Now in its second generation, the 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec aims to be more than just a thorn in Mercedes & BMW’s side. It wants to be a luxury sedan that consumers will consider before the 3-series or C-class. With a new chassis, larger dimensions, and new styling, is it enough?
Engine – Under the new, and longer hood, is a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 272 hp & 280 lb-ft of torque (203 kW & 380 Nm). A Type S version of the TLX will be available later in 2021 with a twin-turbocharged V6 that will produce 355 hp & 354 lb-ft of torque (265 kW & 480 Nm).
But back to the 2.0L engine, it produces more power than the 4-cylinder turbocharged engines that you would find in the BMW 330i & Mercedes C300. Peak torque is reached below 2,000 rpms and is sustained throughout the mid-range which gives the Acura TLX punchy acceleration. However, this engine has its work cut out for it because this 2nd generation Acura TLX is heavier than the last generation. It is now 1,810 kg (3,990 lbs) and that weight hampers its performance. 0-100 km/h is achieved in about 6 seconds which is quick, but it’s not as quick as the less powerful BMW & Mercedes rivals.
When it comes to fuel economy, it is rated for 8.1 L/100km (29 MPG) on a highway and 11.3 L/100km (20.8 MPG) in a city. Again, the heft of the new chassis seems to be compromising the economy figures as well because both the BMW 330i xDrive & Mercedes-Benz C300 4MATIC have better fuel economy figures. But at least with the Acura TLX you can achieve the rated figures as I averaged 10.5 L/100km (22.4 MPG) during my time with the car.
Transmission – Paired with this 2.0L engine is a 10-speed automatic transmission. Yes, you read that correctly, 10 forward gears. Thankfully, it never felt as though the car was “hunting” for the correct gear. Put your foot down and the transmission quickly downshifts to the correct gear, sometimes skipping gears for faster downshifts. Using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, the transmission reacts quickly enough to your inputs but it has a tendency to revert back to an auto shifting mode fairly quickly rather than staying in a manual mode. The gear selector buttons do not have a dedicated manual mode.
Braking – Just like the engine, the brakes also have their work cut out for them thanks to the extra weight of the TLX. However, they are up to the task. While these are not fixed calipers with 4 or 6 pistons, brake pedal feel & actuation is pretty good. Not much effort is required in everyday traffic to bring the car to a stop. During more spirited drives, a bit more pedal effort is required but you still get a firm pedal feel after repeated uses. Automatic emergency braking is a standard feature on the 2021 Acura TLX.
Handling – The new TLX is wider and longer than the previous generation which aids it in providing a stable platform when driving around corners. With the addition of the SH-AWD system, it feels fairly neutral with just a hint of understeer if you push the car too hard around tighter corners. The SH-AWD (Super Handling AWD) system uses real torque vectoring to overspin the outside wheel in a corner to rotate the back end.
However, the extra weight and light steering feel doesn’t make the 2021 Acura TLX as enjoyable to drive on a winding road as its BMW 3-series rival. The steering response is quick but it doesn’t have the same feedback to my fingers as the steering feel in the BMW 330i provides.
Ride Comfort – Base to A-Spec trim levels of the 2021 Acura TLX have standard dampers that are tuned to provide a balance of comfort & more spirited driving. The top spec Platinum Elite trim receives adaptive dampers that can change stiffness depending on the drive mode. However, while this A-Spec demo vehicle does not have the adaptive dampers, it still has a very comfortable ride. Potholes and road imperfections are absorbed very well by the shocks which makes the Acura TLX an excellent long distance or daily commuter vehicle.
Interior Space – As is expected of a luxury sedan, front occupants have plenty of leg and head room inside the cabin of the 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Both front seats have 14-way power adjustments as well as 4-way power lumbar adjustments. I also like the blend of leather & “Ultrasuede” seat upholstery. The rear seats are not as commodious as the front seats. On paper, the Acura TLX actually has a little bit less rear legroom than the BMW 3-seires which is very surprising given the fact that this 2021 model is bigger than the 2020 model year of the TLX. However, sitting behind my driving position – in either this or the BMW – is very tight. Granted, if a shorter person is sitting in the front, there is a bit more legroom but it’s still not a place you want to be for very long.
