The Joker never smiled on me.
For years, Acura’s alphabet-soup sedans – the TSX, the TLX and several other forgettable models – wore awkward, thick grilles resembling the Joker’s evil leer.
At best, I figured the cartoonish grilles might be jarring enough to clear out the fastlane on some freeways, but beyond that, I didn’t much appreciate Acura’s strange, well-built sedans.
Somehow, though, Honda’s luxury division managed to exorcise the Joker from the 2021 TLX mid-size sedan, creating a crisp, good-looking Acura that actually shines with stylish lines and curves.
Moreover, Acura engineered stiff new architecture exclusive to the TLX – and not shared with the Honda Accord as in previous models – that gives it more width, length and presence.
Best of all, the new platform makes the TLX finally feel like a real sports sedan and not some souped-up Accord in weird clothes.
At first, shortly after the metallic gray sedan’s arrival at Chateau Box, I wasn’t even sure I was looking at an Acura.
The mid-size sedan is now slightly larger than other sedans in its segment such as the 3-series BMW, stretching out on a longer wheelbase.
With its short overhangs front and rear, the TLX packs much more slink appeal than previous models, greeting the world with a bold – mostly normal – blacked-out grille and four-element headlamps that scowl elegantly.
A large, crisply sculpted hood adds to the TLX’s newfound strut, as do sides with subtle muscle in them.
Meanwhile, a slight line darts through the door-handles, rising high in back to form a shoulder over the rear fender and plunging low up front.
Just in case you miss some of the new sport-sedan design cues, the TLX also offers up a classic short trunk and settles on 19-inch multi-spoke wheels shod with 255/40 tires.
For now, the only engine available in the TLX is a turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder shared with Acura’s solid compact crossover, the RDX.
Packing 272 horsepower and mated to a sophisticated 10-speed automatic, the engine generates satisfying surges of power in the low and mid ranges, aided by quick shifts from the transmission.
My TLX was an optional SH-AWD Advance model, a $49,000 version of the car with all-wheel-drive and the capability to use that system to improve handling.
The car weighed a hefty 4,000 pounds – heavy for the mid-size segment – but still felt quick and agile around town.
As speeds increased, the TLX lost a bit of its zip, but could still accelerate to 60 mph in a quick 5.9 seconds, according to Car and Driver, and should get overall fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon.
A sport version of the TLX should arrive in the next few months, pumped up with a turbocharged 3-liter V-6 producing more than 340 horsepower.
Like every all-wheel-drive Acura I’ve driven, the TLX pulled hard through corners, turning into them aggressively with really quick steering and excellent grip, but not the knife-like precision of the best BMWs and Mercedes.
Body-lean was minimal. Although the TLX rode firmly, it never jostled us with the relentless intensity of some German sedans.
After the first day or two of driving, I barely noticed it.
You probably won’t overlook the Acura’s contemporary, nicely detailed interior, though.
A deep upper dashboard in smooth, semi-pliable black plastic dropped onto a curved, two-tier mid-dash dominated by a tablet-shaped display screen.
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is integrated into the infotainment system, while safety nannies such as blind-spot information, rear cross-traffic monitor, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning and road-departure mitigation stand ready to beep and squeak at you if you get out of line – so to speak.
But tuning the audio requires dealing with a hyper-sensitive interface touchpad on the console that jumps if you breathe on it.
It will elicit curses you probably haven’t used in a decade.
Still, the front area of the interior felt like a cockpit, with the center stack curving cleanly down to a broad console trimmed in dark brown “wood.”
Seats in a medium baseball-mit brown offered perforated centers and good support.
I never really deciphered one gauge in the instrument panel that purported to measure “driver attention level.” I’m not sure how it determines that, but I didn’t get ejected or anything.
Oddly, given the size of the TLX, rear-seat leg- and head-room felt average at best. So, I’m not sure how the TLX uses its additional size.
All the features on the Acura – a higher-end Advance model – came standard. No options, no sticker-shock, theoretically.
At the very least, the new Acura TLX should make life more difficult for struggling near-luxury brand Infiniti, and who knows? It might even scare a couple of the Germans – without any assistance from the Joker.
2021 Acura TLX Advance SH-AWD
- What I liked most: The much-improved exterior and interior design of the Acura, handled ably by the automaker’s California studio.
- What I would change: Could we put the TLX on a small diet and get me a knob for tuning the stereo?
- MSRP: Base price, $48,300; as equipped, $49,325.
- Official color: Modern Steel Metallic.
- Fuel economy: 21 miles per gallon in the city, 29 on the highway and 24 mpg combined with filler on the left.
- Odometer reading when tested: 419 miles.
- Spare tire: None – air pump instead.
- Weight: 4,026 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 194.6 inches long/75.2 inches wide/56.8 inches tall.
- Fuel tank capacity: 15.9 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds.
- 2021 Acura TLX in a few words: A dramatically improved near-luxury sedan that retains few visible ties to Honda.
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile overall warranty and six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain protection.
- Final assembly location: Marysville, Ohio
- Manufacturer’s website: www.acura.com
- E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Up next: 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge Inscription
Photo Credit: Acura