The Acura TLX – Is Acura Getting Its Groove Back?

For the better part of the past 20 years, Acura has seemed unsure of its own identity. The cars from Honda’s luxury division weren’t athletic enough to compete with BMW and Audi. But also, they were not quite luxurious enough to be anything more than a warmed-over, leather-lined Honda. By attempting to be everything to all buyers, Acura’s offerings ultimately gave customers little reason to truly want one of their cars.

Image courtesy of Acura

The Acura TLX sedan is fully redesigned for the 2021 model year, and it promises to be a welcome upgrade to the uninspired current model. With the new TLX, it’s clear that Acura set out to create a world-class sedan.

Here’s where I think Acura nailed it with the new TLX, and where I’m concerned that they might miss the mark. Click this link if you’d like to read the full press release.

Yay! The Type S is back.

Acura is bringing back the Type S trim to designate the high-performance version of the new TLX. It will be faster and more fun to drive than the standard TLX, using a turbocharged V6 engine. It will also have Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. Power numbers for the turbo V6 haven’t been finalized yet, although even the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in the standard, non-Type S TLX will already make 66 more horsepower than the current TLX’s base engine. The Type S will also use different aerodynamic elements, larger 20-inch wheel designs, and quad exhaust outlets.

Rear 3/4 view of 2021 Acura TLX
Image courtesy of Acura

Yay! It looks awesome.

Looking at the new TLX in profile, you can’t ignore the long hood and short rear trunklid. These are proportions common to classic rear-wheel drive muscle cars, even though the TLX is based on front-wheel drive architecture. The front end styling makes the TLX look low and wide, and it wears Acura’s diamond pentagon grille handsomely. At the rear, you can’t miss the wide, flared rear haunches and dual exhaust outlets.

Side profile image of 2021 Acura TLX
Image courtesy of Acura

Inside, the TLX looks like a proper sports sedan. The standard model’s open-pore wood trim in the center console appears striking and luxurious, while the aluminum trim and red details on the Type S reinforce its sporty intentions.

Yay! It should be fun to drive.

The 2021 TLX should be more engaging to drive than the outgoing model. It will use an all-new platform that isn’t shared with any existing Acura or Honda vehicle. It will no longer be a reworked Accord. The TLX will use a double-wishbone front suspension – a design which promises to bring better handling and cornering. And with two powerful turbocharged engine options, it should feel even more energetic and exciting to drive.

Ehh… The touchpad infotainment interface might be a pain to use.

The new TLX will use a touchpad interface between the front seats to control the large infotainment screen. While this will probably be better than the horrible mouse/joystick controller used in many Lexus products, it’s becoming clear that the ideal and preferred infotainment interface is a touchscreen.

Image courtesy of Acura

By virtue of constant interaction with smartphones and iPads, the gestures used to control touchscreen interfaces have become second nature. Many manufacturers have successfully designed touchscreens that rival the best smartphones for ease of use and responsiveness.

Image of dashboard of 2021 Acura TLX
Image courtesy of Acura

Acura uses a similar interface in the RDX crossover, and most reviews state that it’s fussy to use, with a steep learning curve. By forcing owners to use a secondary controller, Acura may just be adding unnecessary complexity and frustration to routine tasks.

Ehh… Reliability of other freshly redesigned Acuras has not been great.

If you read my post about the top surprises in 2020 reliability data, then you already know that gone are the days where you can blindly assume that all new Hondas will have excellent reliability ratings. The same is true for Acura. The existing TLX has an average predicted reliability rating from Consumer Reports, but Acura’s most recently redesigned vehicles, the RDX and MDX crossovers, have a poor rating. Acura’s crossovers have minor transmission issues and problems with in-cabin electronics – most likely, software hiccups with the complex infotainment systems and interfaces. That’s not to say that the new TLX will share the same problems. But I will need to wait to see reliability data before being confident in recommending this new Acura.

In conclusion…

Ultimately, no matter how impressive the new TLX looks on paper, it’s not likely that it will be a huge sales success. Consumers want crossover SUVs instead of sedans, reflected in sales trends industry-wide. For better or worse, sedans are becoming a niche vehicle. Another bland sedan like the outgoing TLX would only exacerbate this trend. For a sedan to have any hope of success in this marketplace, it needs to stand out.

Acura knows this, and appears to have designed and engineered the new TLX to make it truly desirable to luxury performance sedan shoppers. Even if there are fewer of these consumers than ever before, Acura has created a compelling new option for their consideration. While they’ve been asleep at the wheel with respect to their sedans, I hope the new TLX proves that Acura is finally getting its groove back.

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