2017 Acura TLX Review

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The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
May 30, 2017

Buying tip

The base 2.4-liter inline-4 is our pick for the best balance and value in the Acura TLX. Consider it carefully before stepping up to the V-6 models.

The 2017 Acura TLX is a near-luxury competitor in a luxury field crowded with very good (and very pricey) cars with European badges on them.

The 2017 Acura TLX has a split personality. In one turn, it's a bright, nimble near-luxury sedan with an ample set of tech features and sharp handling. Another turn is a mid-size near-luxury heavyweight with an ample set of tech features.

Which version would you think costs more?

Now in its second year since it was new, the 2017 Acura TLX fights in a complex set of luxury competitors, despite feeling not-so-luxury itself. Its $32,840 price is on par with a Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class although it's just as big as C-Class or 3-Series. In that way, the TLX is a value in its competitive set—in other ways, it isn't.

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This year the TLX is largely the same as the 2016 model, but with three added exterior swatches.

Styling and performance

Depending on who you ask, and when, the Acura TLX is either average looking—or worse. The TLX obviously missed the new way for Acura when it was unveiled last year, so TLX buyers may wait a while before the company's new direction trickles down to the sedan.

In our view, the TLX still retains some of the old bottle-opener Acura beak and nondescript silhouette from the side. Rear haunches and a lipped trunk spoiler make promises the car doesn't deliver on, and the relatively plain interior isn't all that thrilling, either.

Not all the news is bad, though. In base configuration with a 206-horsepower inline-4, the TLX is bright and nimble, well-balanced and even tossable. Paying more doesn't get more. The 290-hp V-6 ditches the base 8-speed automatic that we like very much, and adding so-called "Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive" (V-6 only) adds weight—not outright cornering speed.

Powertrains in the TLX, briefly: get the V-6 to cruise; get the inline-4 to dash.

Quality, safety and features

The TLX may have the footprint of a compact, but its packaging and space is actually closer to a mid-size car.

The 106.5 cubic feet of interior passenger space may not be as spacious as a BMW 3-Series or C-Class, but its packaged in a way that makes sense for four passengers. Rear-seat passengers lose an inch of leg room to those European competitors, but gain in relative comfort thanks to a supremely quiet ride.

In crash tests, the TLX aced federal testing but a worrisome "Marginal" score by the IIHS in the small-overlap front crash test is its only blemish.

Cars equipped with a V-6 can be fitted with an advanced suite of safety systems including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and parking assistants. The bad news? Those features are part of a $3,200 package and can't be added a la carte.

The only other option for many TLX buyers is whether to opt for a $4,000 tech package that adds navigation, a premium stereo, blind-spot monitors, forward collision warnings, and leather upholstery to 4- or 6-cylinder models. That's a rich feature set, but even base cars are handsomely equipped too. Every TLX comes with Bluetooth connectivity, moonroof, power adjustable seats, keyless ignition, and more.

Despite having 50 percent more cylinders, the V-6 isn't much thirstier, thanks to a 9-speed automatic. Base front-drive cars manage 28 mpg combined, all-wheel-drive versions manage just 25 mpg combined.

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2017 Acura TLX

Styling

Depending on who/when you ask, the Acura TLX is only average—or worse.

Exterior styling at Acura may be a flash point. Very clearly, the brand is heading in a different direction than the bottle-opener beaks from yesteryear, but the TLX is stuck in a moment. Stuck in between very good-looking cars from parent-company Honda, and very good-looking newer cars from Acura, the TLX is Stealers Wheel: "Stuck in the middle with you."

We gave the 2017 Acura TLX a 4 out of 10 because its exterior just isn't distinctive, and the interior is just average. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The TLX sports a toned-down version of the Acura shield-shaped grille with a vaguely beak-like chrome bar flanked by a pair of narrow "jewel-like" LED headlights. Running lights set low in the bumper and air intakes below those add depth and presence.

In profile, the TLX is arched and aggressive—almost coupe-like—if it weren't for a long roomy center section that creates a spacious cabin. Flared rear fenders and a lipped spoiler on the trunk hint at sporting potential (which it doesn't realize). Twin exhausts obscured by the rear bumper are more the TLX speed, and we don't mind their subtlety.

