Don’t let the luxury fool you; subtle cues signal this sedan’s muscular DNA.
On first glance, the 2021 Acura TLX, redesigned for 2021, is a handsome car. It greets you with a diamond grille and jewel headlights—like a suitor should—and cozies you in its comfortable and plush interior in a very demure way. It eschews glitzy chrome accents and vents for sweeping lines that carry your eye from the front grille to the rear, catching the sweep of the roof line and the gentle flow of light across its side panels. Priced from $37,500 to just under $50,000 fully loaded, the overall feeling is elegant, more European sedan than Japanese sports car.
But get behind the wheel, and the TLX reveals its inner soul: that of a track-tuned sports car. That’s because it is powered by the same engine as the much heralded and fun to drive Honda Type R, and many of the interior appointments are designed to let the driver command a fun drive experience.
Redesigned For Elegance in Motion — Even When Standing Still
The TLX is touted for being inspired by the Acura NSX, the brand’s supercar, and while you can feel and hear that when driving in sport mode, you see it on the front and rear of the car, too. Design details in the front grille and rear end give this car the appearance of motion even when standing still. It starts with the diamond grille. The grille’s ‘diamonds’ are angled slightly away from the center to give the look of water beading away as you drive. The grille is framed by focused jewel headlights and under them, running lights that wrap around the front corners of the car. The TLX’s tail lights evoke the image of a light trail in motion, underscoring the brake lights.
Unlike the NSX, the TLX has a comfortable rear seat with legroom and headroom for passengers, a center arm rest with cup holders, and air vents. The-top-of-the-line Advanced model has heated rear seats but no USB ports; back seat passengers will have to use of the two ports inside the arm rest, the only two in the car.
Focused for the Drive, But Comfortable for the Long Haul
It starts with the comfortable leather seats—heated and cooled in our test model— that are bucketed enough to hold you in place on curvy roads but plush enough that they’re comfortable for long rides. Then, paddle shifters and multiple drive modes—including sport, comfort, normal and individual (which lets you customize your settings)—let you choose your drive experience.
The interior is designed to keep the driver’s eyes on the road. This includes head-up display in our Advance test model, steering wheel controls, and Acura’s touch pad-controlled infotainment system. Acura’s designers have worked hard to make the touch pad infotainment system more intuitive and easier to use, though it’s still a bit debated by auto reviewers who don’t love it. I got to spend a solid hour playing with it when it was first introduced—I was setting up a playlist, which takes time—and by the end I found that just like with the computer keyboard or my iPhone home screen, I could find things without looking at my fingers. That’s the idea behind this system and with practice, it works.
Acura also redesigned the gear selector a few years ago; the brand was among the first to go to a push button gear selector, which is front and center on the console and crowned by the drive mode selector. This makes it easy to not only put it in gear, but to remind you that to put it into sport mode for a more fun drive experience.
What It’s Like to Drive the Acura TLX
This was a the biggest surprise. The TLX has a 4-cylinder turbo with 272 horsepower, which means that if the rest of the car is properly engineered, it could be fun. Or, without proper attention, it could be a dud. Thankfully, Acura put in the time to properly adjust suspension, engine sound—which is a bit louder in sport mode—and handling. It’s not over done, so you won’t be throwing yourself or your passengers into the door panels on a gentle curve, but it’s commanding and confident. And fun. Taking off from a traffic light or merging onto the highway can be a satisfying experience. Take it out on a more challenging highway, and you’ll get the taste of Acura NSX supercar that inspired this sedan.
And in suburban traffic, neighborhood streets or increasingly, in congested traffic, put it in comfort mode for an easy ride. I found the TLX to be both fun on the highway and easy to whip into parking spots at the grocery store; it feels effortless behind the wheel no matter the mode or the road.
Premium Sound From a Music Industry Celebrity
What is a thrilling ride without the right soundtrack to fill the air and make your soul soar? This is something every movie producer knows, and so does Acura. The company partnered with Grammy Award-winner Elliot Schiener to create the ultimate sound system, ELS Studio sound. It’s a premium feature but delivers a custom crafted sound experience just for the TLX; every surface and space in the car is studied to ensure that the sound is studio quality, that it doesn’t fall flat or sound tinny. And it completes the experience in the TLX.
What This Car Costs
- Base price includes front wheel drive, a 4-cylinder turbo engine with 272 horsepower, leatherette seating, drive mode selector, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wifi, touchpad infotainment controller, two USB ports, keyless entry and push button start, ambient lighting, frameless rear view mirror, sunroof and AcuraWatch driver assist and safety technology with collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition and traffic jam assist, $37,500
- Add all wheel drive, $2,000
- Technology package adds upgraded wheels, ELS premium sound, navigation, blind spot monitor, parking sensors, $41,500
- The A Spec sport edition adds a gloss black spoiler, leather and suede heated and cooled seats, flat bottom steering wheel, sport pedals, red instrument panel lighting, ELS Studio premium sound and wireless charging, $44,250
- The Advanced top-of-the-line model adds LED puddle lights, rain sensing and de-icing windshield wipers, premium Milano leather seating, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, open pore wood trim, surround view camera system and head up display, $46,300
- Delivery charge: $1,025
- Price of our test model, about $49,325
What We Loved
- The new look, especially the front end. That diamond grille is just gorgeous!
- Sport modes that give you a fun drive experience when you want it
- The Milano premium leather seating is simply luscious
- ELS Studio sound
- Head-up display
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is standard
- Acura Watch driver assist and safety features, which includes adaptive cruise control, crash mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warring, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation and traffic jam assist
- The infotainment touch pad
What You Need to Know
- Acura recommends the use of premium fuel to achieve maximum horsepower, but you can use regular fuel
- Estimated fuel economy is 21 city/29 highway; we averaged about 21 MPG but mostly drove in sport mode
- 2 USB ports are located in the center arm rest
- Acura Watch, which comprises most of the safety features, is standard
I like an elegant sedan. But I like a sporty drive. I don’t need everyone knowing my business or how I like to drive, and the TLX doesn’t give that away on first glance, which makes me happy. I can have a fun drive experience in a demure and stylish car. One accented with diamonds and jewels. As an elegant car should!
Disclosure: Acura provided the TLX for this test drive; all opinions are my own.