Autotrader: The 2021 Acura TLX is better, sportier, and still a deal

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The Acura TLX is all-new for 2021, marking the second generation of this sedan by Honda’s
HMC,
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luxury division. As before, the TLX blurs lines in terms of size, being larger than premium compact sedans like the Audi A4, Lexus IS, and BMW
BMW,
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3 Series, and closer to a midsize executive sedan like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Everything else about the 2021 Acura TLX has been improved. Starting with its heart, the new TLX has replaced its former base 4-cylinder and optional V6 with a potent turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. Handling and performance have been markedly improved, especially if you opt for Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system. The newest TLX offering is the high-performance Acura TLX Type S.

Inside and out, the TLX has a sportier yet more mature look, with new technology, quality materials, and thoughtful amenities that make everyday life easier. Unlike some rivals, a full suite of active safety and driver-assistance systems is standard, meaning you won’t have to pay extra for conveniences like adaptive cruise control.

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Starting at $37,500, the new and improved Acura TLX is priced higher than the outgoing model, but still represents a deal compared with other, smaller compact luxury sport sedans.

What’s new?

The Acura TLX is all-new for 2021 and represents its second generation. It is longer, wider, and lower than the previous model, and replaces the prior TLX’s standard 2.4-liter engine and optional V6 with a turbocharged 4-cylinder that made its debut in the Acura RDX crossover. The new TLX gains other fresh features from the RDX, including an infotainment system with 10.2-inch high-def display and touchpad control, plus the excellent ELS audio system.

The new Acura TLX Type S features a 355-horsepower turbo V6 and standard all-wheel drive. 

What we like
  • Potent new engine

  • Standard AcuraWatch safety system

  • Great driving manners

  • Excellent value

  • Standard technology

  • Sporty new TLX Type S

What we don’t
  • Smallish rear seat and trunk for its size

  • Still front-drive architecture

How much?

$37,500- est. $52,000 (plus $1,025 destination charge.)

Fuel economy

This latest-gen Acura TLX uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. These are impressive numbers – well above those of the former naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 4-cylinder engine, and more in line with what you’d get in a V6.

Also new is a 10-speed automatic transmission that aids fuel economy. In front-wheel-drive (FWD) form, the 2021 Acura TLX is estimated to earn 22 miles per gallon city/31 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined. With all-wheel drive (AWD), the TLX’s fuel economy is estimated at 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. We expect the new TLX Type S to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

Like other new cars, the Acura TLX uses a start/stop system that shuts off the engine at idle, such as at traffic stops, and restarts when you take your foot off the brake pedal. The system can be disabled with the touch of a button. Like other luxury cars, premium unleaded gasoline is recommended for the Acura TLX.

Standard features and options

The 2021 Acura TLX comes in four trims: Standard, Technology Package, A-Spec Package, and Advance Package. Aside from the option of all-wheel drive ($2,000) to any model, major features are tied to each trim level, and with each step up, you get more.

The 2021 Acura TLX Standard ($37,500) includes leatherette upholstery, heated and 12-way power-adjustable front seats, keyless entry with push-button start, 18-inch wheels with high-performance all-season tires, dual-zone climate control, moonroof, and LED lights.

The 2021 TLX’s standard tech features include a 7-inch digital screen in the instrument cluster and a 10.2-inch central display with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, over-the-air updates, and 10-speaker premium audio system with twin subwoofers.

The Acura TLX Technology ($41,500) adds leather seats, 19-in wheels, navigation, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, adjustable ambient lighting, and a 13-speaker premium ELS audio system.

The Acura TLX A-Spec ($44,250) has a sportier appeal with blacked-out exterior accents, darkened taillights, decklid lip spoiler, and flat-bottom steering wheel. It also adds ventilated front seats, an incredible-sounding 17-speaker ELS audio system, wireless phone charging cradle, LED fog lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers and remote engine start.

The Acura TLX Advance ($46,300) adds a color heads-up display, adaptive damper suspension, heated steering wheel and rear seats, surround-view camera, front windshield de-icer, 16-way adjustable front seats, and open-pore wood trim.

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As for the upcoming Acura TLX Type S ($52,300) this potent sport sedan has AWD with torque vectoring, 16-way sport seats trimmed in Ultrasuede, and a Sport+ driving mode that helps the driver extra the best performance out of the vehicle. The Type S also has a 17-speaker ELS audio system.

