by Frank A. Aukofer

For a quarter of a century, the Acura TL and its successor, the  TLX, now redesigned for 2021, have held court among the finest performing sports sedans on the market. 

Acura is the premium/luxury brand of Japan’s Honda, analogous to Toyota’s Lexus, Hyundai’s Genesis, and Nissan’s Infiniti. The brand dates back 35 years to 1986 when it introduced the Legend sedan. It became so popular that the manufacturer’s leadership feared that the Legend would overwhelm the Acura trademark, so after 10 years, it was re-named the 3.5RL.

The company also marketed the Vigor, and in 1995 Acura introduced the mid-size TL, followed by the smaller TSX. In 2014 the two cars were replaced by the current TLX. 

Some of the TL’s best years were in the decade after the turn of the millennium when it sold upwards of 70,000 cars a year. A particular favorite here was the 2006 model, a year when the extra performance TL S-Class was temporarily dropped in favor of a single model. 

It was as if the designers and engineers put everything they had into that single TL model, with a silky 258-horsepower V-6 engine that emitted a guttural roar under hard acceleration. It was available with a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic transmission. Equipment included luxury touches like leather upholstery, automatic climate control, and a superb ELS audio system, custom-designed by famed sound engineer Elliot Scheiner.

For 2021, after the company dropped the large RLX, the TLX has become the company’s flagship sedan, where it competes against the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Volvo S60, Lexus IS 350, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Those are all compact luxury/performance cars and, even though the TL earned its renown as a mid-size, the 2021 TLX model is classified as a compact, though it doesn’t look the part. 

It is longer, lower, and broader than its predecessor, with a fastback profile similar to automobiles like the Audi A7 and S7. However, its interior volume of 107 cubic feet, divided into 93 for passengers and 14 cubic feet in the trunk, places it in the EPA’s compact class, which covers cars with 100 to 109 cubic feet of interior volume.

The shortage of passenger space shows in the back, where the outboard seats have stingy knee and headroom, and you can mostly forget about the center-rear seat with its high, hard cushion and a large floor hump. With the TLX’s low profile and sleek lines, rear-seat passengers must duck and twist to enter and exit.

Up front, however, the two bucket seats are sturdy and comfortable with prominent bolsters to snug the torso in rapid motoring around curves on rural two-lane roads. 

Tested for this review was the TLX Advance model with SH-AWD, Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, which actively adjusts power to the wheels from side to side and front to rear. It makes attacking a twisting road a pleasurable pursuit. Balance is enhanced by mounting the battery under the trunk floor. There is no spare wheel and tire on any TLX model.

Power is provided by a 272-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 280 lb-ft of torque, transmitted by a 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode and, on the tester, all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive is standard. Acceleration to 60 miles an hour is rated at 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of 131.

There are four trim levels for the four-cylinder models, of which Advance is the top of the line. Later in the model year, Acura will introduce the Type S, with a twin-turbocharged V6 engine and SH-AWD. Its twin-turbo, 3.0-liter V6 engine makes 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, which the manufacturer says it is the most powerful sedan ever from Acura. (It also builds the NSX super car, with 573 hp).

On the road, the tested Advance cruised steadily and sedately, with a hint of engine noise attesting to the power under the hood. There are three selectable dynamic drive modes: comfort, normal and sport, controlled by a dial in the middle of the dash.

The center screen infotainment is operated by a touch pad that can be maddeningly frustrating to operate. Learn it well and don’t mess with it while driving.

Yet it’s the fine automatic transmission shifter that has been trashed by unwarranted criticism. But not here. It’s a vertical series of intuitive buttons high on the center console. Push for “drive” and “park,” pull for “reverse.” You can do it blindfolded.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 272 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 93/14 cubic feet
  • Weight: 4,025 pounds. 
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/29/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $49,325.
  • Price as tested: $49,325.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson