2018 Acura TLX First Review
In the small luxury sedan segment, the TLX has stood out for its stellar combination of a rewarding behind-the-wheel experience, tech-savvy interior and value for the money. And ever since the Acura TLX replaced the TSX and TL in the lineup, it has quietly been the company’s best-selling sedan. While the TLX has a lot to offer, it lacked pizzazz. Not only did its styling make it somewhat invisible on the road, but there wasn't a more performance-specific model. With the TLX’s first update, Acura has solved these problems by giving the TLX a pretty face, more driving attitude and, while they were at it, redesigned the cabin to make it more user-friendly.
Contrary to the common belief that a refresh doesn’t include all that many changes, the new TLX represents a major update, including the addition of a new model. The TLX A-Spec is a new option for 2018, and it offers more than just styling differences. While we like the styling cues of the A-Spec, what's more important is that choosing the A-Spec or a V6-powered TLX does make a difference when driving.
Even if Acura had done nothing but change the TLX’s nose, it would’ve made a huge difference in the presence of this sedan. The previous TLX blended into the woodwork, and it’s hard to get excited about a car you don’t notice. Similar to the front end of the latest MDX SUV, the new front end styling is an elegant balance of high-tech and luxury, and it reinvigorates the entire car. It also gives the TLX attitude for the first time.
While all TLX models – 2.4L, 3.5L V6 and the new A-Spec – have the new look up front, the A-Spec adds a matte black grille with a black chrome surround; unique front fascia, 19-inch wheels and exhaust; and a spoiler. That makes the A-Spec the most aggressive-looking TLX to date.
The TLX is still offered with two engines, the least expensive of which is the 206-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine backed by an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The second engine, a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6, uses a 9-speed automatic. Our drive centered around two V6 models, the A-Spec and the V6 Advance, both with Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). Whichever TLX you choose, paddle shifters are standard.
A-Spec: A driver's car
The A-Spec is the more driver-centric of the two, with a sport-tuned suspension, stiffer stabilizer bars, and a quicker steering ratio. It also uses different tires that have stiffer sidewalls and a larger contact patch. Steering is already excellent in the TLX, both linear and responsive, but the A-Spec quickens the action. The V6 offers plenty of power, and the retuned 9-speed automatic shifts quickly and smoothly. The A-Spec's seats have more bolstering than in the other V6 models; they're comfortable and offer a planted feel in corners. Thanks to the A-Spec's tuning, this model is a blast on curvy roads, and SH-AWD makes the experience even better. The sporty bias does take away some ride quality, more noticeably on straight stretches of road, but if you want the canyon-carving attitude, it’s worth the compromise.
The V6 Advance is the more serene of the two, but that doesn't mean it's sleepy or slow. Steering is still excellent, and SH-AWD with Torque Vectoring makes cornering tremendous fun. The seats feel a little flatter, but ride quality is nicer in the Advance. Both were equipped with a dynamic drive system, which lets you choose between Econ, Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes, with noticeable differences in transmission shift timing, based on the setting.
The TLX still uses a two-screen-based infotainment system, but the company has made everything easier to use. They simplified the menus, response time is quicker when you make selections, and while there isn't a separate tuning knob, there is still a volume knob, a touch we appreciate. CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and are operated through the upper screen. This isn't a touch screen, so you operate it through a click wheel, but it's easy to learn. Also easy is the transition between satellite radio and the Acura nav system, and CarPlay. There's a hard "Smartphone" button that lets you toggle between the two. New features include wireless charging, a surround-view camera system and heated rear seats.
Our quibbles with the TLX are few. The TLX uses a start/stop technology, but the transitions aren't as smooth as you'd find in other, less expensive vehicles. But it is a defeatable system. It would be nice if the tilt/telescoping wheel were power instead of manual. And there aren't many USB ports in the interior; we found two up front, one of which was hidden in the front of the center storage bin.
Ever since the TLX came out, it has been a competent, fun-to-drive value. Now Acura has added some emotion to this winning combination, and the TLX will turn heads on the road. When the TLX goes on sale June 1, pricing will start at $33,950 for the 2.4L model and the base V6 TLX starts at $37,150. The A-Spec V6 opens at $43,750 and the top-of-the-line Advance V6 starts at $44,700. (All prices include destination.) Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive is now available on 4-cylinder models, as well as the V6 models, for an additional $2,000.