The interior is handsome too—at least for the driver, who is faced by an attractive and easy-to-read instrument cluster and dual-screen center stack that appear high-tech and suited to the car’s price. The front passenger, however, is faced by a bleak and awkward expanse of empty black dashboard that extends from the knees all the way up to the windshield.

The rear seat is equally plain, though the materials convey something of a premium feel. Leather upholstery and trim comes with the higher-end V-6 models, which aids the impression a bit as well.

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2017 Acura TLX

Performance

The best version is base; paying more doesn't get you more either.

Acura hasn't changed the three powertrain options for the TLX since it was new in 2015. That may not sound like much of a change, but we've found that the cars handle and drive dramatically different depending on drive and engine configuration.

We gave the 2017 Acura TLX a 5 out of 10 on our scale based on its above average ride and handling, but took points away for a finicky top-end transmission and relatively underwhelming engine options. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The base powertrain may be the sharpest and most crisp for every day driving. The 2.4-liter inline-4 makes 206 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque that is shifted through an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic. It's a rev-happy engine, and we particularly like the transmission here because it retains a torque converter that eliminates any herky-jerkiness from the transmission, and upshifts (and downshifts) like a traditional automatic.

Yes, we understand that Acura calls a version of the TLX "super handling." Yes, we understand that 206 hp is less than 290 hp. And yes, we get that the 2.4-liter is front-drive only. But no, paying more doesn't necessarily get you more.

Compared to the 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6, the smaller engine in the TLX feels sharper and more tossable. The 3.5-liter V-6 comes in front- or all-wheel-drive configuration, mated to a more conventional 9-speed automatic that isn't better because it has one more forward cog. 

The 9-speed mitigates a huge mileage penalty for more power, but that transmission is indecisive and can be caught flat-footed. The extra gear does little to improve the experience, while its programming contrasts badly with the 8-speed DCT's refined brilliance. Shifts become jerky, slow, and lazy; downshifts lack zing; and, remarkably, you can wait seconds before anything at all happens when switching from reverse into drive.

Adding Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system doesn't solve many problems either. Although adding SH-AWD eliminates some of the wheelspin we found in front-drive V-6 cars, the added 300 pounds of running gear saps most of the power gain.

That's why we felt the base TLX sang the sweetest as we flung it through curving, twisting, switch-backed two-lane roads. A good 500 pounds lighter than the top-spec version, the base TLX feels lighter than any other, and the brilliant suspension tuning keeps the steering taut and accurate and the car composed over bumps, flat at the apexes, and ready to accelerate out of corners at the top of the engine's abilities. Low-speed nimbleness gains from the Precision All-Wheel Steer system that's standard on the 2.4-liter version, and it also enhances stability at freeway speeds (and higher).

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2017 Acura TLX

Comfort & Quality

Good front seats and good cargo capacity, but the Acura TLX still falls down compared to others in the class.

The 2017 Acura TLX sports a relatively large cabin for such a compact footprint, thanks in part to the changes Acura made in 2015 when the car was all new.

The available space fares well next to competitors in its segment, including the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

We gave the Acura TLX an 7 out of 10 for comfort and quality, thanks to good front seats and relatively good cargo capacity. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Between the wheels, the TLX has 109.3 inches, and 73 inches between left and right tires. Total passenger volume is 106.5 cubic feet (107.6 cubic feet with Advance Package), which is less than the 113.2 cubic feet found in the BMW 3-Series, but packaged differently. The TLX even manages very good interior storage with a number of door bins, a large center console and glove box.

Rear-seat passengers get 34.5 inches of leg room, which is less than the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3-Series, which both come in at roughly 1 inch more, but are upwards of 5 inches longer in length. 

The TLX does better than nearly any other car on the market—and certainly as well as or better than any car in its competitive set—in quiet, hushed travel. Below 80 mph, wind and road noise are almost non-existent, providing a serene driving experience that permits conversations at normal volumes and takes some of the subtle stress out of longer road trips.

