Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: April 30, 2019
Looks are subjective but in my eyes, the TLX is not an attractive sedan. With an awkward, gigantic, feathery beak, it’s a front end that grows sour in the mouth. The rear end appears decidedly more purposeful with an aggressive lower bumper and lip spoiler but even with the sportier A-Spec trim and bold red paint, its black exterior accents, smoked out tail-lights, and dual exhausts will do little to appease the inattentive and easily distracted eyes of the millennials it’s targeted towards.
Aesthetics aside, I have always held the TLX dear to my heart ever since it was introduced back in 2015. The powertrain is what really got my attention: a naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 that loved to rev, was energetic all throughout its powerband, and sounded like an NSX when kissing the redline. With spacious rear accomodations and an ergonomically sound cabin, it was the perfect sedan for a young family that wanted to experience equal parts luxury, performance, and refinement.
But don’t expect that last sentence to mean that the TLX sits right up there with other premium and high-value entrants like the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Frankly, the TLX doesn’t come close but it does enchant owners in a different kind of way, leading them down a path of discretion, subtlety, and reliability. Some might label the TLX as overly vanilla but when it comes to which car you would actually want to own and spend 365 days with, it’s hard to go wrong with the Acura.
The TLX comes in a few different flavours and there are two engines available, both unchanged from last year. No turbochargers were invited to this party - only unclogged and free-breathing nostrils. Base models receive a 2.4-litre four-cylinder that delivers 206 hp and 182 lb-ft and is only available with an 8-speed automatic and front-wheel drive. You can also opt for a 3.5-litre V6 engine (our personal choice), which produces 290 hp and 267 lb-ft through a 9-speed automatic and is all-wheel drive only.
We sampled the V6 this time around and it’s the same as we remember from last year. Linear, intensive past 3,000 rpm, and accompanied by an ever-so-sweet exhaust note that ranks right up there with a BMW’s straight six, this V6 is a sweetheart of a motor. Though much of the exhaust is piped in through the speakers, the soundtrack isn’t shouty or overly ostentatious. It suits the TLX’s mojo rather well.
While the engine is a turbo-less relic worthy of preservation, the 9-speed automatic transmission takes a turn for the worst. Laggy, constantly hunting for gears, and unable to make up its mind on when and how to shift, it’s a gearbox that needs more time in the shop. It’s mildly smoother than previous iterations and is unintrusive when left in to its own devices, but the moment you take the helm via the paddle shifters and row your own gears, the vices rise to the surface. There seems to be no clear connection between paddles and gear shifts, taking more than a second for the system to respond and it becomes aggravating to drive spiritedly. Isn’t a sports sedan touted for “performance” supposed to ebb and flow underneath your fingertips? You’ll see the TLX standing next to the NSX supercar in a handful of Acura’s marketing material too, quoting shared DNA and inspiration but if you couldn’t already guess, they’re hardly anything alike.
The suspension and ride quality fall into the same route of criticism. Seemingly tuned more for comfort than dynamic precision, the TLX is a gentle and polished cruiser with slight hints of “sportiness”, but it ultimately falls short when you try and take it past five-tenths the limit. Even the stiffened dampers and improved steering from the A-Spec model and Sport Plus mode do little to inject some extra attitude to the overall drive. Still, the TLX demonstrates commendable road manners and absorbs potholes and bumps notably well, and would be an easy choice for a road trip companion. Again, comfort seems to be the main priority here.
On another note, the steering has appreciable on-centre feel and builds up accurately under rotation. However, it doesn’t help that the chassis can’t quite keep up and provide enough bite when being thrown around corners. The TLX still feels like a bulky car but I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of buyers will still have an exhilarating time blasting up twisty back roads with such a responsive engine. That, and they will have one hell of a comfortable ride on the way home. With a better sorted chassis and re-tuned gearbox, the TLX just might be able to keep up with the best when the speeds ramp up. Here’s hoping.
The TLX interior clearly lags behind competitors that are now offering the latest infotainment units and displays. Sticking with its guts, the TLX makes do with crisp analog gauges and its infamous dual-screen infotainment unit that has to go down as one of the worst units of 2019. Despite receiving a slight rework with a more responsive interface and simpler menus, it comes with a steep learning curve. Trying to dig through the menu clutter for a certain button is like playing hide-and-seek, and only left us frustrated and scratching our heads.
The TLX may not stand on the same pedestal as its German counterparts but the ride is stellar from a comfort point of view, and the V6 engine is a breath of fresh air in an arena filled with blowers and turbos. It’s a shame that the chassis and gearbox don’t live up to the performance moniker set forth by the A-Spec trim but it does add some visual spice for the not-so-serious enthusiast. If you find it easy on the eyes and can forgive the lacklustre interior tech, the TLX might be worth checking out. But if you’re looking for a better balanced sedan that curves towards the sportier side of the spectrum, best to look elsewhere.
Model: 2019 Acura TLX SH-AWD Elite A-Spec
Paint Type: San Marino Red
Base Price: $51,190
Price as Tested: $51,190
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,843 / 2,091 (including mirrors) / 1,447
Curb weight (kg): 1,711
Engine: 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6
Horsepower: 290 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 267 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 12.0 / 8.2 / 10.3
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.3