Safety

All 2021 Acura TLX models include the brand’s AcuraWatch, a suite of active safety and driver-assist systems including forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, road departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow. New for 2021 is traffic sign recognition, driver-attention monitor, expanded pedestrian detection, and Traffic Jam Assist.

All models except the base Acura TLX also include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and the topline Advance includes a surround-view camera system.

As the TLX is all-new for 2021, it has yet to be rated for crash-testing by NHTSA and the IIHS.

Behind the wheel

The 2021 Acura TLX feels like a markedly different vehicle than the one before. And the difference is a significant improvement. Whereas the outgoing Acura TLX was competent, it didn’t stand out, especially compared with rivals like the Audi A4, Lexus IS, and BMW 3 Series. This one does.

To put it succinctly, everything is better. The new turbo engine enables quick acceleration, and the Honda-designed 10-speed transmission is well matched. The brakes and pedal feel is another highlight. They feel strong and grant the kind of confidence you want in spirited driving.

Speaking of that, the new TLX is markedly more athletic and fun to drive. Our time was spent in all-wheel-drive variants, and we suggest spending the extra $2,000 for AWD if you are the kind of driver who appreciates great handling or if you live in a cold-weather state. The extra traction afforded by the system helps in both scenarios.

After our time in the mountains above Malibu for our initial test, we cruised down California’s famed Pacific Coast Highway. With the TLX’s drive mode switched from sport to comfortable or normal, the TLX proved a fine partner for everyday cruising. The adaptive dampers in the Advance model further tamed road imperfections, but even the standard setup works well.

The TLX’s front seats are supportive, and while the dashboard is a bit busy with buttons, it’s ultimately logical. Kudos go to details like the palm rest above the touchpad interface (which takes practice but is pretty intuitive after that), and the volume and track-change buttons on the console.

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Rear-seat space is only about adequate for this class, and the trunk is on the smaller side.

One of our favorite features in the new Acura TLX is the amazing ELS audio system. The 17-speaker version that comes in the top two trims is among the best audio system we’ve heard, and especially noteworthy given the TLX’s price.

Other cars to consider

2021 BMW 3 Series—The proverbial benchmark among compact luxury sports sedans for decades, the 3 Series brings crisp handling and a German pedigree.

2021 Lexus IS – Refreshed for 2021, the Lexus IS is a strong contender with bold styling and a reputation for reliability and strong resale value.

2021 Genesis G70 – This newer arrival from Hyundai’s luxury brand brings great driving manners, a ton of standard features at a high value, and offers something others in this segment don’t: a manual transmission.

2021 Audi A4 – Another European rival, the Audi A4 offers a good blend of sportiness and comfort, and Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system.

Used Mercedes-Benz C-Class – Few cars have the panache of a Mercedes-Benz, and a C-Class is an excellent introduction to the German brand with its plush interior and technology derived from the flagship S-Class.

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Questions you may ask

How much is the 2021 Acura TLX?

The new Acura TLX sedan starts at $37,500 and spans to $48,300 for a loaded model. Destination charge is $1,025.

Is the 2021 Acura TLX a good car?

Yes. Its revamp for 2021 has actually made it a great car. It now has more power, more features, better tech, sharper design, and impressive driving dynamics.

What is the 2021 Acura TLX comparable to?

The Acura TLX is something of a “tweener” in size, meaning it is between a compact luxury sedan like the BMW 3 series and a midsize one like the BMW 5 Series. At 194.6 inches, however, it is far closer to a midsize sedan. In pricing, though, it undercuts several compact luxury sedans.

Where is the Acura TLX made?

The Acura TLX sedan is made in the U.S. Specifically, it is built at Honda’s factory in Marysville, Ohio.

Autotrader’s advice

The 2021 Acura TLX has really upped its game for this second generation. It can now go toe-to-toe with its European rivals, all at a price that’s many thousands less. While even a Standard model has a lot of features, we’d go with at least a Technology trim. Drivers wanting a more aggressive-looking model will be drawn to the A-Spec, while the Advance brims with features while still retaining a value proposition. We think Acura’s all-wheel-drive system is well worth the $2,000. If you’re pining for even more power, the Acura TLX Type S and its turbo V6 is is the way to go.

This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.

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