First Drive: 2015 Acura TLX

Finally, a sedan that lives up to Acura's reputation.

by on Aug.06, 2014

Acura debuted its new TLX. The midsize sedan is expected help the brand reassert its position in the luxury segment.

Few automakers have had more riding on a single model than Acura does with the launch of the new 2015 TLX. Replacing two less-than-stellar offerings, the old TL and TSX, the new mid-range sedan is the Japanese maker’s stake in the ground, intended to prove that it really can take on the best in a field of tough competitors.

To get there, the Honda subsidiary has not only come up with a more visually compelling design than we’ve seen in recent years, but also some promising technology – including the latest version of its torque vectoring system, the awkwardly named Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive, or SH-AWD.

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Acura is hoping the new TLX will do what several other recent sedans, namely the ILX and RLX, couldn’t: put it back on the luxury map. It’s not so much that Acura has done anything terrible to alienate potential customers. If anything, it has scored a solid hit with the latest version of its big MDX crossover, sales up more than 55% for the first seven months of 2014. But that success on the SUV side hasn’t translated over to the Acura passenger car line-up.

Early on Acura developed a reputation for offering well engineered cars – like the Legend and Integra – that represented a terrific value, and it is hoping the new TLX can reclaim that aura with a combination of contemporary design, careful engineering and a pair of solid powertrains in an understated luxury package.

The Acura TLX gives the maker a strong competitor in the midsize luxury segment.

Key to the success of the 2015 Acura TLX is its excellent road manners. Lighter than the old Acura TL, the TLX is quick, nimble and holds the road through curves and corners with a minimum of fuss.

The newly designed chassis features a MacPherson Strut and a Multilink rear, with Amplitude Reactive Dampers. Despite the sound, those shocks use no electronic controls, but are nonetheless able to respond smoothly to a variety of different road inputs, whether rough concrete or harsh expansion joints on a choppy blacktop.

It essentially creates a “goldilocks” zone where it’s neither too harsh nor too soft, but a well-modulated compromise that is complemented by a new rack-mounted electric power steering system that feels crisp and responsive without requiring a lot of manhandling.

In its early days, much like parent Honda, Acura was known for its cutting-edge powertrains. At first glance, however, some critics might consider the TLX a little behind the times, underpowered in a marketplace where sedans in this segment routinely offer more than 300 horsepower.

The base engine, a 2.4-liter inline-four manages just 206 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. It’s a reasonably responsive package, and with its new eight-speed automatic is expected to offer some appealing fuel economy numbers.

The TLX keeps its traditional chrome nose, but it's toned down a bit for 2015.

But considering that Acura is pitching the TLX as a sports sedan, the attention-grabber is certain to be the 3.5-liter V-6. It also misses the 300 bogey, with 290-hp and 267 lb-ft, but numbers don’t always tell the full story, especially here with the. Mated to a new nine-speed ZF gearbox, it not only delivers quick, smooth shifts, but the sort of performance Acura has been lacking.

And things only get better in all-wheel-drive configuration or, more accurately, Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive. This is the latest version of the SH-AWD system, which was first introduced in 2004 on the old Acura RL, winning numerous awards and kudos.

At their most basic, all-wheel-drive systems move torque forward and back to improve traction. That’s why they’ve become particularly popular in Snowbelt climes. Many manufacturers have become hyping the technology as performance-enhancing, hoping to broaden its appeal, but there’s a downside, the tendency of AWD to push you in a straight line.

SH-AWD is designed to help steer you through a corner. For one thing, it can direct up to 70% of its torque to either the front or rear wheels. But it can also shift torque between the two rear wheels, with the outer tire accelerating up to 5% faster in a tight corner. It’s an effect similar to all-wheel-steering without actually moving either rear wheel.

It also avoids the more jury-rigged approach taken by some other torque-vectoring systems, which rely on brakes to slow the inner wheel in a corner. That strategy works, but it’s not as smooth – and it can lead to premature brake wear.

The SH-AWD system is effective and largely transparent, likely to make you feel you’re a much more competent driver as you slalom through tight S-turns.

(Acura betting on biggest ad blitz ever for new TLX. For more, Click Here.)

The Acura TLX interior provides the luxury appointments expected in the segment.

While Acura has a lot riding on the technology under the skin of the new TLX, it’s also betting that the new sedan will be a real eye-pleaser, a target it missed with the entry-level ILX.

Leaving aside the “athlete in a suit” clichés that are being tossed around in automotive design, the TLX adheres to the cautious tradition employed on many luxury sedans the world over. It’s not exactly bland but neither does it jump out of the traffic stream. Perhaps the most significant step was toning down the “beak,” the chromed shield that has dominated the frontal design of Acura products for much of the last decade. It’s still there, but in much more minimalist form.

(Click Here for details about Honda’s $1.94 billion quarterly profit.)

Acura designers certainly have done a nice job of integrating the LED headlights and fog lamps into the face of the new TLX. Crisp lines accent the sedan’s silhouette and the overall proportions are nicely balanced but, ironically the car seems smaller than it actually is.

The TLX instrument cluster and center console puts all of the car's technology in clear view and easy reach.

On the inside, Acura’s designers have done a very good job of using simple, functional forms that help make the space in the front seat more accessible. As you would expect, key controls are easy to reach — and so is your coffee cup. The cabin also contains a nice blend of refined textures and materials that enhance its up-market presence.

The list of features and technologies found on the TLX includes heated and ventilated front seats, a “smart” key and push button start. Optional are the Acura Navigation System with 3D view, and AcuraLink Real-Time Traffic with Traffic Rerouting. A 7-inch On Demand Multi-Use Display™ touch screen, located in the center console, controls these and other features.

The TLX also features the next generation of Acura’s cloud-based connected car system, Acura Link, while all TLX models come equipped with Siri Eyes Free technology that when paired with a compatible iPhone.

(To see more about Lexus ascending to the top of the luxury heap, Click Here.)

Standard driver-assistive features include Blind Spot Information, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keep Assist and new Cross Traffic Monitor, as well as a Collision Mitigation Braking System and Adaptive Cruise Control.

Prices for the TLX start at $31,000 $895 destination and top out at $45,000 for the V-6 with Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive. That should give the 2015 Acura TLX a solid price advantage in a tough but competitive segment.

Acura’s parent company, Honda, seems to have rested on its laurels for too long. The introduction of the TLX suggests Acura is finally serious about getting back in the game. It’s a solid product and one that should be put on the radar screen for those otherwise looking at competitors as diverse as the Audi A4 and the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

(Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this story.)

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