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2021 Acura TLX A-Spec SH-AWD Review

Amy Plemons | November 23, 2020
2021 Acura TLX A-Spec SH-AWD Review

This week I bring you the all-new 2021 Acura TLX - and by all-new Acura really does all-new. It’s on a new platform, one exclusively Acura’s, not shared with Honda, and it has a new updated turbocharged powertrain along with the return of double wishbone front suspension, not to mention an impressively redesigned cabin full of technology that turns into a virtual light show at night. My A-Spec test model is also equipped with the available 4th-generation of Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, a terrific all wheel drive system that Acura doesn’t get nearly enough credit for.

New Platform

The new TLX is Acura’s latest attempt to bring sporty vibes and excitement back to the Acura brand. Take the recently redesigned RDX for example and the PMC Editions. Acura’s going for emotion here, and in a much more affordable way than the NSX supercar. The new Acura is larger than the previous generation. It sits on a new stiffer and Acura’s most rigid platform ever (aside from the NSX) with a longer wheelbase - which equates to a roomy cabin. It’s also lower to the ground and 2.2 inches wider.

The TLX is actually heavier in this generation and instead designers and engineers worked on redistributing weight to give the TLX better front to rear weight distribution. Examples include moving the battery to the rear and the extensive use of aluminum. The result isn’t 50-50 distribution, but it’s not far off and that makes for better driving dynamics and a more planted to the ground feeling. The whole package delivers sharper reflexes and a sportier driving experience.

Powertrain

More big news for the TLX is its new more powerful standard engine. It ditches a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine for a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that delivers 272-horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque. If you’re looking for more power, the more performance-oriented TLX Type S arrives in the spring with a twin-turbo V6 that’s estimated to deliver 355-horses and 354 lb-ft of torque. The TLX lineup is equipped with a new 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters which Acura says delivers a wider ratio than the 9-speed and lower first gear and 4-gear direct downshifts.

Back to torque vectoring SH-AWD, the new generation of the rear-biased system can now deliver 70 percent of engine torque to the rear axle and isolate it to either wheel as well as transfer the torque from front to the rear faster than the older generation. (That’s 40 percent more rear torque capacity and 30 percent quicker front-to-rear torque transfer.) Couple that with the return of front wishbone suspension and you’ve got a quiet ride and drive that’s impressively confident and engaging on the highway or around corners. If you go for the Advance trim you’ll get adaptive damping suspension.

The TLX’s precise, short stroke brakes are immediately noteworthy as well. They are excellent and should be as they are derived from the NSX.

Exterior

The TLX looks sharp in its Platinum White Pearl paint and the A-Spec trim’s gloss black accents and 19-inch shark gray wheels. Platinum White Pearl is a premium paint color and Acura says it’s applied in a series of tinted clear coats to get the brilliant chromatic color with its deep, rich finish.

The long hood has two sharp creases on each side and a less definitive one straight down the middle. A black diamond pentagon grille sits up front and Acura does a terrific job with lighting. You have Acura’s LED Jewel-Eye headlights with the LED chicane DRL lights (a chicane is a curve on a race track.) The A-Spec also sports LED fog lights. In back, you have LED tail lights and brake lights, a gloss piano black rear spoiler, along with an A-Spec black rear diffuser and dual exhaust. Acura also integrated the trunk button into the taillight area which I thought was cool. Speaking of cargo, the trunk is a bit smaller than the old generation but I found it plenty roomy for a compact sedan with a lot of depth.

Interior

If you’ve been in the RDX, the impressive TLX interior will look familiar. The driver-centric cockpit is well-designed, user-friendly and full of soft touch materials with a bit of plastic along with geometric brushed aluminum trim.

The cabin is roomy especially up front because of its longer wheelbase. The A-Spec sports terrific red leather-trimmed seating with black Ultrasuede inserts. They’re comfortable, not too narrow, and have some side bolstering but it’s not too tight so you can expect some body roll though it’s reduced in this generation thanks to the new platform and other changes. The seats are 12-way power adjustable with power lumbar support for both driver and passenger and are both heated and ventilated. The A-Spec’s leather-wrapped flat-bottomed multifunction steering wheel is perfectly sized.