Trunk space is relatively generous at 382 L (13.5 cu-ft) with the rear seatbacks folding 60/40 for more cargo capacity.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – The interior is void of any squeaks or rattles, even when driving over the roughest of roads. At normal operating ranges, the engine is also reasonably quiet. It’s only when you put your foot down does it start to make quite a bit more noise. However, unlike its German rivals, this 4-cylinder engine does not sound as good.
In Eco & Comfort drive modes, the engine can be heard when accelerating at a reasonably quick pace. Put the car in Sport mode and the stereo system starts to pump in fake engine noises. But in certain situations and under hard acceleration, you can hear the actual engine noise over the fake stereo engine noise.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – In Canada, the 2021 Acura TLX is available in four different trims with all of them being equipped with SH-AWD. In the United States, the Acura TLX is available as either a FWD or AWD and instead of trims, it has four distinct packages.
This A-Spec trim/package is one below the top spec trim. It comes very well equipped with heated & ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, automatic climate control, sunroof, a full suite of advanced safety & driver aids such as adaptive cruise control, lane centering, automatic emergency braking, blind spot sensors, and rear cross traffic alert. It also has wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto connectivity, and a 10.2” infotainment system.
Speaking of the infotainment system, it was updated with the 2019 Acura RDX. It has had a few software updates that fixed a few problems such as not being able to take over control of the navigation map zoom feature. However, it does have a big learning curve but it’s not with the system itself. It’s with the “True Touchpad Interface”. The 10.2” display is not a touchscreen and instead it is controlled by a touchpad. But this touchpad is a bit different than others because wherever you touch on the pad, it correlates to that exact point on the screen. It takes quite a while to get used to it but after a while, I’ve grown used to it.
Just a note if you use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, those systems were not designed to work with a touchpad and especially one with this “True Interface”. As a result, the touchpad reverts to a more traditional control layout and it can become frustrating to use with CarPlay or Android Auto.
Interior Design – The interior of the TLX looks very similar to that of its RDX brother with a few minor changes. The volume knob & track skip buttons are right next to the touchpad whereas in the RDX, they’re just above and to the left of the climate controls on the dashboard. Apart from that, the rest of the interior feels very much like an Acura interior. It has good quality materials throughout the cabin and a subtle amount of ambient lighting.
Exterior Design – At first glance, the 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec doesn’t look that different from the last generation. However, upon a closer look, the headlights are thinner, the front grille is slightly smaller, and the emblem is not as outrageously oversized. Around back, the taillights are drastically different from the outgoing model. They’re thinner as well and have more interesting and flowing lines. As well, the exhaust pipe tips are no longer round but are instead rectangular.
Warranty – Acura vehicles have a New Vehicle Limited warranty of 4 years / 80,000 km (50,000 miles in USA). The powertrain warranty is a year longer at 5 years or 100,000 km, whichever comes first. However, in the United States, the powertrain warranty is good for 6 years or 70,000 miles. Rust Perforation warranty is for 5 year and unlimited mileage in both Canada & the United States.
Overall, I’m a little bit disappointed with the 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Maybe my expectations were a bit too high because I was expecting a rival for the BMW 3-series but the driving dynamics are nowhere near close. However, that’s not to say that this isn’t a good car because it is. It exudes a premium feel when you’re sitting in it and it is fabulously comfortable on daily commutes or long journeys. You’re also getting a lot of value for your money. It starts at $44,605 CAD ($37,500 USD for FWD) and this A-Spec costs $49,905 CAD ($46,250 USD with AWD). To get a similarly equipped BMW 330i as this TLX A-Spec, you’ll have to spend close to $60,000 CAD ($54,850 USD). So overall it is a great car and good value for your money but just don’t have as high expectations as I did when it comes to the driving dynamics.
Thank you to Acura Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Acura.ca