2015 Acura TLX 3.5L
Soichiro Honda (1906-1991) was an automotive genius. In 1958, he created the Honda Supercub, about the least motorcycle you can buy, but which is still produced in many countries. There have been over 60 million Supercubs produced, making it the best-selling vehicle ever produced. His Honda Civic and Accord led the Japanese charge in the 1970s to overturn the Big Four’s control of the American auto market. The company he created, Honda Motor Co. Ltd., is the world’s number one producer of internal combustion engines. In 1986, it became the first Japanese automaker to create it’s own luxury brand in Acura. Which brings us to the big push Honda is currently making for the all-new 2015 Acura TLX.
The Acura TL and TSX have both been discontinued, and the TLX is their replacement. Honda calls the TLX a “thrill” in their advertising. They have commercials with Sid Vicious howling his punk rock arrangement of “My Way” to accompany video clips of the TLX blazing around a test track.It all seems very transgressive and exciting and sporty.
Which would be a change for Honda. Like Toyota, Honda seems to have lost interest in making anything but “beige cars”, which is to say, transportation pods that get you from one place to another. Perhaps the TLX is different, and contains some remaining spark of Soichiro Honda’s genius.
How it looks
There are many creases in the bodywork. Many creases. The doors even have what looks like a Bowie knife’s blood groove down the side. The hood and front bumper have swoopy angular folds pressed into the sheet metal. It has a squinty set of 5 jewel LED headlights on each side. And of course it has the huge, angular Acura logo bar across the grill. The bodywork is very…busy, yet is stops short of being unattractive. It looks almost sporty.
Inside, things are a bit better. The dash is all soft-touch materials, with attractive bits of faux-wood trim. The seats are soft, supple leather, as are the stitched inserts on the doors. There are two large touch-screens in the center stack, one for sat-nav, and another for all the entertainment and air-conditioning controls.The TSX can be obtained with lane deviation sensors, lane change sensors, adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and Aux connectors for the stereo, and hands-free calling. There is a keyless access and remote engine start system.
Like many newer cars, the use of a key is mainly unnecessary. So much, so, in fact, that the only physical key is the valet key, which can be removed from the electronic fob and handed to the suspicious-looking foreigner who will park your car for you. Engine start and transmission are push-button affairs, as is setting the emergency brake.
The driving instruments consist of a large and highly readable analog tach and speedometer, between which is a color screen showing you a variety of useful information, such as the gear indicator, driving mode, and compass.
But, there are oddities. The silvery plastic trim is obviously slivery plastic, rather than a more upmarket material. Despite all the technology on display in the TLX, the telescoping, tilting, leather-wrapped steering wheel has to be moved manually, and you have to physically lock it into place with a lever like some kind of animal. This is supposed to be a luxury car, and, at $42,500, is priced like one, but when you look closely at it, you see the soul-killing hand of accountancy.
Back seat passengers do have their own air-conditioning vents, which one assumes is some sort of compensation for the fact that legroom is limited. Your knees don’t quite hit the seatback, but any attempt to stretch your legs bumps the front of your ankles into the bottom of the front seat. Adult passengers will need to be happy with climate control and sitting at the position of attention, like cadets in a military school.
It has a decent-sized trunk, though.
How it drives
You have a choice of motors for the 2015 Acura TLX. You have a 2.4L I-4 that puts out 206 HP and 182 torques. It’s pretty slow, so, the less said about it, the better. You also have the option of a 3.5L V-6 with a peak output of 290 HP and 267 lb.-ft. of torque. This is the engine you want. The V-6 motor pushes the TSX to a 5.6-second 0-60 time and a 14-second quarter mile, which is comparable to a run-of-the-mill C-Class Mercedes or 3-series BMW.
You have the option of changing the drive modes through Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+. Eco mode is completely disappointing. Eco mode is the drive mode for people who don’t like to drive. Sport+ tightens the TLX up a bit, provides more steering resistance, and runs the engine to the redline in each gear before shifting.
You also have a choice between Front-Wheel Drive and All-Wheel Drive on the TLX. Normally, you’d assume that, to get a TLX that can be pushed a bit, you’d really need to cough up the $45,000 for the AWD version. But not so fast. Acura has implemented something called P-AWS, or Precision All-Wheel Steering on the Front-Wheel Drive models.
