2 tires that certainly didn’t help matters. The rest of the car was fine, with a nicely trimmed interior that was comfortable, a smooth, well-damped ride, and styling that didn’t excite or totally bore you to tears. It was a solid all-around vehicle that just fails to deliver the level of handling performance that Acura is trying to sell you on through its ad campaigns.
However, there is a TLX in the lineup that is a little more exciting. You would normally think it’s the range-topping model with the powerful V6, but it’s actually the TLX with a direct-injected four-cylinder and front-wheel drive, which with Honda’s history makes sense. The Integra Type R, Honda Civic Si, Honda Prelude and Honda CRX were all front-wheel-drive vehicles. All of those cars never featured jaw-dropping power, but instead were lightweight and agile specimens that possessed a distinct feeling from behind the wheel. There’s connectivity you feel when you push those cars. You know exactly when the front tires are reaching their limits and you know if you throw the car into a corner hard enough that the back end will come around in most cases. The TSX (which is one of my favorite affordable sedans) was the only car to have that old-school Honda/Acura performance feel in recent years in the Acura lineup.
Going into my drive of this front-wheel TLX, I was hoping it had some of that feel, and it does somewhat. Steering is direct with crisp turn-in feel. It feels light because it is compared to the V6, all-wheel drive model tipping the scales at 282 pounds less than the “better” version. Acura’s precision all-wheel steer system probably also deserves some credit here with how good this TLX feels through corners. There’s still a little bit of body lean, but for the most part, the car feels very well tied down. And that’s on those Goodyear tires, too.
But if you push harder, you’ll be able to find the limits of the Goodyears even with the all-wheel steering and lighter curb weight. Like I said after driving the V6 SH-AWD TLX, I would love to see how much better this TLX would be with some more aggressive rubber.
The 2.4-liter direct-injected four-cylinder does pack a good punch and swiftly pulls the TLX up to speed from dead stops and out of corners. Like all Honda/Acura four-cylinders, it’s a smooth unit that’s at its best at the top half of the rev range.
How about the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission? I have no complaints about manual shift performance. Shift response is very quick for both up- and downshifts and definitely helps give the TLX a sportier demeanor. But when you leave things in full automatic mode, you’ll start picking up on some hiccups. When slowing down to lower speeds and then getting back onto the throttle before coming to a complete stop, the transmission got hung up a number of times trying to decide what gear to go into. It would take a few seconds and then slam into a gear. On a couple of occasions, it would go into a too-high a gear and bog down for about three or four seconds, downshift into a lower gear, and then finally get going. It all comes down to tuning, and clearly Acura still needs to do a little work in that area before its dual-clutch is on par with Audi’s S-tronic.
There’s definitely some excitement here in four-cylinder TLX. If Acura did decide to build a more hotted-up version of the car, I would definitely suggest they use this four-cylinder, front-wheel drive model as a basis instead of the V6 model. It’s just a better balanced car that’s a lot more fun to toss around.
As a daily driver, this TLX fits the bill for something that’s a little cushier. The interior is simply laid out and features comfortable front bucket seats that are also supportive. The infotainment system’s center touchscreen seems more responsive to commands compared to ones I’ve used in the new MDX. Backseat space is serviceable for two adults, and there’s good cargo room in the trunk.
So I’m definitely feeling a little better about the TLX after driving this version. Acura just needs to work on the dual-clutch’s tuning, and hopefully there is an A-Spec model in the works or something to further unlock the performance potential of this vehicle.
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Sigh. RLX, then ILX and now TLX. Driving a new Acura has become a face-palm, beat-your-head-against-the-wall, Gob-Bluth-”C’MON!”-shouting event for me. ...
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Echoing Jon's comments, I’m sensing a trend developing.
It started with the Cadillac ATS, moved to the Mercedes-Benz C-class, and now the Acura TLX: I vastly prefer the lower-cost four-cylinder versions of each of these vehicles to their more expensive, more powerful V6 range-toppers.
The TLX delivered the biggest surprise yet. I was not impressed with the V6 AWD Acura TLX we had a few months ago -- the car was just dull in every respect, from design to dynamics.
The four-cylinder has a completely different feel. Yes, the sheetmetal is still a snoozer, but this car dances with crisp, light handling, a fantastic engine and brilliant steering. Outright performance is traded for good, old-fashioned Honda-ness -- anyone who grew up in Honda’s heyday will know what I’m talking about.
There’s a fly in the ointment, though: The TLX’s dual-clutch transmission manages to be both asset and liability. In normal driving from a standing start, the gearbox delivers quick, firm shifts with none of the wonky lag we’ve come to expect from dual-clutch transmissions. Slowing to a stop, however, often results in a palpable disengagement clunk, and slowing to a near stop then getting back on the gas delivers a moment of confusion followed by lag as the transmission tries to figure out where it needs to be. It’s disconcerting, but I got accustomed to it and learned how to drive the car to avoid its quirks; that said, I think Acura needs to spend more time on the shift programming to get this transmission where it needs to be -- the average near-luxury buyer isn’t going to appreciate it.
Our TLX with Technology Package had no options and didn’t need any -- there’s a moonroof, navigation, satellite radio and full infotainment system. High-quality leather and soft-touch surfaces abound; the design isn’t exactly Audi avant-garde level (the glossy wood in particular feels very 1998) but neither is it objectionable; the same can be said for the exterior.
For the right buyer, the four-cylinder TLX is a lovely little sports sedan, and, unlike its V6 brother, it makes a strong value case for itself at $36K. With a good option package and stellar driving dynamics, the TLX suddenly goes from outclassed to a must-drive in the entry-luxury segment -- as long as you stick with the I4.
Even with its quirks I’d go as far as to add this TLX to my list of cars I’d consider for personal transportation. Who’d a thunk it?
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