It’s great to have you back, Acura
Words by: Adam Allen
Let’s take a trip back to 1986. An unknown talk show host named Oprah Winfrey hit the airwaves, a litre of gas would set you back a whopping 34 cents and Honda launched Acura, its nascent luxury brand and early to a party that would soon include the likes of fellow Japanese brands in Lexus and Infiniti. Acura’s first car was the Legend, a car so groundbreaking that it is still legendary even today. It showed the luxury brand stalwarts- both European and domestic- that the Japanese can build some pretty formidable machines when the right minds are up to the task. Honda had already capitalized on snapping up market share because of the fuel embargo of the late 1970’s to tremendous effect, so why not apply that know-how to more prestigious cars?
Acura was keenly aware that a herculean effort would be needed in order to capture the imagination (and dollars) of the luxury buying public. They did not screw it up. The Legend was groundbreaking on so many levels; for starters, it was the first product from parent company Honda that featured a V6 engine. That gave it the suds needed to achieve a 0-100km/h time of a shade less than 8 seconds and topping out at a terminal velocity of 217 km/h, properly fast for the day. It also featured the radio antenna embedded in the rear glass and preset buttons for your favorite radio stations, the likes of which had never been seen before. It set the tone for a bright future for Acura and foreshadowed many truly excellent cars to follow.
Hot on the heels of the Legend came the NSX. Only a few years into existence, Acura blew the doors off the automotive world when it introduced the sports car to an unsuspecting public. It delivered on the then unheard of promise of world class performance combined with the docility of a mainstream sedan. It was developed in part by none other than the late, great Ayrton Senna. The best part? When the Ferrari 308 and Lamborghini Countach of the day suffered from abhorrent reliability and a burdened by compromises like terrible visibility and punishing ride quality, the NSX was an unprecedented breath of fresh air.
The hits kept coming. The Integra, a truly brilliant compact, evolved into one of the most iconic cars of the early ought’s with the Type R, still regarded as one of the best driving front wheel drive cars ever made (until Honda’s own Civic Type R came along recently to unseat it for top honors.) And then, a few short years later, Acura gifted us with a rebadged JDM Honda Accord known as the TSX. It might have looked relatively unremarkable, but this car turned out to be one of the best contemporary sports sedans you could buy. After that? Well, no one could ever accuse Acura of building bad cars, far from it. That said, the TL, RL and ZDX simply failed to grab the headlines the way their ancestors did. The seemingly endless magic Acura enjoyed all those years ago seemed to have been misplaced.
But as the saying goes, that is why pencils have erasers. Acura decided that it would no longer build merely OK cars and that it would seek the glory of those memorable cars of years past. They started this quest on somewhat shaky footing by bringing us the first generation TLX back in 2013 which ostensibly combined the best of both the TL and TSX but ultimately fell short of that mandate. Now there’s a new generation and guess what? It’s excellent. Like, old school Acura excellent.
The first time you clap eyes on this thing, you will agree that things are off to a great start with the styling. We cannot recall a car with front wheel drive origins that has ever looked this good. Its proportions suggest drive goes to the rear, but the engine is still transversely mounted so Acura’s Super Handling all-wheel drive is available instead. Then you look at it head on and from the rear and you notice that this thing is sports car wide and looks lithe and purposeful. TLX 2.0 is sexier in a way that the old one could only dream of. Like all exercises in swoopy styling, rear seat headroom suffers a bit, but the wide stance gives more hip room and makes the car feel roomier overall. Aesthetically, this is the most exciting car to be penned by Acura stylists since the NSX relaunched back in 2016.
It’s pretty fetching inside too. It starts with the steering wheel, the most accessed touchpoint encountered in any car. The TLX’s helm is pretty much perfect. It’s the right diameter, the right thickness and looks and feels like quality. The M engineers over at BMW should take a look and apply what they learn to the overly fat rims of their tillers. There’s a logical array of buttons and rubberized rotary switches that offer a satisfying tactile feel when used, and two paddle shifters sprout discreetly on the back. Too bad they’re afflicted with lazy responses from the transmission when you use them, but we’ll talk about that later.
We strap into the TLX and even before leaving the car park, the elbow grease Acura engineers put forth is immediately apparent. Part of that credit goes to the front suspension, which bins the strut setup in favor of double wishbones, a calling card to Acura sedans of yesterday. Not only does the up the lateral stiffness quotient by a significant margin, but it gifts the TLX with surprisingly brisk handling chops. Chuck it into a corner and it obeys enthusiastically and holds your intended line with a tenacity that’s been largely absent from its current offerings. That immediacy sounds like a recipe for a harsh ride-especially when coupled with the low profile 19” rubber the car rides on- but it is anything but. It has a commendable balance of comfort and sharpness that we used to gush over in BMW 3-series of the past. We were a little skeptical that the brake-by-wire system handed down from the NSX supercar would make for a disconnected feel when calling on the stoppers, but alas, the pedal has excellent feel and the car sheds kinetic energy with authority and poise. The TLX easily achieves velocities that can border on the irresponsible depending on how hard you work the 2.0 litre turbo cribbed from the Civic Type R, although it has been detuned for the application which is more in line with what you would expect from a luxury sports sedan. We drove the TLX is wildly varying weather conditions ranging from dry roads to a healthy dumping of snow and the TLX handled itself with aplomb no matter the scenario. The SH-AWD makes for a formidable match to miserable winter conditions and although you can’t turn stability control fully off, get aggressive with your inputs and the TLX will pull neat and tidy four wheel drifts before the electronics set you back on course. It’s great fun.
By now you are likely wondering when we’re going to don our nit picking hat and complain about stuff. A telling barometer of the TLX’s brilliance is that it didn’t leave us much to gripe about. There are really only two issues that bothered us while the TLX held court in the Carpages Garage. The first, which we touched on earlier, are the paddle shifters. This car nails so much of what a sports sedan should be, only to be let down by paddles that seem ambivalent to upshift or downshift according to your inputs, taking direction with as much obedience as a virtually home schooled child during a pandemic. As it turns out, we hardly used them out of mild frustration but also because shuffling through 10 ratios requires a good amount of concentration to remember what gear you’re in, but also because the transmission is up to the task when left to shift on its own. The other source of our angst was pinned on the infotainment system. It’s not that the graphics are not nicely rendered, or that the menu structure is byzantine and complicated. No, it’s the mouse pad interface that caused clenched teeth and the occasional cuss word or two. We never got used to it over the course of the week the TLX spent with us, and we were left wondering why Acura has chosen to stick with this setup. It’s not as ghastly as the one Lexus fits to all its models, but it sure needs a serious rethink.
Still, these issues do not amount to deal breakers, mostly because the overall package of this car is so great. If the TLX amounts to a preview of what we can expect moving forward, we think the future for Acura is bright. There is a Type S model in the pipeline that will feature a powerful twin turbo V6 which should make an already entertaining car that much better. We’ll bring you a full review of that model once it drops in the summer- watch this space and stay tuned.
2021 Acura TLX A-SPEC- Specifications
- Price as tested: $49,905
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger Sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 272 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 280 @ 1,500 rpm
- Transmission: 10-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,810 kg (3,990 lb)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 12L/100 km (20 mpg)