Acura Continues to Put Premium into the Sedan. 2021 TLX SH-AWD Advance

Check our our Queer4Cars YouTube Channel for a video review of this 2021 Acura TLX Advance, as well as other vehicles we have reviewed.

Customizable Key for the 2021 Acura TLX
2021 Acura TLX Advanced with SH-AWD has customizable keys for each driver.

With consumers buying SUVs and crossovers, Is there still a market for the mid-sized sedan? According to Statista.com’s 2020 study, sedans still hold a ten percent market share, crossovers grab 41%, and the SUV has only nine percent. Four-door sedans have to really stand out, especially the premium ones, to get the love that they deserve. 

This was why I was thrilled when Acura offered a chance to spend a week with their all-new premium sedan, the 2020 TLX, in advanced trim.

Going into the week, I was still under the misperception that Acura was nothing more than a fancy Honda. That was quickly changed after spending time in it. The level of engineering and design that goes into the Acura is a lot more than I would have ever thought. And the driving dynamics were quite impressive for what might be deemed as a mundane four-door sedan.

2021 Acura TLX Interior Right Side
The TLX interior is well thought out and elegantly appointed with open pore wood trim

 Acura Has History

Acura as the the luxury division of Honda, has had a long history of bringing the best out of their vehicles. Being the first upmarket brand launched in North America from a Japanese automaker, beating Lexus and Infiniti to the market back in 1986 with the flagship, the Acura Legend, and a smaller sporty model, the Acura Integra.

Honda motorcycles dates back to 1949, prior to that, their founder Soichiro Honda dabbled as a bicycle and auto mechanic, even racing cars prior to WWII. His father was a blacksmith, so  thinking about it Honda has really come from the iron age to the age of modern technology. Acura has always been a sought-after luxury marque, known for dependable and high-quality vehicles. Being the only mainstream brand to produce a genuine supercar, the NSX. 

This TLX

2021 Acura TLX Right Front Side
Fast and classic is the best way to describe the TLX’s exterior.

While many, like myself, may have thought that this is nothing more than a rebadged Honda Accord, as some upscale brands do. It is not! Neither is the 2021s TLX just a refreshed model from years prior. I; it is truly new from the ground up.  Honestly, the TLX is closer to the Acura Supercar the NSX, than another sedan in the Honda family.

I was impressed with this 2021 Acura TLX with the amount of advanced technology within it, at an under $50K price point. And this is not technology that connects to your mobile device, yes, the TLX has that, as well as ACURAWATCH™ it’s suite of safety and driver assistance technology.  

Technology in this vehicle shines is in the drive-by wire, the powerplant and drivetrain, the SH-AWD, and even the suspension as well as the frame and body structure. All of this gives you a real driver’s car with many enhanced handling characteristics and driving performance.

The TLX’s Direct Injected Two-Liter Turbocharged Engine

2021 Acura TLX 4 cylinder turbo Engine
272 horsepower 2-liter direct injection VTEC Turbo 4-cylinder engine runs on premium fuel

An aluminum, inline 4-cylinder, 16-Valve, direct-injected, drive-by-wire throttle 2.0  DOHC VTEC® gasoline turbo engine producing 270 horsepower with 280 pounds of torque is the powerplant is what you will find on the 2021 TLX. Mated to a ten-speed automatic sequential sport shift automatic transmission allows for semi-manual operation with a shift-by-wire gear selector and paddle shifters that provide a solid response. I am pleased to report that this car has actual, honest to goodness sport mode, though it is not quite what you might think.  

2021 Acura TLX Engine front view
Drive by wire is the name of the game with the 2021 TLX

The Engine has a VTEC® valvetrain with Dual VTC and a Low-inertia mono-scroll turbo system with an electric wastegate and a Drive-by-Wire™throttle along with a computer-controlled direct injection with high-flow fuel injectors. As with most sports sedans, premium unleaded is the recommended fuel. Acura optimizes the TLX’s service intervals to 100,000 miles for a tune-up interval using their Maintenance Minder™ system. Regular fluid and filter changes are needed.

