Acura TLX aims to balance size, performance
Exec: Sedan inherits strengths of TL, TSX
MIDDLEBURG, Va. -- Acura has an ambitious mandate for its new TLX: Replace two outgoing sedans and claw back some prestige for the brand.
The TLX replaces the mid-sized TL and compact TSX sedans in Acura's lineup. Ten years ago, Acura sold more than 77,000 TLs in the United States. But as the sedan evolved into a larger vehicle with more polarizing design, sales dwindled, to just 24,318 last year.
Mike Accavitti, senior vice president of Acura Division, said the TL got too big, and its size betrayed its performance capability. The TSX's size was right, but it lacked true performance chops.
"With the TLX, we have now a car that delivers the right proportion with the right performance," Accavitti said.
The basics: While the TLX is derived from the same global mid-sized platform that underpins the Honda Accord, the sedan is more than a dressed-up version of Honda's family sedan.
The body is made mainly of high-strength steel and has 21 percent greater torsional stiffness than the outgoing TL. Foam is injected into 10 places between the exterior sheet metal and the underlying body, mainly around the A- and C-pillars, to reduce cabin noise.
The entry-level TLX is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with direct injection that produces more peak horsepower and torque than the TSX. The rev-happy i-VTEC engine is combined with a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission with torque converter. The gearbox shifts 33 percent faster than on the TSX's five-speed automatic, Acura says, and the torque converter smoothes the jerky starts associated with many dual-clutch transmissions.
The engine and gearbox seem made for each other. While 206 hp might seem light considering the TLX's nearly 3,500-pound curb weight, the dual-clutch transmission's quick, crisp gear shifts and smart shift mapping make the engine more than happy to charge through curves at between 4,000 and 6,500 rpm, where sporty Honda four-bangers have long been at their best.
An optional direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 also adds more power and torque to the outgoing TL's base V-6. The smooth-revving engine is combined with a new, Acura-first nine-speed automatic transmission sourced from the gearbox gurus at ZF Friedrichshafen. That gearbox is 66 pounds lighter and boosts highway fuel economy by 5 mpg.
Notable features: TLXs with the 2.4-liter or 3.5-liter come standard with the latest iteration of Acura's Precision All-Wheel Steer system, which provides subtle steering of the rear wheels to enhance maneuverability. Hardware and software improvements on this version make the car more nimble at low speeds and more stable at high speeds.
On high-line V-6 models, starting at $42,345 including shipping, the TLX is available with Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, which has been overhauled with new software and a smaller rear differential that's 25 percent lighter than the TL's unit.
Loaded models with V-6 and all-wheel drive feel glued to the road, even while barreling over the major humps in rural Virginia's back roads during a media event here last week. And even though plenty of cars have "sport" modes that promise a more engaging drive experience at the push of a button, Acura's system delivers the goods.
The TLX also has about a dozen electronic driver aids and active safety systems.
What Acura says: The TLX marks big improvements in balancing size with performance, in introducing new technology and in boosting the brand's prestige, Accavitti said. "The TLX is positioned squarely in the heart of the competitive set now. It's going to really help put Acura back into the thick of the race in the mid-sized class."
Shortcomings and compromises: Designwise, the TLX is handsome yet not striking. Its front-wheel-drive architecture precludes the kind of strong cab-rearward posture seen on competing sport sedans from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even Lexus.
Road noise, a longtime drawback of Honda and Acura sedans, is vastly improved from the outgoing model, but wind noise still creeps in around the A-pillars. High-end sedans from Hyundai and Kia have quieter cabins.
The market: Accavitti said TLX sales should easily outpace those of the outgoing TL and TSX, which combined for 41,802 last year, and could challenge the MDX crossover as Acura's top seller. A sedan hasn't achieved that since before the global financial crisis, he added.
The skinny: Capable of high-revving fun or comfortable cruising depending on the driver's mood, the TLX has a dual personality.
And that's a good thing. It's a major improvement from the outgoing TL and should have incremental sales growth.
Hans Greimel contributed to this report.
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