Odometer (Legend): 532,599
Odometer (ILX): 113,669
Odometer (TLX): 3,177
Trip Distance: 334 Miles
“It’s that kind of thrill.” It was a pretty bold move on behalf of Acura’s marketing department to center the TLX launch campaign around the world “thrill.”
The car is, after all, just another midsize family sedan in a crowded market segment. The majority of the 20,000 or so TLX models that have sold since the car went on sale last August are probably dutifully shuttling executives to work, hauling mom or dad to the grocery store, or basking in the sun at the mall parking lot. But when called upon, can the TLX provide the driving excitement that Acura promised?
I’d been itching for a chance to do a full evaluation on the all-new Acura TLX since I saw the Prototype version debut in its glistening “Athletic Red” paint job at the Detroit Auto Show over a year ago.
Since then, I’ve been behind the wheel twice – once for an initial test-drive from my local dealership, and once during last October’s Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year event. Both of those cars – as well as the one that I’ve been tooling around in for the last few days – were V6 models. The TLX is also offered in 4-cylinder configuration, powered by the same 2.4 liter that’s now standard on the smaller 2016+ ILX model.
Let’s talk tech later. How is this thing to drive? Well, I was working from home the day that it was delivered, and the first place I needed to go was to get lunch. It took me a minute to tell myself silently, “No clutch. Just a brake pedal and pushing buttons.” I’ve been kicking at a clutch pedal since I was 17 so every time I get into an automatic, it’s culture shock. In the 3 miles from my house to the nearest Panda Express, though, I was already sold. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to a 113,000-mile ILX suspension, but I couldn’t get over how smoothly the TLX carried itself.
To really put this new TLX to the test, I decided I needed introduce it to one of my favorite Arizona scenic byways: Highway 77 through the Salt River Canyon. I’ve blogged about the route a few times, most recently on my Christmas Day trip, but the place is cool enough that it deserved another look. Our 300+ mile route offered a combination of freeways, two-lane twisties, and some good inclines for power evaluation. As with most of my drives, the participating vehicles were assorted. In the mix this time, we had a 2015 Lexus RC-F, a 1998 BMW M3, and the 2015 Acura TLX V6 SH-AWD. The Lexus was piloted by friend and colleague James who authors Six Speed Blog.
It became quickly apparent that the TLX was definitely the preferred “cruiser” of the pack. It plays in a different realm than the two door sports coupes, pampering its driver and passengers in creature comforts and a smooth ride. A few spirited acceleration runs up the highway to redline with the paddles, though, taught us that the 3.5 liter V6 has a nice audible growl when pushed, and its 290 horses did a respectable job of keeping up with the Lexus’ 467.
One place we got to hear those horses gallop was through the 1/4-mile-long Queen Creek Tunnel just east of Superior on US Highway 60. There’s something about being inside a tunnel that makes every car fanatic want to roll down the windows, hammer down on the throttle, and listen to the symphony of intake & exhaust echoing off the walls.
I remember seeing an old Acura TV commercial awhile back that criticized some luxury automakers for making their cars too isolated. The basic message was, “If you separate the driver too much from the road, a driving experience isn’t an experience at all.” I feel like that’s where the TLX strikes a nice balance — it’s a car that you can drive cross-country without getting exhausted, but it doesn’t feel like a vault and there’s still a fun-factor when you want there to be.
On the outside, the TLX exhibits a conservative shift from the polarizing, angular design of the 4th generation TL. Perhaps it’s even too conservative, some of the people in our group said. My test car’s “Black Copper Pearl” paint gave off a nice brown sparkle in direct sunlight and looked pretty much black in every other lighting condition.
I’m of course a fan of the “Jewel Eye” LED headlamps, now standard across the entire Acura lineup as of the 2016 model year. My test car was equipped with the Advance package, which means I got LED foglights as well. Those two lighting systems make this the best car I’ve ever driven with regard to nighttime illumination. Speaking of lighting, the Advance package also gave me “puddle” lights underneath each sideview mirror that turned on when approaching the car at night.
My demo TLX was outfitted with 18″ wheels, but the accessory 19’s really make the TLX pop:
Inside the cabin, my test car’s “Espresso” leather interior got a lot of positive feedback. Finishes have a premium feel to them, and a few people commented on the stainless steel looking dash trim. Interior designers have obviously gone to great lengths to make the TLX interior a nice place to spend time in. Heated & cooled seats keep things comfortable, but I wish they could be activated via button or dial rather than the touch-screen interface. Throughout the course of the day, I test-drove (test-sat?) every seat including the back. Head & leg room are great, and I liked the HVAC vents for the rear seats.
The center console has a handy rubberized platform/tray for your iPhone or iPod, and the plug-in jack is easily accessed underneath. The gauges, as in every Acura I’ve driven, are perfectly laid out for at-a-glance feedback. Driver visibility is excellent all the way around – made possible in part by that “frameless” rearview mirror attached to the windshield. I loved that the sideview mirrors on the TLX dim at night just like that center mirror does. It really helps keep the glare down.
