In the land of luxury sedans, there are essentially two extremes: comfort and sportiness. On the comfort end, you have big plush sedans like the Lexus LS and Cadillac XTS, while the other extreme has sporty offerings that tend to be more engaging to drive like the BMW 3 Series.
The majority of cars in this segment slot somewhere in the middle, and when it comes to Acura, it has generally skewed more to the comfort side of the scale – with the key exception being the venerable Integra.
Acura still has a ways to go before it can get itself back to the same level of enthusiasm from its Integra/NSX days, but it recently took a big step forward by replacing two of its oldest models – the Acura TL and Acura TSX – with a sleeker and more advanced sedan with the all-new 2015 Acura TLX.
Bookended by the smaller, Civic-based ILX and the larger full-size RLX, the 2015 Acura TLX is the culmination of Acura’s complete product overhaul and gives Honda’s luxury division a solid sedan lineup. To find out where this sedan sits in the well-saturated mid-size luxury segment, we spent a week driving the fully loaded 2015 Acura TLX 3.5L SH-AWD
with Advance Package.
The 2015 Acura TLX gets off on the right foot with what is probably the best proportions and execution for Acura’s new design language.
This starts with a subdued version of the brand’s corporate grille, which is flanked by the eye-catching “jewel-eye” LED headlights. Aside from these headlights, there isn’t too much excitement or flashiness to the TLX’s design focusing rather on a clean and smooth look with subtle lines.
Soft shoulder lines form at the trailing edges of the grille moving all the way back to the taillights, and there’s an interesting body crease that rises along the side of the body and form a pronounced wheel arch at the rear of the sedan. These two elements help give the TLX a refined and relaxed character.
At the rear of the car, the swept-back decklid not only adds the hint of a rear spoiler, but it also creates a longer surface that better accents the long roofline. It’s a little disappointing Acura doesn’t try to incorporate any sort of stylish exhaust outlets into the rear design. Instead, there are just chrome-trimmed reflectors at the lower edges of the fascia leaving the exposed exhaust pipes tucked just out of sight.
While it seems that Acura is still playing it safe when it comes to styling (perhaps still a little gun shy following the ZDX), what we see here on the TLX it is a promising step forward… and far better looking than the odd styling of the most recent TL. The only wheel option for the V-6-powered TLX is a sharp set of 18-inch V-spoke aluminum alloy wheels, and our tester was finished in a unique Black Copper Pearl exterior color that looks brown, black or burgundy depending on lighting.
While the TLX’s exterior design might still be a little too middle-of-the-road for our tastes, the interior is all about luxury. All models come standard with sport bucket seats that provide decent hip and side bolsters as well as thick bolsters up near the shoulders. The front-wheel-drive TLX trim levels get a leatherette material for the seats leaving the all-wheel-drive with a richer “Milano” leather with perforated inserts and high-quality stitching.
Opting for the Advance Package also adds in heated and ventilated front seats, auto-dimming door mirrors, remote engine start, LED fog lights and puddle lights. While nice, the Advance Package comes at a cost – a $9,480 upgrade over the base TLX 3.5L and a $3,250 upcharge over the TLX SH-AWD
with Technology Package. For most potential customers, the TLX’s technology will make or break the deal. Front and center in the center stack is a seven-inch touch screen that controls most aspects of the car including the HVAC, audio and navigation (if equipped).
This touch screen took a little time to get used to, but it is a fairly intuitive system that also provides haptic feedback. Just above this screen is a larger display tucked deep into the center of the instrument panel to show navigation. There’s also a small LCD screen in the gauge cluster to display vehicle information to the driver.
When it comes to styling and comfort, the TLX outshines both the TL and the TSX with a look and feel that might be closer to Acura’s flagship sedan, the RLX. The standard dual-brow instrument panel design looks good inside the TLX trimmed with lots of leather, glossy wood and matte alloy metallic trim.
A leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel features numerous driver controls, and it adds to the car’s sporty vibe with its thick rim, transmission paddle shifters and good grip locations at 10 and 2. With the new nine-speed automatic (which we’ll get into later), the TLX does away with a conventional gear shifter in place of the push-button Electronic Gear Selector, which is kind of cool in the fact that it is different but also weird if you’re used to driving with your hand resting on the shifter. If you’re in the latter camp, the smaller engine gets a standard shifter with the eight-speed transmission.
In terms of its size, the TLX rides on the same 109.3-inch (2.8 m) wheelbase as the 2014 TL while being four inches shorter in length and an inch narrower, but, interestingly, the interior is sized closer to the TSX sedan. That being said, there is still plenty of room for taller passengers in the rear seat in terms of both headroom and legroom.
While many sedans are going with sleeker “coupe-like” rooflines, the TLX has a taller roof affording plenty of space to all occupants. For cargo space, the base TLX has only slightly more cargo space than the compact ILX sedan, but opting for the Advance Package (which adds a hidden storage compartment under the load floor) increases trunk capacity to a total of 14.3 cubic feet.
The business end of the 2015 Acura TLX features two of Honda’s best and most-popular engines. In base form, the TLX is powered by a direct-injected 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder with 206 hp (154 kW
) and 182 lb-ft (247 Nm) of torque on tap, and it is mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. This model will return the TLX’s best fuel economy with EPA-rated estimates of 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 28 mpg in combined driving. All versions of the TLX require premium gasoline.
If you want to get the most “sport” from your luxury sport sedan, then you are going to have to step up to Honda’s omnipresent 3.5-liter V-6.
This engine is utilized in just about every non-compact product produced by Honda and Acura, and for good reason – it’s light, it’s powerful and it’s efficient.
