MIDDLEBURG, VA – The engineering team that developed the all-new Acura TLX is a tight-knit group of car guys. They have a passion for cars, and it shows.
They also drive the cars they create, so when they were challenged to develop this new luxury sport sedan to replace the TL and TSX in the Acura lineup, they poured their own preferences – and passion – into the project.
Mat Hargett heads up the team that’s been working together on Acura TL and TSX models for 15 years. "We knew what we liked about our cars – and what we wanted to change," Hargett explained at a media preview of the TLX, which will be arriving in showrooms later this month. "We wanted to build a car we would want to drive."
The goals included creating a mid-size luxury sedan that delivered an engaging driving experience, had a dynamic design and promised to be intuitive and interactive. Simply put, they wanted a sporty sedan that was a pleasure to drive, one that created a real connection between driver and machine.
After spending a day behind the wheel of all three iterations of the new TLX, I can say Hargett and his crew achieved their goal.
Need to succeed
Good thing they did, as this TLX is critical to Acura re-establishing itself in the luxury sedan market. While its luxury SUV (RDX and MDX) sales have been solid, consumers have drifted away from Acura’s sedan offerings.
Part of the reason may be the somewhat confusing portfolio consumers have faced when surfing through an Acura showroom. There’s been overlap between models and, some say, the brand has drifted away from its roots.
With the TLX, those issues are history. There’s now a distinct order to the sedan lineup, with the entry-level ILX sedan, the mid-level TLX and the flagship RLX. The much-anticipated NSX sports car will provide the brand’s halo when it arrives next year.
Trimmer than TL
To enhance the sporty character of the new TLX, its proportions were trimmed, compared to the outgoing TL. The roof height was lowered and the overhangs front and rear were reduced.
The front overhang is 31 millimetres shorter, while the rear has been bobbed 67 mm, yet the wheelbase remains unchanged.
As a result, the cabin space remains the same as the TL. During several hours as both a driver and a passenger, I was able to readily adjust the power seats to provide sufficient leg room and headroom, while still leaving adequate space for rear-seat occupants.
The lower, wider look of the trimmer TLX also enhances its overall exterior look – it has a stance that suggests it’s ready to play, although I still find the prominent "beak" grille a bit difficult to embrace.
The sleeker look is more than just styling, however – it has resulted in significantly improved aerodynamics. The TLX’s co-efficient of drag has been reduced 15% compared to the TL and Acura says it ranks best in a class that includes the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS 350, Audi A4 and Infiniti Q50.
The Jewel Eye LED headlights, becoming a signature styling cue for the brand, add a distinctive, classy touch to the front end while the rear-end styling is highlighted by a three-dimensional LED light pipe.
Overall, the exterior design is not trend-busting, leaning more toward a conservative approach, but it’s pleasing enough to appeal to most consumers.
Where the TLX really excels is on the road. Firstly, the engineering team’s efforts to reduce interior noise have produced results that exceeded even their expectations.
A stiffer chassis design, utilizing 60% more high-strength materials, combined with the addition of noise-isolating techniques, such as extensive application of acoustic foam (a first for Acura), acoustic barrier panels, triple door seals and an active noise cancellation system, has produced a sedan that feels tight and extremely quiet on the road.
Despite the fact the cars we were driving were pre-production models that had been driven (and abused) during several months of testing, there was nary a squeak, groan or rattle. Wind noise was non-existent and the only road noise intruding into the spacious cabin was the muted sound of road surface irregularities such as pavement cracks and separation joints. It was so serene.
Stability and confidence
Particular attention was paid to strengthening the chassis were the suspension mounts attach to the body. Improved dampers and bushings in the McPherson strut suspension system give the TLX a truly premium level of ride comfort – the impact of road bumps is dramatically reduced while front and rear axle vibrations are reduced significantly.
This first-class ride comfort, however, has not been achieved by compromising handling dynamics – the TLX felt solid and secure, even when nudged near its limits on some wonderfully twisty back roads in this centuries-old, predominantly horse farm area of Virginia.
