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Review: 2015 Acura TLX 2.4L Techby Byron Hurd
Acura\'s TL successor classes up, doubles-down on tech.
If there has been any constant in Acura showrooms over the past few years, it's change. As early bids to update its core models fell victim to criticism, Honda's luxury subsidiary put plans in motion to overhaul its lineup, promising to deliver revised products with class-leading features befitting a near-luxury marque.
The TLX—Acura's butter to its ILX bread—is, appropriately, a key component of Acura's reboot campaign. While neither of its sedans move in the same volume enjoyed by its crossover and SUV lineup, Acura knows that Americans closely associate four-door sedans with brand identity. Without strong offerings in the compact and midsize segments, the brand's relevance could well be jeopardized.
What is it?
The TLX is Acura's midsize sedan, slotting above the compact ILX and below the larger RLX. Fundamentally, the TLX carries on where the TL left off, albeit with some pretty serious revisions. The most significant among those can be found under the hood, where, for the first time since the second-generation TL went out of production in 2003, a four-cylinder engine is available.
Our tester is so-equipped. The 2.4L, direct-injected DOHC engine produces 206 horsepower at 6,800 RPM and 182 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 RPM. It's paired with Acura's new eight-speed, dual-clutch gearbox. Unlike most dual-clutch transmissions, however, Acura's pairs the now-conventional sequential manual configuration with a torque converter. This gives the driver both the quick-shifting benefits of a dual-clutch unit and the first-gear torque delivery characteristics of a torque converter. On paper, it's the best of both worlds.
And it works. On the road, the rev-happy 2.4L blasts up and down the range as the 8-speed snaps off quick, smooth shifts. It's no secret that Honda makes excellent four-cylinder engines. This one is no exception. The transmission pairing is essentially perfect. Run the engine hard to the top of each gear and it pops to the next without hesitation or complaint. It's butter-smooth, and downshifts are equally pleasant and precise. This is a solid first effort from Acura in this department, easily surpassing Ford's PowerShift dual-clutch unit in both refinement and responsiveness.
Our only gripe is with the standard-equipment paddle shifters. While the transmission's shifts may be crisp and instantaneous, sometimes the computer will lag behind physical inputs, and given that there are eight gears, non-registered shift requests can add to an already-staggering number of inputs just in simple acceleration. It wasn't uncommon for an acceleration run from first through eighth gears to take 10-12 taps of the paddle to achieve, with most of the extraneous requests surrounding changes in the higher gears, where the goal was simply to get into top gear ASAP.
The chassis is, for the most part, standard Acura faire. The front suspension is a MacPherson Strut setup, the rear a multi-link. Where the TLX deviates from typical midsize sedans is its Precision All-Wheel Steering (P-AWS) setup. Standard on all two-wheel drive models (our tester included), the P-AWS utilizes active electronic toe control in the rear suspension to adjust rear wheel angles to driving conditions, allowing for better stability and emergency input response at high speeds, greater agility around town, more confident braking attitudes and a minimized turning circle.
P-AWS can be felt most acutely in sharp, fast turns and tight maneuvers. The TLX will initially want to run wide in aggressive cornering, but the car then tucks decisively into the desired line (so long as you don't completely overcook it, of course). It's not a fix-all for sloppy driving, by any means, but it's an effective aid.
One last chassis item of note: Acura also includes its Integrated Dynamics System on the TLX. This system allows you to toggle between several different drive modes, altering throttle, transmission, all-wheel drive (when equipped) and P-AWS calibration along with steering weight. There are four modes: ECON, Normal, Sport and Sport+. Sport+ and manual shifting are encouraged for the most engaging experience.
The TLX's suite of standard features befits its price and mission. Included are jewel LED headlamps, a multi-use interior display, SMS text functionality, a Pandora Internet Radio interface, heated, powered front seats (with driver's side memory), dual-zone climate control, auto up/down windows (all four), keyless entry/ignition and a power sunroof.
As the title indicates, our TLX was also equipped with the Tech package. This adds navigation, AccuraLink, premium audio, leather seating, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist and rear cross-traffic monitoring. The pricing for this package is not broken out since it's technically a trim level for the TLX.
What's the competition?
The TLX straddles the line between premium and luxury, and because of that, it stands at an odd crossroads for car-shoppers. On paper, competitors include the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Volvo S60, Cadillac ATS and Infiniti Q50. As a bit of a ‘tweener, the TLX could be seen to compete with some of the midsize luxury cars ( Cadillac CTS, Audi A6, etc.) and with a few larger, premium models from mainstream brands ( Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon).
How does it look?
The TLX represents a complete exterior design overhaul compared to the outgoing TL. The overall visual impression is leaner, cleaner and far easier on the eyes. Gone are the massive front and rear fender/bumper treatments and the exaggerated beak. The front end is pinched down and the jewel matrix LED front lamps give it a crisp, high-tech look. In the rear, the old bulbous bumpers have given way to succinct, clean lines with.
All in all, this is the TL successor Acura should have given us from the beginning. The lack of visual weight and over-complication gives the TLX a sleek, attractive exterior befitting its premium classification.
What about the interior?
Color us equally impressed with the interior. The seats, while not particularly sporty, are equally comfortable for some lightly spirited driving or highway duty. The cabin itself is attractive and modern. Infotainment is centralized to a multi-function knob (or voice commands) with basic go-to HVAC and radio controls broken out into physical buttons.
The gauge cluster features a physical speedometer and tachometer with a MFD in between. The MFD's functions are accessed from a spoke-mounted thumb roller and buttons on the steering wheel, and offers trip information, real-time tire pressure and turn-by-turn navigation updates (or street info when navigation is not in route guidance mode).
There's ample room front and rear for normal-sized adults and children, and the roomy trunk offers side cubbies for items that are prone to movement during outings.
Does it go?
After a fashion. Our test loaner represents the slowest, least-capable flavor of TLX currently available. A 290-horsepower V6 is available in both front- and all-wheel drive configurations for those who crave power, but the 2.4L four-cylinder is more value-oriented.
0-60 takes between 7 and 8 seconds when you really hustle, and you won't see four-cylinder fuel economy if you're constantly running between 5,000 and 7,000 RPM. The TLX is a lot of car to be motivated by that little engine, and while it never feels over-worked, it certainly doesn't feel over-engined, either.
While a smaller engine usually means a nimbler chassis, a 3,492lb body is still no featherweight. The ride is supple, not sporty. The chassis is willing but not particularly eager to be thrown around, and the limits come up swiftly. The soft Goodyear all-season tires are adequately grippy and comfortable (when not over-inflated), but they get talkative and skittish when pushed hard. Combine steering angle, a poor surface and any amount of throttle and they'll quickly be overwhelmed. This is, after all, a comfort-tuned, front-wheel drive car.
Bottom line, the four-cylinder does what such engines do best—it accelerates the car adequately enough for merging or passing and returns reasonable fuel economy. The EPA rates the 2.4L at 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined. Over the course of several days, we saw an average of 29 mpg according to the onboard trip computer. Considering this was close to a 60/40 split of rural two-lanes and freeway driving, it seemed more than fair.
MG's bottom line
The TLX is a breath of fresh air after a generation of in-your-face, overwrought TLs. The 2.4L Tech may not be the enthusiast's choice, but V6 and SH-AWD models should not be ignored (though you'll have to give up that sweet 8-speed DCT to get one). A good value for a car that is sure to be reliable, the TLX delivers on its comfort mission and promise of gadgets.
2015 Acura TLX 2.4L Tech base price, $35,025; Destination, $895.