Normally, pushing 290 HP through the front wheels would simply result in massive understeer and horrible fiery death when the road curves and the TLX doesn’t. The problem is that it takes a certain amount of wheel traction to power a car, and a certain amount of traction to steer it. But, tires only have a certain amount of traction available. If the amount of traction required to both steer and power the car is greater than the amount of traction the front tires have to give, you get understeer.
What the P-AWS system does is set the front and rear wheels in or out of phase as necessary to distribute steering power away from the front wheels to increase traction. It even toes the rear wheels in a bit to provide stability under braking. It also helps to reduce body roll in the corners. Basically, Acura is trying to defeat understeer and body roll with very clever electronics, and mainly succeeding.
Still, you really do want the AWD version, though, rather than the tarted up FWD version. Acura’s AWD system is good, and the updated AWD electronics do a good job of routing power to the wheels where traction is available.
The TLX requires premium gasoline. Now, look, I’m not gonna quibble about buying the expensive gas if you give me a 400 HP car. That’s a rational tradeoff. But, for less than 300 HP, I’m really going to want to use regular fuel.
The steering is an electric system on the TLX, and is relatively numb even for an electric unit. Switching the drive mode to Sport+ makes the TLX require a bit more effort to steer, without actually offering any more feel. The P-AWS system makes the TLX respond well to driver inputs, but it’s very much a point-and-shoot kind of deal.
The 9-speed automatic transmission does a good a job of keeping the torque up. In Sport+, you also have the option of manually shifting the transmission with the plastic paddle shifters—not metal; more accountancy—of the steering wheel. When you do shift the TLX manually, not much happens. Basically, you’re notifying the transmission that you’d like to shift. The transmission will actually shift whenever it feels shifting is appropriate. It’s obvious that the TLX doesn’t trust you to know when it’s appropriate to change gears, and it spurns your inputs as you would spurn a rabid dog. This quickly becomes enraging.
Driving the TLX is a pretty quiet experience. Honda has soundproofed the car to isolate you from road and wind noises. Sadly, they’ve also isolated you from the engine sounds. You can barely hear what’s happening with the motor. It’s telling that BMW actually pipes engine noises into the cabin, while the Acura TLX mutes them. Honda clearly expects a less enthusiast-centered and more luxury-centered customer.
What’s good about it
The Acura TLX is comfortable, and relatively powerful. The suspension works well to isolate you from road imperfections, and the sound-proofing works well. It’s jam-packed with technology. It has a very reasonable price relative to its competitors. Thanks to the P-AWS system, it handles well and the steering is responsive, if numb.
What’s bad about it
The manual shifter in Sport+ mode ignores driver inputs, which makes me feel stabby. The interior materials are cheaper than they should be in some places. The back seats are a bit cramped for adults, making claims of comfort for 5 seem overstated. Steering is numb, and the changes made to the steering by switching to the sportier drive modes seem mainly cosmetic. It requires premium gasoline.
On the plus side, with the Acura TLX, you really do get a lot of car for the money, compared to BMW or Mercedes. The MSRP for the TLX is more or less what you can expect to pay, especially since, unlike the Germans, Acura doesn’t try to rape you on the options. So, it’s a car that has more value than its competitors.
Really, the 2015 Acura TLX is not a bad car. It’s as powerful as anything else in its class, and drives and handles well. But it’s also not a sports car, or, really, anywhere near as exciting as Acura television ads try to make it seem. It’s not a “thrill”.
I can’t help but thinking that the new TLX is the poster child for Honda’s “almost” problem. Honda makes good cars. They’re very reliable. But they tend not to be great. So it is with the Acura TLX. The TLX is almost as fun to drive as a BMW. It’s almost as nice inside as a Mercedes. It’s almost a great car.
But “almost” is the same as saying “not quite”. The trouble with the TLX is that you get the sense that is could be a little nicer inside, a little faster, a little more fun, and it just…isn’t. The things that are wrong with it are little things, but those little things add up.
The TLX is a good little car that really could be better.