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2018 Acura TLX A-Spec: Midsize sedan adds a little sport and a lot of fine

2018 Acura TLX 26.JPG
2018 Acura TLX A-Spec (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

We were running errands in the 2018 Acura TLX A-Spec when my husband asked his usual question: “What do you think of it?”

“It’s fine,” I replied.

“So, basically, you think it’s boring, huh?” he asked.

No. But yes. I guess.

Over the years I’ve really liked Acura. It has a little bit of luxury backed by Honda reliability and some really nice styling. But in recent years, I’ve simply found most Acura vehicles to be, well, fine.


I’m not sure when my disenchantment with Acura began. Perhaps with the launch of the all-new Honda Civic – which is both attractive and amazing.

The lines between the brands are a bit blurry for me right now, and I don’t understand why I’d buy a TLX when I could get a completely redesigned comparably equipped Honda Accord for $8K less.

Design

The TLX tester was an A-Spec model, which pushed the design aspect of the vehicle beyond “fine.”

With this package, you get sportier and more aggressive exterior styling that includes a restyled front and rear bumpers, a dark chrome grille, round exhaust outlets, gloss black rear spoiler, exclusive 19-inch Shark Gray wheels and A-Spec badging.

Inside you’ll see Alcantara door and seat inserts, metallic trim, red accent lighting, heated-and-cooled front seats and red-on-black gauges.

Basically, all-around cool styling.


Outside of the A-Spec packaging, I did like the general looks of the TLX exterior with the hood ridges and hard lines. Plus, I’m just all around obsessed with the new Acura grille.

Oh, and for the record, if you aren’t going to have a manual transmission, the push-button gearing does look pretty slick – even if it takes a bit of getting used to.

One thing I did not like on the inside, however, is the dual screen on the center stack. I was a bit confused about which screen should house which data, and it looked a bit clunky with the bubble popping up over the dash. I’d prefer one, large nicely integrated screen to two mismatched ones.

To be fair, the only automaker I’ve seen master the two-screen system is Land Rover in the all-new Ranger Rover Velar, which has a base price of $50,895.

Ride & Handling

This is where we head back to “fine” territory. Not that there’s anything wrong with fine. I just somehow wanted – and expected – more from the TLX.

And that’s saying something because the test vehicle was an A-Spec model, equipped with the up-level V-6 engine that delivers 290 horsepower.


While this is certainly enough power to move through traffic and make aggressive merges, it somehow didn’t seem special. It didn’t give my stomach butterflies with acceleration, and I didn’t feel like I was driving a sporty car.

But. I will say it never begged for more power. It didn’t lack confidence in passing maneuvers. And I never heard too much engine whine enter the cabin under aggressive acceleration.

So maybe that takes it a bit beyond fine.

The base engine in the TLX is a 2.4-liter, inline 4-cylinder engine that delivers 206 horsepower.

TLX offers both front- and all-wheel-drive powertrains, but curiously, you can only get the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive ($2,000) if you opt for the V-6 engine ($3,200).

Also of note for the enthusiast: Both engines are matched with automatic transmissions – an 8-speed dual-clutch for the 4-cylinder and a 9-speed automatic with the V-6. When the TLX replaced the TL in 2015, the available manual transmission went away.


Fuel economy

The Acura TLX has varying fuel economy estimates depending on the engine and drive type. The city/highway/combined mileage is as follows:

  • 4-cylinder: 23/33/27 mpg
  • V-6, FWD: 20/32/24 mpg
  • V-6, AWD: 21/30/24 mpg

The A-Spec model additional has some different numbers, and are as follows:

  • V-6 FWD: 20/30/23
  • V-6, AWD: 20/29/23

I had the A-Spec model with the SH-AWD, and I got nowhere near those numbers with an average of 13.9 mpg in combined driving.

Tech & gadgets

One of the coolest bits of technology on the TLX is the AcuraWatch safety system, which is standard across the board, and includes things such as lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. Previously these features were all a part of up-level option packages.

Other tech features on the TLX include Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and the on-demand multi-use display (aka the main screen on the center stack) as well as available features such as navigation, wireless charging and a surround-view camera.


Trims

One of the nice things about TLX – and something that the Accord does not offer – is the available all-wheel drive (called SH-AWD in Acura speak). It comes in every trim, but requires the up-level V-6 engine, so at a minimum, if you want AWD, you’ll spend $39,165.

Standard ($33,965): The standard engine at this level is the 2.4-liter, inline-4, though the 3.5-liter V-6 is available. Other standard features include leatherette seats, 10-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start, driver’s-side passive entry, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, Bluetooth hands-free phone pairing, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a multi-view rear camera.

Technology Package ($37,665): This trim adds features such as sport seats with premium leather trim, GPS-linked automatic climate control, four-door passive entry, HD Radio, navigation, traffic routing, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

A-Spec ($43,765): At this level, the V-6 engine is standard. This is effectively the sport trim of the lineup and adds things such as a restyled front bumper and intake, dark chrome grille and trim, 19-inch Shark Gray wheels, round LED fog lights, black Alcantara or red leather seats, red accent lighting, red-on-black gauges, heated and ventilated front seats and various A-Spec badging throughout the vehicle.

Advance Package ($44,715): This top-tier trim adds heated outboard rear seats, a heated steering wheel, white accent lighting and a remote start engine.


Safety

One of the really great things about the TLX is it has some excellent standard and available safety tech. Starting at the standard trim, you’ll get features such as a multi-view rear camera, collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation and tire pressure monitoring.

Available features included in either the Tech or Advance trims are the surround view camera, front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

This translates into an overall 5-Star safety rating from NHTSA and mostly “Good” crash-test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It only received an “Acceptable” rating for the driver’s side, small front overlap test, and it hasn’t been rated yet in the passenger side test.

Not sure what the safety ratings mean? We break it down for you here.


New for 2018

TLX gets a refresh for 2018, featuring standard AcuraWatch, the new dual-screen user interface, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay compatibility and the new Acura diamond pentagon grille. The A-Spec model is also new for this model year.

A few of my favorite things

I really liked the styling on the TLX A-Spec – especially the nose. I’m totally obsessed with the new Acura grille, and it works quite well on this midsize sedan.

What I can leave

It is a rare automaker that can employ a dual screen on the center stack and make it work. Acura doesn’t quite manage it, and this is my least favorite feature on the car.

While the A-Spec trim is nice with its sporty accents, I don’t feel there’s enough differentiation between the TLX and the Honda Accord to warrant spending the extra dough to jump to the “luxury” brand.


The bottom line

I like the Acura TLX. It’s not in any way a bad car. It has a lot of excellent safety tech, an attractive design and some really decent reliability. Just like the all-new Honda Accord. So, at the end of the day, I have a hard time justifying the extra money it takes to buy the TLX over the Accord.

The only difference – and potential saving grace – is the fact that TLX offers AWD, whereas Accord does not.

With the launch of the RDX Prototype at the Detroit Auto Show, I see some changes on the horizon for Acura, and I’m hopeful we’ll see more luxury and a better justification for spending lux-level money on the brand sometime soon.

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