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.