2015 Acura TLX First Drive
One Car Does the Work of Two
If you stop to think about it, designing a replacement for an aging vehicle is a really difficult task. Not only should it go, stop, and drive better than the outgoing model, but safety and emissions requirements get tighter every year, consumers often demand more interior space and gadgets, and on top of all that, the new model must look sharp enough to catch the attention of buyers in showroom (or in the pages of, say, Motor Trend). So imagine Acura’s conundrum in creating the 2015 TLX, a midsize sedan that replaces not just the outgoing TL, but also the TSX. Hey, if this stuff were easy, we’d all be automotive engineers, right?
Slotting in Acura’s sedan lineup between the full-size RLX and compact ILX, the TLX attempts to offer TL-like interior space and amenities while retaining the fun-to-drive personality of the TSX. To that end, the 2015 Acura TLX’s wheelbase is carried over from the TL, maintaining cabin space, while the short front and rear overhangs keep overall vehicle length down. (The TLX is nearly four inches shorter than the TL.) The cabin is trimmed nicely, using mostly high-quality materials. Faux wood and metal are convincing enough for the price point and segment, though it’s easy to spot the out-of-the-way areas covered in cheaper plastic. The front seats are some of the most comfortable I’ve sat in recently, and are covered in leather that looks premium and feels that way, too. Rear cabin room is a mixed bag, with plenty of leg- and shoulder room but slightly disappointing headroom for passengers 6 feet or taller.
Power comes from two updated engines, Honda’s familiar 2.4-liter I-4, now with direct injection for 206 hp and 182 lb-ft of torque, and the direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 as found in the MDX with 290 hp and 267 lb-ft. The former is paired to Acura’s new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, which interestingly uses a torque converter to smooth out around-town driving -- Acura claims it also gives slightly better acceleration off the line. The TLX V-6 gets the brand’s first nine-speed automatic which is not only lighter than the old six-speed, but is said to shift more quickly, too. Acura says both engine/transmission combos should contribute to fuel savings over the TL, a benefit that is helped by slightly lighter curb weights and a more aerodynamic body.
Meandering through 300 miles of West Virginian back roads (I still have John Denver music stuck in my head days later) also showed the TLX to have a new level of refinement. Less noise makes its way into the cabin, thanks to new acoustic foam sprayed around the A-pillars, noise-blocking panels inside the doors, and beefier door seals. Torsional rigidity is up significantly over the TL, and the TLX drives like it – the chassis feels taut and solid, while ride comfort remains strong even if the spring/damper combo is tuned on the slightly firm side of things. One caveat: That extra rigidity means extra bracing, some of which eats into pass-through space on the 60/40 split rear folding seat.
Front-drive TLX models get Acura’s next-generation Precision All-Wheel Steering (P-AWS), which acts in three different ways on the rear wheels. At lower speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction of the fronts to mitigate understeer and make the car feel a little more agile. At higher speeds, all wheels turn in the same direction for increased stability and the rears toe in slightly under braking for the same reason. In practice, the system is virtually invisible to the driver, though in brisk back-roads driving, the Acura does feel plenty willing, with positive turn-in and not much body roll. It’s much more of a TSX driving experience than TL, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
All TLX models get Acura’s Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) that allows for four selectable drive modes: Econ, Normal, Sport, and Sport+. As you’d expect, the selected driving mode alters steering weight, throttle response, and shift mapping. Sport+ is the most interesting mode, knocking the top two overdrive gears of each transmission out of contention, rev-matching downshifts, and switching to a sport-oriented transmission program that does a good job of holding gears until redline and downshifting to maximize engine braking.
Three basic versions of the 2015 Acura TLX are on offer: front-drive, four-cylinder; front-drive six-cylinder; and all-wheel-drive, six-cylinder. For value-oriented as well as enthusiast shoppers, the car you want is the base four-cylinder version. Not only is the base TLX 2.4L the lightest of the group, weighing in at roughly 100 pounds less than the V-6 and around 300 pounds less than the V-6 AWD with Tech Package, it’s also the most fun to drive. The I-4 doesn’t have the grunt of the significantly torquier V-6, but running through the dual-clutch gearbox makes the most of what power it does have. Don’t let the torque converter’s presence deceive you, as a tug on the steering-wheel-mounted paddles gives surprisingly quick shifts both up and down while giving virtually none of the herky-jerky behavior dual-clutch transmissions can be known for around town. Automatic shifts are fast and smooth as well, especially in Sport+ mode. Drop the IDS back into normal mode (or Econ, for that matter) and you can cruise at 70 mph on the freeway turning a calm 2000 rpm and racking up an Acura-estimated 35 mpg.
The TLX 3.5L versions do feel significantly quicker, with more lowdown torque and even fewer revs at freeway speeds (just 1500 rpm at 70 mph in ninth gear). The downside is that they lose a little of the 2.4’s sporty personality, feeling heavier and offering somewhat slower shifts from the nine-speed automatic. The front-drive 3.5L suffers little from torque steer, though wheelspin is a common occurrence for those with heavy right feet. One good reason to opt for the SH-AWD version if you don’t live in snowy climes is for the new all-wheel-drive system’s brake-actuated torque vectoring, which gives sharper turn-in and helps mitigate understeer.
Acura has also upped its game on the tech forefront. While the infotainment screen graphics look somewhat dated (and I’m still not a fan of the dual-screen layout), Acura has added plenty of safety tech to the TLX. Most notable is the suite of functions dubbed AcuraWatch, which uses both cameras and radar in conjunction to prevent accidents. Blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning are all included in the package. Active safety tech also includes Acura’s Collision Mitigation Braking System and road departure mitigation with active steering.
The TLX will be in Acura showrooms this month at a starting price of $31,890 for the 2.4L, $36,115 for the 3.5L, and $42,345 for the 3.5L SH-AWD.
View 90 additional photos of the 2015 Acura TLX in the second page of this review.
|2015 Acura TLX|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINES||2.4L/206-hp/182-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.5L/290-hp/267-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|TRANSMISSIONS||8-speed twin-clutch auto; 9-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT||3500-3800 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||190.3 x 57.0 x 73.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.8-6.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||21-24 / 31-35 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||140-160 / 106-109 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.69-0.79 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||August 2014|