Like wildfire, news of the 2021 Acura TLX Type S will have already charred your social feed by the time you view this. Along with the peanut gallery of "Dude, it looks like car A had sex with car B," along with the never-ending free marketing advice put forth by delusional private accounts that are absolutely certain they know far more about selling cars than anyone on the current Acura staff, you've likely spotted a definitive divide between the glass half full and half empty bunch. Sure, you can find negatives in just about any new car offering, that's easy, but the real story here is how Acura seems to be turning the corner, so to speak. Furthermore, rather than tiptoeing via shiny badging and questionable trim level differences, they appear to be putting a far more aggressive foot forward—something we haven't seen in quite some time.
Given that the TLX never really grew into a heavy hitter in our market, you might not even care about the '21 offering that has unapologetically fired shots across the sport sedan market battlefield after showing face this week. Murky waters inhabited by Great Whites that include BMW's 3 Series, Lexus IS, Audi A4 and more weren't terribly concerned with the previous model's presence, but with its total makeover now complete, that may very well change.
An Alphabetical Lesson
If you're not already in tune with the Acura sedan bloodline and its changes over the past decade or so, things got a little crowded in the Acura sedan line up. The TLX replaced the TL and TSX, two models that had grown quite a bit since their inception while sales numbers were shrinking. The ILX was introduced as an entry model but doesn't really sit within the sport sedan segment. Also in the mix but seldom seen is the RLX, a model that will not continue production and also directs potential buyers toward this new TLX. Phew, I think that's it.
Not a Case of the FT1 Concept/Supra
Whispers of a new TLX could be heard last year when Acura's "Type S Concept" was making the rounds at auto shows and also appeared in the Honda booth during SEMA week. Its presence, which some would say was a boiled down version of the Acura Precision Concept from a few years prior, raised more than a few eyebrows, especially since the Type S label hasn't been applied to an Acura offering in over a decade. Sleek, aggressive lines and sharp, well-thought out cuts in the concept's body looked the part, but the internet did what the internet does and was adamant about how the actual offering, if in fact ever coming to light, would look absolutely nothing like said concept. Yup, they were dead wrong.
Much of the design language that we absorbed at the Vegas Convention Center last year was all but picked clean off of the concept and pasted directly to the production model—minus the slick forged carbon fiber treatment that adorned the traveling show pony. The overall dimensions for a vehicle throwing elbows in the ultra-competitive sport sedan class seem spot on with this new offering. Often knocked by our community for simply adding too much size and weight to the bones of their sedans, the designers seemed to have nailed its proportions. The wheelbase is up by over 3-inches (now 113.0) and yes, it's wider, but the roofline is now lower and with a pronounced hood that juts out quite a bit, the TLX seems to sit atop its haunches, ready to earn the "sport" in that sport sedan designation.
2 More Times We Came in Contact with Honda Prototypes Prior To Production
NSX prototype on track in 2013
Private viewing of the Civic Type R prototype in 2016
Everyone is doing large front grills, especially with sedans, and Acura has done the same, basing much of the front bumper around both the pentagonal diamond grille with its 3-D look, flanked by an all-new Jewel Eye headlight design that relies on four LEDs. Razor sharp cuts in the bumper, just under the headlights accentuate the new peepers and the faux grills you love to hate are in fact in place, though they're baked in with a grinning center grill that pulls some attention away from and they're not nearly as offensive as the 10th generation Civic. The rear doesn't carry those plastic vents, thankfully, and the area reserved for the license plate on the Type S model is blacked out. This bumper "wedgie" helps separate it from the non-S model, as do the quad exhaust tips rather than the standard model's oval-ish duals.
Yeah, Yeah, But What's Under the Hood?
Ok, here we go with the good stuff. Being that the current generation TLX has two engine variants, it would only make sense to continue with that, and they have ... however, the standard TLX does away with the previous K24W7 (which awkwardly had its intake on the rear of the engine and exhaust side up front like some sort of weirdo B-series/K-series mash-up that nobody ever wanted) and instead, the tasty turbocharged 2.0L, which currently powers the RDX and Accord and is a derivative of the FK8 Civic Type R, is in play. By the numbers, the new TLX equipped with the turbo-4 will produce 272 hp with 280 lb-ft. of torque. But wait, there's more!
Twin-scroll, Turbo V6 Goodness
If you're comparing numbers and competitors, you can't finish your pros and cons list without mentioning the Type S model. Acura teased that they'd be spicing things up with the label being reintroduced and they've done so in the form of a 3.0L V6 outfitted with a twin-scroll turbo setup and though no official word has been spoken on power output, it's expected to land in the mid-300s.
Can It Handle That?
Handling for the new gen. TLX steps things up by moving to control arms rather than struts up front and torsional stiffness is up by 50 percent. In addition, more than half of the materials used to build the car fall into the lightweight category, with aluminum bits (expected) and press-hardened steel that Acura says is used more on the TLX than any other sedan in the family.
Stuck Without a Stick
We know, we know. If you were in charge, you would have incorporated a manual transmission. We hear you and we're with you. However, the 10-speed automatic that will shift gears for both the standard and Type S models (Type S gearing will be tuned to maximize the turbo 3.0L) is the direction most manufacturers have been headed for years. The number of "us" walking into a dealership and plunking down our hard-earned money for a brand-new car with a manual pale in comparison to those that wouldn't be caught dead stirring a shifter.
On the bright side, the non-S model TLX has the option of adding SH-AWD, while the Type S includes it as standard. If you're not completely familiar, the AWD system can rely on just the front wheels or it can distribute the power to all four corners. It can also gather up 70 percent of the torque being applied and toss it to the rear where it can be split between the left or right wheel. As an owner of a 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD, I can attest that the system is absolutely awesome, and I imagine 10 years of development since my daily driver was first introduced have only made it that much better.
We fell in love with the newer generation RDX interior from the moment we locked eyes and from the looks of it the TLX was also enamored, as it takes some styling cues, and that's a good thing. The premium look and feel are apparent from the moment you peek inside. Admittedly, the center console looks complex with its gear selector positioned front and center and a fancy track pad with wrist wrest at its base. Atop the waterfall of modern gadgetry sits a 10.2-inch screen that sticks out from the dash. Having never been a fan of how random these screens are jutting out of dash tops, the TLX is sized appropriately enough for me not to shake my fist in anger. Faux carbon fiber and piano black trim pieces add depth and richness to the console and with bright red highlights, it's sporty without being gaudy (I'm looking at you, useless 9th gen. Civic VTEC indicator light).
The oversized knob in the very center of the dash allows you to choose from four different drive modes: Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual—the last of which gives you the power to adjust engine response and transmission mapping along with adjusting the ride on adaptive damper-equipped models. On the less performance, more "cool factor" side, there's a 24-color ambient lighting system on board that changes based on the drive mode you opt for or you can take the helm and choose the color you want.
Keep Them Coming
The problem with being a young, eager brand willing to take chances like Acura did in the '90s and early 2000s with the second and third generation Integra, NSX, RSX and original TSX, is that people will hold you to that for eternity. Anytime the brand is mentioned in our circle, people are heard calling for the Acura's return to form, and while we don't foresee something as fun-loving and simple as the beloved Integra line suddenly reappearing, it's nice to see the brand embracing a side of their persona that we always knew was there, it had just been pushed aside in the name of playing it safe. With the Type S making its return in a major way with the 2021 TLX, we're hoping this is just the beginning of things to come for Honda's performance off shoot.