- Mid-size room in small footprint
- Lavish high-tech options
- Super 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox
- All-wheel drive available
- No manual gearbox offered
- Interior materials not particularly premium
- Sayonara, TSX wagon
The 2016 Acura TLX is light on luxury feel, but it has great interior space, lots of technology, and in its base version, supremely enjoyable performance and handling.
The 2016 Acura TLX sedan straddles two size segments, replacing two previous Acura models—the TL and TSX—in a car that has the interior volume of a mid-size car in a footprint closer to that of a compact sedan. It also offers a lavish array of new technology features, representing strong value for money in the near-premium class—but it's not quite a luxurious car, which separates it substantially from evocative new entries like the Benz CLA-Class.
The design adopts some of the styling cues from the larger Acura RLX sedan, including distinctive rows of LEDs in the headlamps and more underlining the side mirrors. Exaggerated fender outlines and a toned-down version of the brand's horizontal silver "beak" make an otherwise handsome but generic sedan shape a bit more distinctive. Not everyone will like it, but few will find if offensive.
A variety of engines, transmissions, and drive systems are mixed and matched to create three distinct models. The base model is powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 putting out 206 horsepower, coupled to a new 8-speed, dual-clutch transmission with the unusual addition of a torque converter. The effect is to smooth out all of the jerky tendencies of a typical dual-clutch, while knocking out fast, crisp shifts—whether you're driving with spirit or just loafing along with ease. The inline-4 TLX comes only with front-wheel drive.
The two higher-level models are powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 option, good for 290 hp. Both engines use direct injection and variable valve timing to make the most of their displacements. But the V-6 is paired to a 9-speed automatic transmission, and while the extra gears in the 9-speed sound impressive, in our time with the car we found it to be a hesitant, pokey gearbox. It was often late to the party when quick acceleration was needed—on those fast uphill highway merges, for instance. Its less-sporting character is indicated by its push-button interface in the center console.
But only the V-6 offers buyers the option of all-wheel drive. Specifically, it's the awkwardly named Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), which employs torque-vectoring control to assist with stable and predictable cornering. If you stick with front-wheel drive, whether with the inline-4 or the V-6, the car includes the ability to steer the rear wheels slightly via actuators, a setup like that on the luxury RLX four-door. In another awkward acronym, Acura calls the system Precision All-Wheel Steer.
In our drives of various TLX test cars, we found the front-drive four-cylinder to be the most rewarding driver's car in the lineup. Its immaculately balanced chassis delivers remarkably settled, predictable handling. The V-6 feels heavy and a bit more sluggish when cornering, a feeling exacerbated by the sluggish powertrain. All models are fitted with a four-mode driver-selectable system that alters steering weight, throttle response, and shift mapping to give it a more comfort- or sport-oriented feel.
While it also replaces the TSX—which was essentially the Honda Accord sold to Europeans—the new TLX is more like the outgoing TL in size. It rides on the same 109.3-inch wheelbase, but is almost 4 inches shorter overall. Despite that, it has roughly the same interior volume as the TL, good for five passengers. The cabin is also commendably quiet, employing active noise cancellation to deliver all-but-silent driving up to 70 mph.
On the safety front, the TLX misses a clean sweep of the safety ratings. It offers plenty of standard or optional safety equipment, including lane keeping systems, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitors, and those offerings made it an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ last year—but new data moves its small-overlap front-impact score down to "Marginal." The TLX gets five stars in every test category from the NHTSA.
Standard equipment on every TLX includes LED daytime running lights, plus conveniences such as hill start assist, cruise control, automatic headlights, and heated side mirrors with reverse gear tilt-down. Siri Eyes Free interface is standard, as is integrated text message and email capability, Bluetooth phone connectivity and streaming audio. The sound system has seven standard speakers, along with Sirius XM radio and USB/iPod audio interface, and more.
The TLX lineup starts with a front-drive, four-cylinder engine with an 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which earns a rating of 24 mpg city, 35 highway, 28 combined. The two V-6 engines, which are separated by front- or all-wheel drive manage similar ratings, according to the EPA: 21/34/25 mpg for front-drive, 21/31/25 mpg for all-wheel drive.