The “Almost” Problem

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.

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.

2015 Acura TLX Interior

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.

2015 Acura TLX

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.

2015 Acura TLX

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.

Conclusion

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.

Author: Dale Franks

Dale Franks is the former host of The Business Day, ”a daily, four-hour business and financial news program on KMNY Radio in Los Angeles. From 2002-2004, he was a contributor on military and international affairs for TechCentralStation.com. Currently, he a publisher and editor of the monthly political journal The New Libertarian, as well as an editor of the popular web log, Q and O. Dale served as a military police officer in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 1993, in variety of assignments both in the United States and Europe, where he also was assigned to the staff of the Headquarters of Allied Forces Central Europe. In addition to broadcasting, writing, and speaking on various topics, Dale has also been a long-time technical training instructor on a variety of computer software and technology subjects. Dale has also long been involved with information technology as an accomplished web designer, programmer, and technologist, serving as the corporate knowledge specialist for Microsoft Outlook at SAIC, the nation's largest employee-owned corporation. Additionally, he is the author of a number of software user guides used for classroom training by one of Southern California’'s premier computer training and consulting firms. His book, SLACKERNOMICS: Basic Economics for People Who Find Economics Boring, is available from Barnes & Noble.

7 thoughts on “The “Almost” Problem”

  1. A somewhat reasonable review although I often wonder if authors forget the big picture. The TLX is a 4 door sedan and I suspect the majority in that category do not really want sports car performance and are actually happy to have a car that is whisper quiet on the inside! I agree that the manual adjusting steering wheel is a bit odd but given the wide array of other comfort and technology features not a deal breaker. The assumption that AWD is a big deal is in my opinion flawed. Having lived in the snow belt for 30+ years AWD is hardly a necessity nor offers a huge driving experience, I do believe FWD does and so does the front to rear ratio and of course the tires! Not to dwell on the subject of AWD, I assume you realize that your tires will wear more frequently and that is a fact!

    In terms of the rear seats, not a smooth segway on my part, it will seat comfortably children to those up to 6 footers. If you are going to transport NBA or football players I recommend a S Class Mercedes and Audi A8 or bus.

    The TLX is designed to appeal to those who want a nice driving car that does everything well but it certainly does not scream luxury and that is not a bad thing. The TLX is quiet, silky smooth and all but the base model with all the bells and whistles one could reasonably desire, that is unless you want to spend another $15 to $25K in which case you should be looking at something else.

    The so called sports sedan categorization still puzzles me, unless that is a modest attempt to lure the BMW crowd. As an aside I opted for the TLX instead of the 3 series BMW because I concluded the Acura was for me the better car.

    In terms of your other nit picks, I assume Acura aimed for a certain price point in their design and materiel selection but again IMO they got it right (not almost).

    1. Well, I’m 5’10”, and the back seat–with the front seat set to my driving position, fit me as described.

      I am biased against FWD for vehicles that have more than 200 HP.

      I pointed out that Acura biases the TLX more towards luxury than sporting customers.

      The sports sedan advertising puzzles me, too. It’s relatively quick, but not particularly sporting.

      1. It’s your review and I respect your opinion. I am only 1 consumer and now owner of a TLX so clearly I thought Acura was spot on with the car. Our prior car was a C class 4 matic and other other car is a FWD twin turbo.

        Regarding your bias against FWD cars with 200 HP, I don’t have the data but I suspect FWD cars now out number RWD cars. It is sort of like those who lament the passing of manual transmissions, welcome to the 21st Century.

        I suspect that it is rare when people have 3 passengers in the rear and clearly if that is a requirement a mid sized car is the wrong choice. Actually 3 adults in many cars or SUV’s is not advisable for comfort. I cannot recall in the past 35+ years when we had 3 adults in the back seat.

        Notwithstanding the above, I appreciated your review. As an aside this is the first time my wife and I agreed on a car and I would have lost a bet on that and was sure she would have chosen the BMW 3 and candidly price was not a consideration. I do find it interesting how many of the cars have grown in length, the TLX is 10″ longer than our prior car.

        1. The abundance of FWD cars are due to economics, not what is more fun to drive, clearly RWD is far more of a drivers car.
          How many FWD race cars are out there? A true sports car is RWD, and RWD only.
          200hp in front is little more than excess wheel spin. Simple physics you can’t put the power down in front while the front end lifts,
          Dale was being polite, the vast majority of FWD cars are appliances, some being a more comfortable appliance than others.

          1. I noted before, I thought calling the TLX a sports sedan was ill advised since in my opinion having 4 doors moves a car out of the sports car category. I am simple minded so I guess if you cannot put power down in the front without the the front end lifting the inverse is true, that you cannot put power down on the rear with out affecting the front end. FWD cars appliances? I guess BMW and Lexis are now in the appliance business as well.

            I agree that the popularity of FWD is a result of economics, in design, weight and economy of performance. I would argue that the transition from RWD to FWD has occurred without sacrificing driver experience and that many just have a biased that affects their judgement. On a dry country windy road, going through the gears in a RWD sports car is not the litmus test to most drivers.

            Automobile design and engineering has changed with technology to include modeling and simulation. adaptable suspension etc.

            Sports and performance cars is a different subject and interjecting that with a 4 door sedan is not particularly relevant.

  2. I actively hate the Sid Vicious version of “My Way”. If possible, I would invent a time machine to travel back to seriously cock-block Sid’s dad to prevent him from being born. His cover is offensive, and should be considered a crime against humanity.

  3. Have we fallen so badly that luxury car makers are targeting their customer base by plying them with punk rock?

    A few years ago Acura had an ad for the RL with allusions to Woodstock. What is it about the automobile market that ties everything now to teenagers (between the ears).

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