That adds to a luxury experience, but the Acura TLX still falls short of shouting top-tier. While the (related) Honda Accord has gone decidedly more upscale, the TLX languishes a little by comparison. Its design falls short of the style-meets-comfort aesthetic found in more-expensive competitors. From the dual-screen infotainment layout, through the comfortable but unremarkable seats, to the rather plain and bleak passenger side of the dashboard, Acura is still a world away from standouts like the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

It's not that the TLX disappoints, exactly, but it doesn't make as good a first (or second) impression—even when leather is used to wrap many surfaces in the upper-tier trim levels.

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2017 Acura TLX

Safety

The TLX aced federal testing; IIHS testing has one blemish.

The Acura TLX has very good crash scores, with one blemish from the IIHS in their testing.

We gave the TLX a 7 out of 10 on our rating for a very good federal results. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

It's too early for official IIHS data for this year, but considering its similarity to last year's model, we're confident in carrying over the scores from last year. The Acura TLX has been given top "Good" scores in every category except the small overlap front crash test, where it only scored a "Marginal" rating. When equipped with optional safety equipment, the TLX has received a "Superior" rating for its front-crash prevention.

Federal testers have given the 2017 Acura TLX a five-star overall rating (out of five) and five stars across the board. You can't do better than that.

During a test drive of the 2015 Acura TLX, we found the lane-departure warning and active lane-keeping assist systems both easy to use and effective, though they're still not quite there for semi-autonomous use. Instead, they provide extra information for drivers, who need to stay aware of the circumstances around them.

Several option packages offer more features, including several that we tested. Upgrade a TLX with the Technology or Advance package, or specify the V-6, and you'll get lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors and rear traffic alerts.

Standard safety features include seven airbags, traction and stability control, anti-lock braking, brake assist, LED daytime running lights, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, and more.

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2017 Acura TLX

Features

Equipped well in base trims, the TLX can heap on advanced safety packages and technology add-ons.

The 2017 Acura TLX carries over its strong set of advanced packages that will appeal to tech-centric buyers looking for a luxury car staring at around $33,000.

We gave the TLX an 8 out 10 on our scale for a good base setup, good infotainment system, and excellent optional equipment. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Every TLX includes LED daytime running lights, a power moonroof, power adjustable front seats, keyless ignition, plus conveniences such as hill start assist, cruise control, automatic headlights, and heated side mirrors with reverse gear tilt-down.

Apple's Siri Eyes Free is available in base cars, but not CarPlay, which is quickly becoming the norm for many luxury cars. Luckily, Bluetooth connectivity is available, and the standard sound system is a seven-speaker unit with satellite radio with USB connections.

Stepping up to the Technology Package in 4- or 6-cylinder cars add rain-sensing windshield wipers, high-tech safety systems such as lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, and rear traffic alert. On top of that are a full navigation system with 3-D view, real-time traffic data, AcuraLink infotainment, a premium Acura/ELS Studio audio system with 10 speakers, HD Radio, and more.

For buyers who want further features and equipment, the Advance Package bundles not only everything that's in the Technology package but also adds adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, front and rear parking sensors; and heated and ventilated seats—among other extras.

We'd prefer that Acura made many of those extras available outside of pricey packages, but officials haven't yet received our letter. Apparently.

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2017 Acura TLX

Fuel Economy

No advanced powertrains are available, but the Acura TLX is comparatively fuel efficient in most configurations.

The 2017 Acura TLX isn't a standout in its segment for fuel economy because it lacks alternative or hybrid powertrains. Thankfully, the two engines here are relatively fuel efficient.

We gave the TLX a 7 out of 10 on our ratings scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

According to the EPA, the most frugal TLX manages 24 mpg city, 35 highway, 28 combined with a 2.4-liter inline-4, 8-speed automatic and front drive.

Higher-end models mitigate a thirstier V-6 with a 9-speed automatic and manage 21/34/25 mpg in front-drive configuration, 21/31/25 mpg in all-wheel-drive configuration.

Overall, the TLX should be adequately efficient on highway trips or longer commutes. But its mediocre city ratings keep it from earning any green credentials—and buyers should note that premium gasoline is recommended in all scenarios.

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6.3
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 4
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 7
Features 8
Fuel Economy 7
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