Mother Nature gifted us with terrible driving conditions in which to test a very special Acura TLX. Here’s how it performed.
The 2020 Acura TLX 3.5L SH-AWD PMC is two things; First, the longest consecutive string of characters to describe a fantastic car ever created. And second, a custom-built, special edition of a car that is already pretty special in our minds.
Let’s decode the model’s name, and please allow us to shorten it to TLX PMC to save 12 characters each time we refer to it. The TLX part signifies the “right-sized” sports sedan from Acura. It is derived from the previous generation Accord in some important ways and that makes us love it more, not less. With 93 cubic feet of passenger space, it is a bit smaller inside than cars like the Tesla Model 3 and Genesis G70. However, outside, it sure doesn’t look it. It has a commanding presence.
SH-AWD is Acura’s torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system it adapts to this rear-wheel drive platform. Simply put, it is one of the most advanced systems available, and we had ample time to test it during our time with the car this week. Acura’s system is not tuned in the TLX as an off-pavement system, yet, in our off-pavement testing, it performed admirably as we will detail. The 3.5L part refers to Acura’s normally-aspirated ( that means no turbo) 290 hp 3.5-liter V6 engine. We know and love this engine. If you prefer an engine that wants to rev, this is a great one to pick.
PMC refers to Acura’s Performance Manufacturing Center (PMC) in Marysville, Ohio. Here, PMC editions of its vehicles are handbuilt by the same master technicians that assemble the NSX supercar. Acura says it will make just 360 of these special TLX trims. The TLX PMC also receives special paint. Very special. The Valencia Red Pearl paint lovingly applied to the TLX is the highest-quality that Acura has offered on a production car. The process employs nano-pigment paint technology previously exclusive to NSX. In-person, it stuns. We had an opportunity to look at it side by side with Mazda’s Soul Red Crystal, our prior favorite red paint on a production car, and it was simply better. Deeper, more three-dimensional, more impressive. The paint takes five days to apply. Just to give you a sense of how long that is in the auto manufacturing world, Ford can build, paint, and move to its shipping lot a complete F-150 in about 20 hours.
As it happened, the holiday shortened our usual seven-day test cycle a bit. During that span, we needed to drive into the woods of rural New England from Metro Boston. The forecast was for ice. 32-degree temps and rain trending to snow, but holding in that magical just-freezing range every driver dreads. We had on hand a Subaru Forester shod with winter Bridgestone Blizzak tires and the Acura TLX PMC. We know the Forester is a beast in these conditions and has few rivals. As it turns out, this low-slung TLX sports sedan is among those wicked wintah weathah rivals.
We hit the highway and set the Acura lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control to the speed limit in a rainstorm. The ability of the TLX PMC to maintain its lane, steer to keep us there, and adapt to changing traffic flows was its usual state of outstanding, despite blowing wind. The cozy microfiber heated and cooled custom seats in the TLX PMC along with the heated steering wheel made the cabin feel, like well a cabin. Which was exactly where we were headed.
About 50 miles north of Boston, the rain began to tick off the windshield as small ice pellets. The highway had gone from four lanes, to three, to two. The roads had become state routes eventually, and one lane separated by a yellow line. These roads were well sanded and salted, but as we headed off the highways with another 15 miles to go, the path included mountain roads with zero treatment. On the slick icy surface covered here and there with an inch or so of freezing slush, the TLX PMC put its SH-AWD to the test. The car was stable in all situations. We intentionally pulled in and out of a number of gas stations, coffee shops, and a bait shop (open!) just to test the car in stops and starts. The car’s traction system did not allow for any wheel spin. Even when we accelerated at a “normal” rather than slow pace, the car did not activate its traction control system in a way that retarded the power. In other words, the traction control is invisible and silent.
We carefully tested the TLX PMC’s abilities in some cornering maneuvers. It had much more grip from the low-profile Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season performance tires that we would have expected. One thing we noticed when we checked the rubber before our journey (to ensure they were not summer-only rated) was that Acura wisely mounts the same size rubber at all four corners. Many sports sedans we see have staggered tires with different sizes front to back. Four same-size tires are much easier to manage in rotation and for those who wish to mount winter rubber.
Our journey north eventually lead us to a dirt road and a dirt/gravel steep driveway. We never put the vehicle in danger of any damage, but we can tell you that this car loves the slippery stuff. As a driver, you get a good sense of its adhesion limits and can have a bit of fun in corners when the conditions are not ideal. Although we did need to slow down for some areas that gave us concerns about ground clearance, we drove those dirt roads covered in icy slush just like any plowed winter road.
The steep driveway was not graded since summer and was a bit rough and loose underneath. Yet, when heading down, and then up, we had no difficulties. At the bottom, we were in a muddy construction area that still didn’t pose any problem for the TLX PMC.
All-wheel drive sports sedans come in many flavors. Acura is known as the sporty, racier brand in the Honda family. Yet, Acura does not make the common mistakes that many brands do. Acura fitted rubber to this car that makes it 4-season useful. Rather than rear-wheel drive, Acura offers this TLX PMC with all-wheel drive that not only improves its dry-weather abilities but makes it a viable vehicle for those that enjoy winter sports like skiing and snowmobiling. Having tested the TLX PMC along with with some other competent all-wheel-drive sedans in New England weather this year, we are sure that this Acura TLX PMC will do well in the upcoming New England Motor Press Association’s Best Winter Sedan of the Year voting.
The 2020 Acura TLX starts at around $34K with a four-cylinder engine in front-wheel drive. The TLX 3.5L SH-AWD PMC is priced at $50,945 and is on sale now through your local Acura dealer.
If you need more space than the TLX offers, check out the new RDX.
If your driving requires more off-road capability, our suggestion would be Honda’s new Passport.