The 2015 Acura TLX is an entry-luxury performance sedan that competes against cars like the Lexus ES350 and the Hyundai Genesis. On the highway, it’s a remarkably capable car, but it’s jammed with odd features and technology that often gets in the way of the pleasant driving experience.
The Acura TLX first showed up at the 2014 New York International Auto Show. In traditional Honda form, the “concept” was essentially ready for production at that point. By the end of 2014, Acura dealers were turning out TLXs in both four- and V-6 configurations. Our test car was the full-blown SH-AWD with the Advance Package. We’ll get to what’s in that package in just a minute.
The SH-AWD with the Advance Package sits at the very top of the Acura price list. It rings up to $45,720 with the $925 Destination Charge. That’s a pretty surprisingly affordable price tag for a car like this. A Hyundai Genesis, for example, that doesn’t have Acura’s decades of goodwill behind it, equipped with a similar, though not quite as extensive list of equipment, comes in at $48,950, and you’ve got a long, long way to go before you reach the top of the ladder. In all honesty, the Genesis slots somewhere between the TLX and the RL, but customers are cross-shopping those cars.
SH-AWD helps to provide the TLX with its outstanding handling manners. Like a lot of all-wheel drive systems, it works to transmit torque to the places where it needs it, but instead of merely being focused on traction in the bad weather, SH-AWD is set up to improve handling in performance situations.
During highway cruising, the system biases torque almost completely to the front wheels, until it senses that the rear wheels could use it in low traction situations. During hard acceleration, 45 percent of available torque is split to the rear wheels as weight transfers off the front wheels, which would normally cause them to spin ineffectually. Cornering under acceleration delivers 70 percent of torque to the rear wheels, providing the predictable, pleasurable feel of a rear-drive car in the corners. In a corner, the inside rear wheel can spin up to 2.7 percent faster than the outside, essentially rotating the TLX into the turn. You’ll feel it working, and it feels unlike any other sports sedan in its class.
There are four modes in the TLX’s Integrated Dynamics System which take advantage of the TLX’s 290hp V6: Normal, Economy, Sport or Sport+. Economy mode is just what it says, extending shift points, reducing throttle response and turning the TLX into a non-particularly engaging car. The good news is that you’re most likely to hit the EPA’s estimated combined fuel economy. Sport is where we drove most of the time, providing a good balance between performance and comfort. Sport + squeezes the most performance out of the TLX, but be prepared for shifts to abrupt and well delayed on the tachometer. It’s a blast, but you probably don’t want to be spending a lot of time commuting in traffic in that mode.
The interior is well appointed and comfortable, and the addition of features like automatic cooling seats are nice in a car in this price class. The design is all business, with a decided lack of adornment that lets you know for sure you’re driving a Honda product.
On the outside, we’re getting used to that giant shield of aluminum that makes up the TLX’s grille. Originally, it looked garish and out of place, but the more you look at it, the better it looks. I’m not so sold on the Jewel Eye LED headlamps. Each lamp cluster has five individual LED units, which give the TLX a bug-eyed appearance, but there’s no getting away from the fact that these lights perform better, with greater precision, and switching to high beam much faster. We’ll live with the looks.
As I alluded to earlier, the TLX we drove came with the $3,225 Advance Package. Your desire to own this rests on whether you feel that turning over some of your duties as a driver is something you’re interested in doing. This is Autonomous Driving Lite, a precursor to what we might all be experiencing on the highways 20 years from now. Along with all the parking sensors and warning systems and blind spot monitoring you could ask for, the Advance Package comes with a Lane Keeping Assist System, Adaptive Cruise Control with low-speed follow, and Collision Mitigating Braking.
The last two features in combination are truly autonomous driving. There is a steering wheel sensor that mandates you keep a hand on the wheel, but if that wasn’t there, the TLX would effectively drive itself on any highway in America. You can lose complete concentration, and as long as your hands are on the wheel, the Lane Keeping Assist System will nudge you back into line. Advance Cruise Control will maintain a safe distance to the car in front of you, even at crawling traffic speeds. If the system senses that you may be plowing into the car in front of you, an unmistakable alert lights on the dash. If it thinks you’re definitely crashing, the seat belts automatically tighten, and it applies full braking.
It’s a philosophical decision whether or not you want to relinquish your responsibility as a driver, but forgetting that for a moment, the systems work. Collision Mitigation Braking is a little sensitive to oncoming cars on twisty back roads, flashing a warning when a collision was no closer than two cars passing each other in normal traffic. But every one of these systems worked perfectly together to keep the car on the straight and narrow, even in heavy traffic.
The TLX isn’t without its annoyances. That silly shifter that operates the 9-speed transmission has to go. It serves no other purpose than to look cool. Shifting between reverse and drive often results in a heavy THUNK when you’re trying to execute a quick maneuver in a parking lot. As we mentioned last year, if you’re going to have a shifter like this, there are ways to do it where it takes up much less space on the console, not more.
Idle stop shuts the engine off after a few seconds of idling. The trouble is that it’s slow to start back up again, almost to the point of missing a quick jump to the gas pedal. For some reason it also turns the car back on again when select Park, which is hilariously counterintuitive. Park seems like the one place where you’d want the car to shut off, right?
The audio system’s disembodied robot lady voice shouting out the station ID is beyond annoying. It took a good ten minutes of experimentation to get her to stifle herself. Unless you’re vision impaired, just looking over at the display is a lot less distracting.
In total, if you’re looking for a fun, interesting commuter that will get you back and forth to work regardless of the weather, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that’s this nice at this price.
2015 Acura TLX SH-AWD with Advance Package
Base Price: $31,445 (Base TLX)
Price as Tested: $44,800
Advance Package: $3,225
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with low-speed follow
Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) with head-up warning
Road Departure Mitigation system
Front and rear parking sensors
Auto-dimming side mirrors
LED fog lights
Remote engine start with vehicle feedback
LED puddle lights
Destination Charge: $925
Terrific ride and handling
Typical Acura V-6 performance
That ridiculous transmission shift selector
Idle Stop isn’t quite ready for primetime
Intrusive robot lady voice alerts