Driving the $47,000 Acura TLX sedan reminded me that all you really need in a car is a bright-red interior

The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec on a road in the trees.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King
  • Driving the 2021 Acura TLX sedan reminded me of one of my favorite car features: the A-Spec package.
  • Acura’s A-Spec appearance package adds a bunch of sporty accents but not performance upgrades.
  • Years ago, I didn’t like the sporty looks without sporty upgrades to back them up. Now I love them.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec sedan is the kind of car you don’t notice unless you’re looking for it, especially in an inconspicuous coat of white paint. But if you do, you start to wonder how anyone could miss it.

There are the aggressive but softly curved body lines, the ribbed hood, the grille opening that’s just big enough to convey power but not so big as to look like a dishonest caricature of it, the dark wheels and rear spoiler, the red interior – ah, the red interior.

That’s the best part of all.

The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's red front seats.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King

The first time I experienced Acura’s sporty A-Spec treatment, available on every model except its $US160,000 ($AU217,163) NSX sports car, was a few years ago in a blue TLX with a black interior. I wasn’t into it. At all.

An appearance package with accents that look like they belong on fast, cool cars but without the performance upgrades to go along with them, the A-Spec gives buyers a few things: access to special paint colors like Apex Blue Pearl; the choice of a black or red leather interior with suede inserts; black exterior trim; a black headliner; sporty stainless steel gas and brake pedals; and other things.

The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's steering wheel.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King

I didn’t enjoy my first A-Spec experience because with a claimed 272 horsepower from its turbocharged, four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive as standard – compared to 301 horsepower for the current V6 Toyota Camry – the TLX is a rather tame sedan with a premium price: $US45,000 ($AU61,077) and up after the A-Spec treatment.

(The price of the A-Spec package varies per car and costs $US2,750 ($AU3,732) on the 2021 TLX, but it also requires the $US4,000 ($AU5,429) technology package. All-wheel drive is $US2,000 ($AU2,715) extra, bumping the car to $US47,000 ($AU63,792).)

The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's red interior.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King

A new, more powerful TLX model – the all-wheel-drive Type S, which Car and Driver describes as “not to be confused with the relatively mild-mannered” regular TLX – starts at $US53,000 ($AU71,935) and makes a claimed 355 horsepower. But the regular TLX is built for practicality, not performance.

The blue model I had felt like it was merely mimicking a sports car without actually attempting to be one. It felt dishonest.

The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's paddle shifters.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King

But that was a few years ago. Since then, a few Acuras – a white 2019 RDX crossover with a bright-red interior, a massive metallic-gray 2022 MDX SUV with the same, and the sparkling white 2021 TLX pictured here – have convinced me that I actually love the A-Spec package.

There’s just something about a red car interior that feels so special. You almost never see it coming because you expect blacks or camels or even mocha browns, but not reds. Red feels too ephemeral, too easy to grow or mature out of.

The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's steering wheel.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King

It’s also a bold option to offer to Americans, who often choose the same damn crossovers in the same damn colors – white, gray, black, and silver – every time they buy.

With it, Acura gives buyers of one of its four main models – the ILX sedan, TLX sedan, RDX crossover, and MDX SUV – the chance to be different, and being different isn’t a chance many car buyers take. That makes having the option even more special.

The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec rear logo.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King

With black suede slicing up and down the interior and contrast stitching guiding your eyes back and forth across the car, the red A-Spec treatment feels deliberate both in design and in buyer choice. You don’t option a red interior on your car because it’s the safest way to go; you do it because you want to tell everyone there’s still a little bit of fun left in you – and Acura’s red leather feels almost like a recharge station for it.

Soaking that in, I realized I was holding that first TLX to a standard that didn’t exist. I thought a car needed to be fierce and sporty to look fierce and sporty, but that’s just a form of internalized gatekeeping I needed to shed. Some people use cars as tools; others use them as a form of expression.

The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's red seats with black accents.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King

Anyone choosing Acura’s red A-Spec interior is doing so to express themselves – and requiring their car perform as aggressively as it looks does nothing to support that expression. I, in turn, am choosing to enjoy the hell out of the A-Spec package indefinitely.

How could I not? Just look at it.

♦♦♦

The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's interior controls.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's shimmering white paint.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's infotainment screen.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's gray wheels.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's hood.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's all-wheel-drive logo.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's front Acura logo.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's steering wheel.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's door logo.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec's interior touchpad.
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec. Alanis King