This TLX Advance was equipped with the fourth generation SH-AWD® (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive™) that provides 40 percent more rear torque capacity and 30 percent quicker front-to-rear torque transfer. 

2021 Acura TLX Center controls
TLX has a push button for everything from the transmission to the engine stop defeat switch.

My Nemesis – Engine Idle-Stop

To help improve fuel efficiency, the TLX is equipped with Idle-Stop that automatically shuts off the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop. This has become common on most new vehicles. While many have an off button, they revert to being engaged when you turn off and restart the engine. On the TLX, you can program the Independent Drive Mode to keep the engine idle-stop from engaging after a restart. Plus the car remembers the driver’s preferences based on the programmed key they use.

SH – AWD Drivetrain 

2021 Acura TLX SH AWD badge
Special Handling All Wheel Drive is for enhanced driving dynamics more than all weather driving abilities.

The TLX offers standard front-wheel drive or optional ($2K) Super Handling All-Wheel Drive System™. This is Acura’s fourth-generation SH-All Wheel Drive distrubiting torque between the front and rear axles and between the left and right rear wheels. The rear differential utilizes an electric motor to power a pair of hydraulic pumps that can send one-hundred percent of the torque to either the left or right rear wheel as needed. Especially helpful when the car is traversing a twisty road or in a turn.

SH-AWD® System is a full-time all-wheel-drive system that requires no driver interaction or monitoring evenly distributes the forces between the front and rear tires and overdrives the rear axle by 2.9 percent. In addition to traction in bad weather or road conditions it improves the TLX’s handling. For example, when the car is cornering, the SH-AWD® distributes more torque to the outside rear wheel, creating more yaw, helping drive the vehicle through corners, reducing understeer. 

10-Speed Drive By Wire Automatic Transmission With Paddle Shifters

2021 TLX models are equipped with a 10-speed automatic transmission, provide for improved fuel efficiency and quieter operation. This has faster shift performance and can make 4-gear direct downshifts, for example, from 10 down to 6, or 7 to 3, making for quicker acceleration for merging or passing.

2021 Acura TLX Drivers Center Console view
The drive by wire system is not only the transmission selector, but the dynamic mode for the transmission, as well as the steering and brakes

The 10-speed automatic transmission can be operated in two fully automatic modes: The D “Drive” mode for most driving situations. However, true performance enthusiasts will select the S “Sequential” mode, which provides a more spirited driving experience in 1st through 8th gears with aggressive shift mapping keeping engine speeds higher for greater acceleration and more aggressive control.

Paddle Shifters

2021 Acura TLX Drivers Cockpit
The paddle shifters stick up just behind the outward center of the steering wheel

While paddle shifters are pretty standard these days, what is uncommon is when they give you a real manual shift driving experience. At first, I tried the TLX in Drive, using them, and said, nothing different here. Then I pushed the D button again for S or Sequential. (Drive button punched twice.)  Once in “S,” you will want to drive in that all the time using the paddle makes the TLX drive like a spirited sports car, nod again to its Brother the NSX. My first impression of the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters was; Why? That was until I realized I was not using them correctly. Selecting the Sequential Drive mode controls the transmission, as you would experience with a manual. 

Using the paddle shifters in Drive mode, special transmission logic programming allows the transmission to respond to the shift commands, then returns to its normal fully automatic mode. If paddle shift inputs are not made within a few seconds, the logic allows the driver to command a quick downshift without leaving Drive mode. To cancel the temporary manual mode and return to the automatic Drive mode, the driver can hold the right-side paddle for two seconds.

The fun begins by engaging Sequential mode to get the automatic transmission to operate with a more aggressive shift mapping. Which, in essence, locks out  9th and 10th gear. A pull on either of the paddle shifters places the transmission in fully manual mode until another mode of operation is selected. You can tell by the digital display on the instrument cluster which gear you are in, as well as the “blip” of the throttle to match gear speeds while downshifting, as part of the Drive-by-wire™ throttle system.

Front and Rear Suspension

The 2021 TLX has an all-new 5-link rear suspension with a forged double-wishbone suspension. A major part of the reason the TLX’s has such good handling dynamics providing optimal tire contact to the pavement. Designed to perform ideally in both FWD and SH-AWD® configurations.

