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2018 Acura TLX: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Aaron Gold May 2017

When we last checked in with the Acura TLX, our verdict was not exactly enthusiastic: "From a styling standpoint the TLX is rather bland," we said of the 2017 model. "The V6 all-wheel-drive version significantly improves the TLX's ability to impress driving enthusiasts, but it's still not a best-in-class performance by any means." 2018 brings a refreshed version of the TLX, and it seems as if Acura agrees with our criticisms. The revised 2018 model features updated styling and a new A-Spec model that ups the interest level significantly.

Before we hit the road in the A-Spec car, let's take a quick look at the styling updates. Most significant is the new grille, which we first saw on the 2017 MDX. It has a 3-D diamond pattern that a fellow writer likened to water beading on the hood of a freshly-waxed car. It's a good looking piece and a big improvement over the smiling-cheese-slicer grille of the outgoing TLX. New fenders, hood, bumpers and headlights round out the front end. A-Spec cars get a unique front fascia with a black lower bumper, while other models get more chrome -- a little too much, if you ask us. The back end has updated as well, but only on V6-powered cars; the rear view on the four-cylinder TLX is unchanged. A-Spec models get unique trim, badging, wheels and interior fittings, including handsome brushed-metal trim and optional red leather upholstery.

New A-Spec gives TLX the Performance Edge It Needs

We were eager to drive the new A-Spec model, which pairs the V6 engine with a retuned suspension and steering system. We've driven plenty of cars with "sport tuned" suspensions that made little or no difference, but the A-Spec package completely transforms the TLX's road manners: With its firmer ride, tighter steering and deeper exhaust note, it filled us with happy memories of Japanese sport cars of the 1990s that had a substantial, hefty feel. Hefty, but not heavy: The TLX A-Spec feels light on its feet, displaying the agility that has endeared Acuras to us for many years. A skilled driver can get through the curves very, very quickly in the TLX A-Spec.

What impressed us most about the A-Spec is how well it complements the regular TLX. In our 2017 review, we didn't think the TLX's handling stood out from the crowd; with the advent of the A-Spec, it doesn't have to. The TLX A-Spec can please the most discriminating of driving enthusiasts, and that allows the regular TLX to be re-cast as a comfortable and quiet boulevard cruiser, one that handles competently but puts the emphasis on a smooth, steady ride.

V6 Model Needs More Power and a Better Transmission

Acura only had V6-powered TLXs for us to sample at the press preview, and we found the 3.5-liter engine a bit lacking. It's rated for 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, numbers that fall short of competitors' six-cylinder engines. And the TLX doesn't give the seat-of-the-pants feel we expect from a 300-ish horsepower engine. It's not slow; it just doesn't feel as quick as we expect.

Also booted from our Christmas list is the TLX's 9-speed automatic transmission. This is the same ZF-sourced transmission that gave Chrysler fits, and it doesn't behave any better in the TLX. It's slow to respond to part-throttle power requests, even in Sport mode; the driver has to give a deliberate stab of the pedal before the transmission snaps to attention and delivers a downshift. And it has an annoying habit of downshifting harshly when decelerating, making it difficult to stop the car smoothly. Honda, Acura's parent company, usually designs their transmissions in-house, and they do an excellent job. We hope the TLX's nine-speed will serve as a lesson about the evils of outsourcing.

Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive Really Is Super

One thing you won't hear us complaining about is Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system, which is optional on all TLX V6 models including the A-Spec. The name may be silly, but the SH-AWD system is seriously good, deftly and accurately shifting power between all four wheels in order to maximize traction. It works wonders in slippery situations like rain and snow, and it also does wonders for the TLX's handling and grip on dry pavement.

But there's one good reason not to buy SH-AWD: Front-drive TLXs come with Acura's four-wheel steering system, which improves the TLX's agility and gives it a more neutral feel than you'd expect from a front-wheel-drive platform. Acura calls the system Precision All-Wheel Steer -- P-AWS for short -- so buyers need not feel they are missing out on silly hyphenated acronyms.

Better Stereo and an Admirable Commitment to Safety

Acura has made a myriad of other improvements to the TLX, and we like all of them. The stereo is now compatible with Android Auto and Apple Car Play, and we like the way it works with the dual screens on the TLX's dashboard. Phone projection runs on the upper screen, while the lower screen hosts climate and other audio controls, so one can access all of the car's systems without shuffling through menus.

The interior hasn't changed much, but we like the improvements that have been made. The infotainment system has a new interface, and while it's still not our favorite system, it's a notable advance over the system in the outgoing TLX. The back seat isn't the roomiest in the class, but adults should be able to fit without too much complaining. The trunk has a wasp-waist shape that impedes storage space, but we do like the generous storage compartments under the trunk floor. We're pleased as ever with the high-quality interior fittings and the elegant wood trim in the Advance model, which goes nicely with the brown leather seats.

But we're most enthusiastic about Acura's commitment to safety. All 2018 Acura TLX models come standard with the AcuraWatch safety suite, which includes collision detection with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, and road-departure mitigation. Many of the TLX's competitors reserving these high-tech safety features for their most expensive trim levels; Acura (and parent company Honda) should be applauded for making AcuraWatch standard across the board.

Solid Value For Money

We also like the TLX's pricing and packaging. Anyone who has shopped for a high-end German luxury sedan knows that many of the most desirable features are extra-cost options, which can add thousands of dollars to the price. In contrast, the list of standard equipment on all TLX models is a long one: Along with the aforementioned AcuraWatch safety suite and Android/Apple compatibility, the TLX gets dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, heated and power-adjustable front seats, and a power moonroof. The Tech model adds genuine leather upholstery, navigation, blind-spot monitoring, an upgraded stereo and rain-sensing wipers, while the Advance model -- available exclusively with the V6 engine -- adds a surround-view camera, heated windshield, steering wheel and rear seats, cooled front seats, auto-dimming side mirrors, a wireless phone charger and other goodies. The A-Spec model is based on the Tech and adds a few extra comfort and convenience features.

Pricing starts at $33,950 (including destination charge) for the 2.4 liter front-drive model and tops out at $47,750 for an Advance V6 with all-wheel-drive. The A-Spec is priced at $43,750; as on other V6-powered models, SH-AWD is a $2,000 option. Compare the Acura TLX against competitors like the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3-Series and Lexus IS, and it compares favorably in terms of metal for money.

Overall, we like what Acura has done with the TLX. The styling changes certainly help to spruce up the exterior, and we love the long list of standard equipment and Acura's commitment to providing all TLX buyers with cutting-edge safety equipment. The new A-Spec model addresses one of our biggest complaints by bestowing the TLX with the driving excitement that was lacking in last year's TLX. Performance is still not best-in-class -- we'd like to see a more powerful engine and a better-behaved transmission -- but the 2018 Acura TLX is now an even more appealing package and a great value among its peers.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Acura TLX: First Drive Review - Autotrader