A few minutes after the checkered flag waved at 2017’s rainy 24 Hours of Daytona, Acura’s bossman, Jon Ikeda, was cheering inside the luxury brand’s suite at the raceway. The #86 NSX GT3 car crossed the line in a respectable fifth place—but Ikeda was not only acclaiming a successful debut for the new Acura race car, he was celebrating what the brand was building for the future.
The 2021 Acura TLX is a big part of that destiny. For the past few years, the TLX has been among the second-tier sales leaders in the hyper-competitive sport sedan segment—trailing the stalwart BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, but putting the hurt to the Audi A4, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Lexus IS, and Genesis G70. Still, it’s never been seen as particularly sexy.
While keeping the TLX in the forefront of shoppers’ minds, Ikeda also wants to bring a little more flair to an appliance luxury sedan. Not only is the new TLX going to herald a bolder design language, Acura also will resurrect the Type S high-performance model.
That wet Sunday afternoon in Florida was the beginning of a new chapter for Acura, and judging by Ikeda’s face, good things were coming. After launching the powerful NSX and winning races, Acura is taking the next step on its relaunch as Honda’s performance division. The second-generation 2021 Acura TLX ditches almost everything it had before and adds a bunch of key ingredients to truly compete in the sport sedan segment.
With a standard 2.0-liter turbo for the regular model and a 3.0-liter twin-scroll turbo V-6 for the Type S, Acura is doubling down in terms of emotion. On top of that, the TLX brings a striking new design that borrows lines from the Acura Precision Concept and the stunning Type S Concept.
2021 Acura TLX: Strong Proportions
Look at the TLX, and its proportions leap out. The long dash to axle dimension (7.8 inches longer than the outgoing model), expansive hood, and short overhangs give this front-drive-based car a rearward stance to emphasize its sportier nature. The wheelbase has been extended by 3.7 inches, measuring 113.0 inches. With a wider body and lower roof, the TLX delivers presence to the road. In person, the TLX’s handsome lines also should gain a lot of attention.
The front fascia gets a bolder version of Acura’s pentagonal diamond grille, which is more upright than the one we’ve seen in the RDX. The new generation of the Jewel Eye headlights—borrowed from the Type S Concept—add four LED elements and bright daytime running lights. The front fender also adopts its sharp lines from the concept, showing a large radiator grille and hiding the foglights on the corners. The hood’s strong character lines add more muscle to the front, helping with the aggressive stance that Acura designers were chasing.
From the side, the creases are more subtle and cleaner, but 19-inch wheels (18-inch are standard) add more to the look. The rear is probably the TLX’s best angle; the new taillights mimic the shape of the daytime running lights, while two wide exhaust tubes add presence to the rear.
The A-Spec sport appearance package continues in the 2021 TLX, adding unique 19-inch Shark Grey wheels, gloss black accents around its body, a rear spoiler, and darker headlights and taillights. The Type S grows from there, adding quad exhaust tubes, a front splitter, and a rear diffuser. All the chrome from the regular car is subbed for black matte accents on the Type S, giving it a sportier look.
2021 Acura TLX—A Familiar Cabin
Following a similar design to the RDX’s interior, the TLX gets a new-look cabin with much-needed improvement. The driver’s seat carries a lower seating position from which to look out over that expansive hood. The center console has been redesigned, with a 10.2-inch screen standing on top of the dash.
The infotainment screen can be controlled using a track pad that sits near the driver and now has a larger hand rest for a more comfortable position. This is the system used in the RDX, and after reviewing one for a full year, we found ways it needed to improve. Acura says it keeps updating the software to get rid of bugs and make the system more intuitive to use, but there’s no doubt that there’s a learning curve for buyers new to the Acura interface.
Like with all Acuras these days, instead of having a transmission lever, gears are selected via an array of buttons. A big knob in the middle of the center console allows the driver to select from four different modes—Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Individual. The latter allows the driver to individually adjust the engine response and transmission mapping—and even the suspension stiffness if the TLX is equipped with the available adaptive dampers.