The front uses a combination of a new front double-wishbone design and a rear 5-link design, with a front rigid aluminum subframe and a rear steel subframe. In front are lower hydraulic suspension bushings to enhance ride compliance. The TLX Advanced has sensor-controlled adaptive dampers, while the other models have amplitude reactive dampers.

The Shocks are Amplitude Reactive Dampers | Adaptive Dampers

The TLX, TLX with Technology Package, and A-Spec use 2-stage Amplitude Reactive Dampers, while the TLX with Advance Package employs a sensor-controlled Adaptive Damper System. This means that the adaptive dampers are controlled by the car depending on the driving situation, which you can really feel when driving on a twisty road.

PRICE

2021 Acura TLX front Grill
The large Acura Logo on the front conceals the forward technology that is part of the cruise control.

Pricing is quite reasonable when you consider the amount of mechanical technology that the TLX line offers. TLX starts at $37,500 for the Standard Model and moves up to $41,500 for the Technology Package, then $44,250 for the A-Spec, Acura’s Sports appearance package for the TLX. Topping out with the TLX Advance Package at $46,300. Add $2K for SH All-Wheel Drive. Not including destination and handling, which was $1,025 on our Advance model. The MFG suggested retail price of our TLX Advance tester came out to $49,325. Which when you think about it has everything, except if you add factory warrantied, dealer-installed accessories and trim, or appearance items. With that, you get a full tank of fuel, as well as free Sirius XM activation and 3-months of service except for Alaska and Hawaii.

If you want MORE, and of course, we always will – Acura is bringing out a TYPE S, an all-performance TLX this coming May with a 3.0-liter V6-cyl turbo engine producing 355 hp with 354 torque at a starting price in the low $50K.  Lots to look forward to with that model, including special pearlescent paint finishes and unique interior colors.

Fuel Economy 

TLX with front-wheel drive receives EPA fuel-economy ratings of 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, 25 mpg combined on premium fuel with a 15.85 capacity tank. Our SH-AWD Advanced has a rating of 21 city, 29 highway, and 24 combined.

2021 Acura TLX Dynamic Normal Mode Display
The TLX offers a variety of driving modes to fit your needs.

Maintenance and Warranty

2021 Acura TLX wireless charging
The wireless device charging pad is large and conveniently located.

The TLX’s engine is designed for 100,000-Mile tune-up Intervals, meaning it requires no scheduled maintenance for 100,000 miles, other than periodic inspections and normal fluid and filter replacements. The first tune-up includes water pump inspection, valve adjustment, and the installation of new spark plugs. 

The TLX comes with a six year/70K mile powertrain warranty and a four year/50K mile limited vehicle warranty.

Overall Thoughts

2021 Acura TLX front seating
The nicely appointed interior of the TLX features attractive piping on the seats.

While Honda and Acura are different brands, they do rely on each other for engineering and production. Building vehicles here in America in Marysville, Ohio. Honda products are often chosen by a younger, more performance-oriented, and value-conscious demographic. In comparison, Acura owners tend to be more subdued and refined in their tastes. Though don’t for a moment think they are dull – Cue in the mid-engine exotic – the NSX, which introduced Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing system to the North American market. Sadly, it has never been regarded as it should have been, though still in production, and is one impeccable sports car.

Would I buy a TLX four-door sedan?  Why yes, I would, though I did find some aspects a little unfinished; the overall driving performance and handling impressed me enough that it would be a strong contender when looking at premium sedans on the market, especially with a price tag of just around or under $50K. 

Words and Images by William West Hopper

William West Hopper at the National Press Club in Washington DC
William West Hopper opening a Washington Automotive Press Association Meeting at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

Mr. Hopper has been an automotive enthusiast and writer for close to three decades, seeing car technology move from carbureted engines to direct injection. He even knows how to gap spark plugs and a set of points.  He has done high-performance driving and autocross and enjoys all different aspects of autos, trucks, and 4×4’s.  You can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.


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