The gauge cluster has a cool animation when you press the push-button start. A 7-inch digital driver display is flanked by analog dials on either side. It may not be fully digital, but I think it looks great backlit with red accents.

A high definition 10.2-inch multimedia screen sits back on the dash and houses the 5th generation of AcuraLink. It’s not a touchscreen. You access it with Acura’s True Touchpad interface. There’s somewhat of a learning curve. It uses 1:1 position. You press down on the area on the pad that matches the corresponding area on the screen. There are two touchpad areas, one for the main screen and a slim vertical one to the right for the right side. I found the system responsive. I love the new palm rest. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a 4GLTE Wi-Fi Hotspot are standard along with 2 USB ports in the front. The multimedia screen also houses 3D Navigation with natural language recognition and a multi-rear view camera with dynamic guidelines.

And let’s talk sound. Wow is it incredible. A 17-speaker ELS Studio 3D Premium 710-watt sound system is really out of this world and includes four ultra-slim Highline speakers mounted near the grab handles.

The command center houses your dynamic mode switch which is the same as the NSX. Drive modes are comfort, normal, sport and new-the-TLX individual mode. Sport is my go-to mode and it makes the ride more engaging and responsive. You also find buttons for the automatic stop start and auto brake hold. The center console bin is nicely padded and offered plenty of room.

Acura really stepped up its interior lighting game, too. The A-Spec is equipped with Iconic Drive Ambient LED cabin lighting with 27 themes.

The quality materials extend to the back where you have comfy seats that sit at a slight recline. A rear center drop down armrest offers two cup holders. There is a high hump in the middle floorboard of note. You also have A/C vents but there are no USB ports back here.

Packages

The A Spec trim nets you A-Spec badged aluminum door sills and aluminum pedals, 19-inch wheels, glossy back exterior accidents, badging inside and out, ventilated seats. It also provides wireless charging.

Safety

TLX is the first Acura vehicle with Honda’s new front passenger airbag technology. Acura describes it as a three-chamber design that functions much like a baseball catcher's mitt, designed to better cradle a front seat occupant’s head in frontal collisions.

The lineup also offers standard AcuraWatch, a great safety suite of driver assist features that includes collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation and traffic sign recognition. A Technology Package adds Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert along with Parking sensors. (If you want a surround view camera or Head Up display you’ll need the Advance trim.)

What You’ll Pay

Priced at just over $47,000, the TLX A-Spec offers a lot for a great value, something Acura and its parent company Honda excel at. With a price that undercuts its German competitors, it’s a compact luxury sedan that with all of its changes deserves a reserved spot on your shopping list.

2021 Acura TLX A-Spec SH-AWD

  • What I liked most: Its sporty ride, precise brakes, leather seats, and exceptional ELS Studio 3D sound system.
  • What I would change: Can’t think of a thing.
  • MSRP: Base price $46,250 , as equipped $47,775.
  • Fuel Economy: 21 city/ 29 highway/ 24 combined.
  • Official Color: Platinum White Pearl (Premium $500 color).
  • Odometer reading when tested: 893 miles.
  • Weight: 3990 pounds. (vs 2020 TLX A-Spec 3580 Lbs).
  • Spare Tire: Tire sealant fix and repair kit.
  • Length-Width-Height: 194.6” long/ 75.2” wide/ 56.4” high.
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 15.85 gallons with the filler on the passenger side.
  • Towing Capacity: N/A
  • 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec in a few words: The much-improved, engaging compact sports sedan Acura needed to make to appeal to driving enthusiasts again.
  • Final Assembly Location: Marysville, Ohio.
  • Manufacturers website: Acura
  • Warranty: 4-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, 6-year/70,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, 4-year/50,000-mile roadside assistance
Tags: 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec SH-AWD, Acura, New Vehicle Reviews, 2021
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