I drove a $49,000 Acura TLX to see if all-new luxury sedan can still deliver in a world dominated by SUVs

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The 2021 Acura TLX has a dynamic exterior. Matthew DeBord/Insider
  • I tested a $US49,325 Acura TLX sedan, in Advance trim with all-wheel-drive.
  • The TLX is all-new for the 2021 model year.
  • My tester had a potent, 272-horsepower four-cylinder turbocharged engine under the hood.
  • The Acura TLX is in a tough position as SUVs take over the world, but this sedan has always been a stupendous bargain, and the new edition is no exception.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Acura TLX is a classic example of what we used to call a “fine automobile.”

It’s the sort of well-made, conservatively-styled sedan that can be sporty, but doesn’t have to be. When you throw in parent Honda’s impeccable engineering and legendary reliability, the result is something quite fine, indeed.

Maybe too fine for its own good. I’m not sure you can find a better luxury midsize four-door — and I’m including traditional rivals such as the BMW 3-Series and the Audi A6. I lean German all the time, but whenever I come off some seat time in the Ohio-made Acura, I lean back toward the TLX. And when it comes to the A-Spec special editions, I’ve been ready to open my checkbook.

Acura TLX
The TLX nameplate has been around since the 2015 model year. Matthew DeBord/Insider

The TLX is all-new for the 2021 model year, born into a world increasingly dominated by SUVs. Acura sells those, too, but like all luxury marques, the big question these days is, “Should we stick with the four-doors?”

In Honda/Acura’s case, the answer is clearly, “Yes,” and most industry observers think that the carmaker and historic foe Toyota/Lexus can continue to make sedans work. But they need to be at the tip-top of their game.

I got to see how tip-top when I sampled $US49,325 TLX SH-AWD (“super-handling all-wheel-drive”) Advance. The car started at a well-loaded $US48,300 and got no extras, just an additional grand tacked on as a destination and handling fee. (The base TLX is $US37,500.)

Staggering value for a luxury four-door

Acura TLX
The design is basically conservative, but with a lot of edges and angles. Matthew DeBord/Insider

This is absolutely staggering value for a premium four-door, but then again, the TLX has offered staggering value for five years.

The TLX worked its TLX-y magic on me in less than an hour, causing me to question my allegiance to a small personal fleet of Toyota hybrids. I nearly took the plunge on a TSX, a TLX predecessor, when I lived on the West Coast, and so every time I get behind the wheel, I endure a bout of what-if lamentations. I know I said “fine automobile,” but for sedan connoisseurs, there might be no finer set of wheels.

If you think the TLX is a tricked-up Accord, think again. The new car has been uniquely designed, and the overall build quality is stupendous.

Acura TLX
The Acura TLX is competing in a segment that’s been losing out to SUVs. Matthew DeBord/Insider

My tester arrived in a sleek Modern Steel Metallic paint job with a groovy baseball-glove brown interior, and the combo was fire. The grey exterior was ideal for accentuating the TLX’s angles and curves, of which there are certainly more of the former than the latter. A set of 19-inch wheels initially struck me as too small, but over a week, I decided they were just right.

One does need to have a mind for edge-work to enjoy looking at the TLX, which seems as though it’s less a single, fastback shape than a concatenation of voids, tangents, tucks, and bends. It borders on Cubism, but Acura has been refining this aesthetic for a while now, and it with the 2021 TLX, the concept has reached a pleasing apotheosis.

A soothing interior that’s still a bit cramped in the back

Acura TLX
Truck space is adequate. Matthew DeBord/Insider

With the TLX, the busy exterior is soothed by a more placid, though high-tech, interior. We don’t think enough about seats until they start to make us uncomfortable, and the TLX’s 16-way front, heated and cooled, absolutely do not.

But they aren’t recliners on wheels, either, as the TLX is supposed to offer spirited motoring in Sport mode, when the car’s rotary drive selector — borrowed from the NSX supercar — is toggled in that direction.

Acura TLX
The drive selector is taken from the NSX supercar. Matthew DeBord/Insider

Rearward, the legroom is … not great. My suddenly tall teenage son would not have relished bending his knees to ride back there. But the trunk offers 13.5 cubic feet of capacity, and the interior is kinda roomy overall, so there isn’t much justification for stretching the TLX to deal with the needs of adult rear-seat passengers.

Under the hood, the TLX packs a 2.0-litre, turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine, making 272 horsepower with 280 pound-feet of torque. This sucker punches above its weight big time. Even with a 10-speed automatic transmission that one might think would race toward the overdrive gears to vindicate the 21 mpg city/ 29 highway/24 combined fuel-economy rating, the TLX feels both potent and crisp, with a punchy 0-60 mph time of around six seconds.

Handles like a champ

Acura TLX
The interior is soothing. Matthew DeBord/Insider

The handling is variable. Sport Mode encourages a brisk mood swing that welcomes harder acceleration, but the electric steering got a little too heavy for my tastes.

I ended up exploring the Individual setting, which offered the best of both worlds and still maxed out the TLX’s enthusiastic yet admirably capable suspension. Like every other TLX I’ve driven in the past few years, the stiffness equation was perfectly calculated: My spine was thankful and I didn’t have to ease off during hard cornering.

Acura TLX
The infotainment screen rises above the dash, into the driver’s line of sight. Matthew DeBord/Insider

As with its luxe four-door brethren, the TLX comes with a suite of driver-assist features, and they all work as advertised. But this is a car I like to drive myself, so I made limited use of them.

In fact, I drove the TLX like I’ve driven some recent BMW test cars, while with Audis, Mercedes, and Lexuses, I’ve deferred to the adaptive cruise control option. Paddle shifters provide a manual capability, but I skipped it for the most part, allowing the computers to do a better job than I could and savouring the sonically augmented exhaust tones.

The infotainment system is a bit of a thorny issue here. Gone is the dual-screen of the previous generation, and in its place, a large central screen, with features controlled using a double trackpad, plus some buttons and knob (for audio volume).

Acura TLX
The touchpad controller takes some getting used to. Matthew DeBord/Insider

Once you get the hang of it, the setup works quite well. But you have to get the hang of it. As far as the tech itself goes, all boxes are checked: Bluetooth pairing, USB device integration, GPS navigation, wireless charging.

My tester was outfitted with Acura’s sublime ELS Studio 3D audio system, a 17-speaker rig that is among the best available in the industry — and it’s standard on the top-level Advance trim. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available.

Acura TLX
The TLX is a joy to drive, although the electric steering felt too taut at times. Matthew DeBord/Insider

It should be rather obvious by now that I think the 2021 Acura TLX is a winner. But I already thought it was a winner, so more of the same, new generation.

The next question is, “Did Acura remain tip-top with the car?”

Nothing missing, and the price is still very right

Acura TLX
The TLX remains a superb value. Matthew DeBord/Insider

Acura missed nothing in improving the TLX, and even gave a new infotainment system the old college try. You have to admire this obsessive commitment to ongoing excellence at a price below $US50,000. As good as a lot of BMWs, better than some, and a relative bargain.

Sedan sales have been sliding in the US, and to keep cars such as then TLX in the game, carmakers like Acura have been upping prices. The new TLX is pricier than the old vehicle, but only by a few thousand bucks. I would argue that the outgoing sedan was underpriced, so at the very least, the new TLX is fairly stickered.

But the truth is that this terrific car remains a great buy. If you think about it — or drive it — I suspect you’ll agree.