Zingy: that’s the Acura TLX SH-AWD in one word. Turn-in on this car – the way a car reacts when you first cut the wheel – is screechingly direct, and the rest of the car tightly follows suit.
That feeling of directness is persistently undermined by the SH-AWD’s shifter. Let’s talk about why.
I’ve already sung the praises of the TLX SH-AWD here at BestRide.com. But I noted the same fumbly operation of the SH-AWD’s electronic drive-by-wire shifter for the nine-speed transmission as our editor Craig Fitzgerald did, where he went as far as to call it one of the Worst Shifter Designs of 2015.
Another week with a TLX SH-AWD brought into clearer focus the frustrations with this system.
As Craig noted, this series of buttons works well enough in theory. There’s differentiation built into the way you pull up for Reverse and poke the big round button for Drive. It would seem that familiarity would make it a no-brainer. But I’m on my second TLX, and this setup is still novel enough that I ran into the same problem Craig did – that when you’re in a hurry, the pulling and poking can require inordinate focus when you have other things to manage as well.
I noticed it because my garage backs out onto a steep and busy hill. It’s one of the arteries through the Castro neighborhood, with buses and delivery trucks mixing with cars and cyclists to provide only small windows in which to back out, and then to shift into Drive and proceed.
Typically you would simply be rocking a lever back and forth to execute this, and you’d be able to operate it by touch alone as you used your eyes to constantly scan your surroundings. Not so with the SH-AWD: I still had to look down to make sure I was poking the right button when I came out of Reverse.
Again, maybe this would become second nature over time. What bothered me more was that the SH-AWD had to come to an absolute complete stop before Drive would allow itself to be selected. If the wheels were still rolling even a little back down the hill, then the shifter would ignore my request for Drive and simply flash in Neutral. Cue the resulting engine racing and continued rolling back, and then you’d push Drive again to move forward as cars from both directions converged.
You’re not done yet: the Drive engagement is not instantaneous. There’s a lag that seems terribly long when you’re waiting for engagement in the path of approaching traffic. The Drive button gives no feedback – you might as well be activating the defroster – and so the only recourse is to time in your head the lag between button-pushing and gear-readiness.
This is why the drive-by-wire shifter runs counter to the personality of its host car; Acura sweated bullets to make the TLX the engaging delight it is over the road, all while one of its core controls is goopy and obtuse. The four-cylinder TLX uses a traditional shifter, and we’d love to see it transplanted to the SH-AWD until the current setup can be tightened up. The rest of the car deserves it.