2021 Acura TLX Review: Stylish and sporty, with lots of bang for the buck

The Acura TLX offers buyers a good time behind the wheel and true premium appointments.

Photo courtesy of Acura

The Honda Accord is a really decent car. It's perennially one of the top sellers in the U.S., and for good reason. But, sometimes the Accord isn't enough. That's where the Acura TLX comes in.

Acura has completely redesigned the TLX for the 2021 model year. It's made the car into a sharp-looking and better handling machine that is designed to remind buyers what Acura was all about in its 1990s and 2000s heyday. One quick trip around the neighborhood will show you that it achieves that, in spades. A longer trip will make you realize that it's okay to say "no" buying an SUV.

2021 Acura TLX Advance Diving the TLX is a pleasure. It's both comfortable to be in and engaging to toss around on the road.Photo courtesy of Acura

2021 Acura TLX Advance

The exterior of the car looks good. It has LEDs in the right places for its premium price point and styling that makes it stand out (for all the right reasons) more than it blends in. The car is athletic in its state and a bit moody and aggressive while fitting in with the rest of the Acura family, which includes the redesigned 2022 MDX. Every bit of that is a positive.

The TLX is longer, wider, and taller than the Accord by a few inches in each direction.

The suggestion of performance extends from the outside to the inside though the cabin does not set aside the comfort and convenience features one typically wants from a sedan for the weight-saving suede substitute upholstery or unique and different-just-to-be-different knobs, dials, and buttons that make operation more complicated than it needs to be. The TLX is more than properly trimmed out for its price point.

One of the best features of the TLX is its space. The waterfall dashboard design gives the front passenger the illusion of having more space to occupy in front of them. There is more passenger volume in the 2021 TLX versus the 2020 - slightly more room - and all other -room metrics are nearly the same from the old generation to the next. The Accord has more headroom, three cubic feet more cargo space, and nearly 10 cubic feet more passenger space.

The TLX is longer, wider, and taller than the Accord.Photo courtesy of Acura

The center console's side bolsters, with their interiors accented in real wood add to the premium look and feel of the vehicle in an unexpected way. Between those bolsters are the Acura's climate controls. They are button-operated and match what is in the RDX and MDX. They're not as fancy as what you'll find in a luxury car, but for the premium segment, they're attractive enough and extremely easy to use, which makes them winners.

Putting the Dynamic Mode drive mode selector front and center in the TLX, RDX, and MDX makes it easy to use and puts it front of mind. The shifter being directly under it frees up center console space, a logical layout that is an equal part practical.

Speaking of dynamic, the TLX is a dynamic dream, for a non-sports car. While the tester was not the TLX Type S (that super sporty variant is coming later this year), it does have quite a bit of dynamic difference form the Accord. The TLX with all-wheel drive grips the road, even when you're pushing the limits of what it can handle.

Steering is accurate and properly weighted, and allows the car to easily go where you want it. The TLX takes corners with ease and little body lean. There's no need for super bolstered seats as the TLX doesn't toss you around unless you make it.

The car's waterfall dashboard gives the interior a spacious feeling.Photo courtesy of Acura

Acceleration from its 2.0--liter turbo-four is plenty for daily drivability, and even when you want to go have a riot behind the wheel on the weekend. The engine is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission that delivers the 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque smoothly and relatively efficiently. Changing to the Sport drive model gives the TLX noticeably shorter shifts and changes up the throttle response and damping capability, and tightens up the steering. It's a proper Sport mode.

While you're at speed, or idling, there's a lot to take in on the driver's information display. Smartly, Acura has put the necessary information front and center. If you're looking for your trip meter, fuel efficiency, or odometer information, you're doing to need to look to the smaller area of the screen. While you might strain your eyes to see it, you don't really need the info displayed there on-the-go.

There are folks out there that complain about the Acura touch interface for the infotainment system controls. Spend some time with them and sincerely get to know them and they suddenly become incredibly easy to use. Just remember, unlike a mouse, there's no swiping to move the selector. It's a touch-for-touch system like on an iPad.

The touch pad interface and wireless device charging are well placed.Photo courtesy of Acura

The space where Acura has elected to fit the wireless device charger is also its own type of genius. It's below the center console bump out wrist rest for the touch interface, which holds it in place when carving corners, and keeps it close enough to the driver that you can look down and see what alert has popped up if you're not using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto at the time.

Acura's long list of standard and available safety and driver assist features help keep you going down the road without nagging. The car also has Acura's new airbag technology for the front seat passenger.

Pricing for the TLX starts at $37,500. As tested, the car was nearly $50,000. The TLX blows away its closest premium competition by a mile. Maybe more. It's also a lot better at $48,000 than what you'll find in many other luxury cars for the same price.

