From the beginning, Acura has built sporty, well-engineered cars. Aside from a few notable models (NSX, Integra Type-R), Acuras weren't hard-core sports cars. Instead, they were much more focused on being livable for the average driver with comfortable cabins, modern technology and clean designs. In recent years, things have been different. While the cars still had comfortable cabins and modern technology, Acura's designs have put off some traditional customers who were looking for more edge in the designs.
Our concerns for Acura's design language were allayed upon the reveal of the 2018 Acura TLX at the 2017 New York Auto Show. Instead of the "power plenum grille" design that's been used since the launch of the 2009 TL, Acura introduced a new "diamond pentagon grille." We find this new design language much more agreeable and, along with some new bodywork, Acura has elevated the Acura TLX from being just a roomy and quiet car to something far more interesting.
The TLX is available in three distinct styling flavors for 2018. The base model uses the same 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine (206 horsepower, 182 pound-feet) as before along with an eight-speed transmission that sends power to the front wheels. Those wheels measure 17 inches in diameter and feature a new design to complement the revised front-end styling.
Stepping up to the standard V6 model presents additional styling changes to the rear of the car that include an underbody diffuser and rectangular exhaust outlets along with 18-inch wheels and tires. New for 2018 is a performance-oriented A-Spec trim level that gets its own unique front-end treatment, extended side sills, round exhaust outlets, dark finish 19-inch wheels and a rear deck spoiler.
Either of the V6 models can be equipped with Acura's SH-AWD (super handling, all-wheel-drive) system.
There are notable updates to the interior of the new TLX as well. All models come with a new 7-inch touchscreen display that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration along with HD radio. All TLXs also get AcuraWatch, which is Acura's driver assistance system that includes emergency braking, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and lane departure warning (Acura calls it "road departure mitigation"). Other standard features include a rearview camera, heated front seats, 10-way power driver's seat and eight-way power front passenger seat, dual-zone climate control, power moonroof, and dual color displays.
Like the previous TLX, the 2018 version offers a Technology package on the base model. It builds out the AcuraWatch system with the addition of a blind-spot indicator, rear cross traffic alert, auto unlocking doors, rain-sensing wipers, navigation system, and a 10-speaker audio system. The V6 TLX can also be upgraded with the Technology package, which includes the same features as the four-cylinder along with a power driver's seat thigh extender. An even more comprehensive Advance package is also available on V6 models with a surround-view camera, wireless charging system for your smartphone, interior ambient lighting, ventilated front seats, remote start and heated seats, a heated windshield and even a heated steering wheel.
We drove a top-of-the-line Advance trim equipped with Acura's SH-AWD system, and a sporty A-Spec model, also with SH-AWD. We found the 3.5-liter V6 engine to be smooth, responsive and notably aggressive sounding, too. Other than some harsh shift quality between the fourth and fifth gears, the SH-AWD system and nine-speed transmission work well together.
Manually shifting the transmission via the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters results in sufficiently quick shifts, with the shift quality increasing in speed and severity when the car is placed in Sport and Sport+ mode. Brakes were reactive and easy to modulate, with the torque-vectoring system doing its best to carefully toe the line and ensure relatively neutral handling bias.
We spent more time in the A-Spec version to see how its upgrades feel compared to the standard models. In addition to its unique styling, the A-Spec model gets a larger wheel-tire package, quicker steering ratio and a stiffer suspension. We noted some additional road noise compared against the Advance variant, but steering feedback through the smaller A-Spec specific sport steering wheel is improved. Performancewise, there's more grip from the larger performance-oriented all-season tires, with sharper turn-in. While it's a sportier and more engaging car to drive on a twisty road, we believe traditional buyers may prefer the quieter and slightly calmer handling experience found on the regular models.
Compared to our former long-term 2015 Acura TLX, the most notable change is the front fascia, which is surprisingly an area we didn't receive many complaints about. Other complaints during our tenure came from the sluggish infotainment system, abrupt stop-start system and transmission shift quality. We're happy to report the infotainment system is smoother and faster reacting, and the ability to have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto display on the upper screen while leaving the audio and climate on the lower screen finally justifies the dual-screen layout. The stop-start system is unchanged, but the button to disable the system remains. Finally, the transmission does work better, but as mentioned before, the lazy fourth-to-fifth gearshift is lazy.
When the 2018 Acura TLX goes on sale on June 1, it should have a good chance of capturing a greater slice of the entry-level luxury sedan market. Not only does it offer more equipment, the addition of the A-Spec model provides a new dimension to the model that was missing, especially for those who yearned for the sportier Acuras of the past. If that's not your thing, rest assured that the standard models still offer the kind of easy-to-live-with luxury that makes all Acuras so enjoyable to drive.
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