Appreciate the 2021 Acura TLX for its many strengths, but don’t dwell too much on the numbers. Because after spending some time with Acura’s sporty-looking new premium sedan, we see its value, even if not much of it shows up on the track.
The TLX makes a good first impression—it’s priced closer to the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but its wheelbase and length put it much closer to the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class. That makes it a bit of a tweener in our book. Does it deliver on its message?
Some of our test team found the TLX’s handling splendid, but others felt the racy sheet metal was writing checks that its chassis couldn’t cash.
Cars competing in the compact luxury sport sedan price category are asked to meet a near-impossible challenge: deliver sporty dynamics, feel more premium than your neighbor’s Camry, not ride too harshly, and accelerate reasonably quickly. Then again, considering the TLX’s dimensions, it appears Acura is playing Cadillac’s game, delivering a larger car than the competition, and perhaps hoping for consumer consideration across two segments.
2021 Acura TLX 2.0T: Power in Numbers
On paper, it looks like the 2021 TLX has seriously upped its game. With a 272-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making far more power than the outgoing car’s 206-hp base engine, buyers are clearly getting a serious upgrade. Although we found the sound of the engine too guttural in our First Drive review, I kind of like it. Maybe it’s the year I spent with a 2019 RDX, which used the same engine. Regardless, the TLX was outperformed at the track.
Acceleration to 60 mph took 7.0 seconds for our intensely blue TLX A-Spec all-wheel-drive test car, which is off the pace of a rear-drive Genesis G70 2.0T (6.2 seconds), all-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.0T (5.2 seconds), and all-wheel-drive BMW 330i (5.5 seconds). Moving up a segment in size, our rear-drive 2017 BMW 530i long-term car reached 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. The truth is that many drivers will find the TLX’s acceleration perfectly adequate. The issue comes when you know others are quicker in a class with many options.
The same is true with 60–0 mph braking. The Acura came to a stop in 127 feet, well off the performance of the G70 (106 feet), 330i (114 feet), and 530i (103 feet), but about even with the Giulia (130 feet). Better brakes might help, but as associate road test editor Erick Ayapana suggested, a tire upgrade might, too. Models with all-wheel drive and 19-inch wheels ride on 255-mm wide Michelin Primacy all-season tires. Testing director Kim Reynolds echoed Ayapana’s comment: “I just wish it had a little more grip and brakes to take this up a notch.”
Such an upgrade might have benefitted the TLX A-Spec’s performance on the figure-eight course, a MotorTrend test that evaluates braking, cornering, acceleration, and the transitions in between. As it is, our test car completed the course in 26.9 seconds at an average 0.64 g. That’s a tad off the all-wheel-drive Giulia and 330i (26.7 and 26.6 seconds, respectively, both at 0.66 g average), 530i (25.9 seconds at 0.69 g average), and rear-drive G70 (25.2 seconds at 0.72 g average).
On the street, the TLX 2.0T continues to feel like a car with potential. A couple of editors who drove our Southern California test car wished the 10-speed automatic transmission was more responsive. Reynolds described the A-Spec’s ride as “firm but not harsh.” He also noted a delightfully quick turn-in quality to the steering.
We hope future TLXs are more efficient. The 2021 TLX in front-drive form returns 22/31 mpg city/highway (or 30 mpg as an A-Spec model), while all-wheel-drive models are good for 21/29 mpg. That’s off the pace of the 2021 Giulia (23–24/31–33 mpg), 2021 330i (25–26/34–36 mpg), and 2020 530i (24–25/31–33), but in line with the less efficient G70 (20–22/27–30 mpg). If your eyes glazed over at the sight of all those numbers, here’s another way to think about it: Because these cars all have about the same size fuel tank, you’ll stop for gas slightly more often in the Acura and Genesis than you will in the Alfa Romeo and BMWs.
2021 Acura TLX 2.0T: The Inside Story
The rest of the package impresses, so long as you don’t take passengers; the rear seat is cozy if you are an optimist, tight if you are a pessimist. Those in front are faced with an interior design that could only come from Acura. A silver drive-mode disc sits at the center of the dash, below a 10.2-inch infotainment screen that’s controlled by a dual-action touchpad. Better than the touchpad offered on some Lexus cars, the Acura version takes some time to learn but is decent to use once you master it. Is it better than the touchscreen and scroll-wheel interfaces on other luxury cars? Depends on your personal preference—our staff was split on the love-hate equation. However, we all agreed that the 17-speaker sound system on A-Spec and Advance models is magnificent.
There’s a real sense of quality with certain interior details, from the silver start button to the aluminum trim and the A-Spec’s thick leather-wrapped steering wheel. Then again, we’d like to see future TLX and RDX models welcome redesigned instrument clusters. One editor found the red backlighting of our A-Spec test car washed out in direct sunlight, while a couple of others are ready to see Acura experiment with a fully digital display.
Maybe all this talk of screens and touchpads makes you want to escape our screen-obsessed world and drive. If so, the Acura might be for you, but the TLX already has a few points we’d like to see improved. Even so, the features-per-dollar value remains an Acura strong point. Except for the Genesis G70 and one or two others, most competitors will cost thousands more when similarly equipped. That can be a game-changer when you enter the real world and start crunching numbers. And while its stopwatch performance can’t quite measure up to the competition, pricing may be one number comparison where the TLX really excels.
|2021 Acura TLX|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/272 hp/280 lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,700-4,050 lb (mfr)|
|L x W x H||194.6 x 75.2 x 56.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.7-6.9 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
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