Get a Grip

All-wheel drive sport sedan a cross­over killer

The Province - - DRIVING - Brian Harper FIRST STEER

It’s not like Acura is the only up­scale brand to have its best­selling au­to­mo­bile tak­ing a back seat to an even-bet­ter-sell­ing cross­over. No, in the same boat one could add Audi, Cadil­lac, In­finiti, Jaguar, Lexus, Volvo and sev­eral oth­ers. Of course, man­u­fac­tur­ers are to blame for this predica­ment; they’ve done too good a mar­ket­ing/ad­ver­tis­ing job con­vinc­ing con­sumers that only a cross­over in their drive­way will sat­isfy their needs, wants and de­sires.

This is messed up and it’s not be­cause I have any dis­like of crossovers, up­scale or oth­er­wise. Some are ac­tu­ally a kick to drive. But there’s some­thing par­tic­u­larly en­joy­able about spend­ing time in a well-engi­neered mid-sized sedan, es­pe­cially ones that find the right bal­ance of sport and lux­ury. And I thank Acura for this be­cause it was time spent with its sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion 3.2TL, pro­duced from 1999 to 2003, when I first dis­cov­ered this ideal bal­ance. And it came with a sig­nif­i­cantly lower price point that caused a lot of hand-wring­ing among its competition.

For the 2015 model year, Acura re­placed the TL and its slow-sell­ing TSX with the TLX, a brave move in that not only did one car have to do the work of two, it had to re­vi­tal­ize the Acura brand while com­pet­ing in one of the most com­pet­i­tive and scru­ti­nized au­to­mo­bile seg­ments. Ul­ti­mately, while it hasn’t set the world ablaze, it has done well for Acura, putting up solid num­bers.

This brings us to the 2018 TLX, re­freshed and re­flect­ing what Acura says is its new de­sign di­rec­tion. More to the point, the tester is the new A-Spec vari­ant, which Acura says “amps up the sporty char­ac­ter of TLX and fea­tures ex­clu­sive de­sign el­e­ments in­side and out, along with key en­hance­ments to chas­sis tun­ing and wheel/tire spec­i­fi­ca­tion.”

That’s paint­ing with broad strokes, though, with more than a smat­ter­ing of PR hy­per­bole thrown in. From an en­gine out­put point of view, the A-Spec is no dif­fer­ent from the rest of the TLX lineup. That means a mild 206-horse­power, 2.4-litre four-cylin­der en­gine for the front-wheeldrive model, but a far more po­tent 290-hp, 3.5-L V-6 and a nine-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion are stan­dard with the SH-AWD all-wheel driv­e­train. Given that the tester — its lengthy trim des­ig­na­tion is V-6 SH-AWD Tech A-Spec — weighs a fairly trim 1,742 kilo­grams, more ponies are su­per­flu­ous. Ac­cel­er­a­tion is strong, par­tic­u­larly in the mid- and higher ranges, the nor­mally as­pi­rated V-6 mak­ing its power eas­ily.

As is now be­com­ing com­mon­place among per­for­mance-ori­ented ve­hi­cles, there are se­lectable driv­ing modes. In the TLX’s case, it’s called the In­te­grated Dy­nam­ics Sys­tem (IDS) and there are four modes: Econ, Nor­mal, Sport and Sport+. De­pend­ing on the set­ting, IDS will ad­just steer­ing ef­fort, throt­tle re­sponse, trans­mis­sion shift logic, heat­ing/air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem op­er­a­tion, ac­tive sound con­trol and, for AWD mod­els, the con­trol logic for the SH-AWD sys­tem.

Nat­u­rally, the Sport+ mode ups the car’s per­for­mance po­ten­tial with the most as­sertive set­tings. Gen­er­ally, though, Sport mode turned out to be more en­joy­able, tight­en­ing up the steer­ing, but not nearly as ag­gres­sive on the shift points. Econ hob­bles the TLX’s get up and go in favour of sup­pos­edly greater fuel ef­fi­ciency, while Nor­mal is best suited for high­way cruis­ing.

While the nine-speed is the very model of smooth­ness, I’m not a huge fan of the trans­mis­sion con­trols with sep­a­rate but­tons to push for park, re­verse, neu­tral and drive. I’ve never un­der­stood the need to make things com­pli­cated when sim­pler so­lu­tions abound.

