Car Review: 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec


Acura’s mid-sized luxury sedan balances sporty with comfort


Looks sharp, nice ride, low price


Touchpad infotainment, transmission, could use more power


Base spec and Platinum Elite models offer the best value


Wait and see what that Type S is all about


Platinum Elite trim with the bright red paint

Take a time machine to the early 2000s and you’d see Acura in peak form. The halo’d NSX mid-engined supercar was taking on exotics from around the world, the TL and CL proved to be popular with savvy luxury car shoppers, while the MDX crossover was a concern to the livelihood of luxury brands everywhere.

These were just the highlights of a huge portfolio, which has sadly dwindled over the past few years. Fortunately, things are looking up, with the MDX and TLX both receiving substantial redesigns. While crossovers get all the headlines these days thanks to their popularity with shoppers, sedans can often showcase the identity of a luxury brand, something that Acura needs to demonstrate these days with increased pressure from new rivals like Genesis and sales leaders like Lexus.

So we are eager to test the brand-new 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec to see if Acura is back, and what to expect next from the Japanese luxury brand.

Priced like a compact sports sedan, but sized like something closer to an executive-class vehicle, the TLX packs a fetching design. The elongated nose and short deck give the impression of a sporty, rear-wheel-drive-oriented vehicle and the sharp creases in the bodywork give off a futuristic aura. Slim lights in the front and rear of the vehicle further that detail, making the TLX seem pretty aggressive. Visually it packs a punch, and you immediately forget what the outgoing model looks like.

The interior is impressive too, but for the wrong reasons. It’s as if Acura took a challenge to see how frustrating they can make their cabin to use and operate. Loads of buttons are on the dashboard, surrounding a central knob that doesn’t control fan speed or media volume, but the vehicle drive mode. Typically this space would be reserved for the most commonly used items, so it’s curious to Acura putting this control here. Instead, a small volume knob and a tiny next/previous track rocker are located on the centre console, near the touchpad infotainment controller. The touchpad system requires a thorough getting-to-know-you period because the first week you spend using the infotainment system, it will feel too sensitive, and almost counterintuitive to operate while driving. Heaven forbid if you’re scrolling through some settings using the touchpad and crest a speedbump at the same time, the selection will swing unexpectedly and you’ll have to reorient yourself all over again.

That’s a shame because the cabin features a nice blend of materials. Fit and finish is a highlight, with no wobbly buttons, rattles or squeaks. Most switch gears feel tactile and satisfying to press, but perhaps the chunky steering wheel steals the show. Thick and reassuring, it provides an element of confidence and the D-shape and slick stitching exudes sportiness.

That’s an appropriate personality to demonstrate, as Acura outfits the TLX with a double-wishbone front suspension, which provides a sense of calm and stability no matter the road condition or bearing. The TLX feels composed on crummy post-winter pothole-strewn streets and comes alive on twisty, winding roads as well. The steering is quick, though a little light and lacking feedback. It attempts to strike a balance between sporty and high-end, stopping short of committing wholly to one driving style.

Adding to the smooth and crisp handling, the vehicle is equipped with Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive. Highlighted as a differentiating factor, SH-AWD shifts power between the front and rear axles, and can even send some power to individual rear wheels as needed. Those with the most traction get the attention of the system, ensuring the vehicle feels alive even when the conditions are dicey.

Unfortunately, the TLX needs some help under the hood to make the vehicle truly stand out. Currently, the only engine you can get in the Acura is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, making 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. It’s just acceptable, feeling quick enough for the daily commute, but not a great companion for enthusiasts looking to wring it out. It can feel a little flat at times and the transmission doesn’t do much to help.

The ten-speed automatic can sometimes change gears at inopportune times, or omit a gear change altogether. Getting into a corner should elicit a downshift, allowing the turbo four to rev out on the exit, but every once in a while the transmission just didn’t feel like going through those steps. Twisting that large dial on the dashboard into the Sport setting helped, as does using the large paddle shifters to take command of gear shifts yourself. It definitely raises the fun factor, though clicking through ten gears can get a bit tedious.

There’s a limited run of TLX Type S models, using a turbocharged V6 engine with 335 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, but Acura will only unleash 240 examples of this version of the TLX. We’ll have to wait and see if this is the ideal iteration of the TLX, but it clearly rectifies one part of the current package on sale today.

It’s likely the weight of the TLX that’s holding it back, tipping the scales past 1800 kgs, the sport sedan weighs as much as a Subaru Outback. While the rigid chassis and high-tech powertrain are likely to blame here, the TLX does boast many features, creature comforts and safety aids.

Our A-Spec model included navigation, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a wireless phone charger. Higher spec models include a head-up display, heated rear seats, and an upgraded adaptive suspension system. Our tester also included an upgraded ELS Studio sound system, with an impressive 17 speakers, more than capable of filling the cabin with tunes.

The safety equipment and driving aids included are generous. You’ll find lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert in the new TLX. Parking sensors and forward-collision warning systems are also included, though I found them to be a bit sensitive.

The starting price of $43,990 plus the freight fees of $2,075, gives the TLX a price that could steal away customers from the likes of other entry-level sport sedans like the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. Our A-Spec trimmed model featured an asking price of $49,790, while Platinum Elite models cost an extra $2,400. If you like what the A-Spec provides, then the top trim model seems worth it as it includes an upgraded suspension and some more tech and luxury highlights. The elusive Type S model will cost about $60,000, which seems to capitalize on its limited-edition status.

Is Acura back? Yes and no. The styling and ride quality in the new TLX are definitely its strong points, and the pricing helps make the vehicle even more attractive to prospective buyers. However, the powertrain misses the mark and the infotainment system isn’t the most intuitive. The upcoming and limited edition Type S and its upgraded motor and sporting focus may be the vehicle that marks Acura’s true return to form, as the brand works hard to maintain its status in the ever-competitive space of luxury automakers.