The 2015 TLX is the best car for you if you want to be a part of Acura’s return to the front ranks of sports sedans.
It’s been a while — probably since at least 2008, with the last of the really good TL models.
A new nameplate, the TLX replaces two cars in the Japanese carmaker’s lineup: the slightly longer TL and the smaller TSX.
All these cars contain elements also found in models from Acura’s parent company, Honda. The TSX, for example, was a gussied-up Civic. And the new TLX borrows some understructure from the Honda Accord – although with significant upgrades to make it stiffer and quieter.
Why would someone choose this car over a BMW, Audi, or Lexus IS – none of which is based on a mainstream family sedan?
Well, there are some good reasons.
It looks pretty good. The grille integrates a palatable version of Acura’s chrome beak, complemented by standard LED headlights. The side view is unexciting but uncluttered. So is the tail. Overall, it’s clean if undistinguished — and a far better design than the 2009-through-2014 TL.
The mechanical bits are sound, too — even though this car is based on a front-wheel drive chassis rather than the sportier rear-wheel-drive layout of most leading rivals.
And both available engines are essentially re-engineered versions of ones also found in the Accord. That keeps costs down.
Available only with front-wheel drive is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 206 horsepower, 17 more than in the Accord. It has far less torque than the turbocharged fours in the European competition, but also uses less gas than those turbos.
The alternative is a 3.5-liter V-6 with 290 horsepower. That’s more than it makes in any it sibling offerings but still short of the sixes in the top rivals. It does beat their fuel-economy ratings, though, and is available with front-wheel drive or the automaker’s Super Handling all-wheel-drive.
There is drivetrain technology that elevates the TLX beyond any Accord and gives it road manners on par with some pricier sport sedans.
The transmissions are state of the art. The four-cylinder uses an eight-speed dual clutch gearbox that employs a torque converter to eliminate low-speed hesitation common to dual-clutch transmissions.
The V-6 has a nine-speed automatic. And all front-drive versions have the Precision All-Wheel Steer system that pivots the back wheels a few degrees to enhance handling.
Also standard is the company’s Integrated Dynamics System . An Eco mode relaxes powertrain and climate-control calibrations. Sport modes sharpen steering, throttle, and transmission response.
The six saves gas by automatically de-activating three cylinders in low-demand driving. And all-wheel-drive models can shut off when the car is stopped.
All this makes for a pretty entertaining ride.
Don’t dismiss the four-cylinder without a test drive. Helped by the clever transmission, it’s an overachiever, with surprisingly lively pickup.
The smooth, strong V-6 is more in keeping with this car’s aspirations. Unfortunately, if you pair it with front-wheel drive, quick getaways induce torque steer – that’s when a car pulls to the side under hard throttle.
The solution is Super Handling all-wheel-drive. It funnels power fore and aft and side to side for outstanding grip. And you can monitor its action.
The lighter weight of the four-cylinder pays off in impressive agility and balance, but every model has superior steering feel and inspires confidence on the road.
Wind, tire, and engine noise is subdued, and while the ride is firm, bumps register with a single thump and you continue on with no sloppy rebounding.
This is the engineering enthusiasts remember from the great days of Acura.
Compared against the rather generic exterior, the interior seems invigorated.
The dashboard is modern and every trim has pushbutton ignition and real analog gauges not video projections.
The double-deck screen is debatable. It can simultaneously show, for example, the navigation map and radio presets. But it suffers redundancies in displays and controls. We’re not alone in doubting the logic of this design.
There’s also a little brain exercise demanded of the unusual transmission controls that come with the V-6 engine. It’s this array of buttons that looks cool and saves space. But unless you’ve memorized their shape and positioning you’ll need to look down to make certain you’re activating the correct gear.
You get a conventional shift lever with the four-cylinder engine, and both transmissions have steering-wheel paddles for a degree of manual control, though the small plastic levers lack style or tactile satisfaction.
That’s in contrast to almost everything else you come in contact with in the cabin. It’s not quite up to the best available in top rivals, but materials quality is very pleasing. Some of the woodgrain and the metal-looking trim is in fact plastic but at least it’s very convincing plastic.
Front seats are roomy and supportive, the driving position excellent. Power heated buckets are standard and perforated Milano leather is included with all-wheel-drive and optional in place of leatherette upholstery.
In back, knee room is good but if you’re taller than six feet your head’s going to be brushing the ceiling.
We like the condensed design of the front seatbacks; it gives you a better view forward than you get in some cars with bulkier headrests.
At about 14 cubic feet, trunk volume is around the middle of the class. The Japanese automaker gives you an inflator kit instead of a spare tire, but models with the V-6 are available with a handy underfloor bin.
A split-folding rear seatback is standard but you’ll notice the passthrough is rather tight. That’s evidence of the extra bracing that’s gone into the structure.
Even the least expensive models comes nicely equipped with the LED lamps, power moonroof, rearview camera, heated mirrors, and Bluetooth connectivity with Siri interface.
Adding the $4,000 Technology Package gets you navigation, lane-departure and rear-cross-traffic alerts, rain-sensing wipers, and the Milano leather.
For another $3,300, V-6 models can be equipped with the Advance Package. It includes the Technology Package, plus cooled front seats, adaptive cruise control, front-collision mitigation, and the automaker’s first self-steering lane-assist system.
Acura doesn’t have the brand prestige of Audi, BMW, or Lexus. But it does enjoy a great reputation for reliability and for low cost of ownership.
And that the TLX costs less than comparably equipped rivals isn’t really unexpected. That it’s a good match for driving enjoyment is a welcome surprise.