2021 Acura TLX: If This Doesn’t Work, Nothing Will
Teased nearly to death in the run-up to its online debut, the 2021 Acura TLX revealed on Thursday lives up to the brand’s boastful pronouncements, at least on paper.
Athletic in stance and aggressive in design, the next-generation TLX arrives with a dedicated platform, double wishbone front suspension and turbocharged V6 in tow, ready to tempt premium import sedan buyers who can’t bring themselves go the safe-and-steady Lexus ES route.
The new TLX looks much like the Type S concept car that preceded it; true to that design study, the TLX adopts a wide, long-wheelbase look that mimics traditional rear-drive sports sedans via a lengthened dash-to-axle distance. Your base TLX won’t motive those rear wheels, however, remaining sensitive to the model’s front-drive origins.
It is an Acura, though, which means the brand’s so-called Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, now with torque vectoring, will be available, as will another piece of Acura heritage: the Type S. For 2021, the TLX brings back the designation that once inspired excitement among go-fast import types.
Pinched in the middle and voluptuous over the hips, the TLX’s new body earns applause. “Jewel Eye” LED lamps flank Acura’s signature diamond pentagon grille, while “Chicane” taillamps adorn the TLX’s abbreviated rear, sitting atop four exposed exhaust pipes.
“Relative to the previous model, the new TLX features a 3.7-inch longer wheelbase, 2.2-inch wider body with wider front and rear tracks (+1.2 in. and +1.6 in., respectively), lower roof (-0.6 in.) and an extended dash-to-axle dimension (+7.8 in.),” Acura explained.
That’s quite a bit of body modification going on up front. If the 1990s taught us anything, it’s that men (and some women) will take notice of such surgery. For Acura’s sake, let’s hope they’re in a spending mood.
Motivating the stock TLX is a powertrain owners of the RDX might find familiar: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to a 10-speed automatic. This engine makes 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, handily stomping the previous generation’s base 2.4-liter and topping the optional 3.5-liter in terms of twist.
While A-Spec variants can still be had, the biggest news for ’21 is the return of the Type S. Moving up to the top of the heap now means a 3.0-liter turbo V6 of undetermined strength, though Acura does promise “dramatic gains in peak horsepower and, more critically, in torque, across the engine’s full operating range, including a more than 50-percent increase in low-end torque.”
In this guise, the transmission receives a tune geared towards improved performance. And if you’re wondering whether the push-button transmission trend carries over into the TLX, the answer is yes. They’re oriented vertically on the angled center stack.
Standard with the uplevel engine is SH-AWD (optional on 2.0L models), which biases torque delivery to the rear wheels. Regardless of engine, drivers can row through the 10 available speeds via paddle shifters. The fourth-generation AWD system apparently beefs up rear-axle capacity while speeding up the transfer of power from front to rear, with torque sent rearward 40 percent faster. In normal driving, up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque funnels to the rear wheels, with either rear wheel accepting up to 100 percent of the axle’s torque, depending on conditions.
If there isn’t a drifting TLX Type S flinging dirt in the brand’s marketing materials, Acura doesn’t know what’s good for it. At each corner of the Type S, buyers will find 20-inch Shark Grey alloys that further separate the trim from lesser TLX variants carrying either 18- or 19-inch hoops.
Inside the cabin, engineers and designers opted for a twin-cockpit layout. In Acura’s view, the “high and wide center tunnel and wrap-around instrument panel create a more personal and strongly delineated space for both front-seat occupants. The brand boasts of class-leading hip and shoulder room. Opting for the Type S, of course, means badging galore inside and out, so occupants won’t remain ignorant to the fact that they’re riding in a Type S, not a haywagon. An ambient light selector controls the mood.
Atop the dash you’ll find a 10.2-inch display screen controlled by a console-mounted touchpad (with ergonomic wrist rest), backed up by actual button stereo controls placed immediately to the touchpad’s right. A 7-inch multi-information display in the gauge cluster can be supplemented by an optional 10-inch head-up display.
Featuring seven interior color options, the 2021 TLX goes on sale this fall, with the Type S holding back until next spring. Pricing, like the Type S’ output, is TBD.
Acura’s been on a losing streak with its sedans of late, recently putting its flagship RLX out to pasture, and a winning streak with a stable of crossovers too few in number. Looking at all the engineering and design work that went into the latest TLX, one has to assume that this is its final effort. It’s now or never to get buyers into a midsized Acura sedan.
If this car’s looks and proportions can’t sway departed buyers back to the brand, away from the Germans, Lexus, and the upstart, value-oriented Genesis brand, nothing will. At least Acura can say it gave it a good shot.