The Acura TLX is a front-wheel-drive compact/midsize premium sedan that was launched as a 2015 and didn’t change for its first three years. Its merits were often lost in the arguments over whether its grille that looked like a vector-shaped shield was distinctive or ugly.
For 2018, TLX gets rid of that grille, with a cleaner front fascia, new LED self-dimming headlamps, and a subtly bulked-up hood. Inside, there’s ambient lighting piping on the sides of the center console, along with new seat designs.
There’s also a sporty new model with its own grille and fascia called the A-Spec, with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The Acura TLX A-Spec has a firmer suspension and amplified intake noise into the cabin. Heavily bolstered seats and a thick steering wheel are added to complement the suspension. In addition to distinctive exterior trim, there are 19-inch wheels and four-inch wide exhaust outlets in the rear bumper. It’s designed to challenge sporty models from Lexus, BMW, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz.
Acura TLX competes with near-luxury models from Germany, including the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Audi A3.
The standard engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 206 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, enough to give the nimble TLX a balanced character. The bigger engine is a 3.5-liter V6 making 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, but because it adds 500 pounds to the weight of the TLX, it doesn’t feel that much quicker than the four-cylinder. In addition, its 9-speed automatic transmission isn’t as smooth as the 8-speed dual-clutch automated transmission in the four-cylinder model.
However if you want all-wheel-drive, specifically Acura’s sophisticated Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), it only comes with the V6.
The TLX earns five stars in crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In one of the tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, for small-overlap frontal impact, the TLX ranked only Marginal. Other IIHS tests yielded Good scores (the highest rating). When fitted with optional safety features, the TLX was rated Superior for frontal-crash prevention.
Fuel-efficiency is good on the highway, with a big drop in the city. The four-cylinder TLX is EPA-rated at 24/35 mpg City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined. The front-drive V6 model is EPA-rated at 21/34 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined. SH-AWD sinks the Highway figure to 31 mpg.
The 2018 Acura TLX 2.4L ($33,000) includes 2.4-liter engine, rearview camera, moonroof, power seats, keyless start, Bluetooth, seven-speaker audio with satellite radio, and hill start assist. The Technology Package ($3700) adds navigation, AcuraLink infotainment, perforated leather upholstery, and a premium 10-speaker Acura/ELS Studio audio system. (All prices are MSRP and do not include $995 destination charge.)
TLX 3.5L ($36,200) gets the V6 engine and 18-inch wheels and is available with the Technology Package ($39,900) or Advance Package ($43,750) that adds adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, front/rear parking sensors, and heated/ventilated front seats.
Other optional safety features include forward collision warning, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot monitoring.
TLX 3.5L SH-AWD ($38,200) includes all-wheel-drive and V6, and is available with the Technology and Advance packages ($45,750).
TLX A-Spec comes with either front-wheel drive ($42,800) or SH-AWD ($44,800).
Curiously, except for a coupe-like arched silhouette, and the grille they’ve given up on, the TLX has not gone with the flow of Acura’s more edgy designs. There’s little that’s edgy about it. It doesn’t appear to be trying to keep up with sharper designs from Lexus, Infiniti, Audi and Alfa Romeo. Even its lowly cousin the Honda Accord is more eye-catching in some models.
However the changes for the 2018 TLX make it prettier, with a cleaner more muscular look. Its grille is no longer polarizing. By replacing the solid shield with black mesh, and cleaning up the air intakes at the bottom of the front fascia, and raising and shaping the three character lines in the hood, it now looks classy. Even a bit longer, because the eye is no longer drawn to the grille. It’s still not distinctive, however, just clean.
Flared rear fenders and a lip spoiler add spirit. The taillamps have been tweaked a bit. While the V6 model gets boring rectangular exhaust outlets, the A-Spec gets a hot pair of four-inch barrels that are integrated into the bumper.
The TLX is on the large side of the compact category in overall dimensions, while being the small side of midsize in passenger space. At 106.5 cubic feet, total passenger space doesn’t match the 3 Series or C-Class. Indeed, the TLX is much better for four than five.
The cabin layout is efficient, with simple but premium materials, but it trails its rivals. The seats are comfortable enough. The instrument panel is attractive and easy to read. Twin display screens are mounted on the center stack. Interior storage is good, including door bins, a big central console, and sizable glovebox.
On the passenger side, the view sinks to bleak. That rider sees an awkward expanse of empty black dashboard. The plainness reaches to the rear seats, where legroom is a bit less than European.
The blissfully quiet ride redeems a lot. Wind and road sounds barely exist. It’s serene in the cabin.
With either engine, the TLX rides and handles better than average, but the difference between the two is dramatic, so one of them is way better than average, guess which one.
We found the four-cylinder with front-wheel drive to have the crispest cornering, partly because it weighs about 500 pounds less than the V6 model. Excellent suspension tuning complements taut, precise steering. Bumpy roads do not upset it. Nimble low-speed behavior and on-highway stability are helped by Acura’s Precision All-Wheel Steer system, which is standard with the 2.4-liter model.
Not only that, the engine is eager to rev, and the 8-speed dual-clutch automated transmission is brilliant. A torque converter eliminates jerky shifts, so it feels like a conventional automatic. It might be the first twin-clutch with a torque converter.
There is no denying the thrust of the V6 is stronger. Its 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque is impressive, and is well contained by the optional Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system. The torque peaks at 4500 rpm, so the acceleration will remain strong at higher rpm.
But the 9-speed automatic brings the engine down. We criticized Acura’s implementation of the German ZF transmission in our 2017 review, and Acura says it was improved for 2018, and indeed it’s more willing to engage from a stop. But it’s dynamically inferior to the 8-speed automatic in the BMW 340i, the 7-speed dual-clutch in the Audi A4, and even the 8-speed DCT (dual clutch) in the 4-cylinder Acura TSX. The upshifts are too slow even with the driving mode at its most aggressive, and the downshifts too are in no hurry. Besides, nine gears seem like too many when manually shifting.
The TLX A-Spec uses only the V6. It gets stiffer springs and dampers, and a larger rear anti-roll bar, but you can’t feel that much of a difference, compared to the base TLX with its inline four. We can’t help but imagine an A-Spec with the smaller and lighter four-cylinder, but it doesn’t exist.
Active Sound Control system pumps in a throaty intake song.
The Acura TLX comes at a lower price point than the competition, with a high level of standard equipment. With styling revisions for 2018, its looks befits its capabilities. The 2.4-liter engine is the way to go, with adequate acceleration, nimble handling, a quiet ride, and good fuel economy. The SH-AWD all-wheel drive is exceptional. The available packages cost a lot, and are easy to live without.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff report.