Launched as a 2015 model, the Acura TLX was created out of the departed TL and TSX, taking the wheelbase and interior space of the TL while cutting four inches off its length. It takes design cues from the full-size RLX sedan, namely the distinctively cool LED headlamps and amber line on the sideview mirrors. The 2016 TLX offers many new technology features, with an available Tech package.
The TLX comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 206 horsepower, mated to an 8-speed twin-clutch transmission with a torque converter that tries to smooth out the snaps. It’s front-wheel drive only and is the sportiest version. The TLX is EPA-rated at 28 miles per gallon Combined, or 24/35 City/Highway with the four-cylinder.
Two TLX models use a 3.5-liter V6 with direct injection and variable valve timing (same as the four-cylinder), making 290 horsepower. V6 models with front-wheel drive are EPA-rated at 25 mpg Combined. We find the V6 less sporty than the four-cylinder.
However, with the V6 you can get Acura’s all-wheel drive, Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) to be precise, using torque vectoring at the front wheels to sharpen cornering.
All front-wheel-drive TLX models use Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS), a system that slightly turns the rear wheels, for stability and response in quick maneuvers.
Using a four-mode system that comes on all TLX models, the driver can adjust steering effort, throttle response, and transmission programming.
The four-cylinder TLX was by far sweeter for us, as we flung it through the curves and twists of our favorite two-lane roads. It’s lighter and beautifully balanced, one of the best handling front-wheel-drive cars we’ve driven.
In crash tests, the TLX scores perfect with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, five stars in every category. However like every car, it seems, it misses the top score with the IIHS small-overlap frontal impact (telephone pole) test.
The 2016 Acura TLX ($31,695) comes standard with leatherette upholstery, Siri Eyes Free interface, Bluetooth, streaming audio with seven speakers, text and email. The Technology Package ($35,750) upgrades with leather, navigation and other features.
TLX V6 ($35,320) is similarly equipped and available with the Technology Package ($39,375), while the all-wheel-drive V6 only comes with the Tech Package ($41,575). There’s also a fully loaded Advance Package ($44,800).
The TLX is handsome while still being an everyday sedan, with bold fenders and an arching roofline to suggest coupe. The Acura emblem grille, sort of a dull chrome beak, is flanked by LED headlamps, with LED running lights low in the bumper.
Flared rear fenders use character lines, maybe to suggest sport. A curvy rear hides a trunk spoiler, over inconspicuous twin tailpipes.
The driver gets to look at an attractive instrument panel that’s easy to read, and a high-tech center stack. Too high tech. Satellite radio is a distracting and infuriating puzzle to tune (in not just this Acura, but also the MDX we recently drove). Climate control isn’t much better. It’s just not simple, as it should be.
The front passenger gets to look at a dark and bleak expanse of dashboard that extends from the windshield all the way down. The upside is that it houses a large glove compartment.
Seats offers a choice of premium leatherette (vinyl) or quality leather.
Active noise cancellation is standard, resulting in a silent cabin up to 70 mph.
We found the Acura TLX with the four-cylinder engine to be the best balanced, even without the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive of the top V6. It’s easy to toss around, while being comfortable enough for your mother-in-law or boss to ride along.
The 2.4-liter engine makes a healthy but hardly awesome 206 horsepower, but it likes to rev and sounds great along the way. It’s well matched with the 8-speed dual-clutch transmission that works best when you run it hard, with crisp upshifts and rev-matching downshifts. The added torque converter helps reduce snatches during casual running, but there’s still occasional tugging and lurching at speeds under 10 mph.
And the programming, as with other Acuras (even the Honda Pilot), makes it impossible to coast, for example down a slight grade at 25 mph. The transmission slows the car down aggressively, against your wishes, so you find yourself having to accelerate to maintain the casual slow pace. You speed up to 28, the transmission slows you down to 22; and again. You can’t just coast smoothly at 25.
Of course there’s always Sport Plus mode, with tidy paddles at the steering wheel. It’s a driver’s transmission, then. Even in Sport Plus it shifts at redline, and won’t let you hit a rev limiter.
But all is forgiven when you get in the corners. The steering is taut and precise, and a beautiful suspension keeps the car composed over bumps and flat in apexes. The Precision All-Wheel Steer helps make the car nimble at low speeds and stable at high speeds.
In the V6 models, the lovely lightweight handling is lost, and it doesn’t feel that much faster than the four. Meanwhile, the 9-speed automatic transmission throws in vagaries. The extra gear doesn’t do much, it’s mostly about fuel mileage which still won’t match the four-cylinder; and the transmission programming is a mess: hesitant, jerky and pokey, lacking zing. And annoying; you can wait a long time for it to switch from reverse into drive.
The torque of the V6 stirs up some bad behavior from the front-wheel-drive TLX. The SH-AWD model with its torque vectoring doesn’t have that same tug at the front wheels, but it weighs a whopping 300 pounds more, and is noticeably slower.
The less expensive four-cylinder model is beautifully balanced and fast enough, while it gets better fuel mileage than the V6. The 8-speed twin-clutch transmission works best when the car is driven hard. If you’re looking at the V6, look at midsize competitors.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.