New sedan on the block. The 2021 Acura TLX would like you to know that it’s no longer a dressed-up Honda Accord. Acura’s midsize sedan gets a full redesign this year, and the result is a major improvement over the last generation.
The changes start with a new platform, which stretches the wheelbase by 3.7 inches. Much of that goes to the hood, which is long and low. What’s underneath is new, too – in a bid to unseat the sport sedan hegemony, the TLX ditches last year’s MacPherson struts in favor of a double-wishbone strut up front.
The rear decklid is fashionably short. It looks great, but it covers a relatively small trunk that can only carry 13.5 cubic feet of luggage. That’s less than rivals like the Lexus ES or BMW 5-Series, though better than the miserly Cadillac CT5. Thankfully, the rear seats fold down for some extra room.
Stylish and supportive. Count us fans of the TLX’s new look. The long, creased hood gives the impression (if not the reality) of a rear-wheel-drive car. A rising beltline creates an athletic stance, and the new nose gathers everything together at a diamond-shaped grille.
The interior is equally attractive, with materials that punch above the TLX’s price point. Wood and metal trim are employed to good effect, and the plunging center stack adds some drama. Fit and finish are excellent. Every TLX gets a 10.2-inch infotainment screen, which sits nicely atop the dash.
The seats are another highlight. Standard front seats are spacious, heated, and 12-way power adjustable. We particularly like the rear seats, which have a long seat that provides more thigh support than most modern cars. Rear leg room is up 0.4 inches over last year’s model, and while passengers over 6 feet may feel cramped, most adults won’t mind.
Newly sporty. The Acura TLX gets an engine upgrade, and it’s substantial. Compared to last year’s base engine, the new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is up 66 horsepower to a total of 272. That’s comparable to the previous generation’s optional V6, and it’s strong power for the class.
Unlike rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the TLX starts with front-wheel drive. If you can, we’d recommend making the $2,000 jump to all-wheel drive. In addition to adding all-weather confidence, it can shuttle up to 70% of the power to the rear wheels and move torque to the outside wheel for better handling.
The new suspension pays dividends as well, making the TLX a real contender among sport sedans. Steering is quick and stable, and the chassis is agile and responsive. AWD improves cornering, but even FWD TLX models are enjoyable.
The TLX’s greatest mechanical weakness is fuel economy. The EPA estimates that it will do up to 25 miles per gallon combined, or 24 mpg with all-wheel drive. That’s mediocre for the class, and it looks even worse against new hybrid competitors like the Lexus ES 300h or Volvo S60 Recharge.
Safe and simple. Acura benefits from its Honda parentage, and the TLX comes with an admirable suite of safety features. The front airbags are a next-generation design intended to reduce injuries in angled front collisions. Advanced features like adaptive cruise control and a driver attention monitor come standard, which is more than the CT5 can say.
The rest of the features are divided among a simple but sensible lineup. If it were our money, we’d upgrade to the Technology trim and add AWD, which keeps price to a reasonable $45,000.
Lexus has promised that the sporty Type S trim will debut in the spring of next year – with a 355-hp V6 under the hood, it should be a formidable performer.
Our only complaint about the features is the infotainment software, which is controlled through a touchpad in the center console. It’s an awkward interface, and it takes some getting used to.
Even so, the Acura TLX is a tempting value – it’s a competitor to the 5-Series at less than the price of a BMW 3-Series. Against comparably priced rivals from Lexus and Cadillac, its trim and features set it apart.
Final thoughts. The 2021 Acura TLX is a welcome return to form for the midsize sedan. Aside from a tight trunk and some finicky software, it hits all the right notes: sharp handling, willing performance, and a premium interior. Especially with all-wheel drive, it deserves consideration against the sport-sedan establishment.
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