2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec: Smaller engine, same fun?

Price: $47,775 as tested. White paint, $500.

Conventional wisdom: Motor Trend says, “Appreciate the 2021 Acura TLX for its many strengths, but don’t dwell too much on the numbers.”

Marketer’s pitch: “A Knockout Drive.”

Reality: The TLX is maybe a TKO.

What’s new: The TLX gets a redesign for the 2021 model year, redone from the ground up. It now has a new engine, longer wheelbase, wider stance, and a lower profile.

But it’s still a small premium sedan and feels much smaller than the Volvo S60 tested last week.

Up to speed: The new 272-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four replaces both the four and the six in earlier models. The new engine bests both engines for torque and only slightly cuts horsepower from the 3.5-liter six.

While its 0-to-60 now is a not-so-impressive 7 seconds, according to Motor Trend, I find that the 40-to-80 acceleration seems even faster than the first 40 mph. Thus, passing on the highway is easy peasy and lets your fellow travelers know who’s the boss. Or at least lets them think that. (The Volvo has an engine upgrade available, but the 2.0 is it for the TLX.)

Shifty: The 10-speed automatic adds a gear over the previous generation’s 9er but still offers only paddle shifters for your gear-selecting pleasure.

The gear selector is Acura’s now-common row of buttons. I’m used to it, but it’s not my favorite.

On the road: Sport mode created the most joy, though the automatic transmission ran in fairly low gears. Sport mode while shifting made for best winding-road cruising, but 10′s a lot of gears. (I’m a whiner, but you know that.)

Curves can be a lot of fun, although the TLX has an early liftoff on rolling hills — which can be positive or negative, depending on your POV. The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat yelled, which only added to the positives for me.

Any mode is fine for highway driving. Bumps, though, could make the TLX a jarring experience. This ride is not for everyone.

Bonus: The TLX makes a delightful sound while roaring up to speed and zipping around curves. And I’m a believer in the super-handling all-wheel-drive system, which has bailed me out of some messes in other Acuras.

The 2021 Acura TLX interior remains a comfy spot inside, but the space is a bit snug.
Acura
The 2021 Acura TLX interior remains a comfy spot inside, but the space is a bit snug.

Play some tunes: Not so delightful, however, is the operation of the infotainment system. If you press your finger on the touchpad in the approximate location matching the icon on the screen, then you’ll probably be able to access that icon on the screen. Probably. Most likely.

I prefer operations that are a surer bet.

When using Apple CarPlay, bets are surer but more intensive. At that point, the touchpad allows you to scroll only from icon to icon. Can you say, Eyes on the road, Mister?

Furthermore, while the sound from the 17-speaker ELS Studio system is pretty good, probably an A-, try finding the treble-bass-midrange controls. Go ahead. I’ll wait. They’re nested about three menus in from the main screen.

Driver’s Seat: On the bright side, Acuras tend to be super comfy, and the TLX is right there as well. It’s a little on the small side — as just your average guy, I found getting in and out could be a headbanger.

Friends and stuff: But the real tight squeeze comes in TLX Rearseatland. Snug legroom and foot room are evident from the outside, and headroom is sacrificed on the altar of lower profile.

The trunk opening is pretty small. I could just slip in a standard storage bin bought on the requisite post-holiday Target run. Cargo space is 13.5 cubic feet.

Keeping warm and cool: The HVAC operates much more simply than the infotainment because it comes with actual buttons and knobs.

The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat would like to offer a shout-out to how quickly the seats heat up.

Night shift: The interior lights cast a subtle glow. Headlights also seem a little underwhelming, which seems to be a common problem these days, with a sharp cutoff, especially when pointed downhill.

Fuel economy: Readers know I’m not getting out as much as I used to, but the TLX showed some pretty dismal numbers here, just over 16 mpg.

Where it’s built: Marysville, Ohio.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the TLX reliability to be 3 out of 5 stars, down from 4s the previous two years and 5s before that.

In the end: It’s funny that Motor Trend should point out that the TLX is “not a numbers car” just two weeks after my Corvette review. That ultimate “numbers car” failed the je ne sais quoi feeling portion of my test, and I’m like, “Right? RIGHT?!?” And so many readers are like, “You’re an idiot! YOU’RE AN IDIOT!”

The TLX, though, doesn’t really have the feel to make up the difference for the lack of track numbers, at least in Mr. Driver’s Seat’s estimation. It’s nice, but it’s not that niiiice.

A tossup so far between the TLX and the S60.

Next week: Lexus IS300 AWD.