The instrument panel is outfitted with Acura’s signature dual-screen layout, to which I’ve already become accustomed in the RLX and MDX on my reviews previously. The lower touch-screen controls the climate and audio functions, while the upper screen is for display-only. I usually left it on map view. It does take some time to become acquainted with the controls, but the menus are intuitive, screen resolution good, and response time immediate.
I do find it odd that a $46k car doesn’t have an electronic tilt/telescoping steering wheel. It’s repositioned via old-fashioned lever underneath it. Even my 1994 Legend coupe has power controls for the wheel. That being said, the TLX interior was still praised many times throughout the day (and week) as an extremely comfortable place to be.
From a tech perspective, the pieces are all there. I played around with the ELS stereo system and pushed the bass and subwoofer all the way to the max. It rocks nicely. I recommend playing Metallica’s “Unforgiven II” at full volume to experience it like I did.
There are plenty of creature comforts like push-button start and auto-unlocking doors when you walk up to the car with the key in your pocket – these are much-appreciated standard fare on even the base TLX.
I’m not thrilled with the fact that the volume & track adjustment button are the same on the steering wheel (spinny up/down wheel for the volume, left/right toggle for the track). My fat thumb accidentally changed the track a couple times when I was going for the volume. Additionally, we were bummed to learn that the car doesn’t allow Bluetooth phone pairing while the vehicle is in motion. I understand the logic, but even as a passenger that functionality is locked out.
The TLX’s driver-assistance tech is extensive, starting with a standard back-up camera. I liked the blind spot detection system which illuminates an indicator on the A-pillar when a vehicle is positioned in the blind spot. The TLX also has sensors all the way around it – and they’re ultra sensitive too. Even if someone is walking along next to the front of the TLX, it displays “approaching object” on the screen and gives an audible beep.
Finally, the adaptive cruise control is a handy feature that tells the car to keep a pre-set distance between itself and the vehicle ahead. If you inadvertently ever hit something with the TLX, you really aren’t paying attention.
Quote of the day goes to Ryan who excitedly ran up to me and said, “Acura hasn’t lost their soul!” He’d just discovered that the TLX has a feature, just like his 2006 Acura TL does, that will roll up/down all the windows & moonroof by sticking the key in the door lock and holding it left or right. That discovery pretty much made his day.
The TLX’s direct-injected 3.5 liter V6 engine is the star of the show. It delivers 290 horses’ worth of usable power throughout the rev range, but really starts to come alive after about 5,000 RPM. I can only imagine how nice it would sound with a sport-tuned exhaust system of some sort – perhaps as an option on an A-Spec TLX if there ever were such a thing. Acura, are you listening?
I’m still waiting for the 9-speed automatic transmission to woo me since I’m first and foremost a “stick shift” guy, but I certainly realize what a minority that makes me. Understandably, that number of gear selections does make for some pretty extensive gear-hunting while in motion. When prompted via throttle input, there’s a pause of questioning before the TLX gives you forward momentum. Using the wheel-mounted paddle shifters helps the situation, and “Sport” mode forces the car hold each gear a little longer. That gives you an experience that’s about as close as you can get to a manual transmission without having a clutch pedal.
There are obvious benefits to having so many gears from an MPG perspective: From Payson to Scottsdale on Highway 87, we cruised at 80 mph in 9th gear while the engine barely breathed – sitting at fewer than 2,000 RPM. That bodes well for fuel economy, with the TLX getting 21 city & 31 highway. The auto start/stop feature helps with that too, when idling at a stoplight – though I wish the system wouldn’t always default to ON each time the car is started if I’ve manually deactivated it.
I described the handling feel to a friend as compared to having super glue on the tires. Equipped with Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD), the TLX is darn near impossible to break loose in any kind of cornering situation. The car stays planted at speed. Perhaps that “low center of gravity” was thanks in part to the fact that the car carried 4 occupants for most of our day, but it really did inspire a great deal of confidence on some of the technical parts of our drive.
The TLX excels where its engineers wanted it to – it’s a competent cruiser that blends just the right amount of refinement with recreation. Its few shortcomings are outweighed by its virtues, and it’s a car I would feel right at home putting 500,000 miles (or more) on. It’s just too bad my fortune from Panda Express discouraged me from taking on another car payment.
Please enjoy the rest of the pics from our trip below!
21 year gap in automotive advancement:
Getting ready to head out on our drive
Pit stop just east of the Queen Creek Tunnel on US 60
Gotta love that “Dakar Yellow” E36!
RC-F following TLX
Pit stop in the Salt River Canyon, with Jack and Peter
Salt River as seen looking east from the base of the canyon
James, Chris, Tyson, Ryan
Taking a breather and enjoying the scenery
Back to the cars we go
Welcome to Show Low, Arizona
Lunch spot: Licano’s Mexican food & steakhouse
Eight hungry roadtrippers
And a 9-story iPhone tower
“Can you hear me now?”
Thanks for joining on the drive!