The nimble, stable dynamic performance can be traced to the next-generation P-AWS (performance all-wheel steering) system that’s standard on the TLX. This all-new iteration of Acura’s benchmark system was introduced last year on the flagship RLX and is now bestowing its impressive attributes on this mid-size sibling.
New hardware and logic systems give the TLX better tracking with less input from the driver, while enhancing low-speed agility and high-speed stability. I checked out both ends of the speed spectrum and found P-AWS delivered on all claims.
It’s seamless and difficult to perceive when it’s engaged – you just feel a sense of stability and confidence that the car will stay glued in its tracks.
When this system is combined with the next-generation SH-AWD (super handling all-wheel-drive) system, the TLX is an even better road-hugging machine.
Whether setting up to carve through a challenging bend in the road or simply making a lane change on a multi-lane expressway, this package of technologies not only make the moves a breeze, but actually help put some fun in the drive.
The new TLX is offered with a pair of powertrain choices, each giving the car a distinct personality. The choices will also enhance the car’s appeal to owners of both the models it is replacing – the smaller TSX and the mid-size TL.
It’s expected that current TSX customers will gravitate to the 2.4-litre four-cylinder package. Despite some reports that say otherwise, this is indeed an all-new engine featuring direct dual-port injection and producing 206 horsepower (up five horsepower from the TSX four-cylinder) and 182 lb-ft of torque (a 10% increase.)
This engine is paired with an eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission fitted with a torque converter – a world first. The addition of the torque converter smoothes out the jerky launches common with DCT gearboxes.
This powertrain delivers better fuel economy than the outgoing TSX and it’s quicker, with a 0-to-100 km/h time that's 1.5 seconds faster. During a stint with this package, I found the performance to be more than adequate, with good acceleration from launch as well as good response in merging and passing maneuvers.
If you prefer more exhilaration (and acceleration), Acura delivers with a smooth new 3.5-litre V-6. This direct-injected engine is the same as the one offered in the flagship RLX sedan and mid-size MDX utility vehicle, but with a wider, flatter torque band.
Its peak output, at 290 horsepower, is 10 horsepower stronger than the outgoing TL, while maximum torque of 267 lb-ft is 12% greater.
Unlike in the RLX and MDX, however, this V-6 is mated to a new nine-speed automatic transmission that has been developed with gearbox maker ZF. It is geared for performance while still delivering fuel consumption that’s on a par with the turbocharged four-cylinders offered by some competitors.
The transmission itself is 30 kilograms lighter than the TL gearbox, its gear changes are 25 percent faster and paddle shifts are completed five times faster than with the outgoing six-speed tranny.
Complementing this V-6 powertrain is the available SH-AWD system that comprises the top-of-the-line package. This all-new system has been significantly downsized – it’s more than 100 kg lighter than the previous generation – without compromising performance.
In addition to the reduced weight, fuel economy has been enhanced with the addition of an idle-stop system. Available only with the V6 SH-AWD, it’s the first application by Acura of this fuel-saving technology.
Active hydraulic engine mounts have been added, resulting in a 27% reduction in start-up vibrations, although you still notice the engine restarting more so than in a hybrid equipped with idle-stop.
Personally, I prefer either of the V-6 packages – the sound and kick in the butt delivered when you stomp the loud pedal is so exhilarating, compared to the four-banger. Of course, if your budget allows, the V-6 with the SH-AWD package would be the ideal setup, especially in Canada where its capabilities would really be appreciated in our winter driving conditions.
While the TLX starts at $34,990 and includes an impressive suite of comfort, convenience and safety features, you can ramp the bottom line up as high as $47,490 with the fully-dressed V6 SH-AWD Elite trim.
A Technology upgrade, including a navigation system and premium Acura/ELS surround-sound audio, is available on all three models. Opting for this package also adds such exclusive-to-Canada features as power folding side mirrors, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel.
The Elite upgrade, only available on V-6 models, includes collision mitigation braking and road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, ventilated seats and more.
Hargett and his colleagues have instilled their all-new TLX with DNA that’s been missing in recent Acura sedans – the latest advanced technologies, premium feel, luxurious comfort and most important, a fun-to-drive personality. It’s a combination that’s bound to revitalize the brand’s presence in the luxury sedan segment.