Frankly, if someone had asked me prior to the launch event for the 2015 Acura TLX to explain what a Red Carpet Athlete is, I probably would have only been able to muster a blank stare. It would not have registered anything in my mind at all. Nothing.
Well, now that I’ve been afforded the opportunity to sample the TLX, I know that the moniker is Acura’s definition of its all-new mid-size: a sedan that delivers dynamic design, a premium feel and the synergy of man and machine that offers spirited performance that is at the will of the driver. It sounds impressive (and a bit cumbersome), but I’m not entirely sure it fits, as I’ll explain later.
At any rate, for those who may not be aware of the goings on within Honda’s luxury brand, the TLX is replacing both the TSX and the TL within the Acura lineup. It’s a two-for-one swap, and the stakes are high.
While sales of the brand’s SUVs have remained healthy in Canada, the same cannot be said on the car side where things have been trending downward for some time. Through August 31, sales of the TSX and TL are down 58.9 and 14.9 percent respectively from 2013, and even the compact ILX, introduced in late 2012 as a 2013 model, has sold 20.2 percent fewer units. Overall, Acura Canada sales have decreased by 5.6 percent for the year through August 31. Given these trends, Acura hopes the TLX will not only to succeed in its segment, but it will also serve as a key plank in an effort to revitalize the brand in general. Achieving such lofty goals will be a tall order, as the segment Acura intends to compete in with the TLX is crowded with impressive entries, including the Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series and the Infiniti Q50.
From a size standpoint the TLX slots in between the former TSX and TL, but rides on the same wheelbase as the latter. Acura wanted to create a greater size differential between the TLX and the larger RLX, hence the decision to shrink the former’s dimensions (i.e. lower roofline, shorter front and rear overhangs). Made of 68 per cent high-strength materials, the TLX has 21 per cent greater torsional stiffness than the outgoing TL, and 25 per cent greater mount rigidity, which contributes to reduced engine vibration noise.
In terms of aesthetics, the TLX carries the Acura family resemblance; prominent (though less ugly) front aluminum grille, jewel-eye LED headlights (LEDs are used liberally on this car, including the taillights, fog lights and license plate area) wrapped in handsome, though not terribly exciting, sheet metal. Overall, it’s a look that brand devotees will likely approve of even if the rest of us (like yours truly) were hoping for something a bit more adventurous.
The feeling of familiarity carries over into the cabin of the TLX where logic and simple elegance prevail. The materials aren’t the most expensive, but there are enough soft-touch plastics, exposed stitching and metal-plated trim bits to remind you that you are indeed driving an Acura.
The power leather-appointed seats are comfortable and offer good support, while the analog instrument cluster and twin screens governing the infotainment system, navigation and climate controls look pretty and are easy to use. And – hallelujah! – the centre stack also features glove-friendly, redundant hard switches for frequently used climate controls. While the look and feel of the TLX feels more like an evolution than a major sea change, the same cannot be said under the skin. There’s much new here. First up: powertrains.
The TLX is powered by two new engines and transmissions that are available in three basic configurations; the entry level car is front driver powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder that generates 206 horsepower and 182 lb-ft torque and is mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch (DCT) automatic with a torque converter.
The V6-powered cars (front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive) feature a 3.5-litre powerplant that pumps out 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque through a nine-speed automatic.
On the handling front, all TLXs ride on a front MacPherson strut / rear multi-link suspension. A next-gen version of Acura’s familiar Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system is available on the V6 model. This unit features a redesigned rear differential that is smaller, lighter and saves trunk space over the version featured in the TL.
The other two models (the four-cylinder and FWD V6) come with two technologies that work in conjunction; Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) and Agile Handling Assist (AHA).
P-AWS turns the rear wheels to help the car rotate through corners. At low to medium speeds the rears will turn in the opposite direction of the fronts, and at higher speeds they turn in the same direction. AHA, as the name suggests, improves agility at low speeds and at mid-high speeds it will cause the rear wheels to ‘toe in’ (or turn in) slightly to help the TLX’s cornering ability
On the road, all three TLXs acquit themselves quite well on the smooth and undulating roads of Northern Virginia and neighbouring West Virginia and, true to Acura’s positioning of the TLX as three cars in one, each one feels different from the other.
The four-cylinder is the most engaging and fun to drive, thanks in larger measure to better steering feedback, a rev-happy engine and the quick-shifting eight-speed DCT. The torque converter provides plenty of hustle off the line, especially when the driving mode is set to Sport-plus (Eco, Normal and Sport are the other driving modes that are standard issue on all TLXs). The two V6 models offer more power and a slightly quieter interior, but they’re not as fun to drive. Sure, spirited driving is possible thanks to the available driving modes and paddle shifters, but the steering lacks the sharp road feel of the four-cylinder model. Both make for nice highway cruisers, however, and like the base TLX, they have excellent brakes.
Replacing two models with one is tricky business to say the least, but with the TLX it appears Acura at least has a fighting chance to succeed in the crowded and ultra-competitive mid-level luxury segment.
That said, despite the snappy driving dynamics of the four-cylinder model, impressive amounts of new technology across the entire lineup and a good value-for-money proposition, the TLX doesn’t quicken the pulse quite like Acura intends. The styling is a bit vanilla, the performance (especially with the V6 models) is a bit too ordinary and the interior, while very good, can’t match the best on offer from the competition.
Bottom line, the TLX is better than the cars it replaces, but it’s much more evolutionary than revolutionary. Given the way in which Acura’s sales numbers have been trending now might have been the perfect time to really shake the brand up with an entry that really departs from the tried and true and excites the car buying public.
Instead, they’ve created what is sure to be a competent performer that hews pretty closely to the well-travelled ground the brand has been on for the past several years. Only time will tell if it was the right choice.
PRICE RANGE: $37,164 – $49,664
ENGINE: 2.4L 4 cyl. / 3.5L V6
HORESEPOWER / TORQUE: 206 hp / 182 lb-ft (4-cyl.); 290 hp / 267 lb-ft (V6)
DRY WEIGHT: 1,580 kg (4-cyl.) / 1,631 kg (V6)
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed DCT (4-cyl.) / 9-speed automatic (V6)
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 km, city / hwy / combined): 9.6 / 6.6 / 8.3 (4 cyl.); 11.2 / 6.9 / 9.2 (V6)
WARRANTY: 4 years / 80,000 km