Get a Grip
All-wheel drive sport sedan a crossover killer
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.
The 2018 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec is the new, sportier variant of a redesigned, already-sporty sedan.
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.
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.