In ad­di­tion to the im­proved lat­eral grip and re­spon­sive­ness of­fered by Miche­lin Pri­macy P245/40R19 rub­ber, A-Spec mod­els have a re­tuned elec­tric power steer­ing sys­tem and damper set­tings. All-wheel-drive A-Spec mod­els also get a quicker steer­ing ra­tio for in­creased re­sponse and a stiffer spring rate and rear sta­bi­lizer bar for im­proved body con­trol. De­spite all this good stuff, this TLX’s steer­ing feels some­what slug­gish in the turns as if an ex­ces­sive amount of weight is sit­ting over the front tires. There are no com­plaints about grip, how­ever. The car holds a tight line on high­way on-ramps with just a hint of roll.

The A-Spec’s dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion from other TLX trims starts at the front with a matte-black di­a­mond pen­tagon grille with dark chrome sur­round and a more pro­nounced lower front fas­cia flanked by round LED fog lights. The A-Spec 19-inch al­loy rims are fin­ished in “shark grey” paint and com­bine with flared side sills. At the rear is a gloss-black deck­lid spoiler, smoked LED tail lights and a fas­cia fea­tur­ing a lower dif­fuser ac­cented by four-inch dual ex­haust tips. A matte-black side win­dow sur­round and A-Spec badges on the front fen­ders and rear deck lid com­plete the look.

In­side, the A-Spec’s front seats have more se­ri­ous bol­sters and come with con­trast stitch­ing and pip­ing (the tester’s red leather is a wel­come change from black). There’s also red LED am­bi­ent light pip­ing, red high­lights in the gauges, a black head­liner and pil­lar treat­ment, brushed alu­minum-look in­stru­ment-panel trim and a thicker steer­ing wheel.

For the tech geeks, all 2018 TLXs fea­ture a re­designed dual-screen user in­ter­face with what Acura claims are more in­tu­itive menus and com­mand struc­tures, com­ple­mented by a new seven-inch ca­pac­i­tive touch screen with a 30 per cent faster re­sponse time and An­droid Auto com­pat­i­bil­ity. The new TLX also sup­ports Ap­ple CarPlay. The nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem was OK, but less than out­stand­ing; a cou­ple of times it chose less di­rect routes to get to a pro­grammed des­ti­na­tion.

The TLX slots in be­tween com­pact and mid-sized; rear-seat leg room will be on the tight side for taller pas­sen­gers. Priced at $35,990 to start, $47,390 for the as-tested A-Spec model, the sedan’s pri­mary ri­vals are com­pact up­scale name­plates such as the Audi A4, BMW 3 Se­ries, Cadil­lac ATS and nu­mer­ous oth­ers. So what you’re get­ting for the same (or less) money than the competition is a larger car and V-6 power when opt­ing for all-wheel drive.

The TLX, while a tech­ni­cally pro­fi­cient sport­ing sedan — slightly more so with the new A-Spec — is dif­fi­cult to truly like. It’s a mat­ter of per­son­al­ity; Acuras have al­ways struck me as rather im­per­sonal. Yet with win­ter about to make an ap­pear­ance, I can’t help but think how much more en­joy­able it would be to scoot around snowy streets in the TLX than most like-priced and like-sized crossovers.

BRIAN HARPER/DRIV­ING.CA

The 2018 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec is the new, sportier vari­ant of a re­designed, al­ready-sporty sedan.

PHO­TOS: BRIAN HARPER/DRIV­ING.CA

The 2018 Acura TLX ramps up the ‘sporty char­ac­ter’ with its re­design.

The 2018 TLX SH-AWD A-Spec of­fers a splash of red leather, a wel­come change from a drab black in­te­rior.

PHO­TOS: BRIAN HARPER/DRIV­ING.CA

The TLX starts at $35,990 for the base model, but you’ll need to fork out $47,390 for the A-Spec.

The A-Spec’s 3.5-L SOHC V-6 pumps out 290 horse­power, while 267 pound-feet of torque are avail­able at 4,500 rpm.

For the tech geeks, all 2018 TLXs fea­ture a re­designed dual-screen user in­ter­face with faster re­sponse time.

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