The cabin has a premium feel in general, and the 24-color ambient lighting system ups the experience at night. The lighting scheme changes depending on the selected drive mode, but drivers can override that to a color of their choice. The ELS Studio 3D audio system is another highlight in the TLX—with 17 speakers (one more than in the RDX), you probably won’t hear any noise coming from outside.
Although the front seats have plenty of space, it’s a different story for rear passengers; headroom and legroom were pretty tight for my 6-foot frame. There are no USB ports for backseat passengers, either—only two in the front along with an optional wireless charger.
2021 Acura TLX—The Heart and Soul
The 2021 Acura TLX will be powered by a 2.0-liter turbo engine that produces 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. The new four-banger comes straight from the RDX, and it has also been used in the Honda Civic Type R and Accord. It’s a big increase compared to the outgoing TLX, which is powered by an old 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine with 206 hp and 182 lb-ft.
The Type S’ heart, however, will come in the form of a 3.0-liter twin-scroll turbo V-6. Although Acura is tightlipped on the larger engine’s numbers, we expect power to be in the mid-300s. Even when compared to the optional 3.5-liter V-6, the 3.0-liter turbo in the Type S should bring a night and day difference.
Both the regular TLX and the Type S will share a 10-speed automatic transmission, though the Type S’ gearbox has been tuned for performance driving. The tranny can send all the power to the front wheels, or to all four wheels with the optional Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (all Type S units will come with standard SH-AWD). Like in the RDX, the system can send up to 70 percent of the torque to the rear axle depending on driving conditions, and 100 percent of that rear torque can be transferred to the right or left wheel.
Under its skin, Acura developed an all-new platform for the TLX. Brand reps say the architecture was specifically developed to support the performance of the Type S and does not share any parts with other Honda or even Acura products (yet).
The most important detail is the upgrade from struts to control arms for the front suspension. The revised suspension should deliver better handling through corners. Another key element is the 50 percent increase in torsional stiffness that will improve the ride. The platform uses 56 percent lightweight materials such as aluminum and high-strength press-hardened steel—more than in any other Acura sedan.
Learning from the NSX, Acura engineers were able to implement the same kind of electric-servo power-assisted braking system in the TLX. Acura says the system allowed it to tune the brake pedal force and brake pressure to deliver controlled, firm stopping power. The Type S gets the same setup but with upgraded hardware, which includes four-piston Brembo calipers in the front.
2021 Acura TLX—Safety
As you would expect, all TLXs come equipped with a long list of safety technologies—from adaptive cruise control to automatic emergency braking—under the AcuraWatch name at no extra cost. For 2021, traffic sign recognition and a driver awareness monitor are added to that list, with the latter monitoring the driver’s behavior and alertness.
A new front-passenger airbag makes its way into the TLX, which uses a three-chamber design that further protects the passenger’s head in case of an accident.
2021 Acura TLX—Does It Have What It Takes?
Given drivers’ desire for performance without sacrificing usability and practicality, the compact sport sedan market is tough to win over, but the 2021 Acura TLX is trying hard to do just that. Though the segment may not be as popular as it was a few years ago, it still draws attention, and Acura is showing what it can do in a crowded field.
When Ikeda walked me through the 2021 TLX for the first time, I recognized his facial expression from that Sunday afternoon in Daytona. Acura has worked hard to get to where it is, and the TLX—especially the Type S—represents an important step toward demonstrating the brand’s performance roots. Whether the TLX can take us back to the sportiness of the original Acura Integra or the sophisticated Legend remains to be seen, but it appears Acura is on the right path.
Expect the 2021 Acura TLX to arrive in the fall, followed by the Tye S in the spring of 2021.
|2021 Acura TLX|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/272-hp/280-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.0L/350-hp/350-lb-ft (est) turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,500-3,750 lb (est)|
|L x W x H||194.6 x 75.2 x 56.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5-6.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ON SALE||Fall 2020|