Review update: Improved 2021 Acura TLX missed its chance for greatness

Few buyers care about Acura’s sedans. They come for the crossover SUVs. The solution? A sharp-looking sport sedan in the form of a redesigned 2021 TLX.

Previewed in 2019 as the Acura Type S concept, the 2021 TLX rides on a new architecture with a new suspension and an attractive design that brims with emotion.

But it won’t be enough. I recently spent a week with the 2021 Acura TLX, pushing it around clover leafs, studying it from various angles, and playing with every knob, button, and touch pad to accept the reality it’s too compromised. Here’s where it hits and where it misses.

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

Hit: First impressions are good

The TLX looks sharp inside and out. It borders on pretty. The jewel-like LED headlights speak to me, and that grille is no longer an obnoxious shield or beak. Inside, some NSX vibes on the dashboard add to the car’s sporty intentions.

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX rear suspension subframe

2021 Acura TLX rear suspension subframe

2021 Acura TLX double wishbone front suspension

2021 Acura TLX double wishbone front suspension

Hit: A sport sedan suspension

After less than a mile behind the wheel of the TLX it became clear where the money was spent—on the suspension. The double wishbone front suspension is well tuned and pairs well with the sharp electric power steering. My SH-AWD Advance tester’s adjustable dampers provided comfortable, and varying, ride quality that was never too firm and always controlled. It’s too bad, however, that Acura didn’t take advantage of that suspension with better balance. The dash-to-axle ratio is longer and the cabin is moved rearward, but the engine still sits over the front axle and it hasn’t moved back. That change could’ve made the TLX and upcoming TLX Type S great sport sedans.

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2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

Miss: Obnoxious sounds

In normal day-to-day driving in Comfort mode, the 272-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 sounds like most turbo-4s, which is to say less than refined. The issue is compounded on cold starts. But put the car in Sport mode and the audio system pipes in noise to elevate the emotion. It’s intrusive on conversation and borders on laughable as it just adds noise without more power. It’s so obnoxious that I wouldn’t tolerate it in day-to-day driving.

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

Hit: It’s comfortable

It doesn’t matter which of the four main seats you find yourself in, the TLX is comfortable. The front seats hug you in the right places without being overly aggressive. The rear seats have adult-rated knee room and leg room with bottom cushions that are more supportive than those of the A4. However, while the car is 2.9 inches longer than the outgoing model, the rear seat doesn’t gain leg room because the whole cabin has moved rearward. Acura missed a chance here: Either move the engine back to improve balance or create a larger cabin for more space.

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

Miss: It drinks gas

The 2.0-liter turbo-4 in the TLX isn’t efficient. My all-wheel-drive tester’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 21 mpg city, 29 highway, and 24 combined simply don’t line up with German competitors, which crest 30 mpg even with 6-cylinder engines. It’s even worse in the real world. Over the course of 156 miles of mixed driving, I saw an unimpressive average of 19.2 mpg. Other automakers have done better with turbo-4s, and Acura should be able to match them.

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX

Hit: Strong power

The 272-hp turbo-4 is a detuned version of the engine in the Honda Civic Type-R. It drinks gas because it taps into turbo boost quite often. Conversely, the power is readily accessible. It comes on strong early and remains available throughout the rev range. Acura doesn’t quote a 0 to 60 mph sprint, but it’s probably in the high 5-second range.

Miss: Atrocious infotainment system

The single worst aspect of the TLX is the infuriating infotainment system. Yes, it becomes slightly easier to use over time, but it’s still one of the worst infotainment systems on the market. The system uses absolute positioning that controls the main screen based on the position where you touch the touchpad. While you don’t have to follow a cursor around the screen, you still have to look at the touchpad and/or screen while driving, which is distracting. Worse, the interface doesn’t carry over into the Apple CarPlay screen, requiring you to then revert to a Lexus-like style of scrolling around the touchpad which is also not ideal. Touchscreens or scroll wheels should be used by all manufacturers. Please, enough with this touchpad nonsense!

The 2021 Acura TLX could’ve been what Acura wanted it to be, but it’s not. It’s really attractive, and the suspension and new chassis are great. But the engine didn’t move back like it should have, and that’s before we address the barely tolerable infotainment system. Acura’s headed down a better path, but we need to course correct a bit more to really get people to take notice.

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2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance

Base price: $38,525
Price as tested: $49,325
EPA fuel economy: 21/29/24 mpg
The hits: Sharp design, NSX vibes, great suspension, comfortable seats, ready power
The misses: Bad infotainment system, inefficient, the engine should have moved

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