Most importantly though, Acura has put significant daylight between its Honda brother, not just in price, but also in materials, drivability, maneuverability, and design. That's a big step in the right direction for the brand.

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What was your best car-related experience this year?

Chris Teague

This year has been a lot of things, but it hasn't been boring. Even if we focus only on the car world, there's plenty to talk about, from microchip-related new vehicle shortages to the wave of new electric vehicles hitting the market. That leaves us with a question for all of you: What was the best or most memorable car moment for you in 2021? I'll get the conversation started.

Porsche Cayenne GTS My SoCal Cayenne śaw snow for the first time in its nearly 200k-mile life last week.Chris Teague

I'd spent a good portion of 2021 wanting a new-old car to drive when I wasn't testing a new vehicle. That's harder than you'd think for someone who thinks, talks, and writes about cars all day, because there are so many interesting, risky, and downright funky options out there in every price range. The added headache for me was that I'd chosen to shop for a "fun" car in one of the most volatile car markets ever seen. Even the extremely high-mileage "untouchable" European cars I wanted to buy were commanding ridiculous prices.

After a solid few months of waffling between various rattletrap Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, and Audi S/RS cars, I landed on an option that had escaped me before: The Porsche Cayenne. First-generation Cayennes are a real bargain now, but the 955/957 (Porsche's internal code for the SUVs) can experience major problems that occur with or without regular maintenance and care. I was determined to buy one, and wasn't overly concerned about mileage, as long as I could count the number of owners on one hand. There was a beautiful 2009 Cayenne GTS with 90,000 miles but nine owners, a gorgeous 2004 Cayenne Turbo with a concerning engine tick, and many more just like them. Finally, I decided to risky-click a 196,000-mile Cayenne GTS in Southern California. It had one owner and one dealer-owner for a month or two prior to sale, its condition looked decent in photos, and I was able to negotiate a reasonable enough price that shipping it from San Diego to Maine wasn't a huge problem.

Porsche Cayenne GTS The pics look great, but hands-on tells another story.Chris Teague

I had two traveling Euro mechanics check the car out, and both confirmed that it was well-worn but mechanically sound, so I jumped. Ten days later, on a snowy, icy, dark Maine afternoon, the Cayenne arrived. Cosmetically, there were a few things the dealer and mechanics failed to mention, but overall, it looked good. The SUV passed Maine safety and emissions testing without problem, got a new set of Michelins, and I was on my way.

Porsche Cayenne GTS I'm in danger, but thankfully this should be a reasonable fix.Chris Teague

A few days of driving revealed what I was really in for. A check engine light revealed a camshaft position sensor error and the Cayenne displayed a nasty vibration at idle. A new sensor and motor mounts, and I'm on my way. I'll update you as more things break or miraculously work, but I want to hear your memories from 2021.

Email me at chris@automotivemap.com, and I will compile the best and most interesting stories for a story on New Year's Day. May you all have a wonderful 2022.

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The Type S gets a 355-hp V6.

Acura

The Acura MDX is a sharp three-row SUV that shares its roots with the Honda Pilot. The similarities between the two stop at the platform, however, as the MDX is more upscale, more engaging to drive, and more sharply styled. Acura skipped over the 2021 model year for the MDX, instead opting for a refreshed model in 2022. The new SUV is more of all the good things that it predecessor was, with the addition of new technologies and features. Acura recently announced that production for the higher-performance MDX Type S has begun, meaning we're about to see the hotted-up SUV in the wild.

2022 Acura MDX Type S Interior finishes and features are all high-end.Acura

While the standard MDX gets a 290-hp V6, the Type S receives a massaged version of the engine with a turbocharger that produces 355 horsepower. Beyond its significant power advantage, the Type S also gets adaptive air suspension, Brembo front brakes, and 21-inch wheels. Acura says the Type S is the most luxurious MDX it has made to date. To prove it, the automaker added nine-way massaging front seats and a 25-speaker Acura ELS Studio sound system to the Advance Package trim.

2022 Acura MDX Type S Massaging seats are available for the top Advance Package trim.Acura

Unsurprisingly, the Type S carries a notable price premium over its standard counterpart. The SUV's starting price is $67,745 including destination. The top MDX Type S with Advance Package starts at $73,095. The 2022 MDX was designed, tested, and developed in the United States. It's joined by the standard MDX in production at Acura's East Liberty facility in Ohio. The NSX supercar is also built in America, by hand, in Marysville, Ohio. Additionally, Acura notes that all of its 2022 model-year vehicles sold in the U.S. are built in the U.S. using domestic and global parts.

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