Benefiting from direct injection and Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) cylinder deactivation, power is rated at 290 hp (216 kW) and 267 lb-ft (362 Nm) of torque to go along with stated EPA-estimated fuel economy of 21 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 25 mpg in combined driving when equipped with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), as this tester was. On top of that, it is equipped with an all-new nine-speed automatic transmission; unlike the TL and TSX, though, the TLX does not offer a manual gearbox.
Lacking a manual transmission and rear-wheel drive, the Acura TLX is probably already on the chopping block for consumers looking for a sport sedan. That being said, though, what the 2015 Acura TLX lacks in its drivetrain configuration, it makes up for with its tight chassis and high-tech goodies. On the aforementioned scale ranging from big and comfortable to fast and sporty, the chassis tuning of the TLX actually feels more like the latter.
Thanks to the latest generation of the torque-vectoring SH-AWD, the TLX handles impressively well. While cornering, it doesn’t take much to get the TLX’s tires talking, but you really have to push hard for the car to start to exhibit any concerning understeer – the same can’t be said for other front-drive luxury sedans. And this new SH-AWD system is also 25 percent lighter than the previous unit helping to reduce overall curb weight thus increasing the car’s sporty ride. Being adequate as a smooth luxury sedan and a fun-to-drive sport sedan means that it excels at neither, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In this C-/D-segment luxury sedan segment, Acura stands out by being more entertaining than cars like the Buick LaCrosse but not as stiff as the 3 Series.
The suspension tune allows for a good amount of bite when you push the TLX hard into a corner, and at the same time, it does an excellent job of absorbing road imperfections in regular driving.
The adaptive electric power steering system is responsive with great feedback, but the brakes are probably the weakest link of the whole chassis that requires quite a bit distance to bring the TLX to a stop. Even worse, the calipers could definitely use some attention as they not only look undersized poking through the sporty wheels, they also look like they were pulled from Accord parts bin.
Even though its size is about the same as the outgoing TL, the curb weight of the 2015 Acura TLX is actually closer to that of the TSX weighing in at 3,774 pounds (1,698 kg) as-tested –227 pounds less than a comparably equipped 2014 TL. The optional SH-AWD does add about 150 pounds to the TLX, and to offset this extra drain on the engine, TLX models equipped with SH-AWD also add an automatic stop/start function. Drivers will surely appreciate the fuel benefits, but the auto stop/start has a bit of a delayed reaction when restarting. Fortunately, drivers can easily turn this function off at the push of a button.
Speaking of buttons, the 2015 Acura TLX also gets the Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) with four driver-selectable modes that alter the power-steering effort, throttle response, transmission shift points, HVAC
operation and the control logic for SH-AWD. The Econ and Normal modes are designed for everyday driving, but the Sport and Sport+ reveals the true performance potential of this car with quick acceleration, excellent shifts and acceleration in the mid-6 second range. Not excellent acceleration these days, but still decent for a car that is this well-rounded.
If you don’t want to spend the extra money for the SH-AWD, Acura isn’t completely leaving its TLX customers hanging. Introduced on the larger RLX sedan, all front-wheel-drive versions of the TLX (with either engine) come standard with Acura’s innovative Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS
) system. In all honestly, there’s probably no reason to get the front-drive V-6 model. With this car, you’re either getting an efficient four-cylinder luxury car or a sportier V-6 model. If you really desire the latter, you should just go all-in and get AWD.
One interesting aspect about driving the TLX 3.5L SH-AWD was that, in Econ and Normal driving modes, the nine-speed transmission actually felt a lot like a CVT
with smooth shift points that are almost undetectable. These shifts improve fuel economy, and also greatly reduce NVH
, which Acura definitely focused a lot of effort on.
The usual suspects include better door seals, acoustic glass and plenty of sound absorption, but the TLX takes it a step further with Acura’s Active Noise Control piped in through the speakers and, on the all-wheel-drive cars, there’s even an electronic engine mount that is designed to reduce vibrations when the engine restarts from auto stop/start. The icing on the cake is the fact that the 2015 Acura TLX was named an IIHS
Top Safety Pick+.
The 2015 Acura TLX might not be the sportiest luxury, but it is the most affordable.
When it comes to pricing, customers will really be able to see the advantages of combining the best of what the TL and TSX sedans had to offer.
Positioned in a highly competitive vehicle segment, the TLX stands out with its starting price of just $30,995, which puts it into the same price range as much smaller luxury cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class and Audi A3. More importantly, this base price is well below rival front-drive sedans like the Audi A4, Volvo S60 and Lincoln MKZ in addition to sportier rear-drive sedans like the Infiniti Q50, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS and BMW 3 Series.
In fact, the TLX is even priced lower than the 2015 Infiniti Q40 – the renamed version of Infiniti’s 9-year-old G Sedan. Out the door, this 2015 Acura TLX 3.5L SH-AWD with Advance Package had an as-tested price of $45,620. And if that’s not good enough, the 2015 Acura TLX is made in the U.S.A. in Marysville, Ohio, which means that the RLX is the only current Acura not produced in North America.
Unlike what VW, Nissan, General Motors and Toyota are doing with their luxury brands, Acura’s execution of the TLX still comes off feeling more like a gussied-up Honda Accord rather than the luxury sport sedan it is just so close to being. In a vacuum, the 2015 Acura TLX is an amazing luxury sedan that delivers plenty of styling, tech and surprising value, but as even the 3 Series – the benchmark of this segment – is starting to be outshined by competitors, it's becoming increasingly harder for really good cars like the Acura TLX to look great.