2021 Acura TLX Pros and Cons Review: Solid Contender, But a Disrupter?

2021 Acura TLX Pros and Cons Review: Solid Contender, But a Disrupter?

11/10/2020

Pro

  • Sporty design
  • Value
  • High-quality interior details

Con

  • Lazy transmission
  • Below-average mpg
  • Cozy back seat

It’s best not to judge a car by its design, but sometimes we can’t help it. The 2021 Acura TLX’s more premium proportions and sporty detailing instantly distinguish the luxury sport sedan from its predecessor. But, there’s more to the picture than just styling.

Priced like a compact luxury sedan from Europe but built closer to a midsize, the Acura makes a compelling value play. But as a ‘tweener, getting a sense of where it actually resides in the market can be a challenge.

View Other 2021 Car Of The Year Contenders And Finalists Here

After driving our all-wheel-drive A-Spec-trimmed test car on the track, testing director Kim Reynolds said: “There’s a very mild but nice tremble to the steering that gives it an alive feeling, but the best quality is how enthusiastically it turns in.”

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With a standard 272-hp turbo-four engine, the 2021 TLX will beat with the heart of a turbocharged V-6 in Type S form (when it arrives in spring 2021). Both engines are mated to a 10-speed automatic that—at least with a 2.0T four-cylinder engine—produced divergent opinions among the MotorTrend staff. A couple editors didn’t have an issue with the transmission tuning, but others found its gearshifts subpar compared to European and Korean competitors.

“The engine makes good power, but the gearing of this transmission is far too tall and shifts far too slow to make good use of it,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. “The TLX’s sheetmetal is writing checks this car just can’t cash.”

Associate road test editor Erick Ayapana agreed, saying he “would enjoy this car more if the gearbox was more responsive.”

Then again, if the transmission were more responsive, the fuel economy might dip even further into irrelevance. As it is, the 2021 TLX 2.0T is less efficient than many competitors, including the Audi A4 and Alfa Romeo Giulia.

At least AWD is available on both engines, not something the last-gen TLX offered. (Front-wheel drive is standard.) And as with other Acuras, value remains a strong point—even though this new car carries an MSRP thousands above its predecessor. For less than $40,000, a base 2021 TLX includes LED headlights, real aluminum trim, a 10.2-inch infotainment system, a 10-speaker sound system, heated front seats, and AcuraWatch active safety and convenience tech. It’s a sharp-looking interior.

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That 10.2-inch infotainment interface isn’t a touchscreen; instead, it is manipulated via a touchpad controller on the center console whose learning curve and distracting nature divided the staff. As someone who spent a year in a 2019 RDX with a similar system, I know the system’s one-to-one touchpad-to-screen-space mapping can make things easier than tasks might be with a Lexus touchpad. But most judges felt other automakers’ touchscreen or scroll-wheel systems provide superior interfaces.

However, few cars will feel as well-screwed-together as the Acura.

“First impression of the cabin is excellent,” senior features editor Jonny Lieberman said. “All the usual Acura stuff is here, but it looks high-quality. It even feels like quality. The A-Spec steering wheel is the steering wheel BMW owners have been dreaming of for a decade—beefy without being needlessly fat.”

Great, but the new 2021 TLX can’t overcome its issues of efficiency or performance of intended function. When we crowned the Genesis G70 our 2019 Car of the Year, the car wowed us with its remarkable balance—here’s a small sedan that’s engaging to drive but still has a good ride and premium feel.

The Acura doesn’t inspire the same praise from our staff.  The TLX confidently splits a couple well-stocked segments of smartly equipped luxury sport sedans, and we appreciate the TLX 2.0T for what it is—a good premium option with sporty styling and value but without the chops to back up its looks.

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