You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the styling of the TLX Concept made a very good first impression upon us. We certainly like the styling of the production TLX as well, but we can't help but feel like something was lost in the translation from concept to production form, and it seems like most of that comes down to the TLX's exterior finishing details. The concept's fundamental styling and pleasing proportions remain intact, but somehow the finished retail product has a bit of an "under-premium" look to it. It's not just one thing that spoils it - it's an accumulation of small things (such as not quite hidden exhausts, strange looking wheel/tire pairings, and just maybe, a bit too much Accord-ness). Again, we're not saying we don't like the styling, we're just saying it doesn't quite live up to what we had hoped for. And that gorgeous red color that was featured on the TLX Concept is nowhere to be found in the production color palette. Overall, the TLX is handsome and understated, but there is certainly some untapped potential.
The TLX shed some serious weight when compared to the comparable TL models (in fact, the SH-AWD TLX Advance only weighs 4 lb. more than last year's FWD TL Advance), so you can imagine that the dynamic performance has improved. That's not the only thing that improved. The TLX has made spectacular strides in terms of refinement. The body structure has made dramatic improvements in both torsional and bending rigidity, and Acura engineers have beefed up the suspension mounting points considerably. Add that to some serious upgrades in the soundproofing department (including Acura's first ever application of acoustic foam to 10 locations of the vehicle), and you have what may be the quietest, most refined Honda or Acura that has ever been offered to date. In the TLX, there is a fluidity of movement, a sense of zero friction, a level of near silence and cabin calm that simply hasn't existed in any previous Acura models.
Last week, we spent over 300 miles driving and riding in all 3 trim levels of the TLX and came up with a preliminary order of preference. Below we list our experiences in order, starting with our favorite, the 2.4L model.
Ever since the TSX debuted in 2003, we've always preferred it (if only slightly) to the TL. That's not to say that we thought the TSX was perfect - it has always felt underpowered to us, except in V6 form of course, but then that heavy V6 powertrain came at an untenable price as it pretty much spoiled the TSX's wonderful chassis feel.
Now we have a 4-cylinder engine that on paper is only slightly more powerful than the 2014 TSX's K24, but the latest iteration of the K24 is by far the most enthusiastic and energetic 2.4L 4-cylinder we've ever experienced in a Honda or Acura to date. This engine is paired with an absolutely superb 8-speed Dual-Clutch Transmission. We're not kidding when we say it is probably the best automatic transmission we have ever experienced. We have driven many cars with Dual-Clutch Transmissions (DCT) over the years, and the key drawback has always been their low-speed lurchiness. The torque converter that Honda added onto their 8-speed DCT was a stroke of genius. It's one of those things that makes you scratch your head and wonder why not a single one of the numerous automakers and OEM suppliers that trod down this path over the previous 10 years ever considered this solution. Bottom line, it works fantastically.
The car launches like a bat out of hell when you boot it, it upshifts and downshifts seamlessly and damned near instantly. The gear ratios are designed to get this car moving to freeway speeds with minimal effort and maximum expedience. The engine sounds great zinging through the gears, and during our limited time driving the TLX 2.4, we don't remember a single instance of hearing it strain. It's simply that good. During sporty driving, shifts are very quick and very crisp, with a small amount of shift feel intentionally engineered into the equation. At part throttle, in day-to-day cruising mode, the shifts are absolutely imperceptible, both in sound and in feel. The only indication is that you will see the tachometer make a nearly instantaneous step in rev count, plus or minus 500 rpms depending upon which way the shift went. Even though the car rides remarkably quietly, you probably won't be able to hear any of these variances in engine speed until you're up in the higher rpm ranges.
The 8-speed DCT operates as a fully automatic transmission in all 4 of the available IDS modes (Econ, Normal, Sport, and Sport+). You can manually command shifts via the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. After some period of inactivity from the paddle shifters, the system will revert back to fully automatic mode, unless you're in Sport+. Sport+ operates in fully automatic mode until the first time you use the paddle shifters, and then it will remain in full manual mode until you actively defeat the manual mode, either by switching IDS modes, or by clicking the right (upshift) paddle and holding it for a second.
This sublime powertrain plugs into a chassis which carries just the right amount of weight on each axle - the car turns in intuitively and effortlessly traces the intended arcs through every manner of road. In this sense it feels a lot like a first generation TSX, except it's MUCH quicker. For something that rides as quietly and comfortably as the 2.4L TLX does, it certainly transitions better than seems reasonable. Ultimate grip is pretty good, but of course limited by the all-season tires and a mild degree of understeer.
That's all the good stuff. Could it be better? The answer to that depends upon what your needs and desires are. If you're looking for a super comfy commuter that gets great fuel economy, handles really well, and still has a high fun quotient when you want to open it up, this car might be perfect. If you're looking for something that's a little more serious in terms of "driving machine", then we can't help but think that Acura left quite a bit of room for a "Type-S" model to step in down the road. For example, even in the sportiest of IDS settings (Sport+) the steering still feels overboosted, a little slow in terms of ratio, and somewhat detached. The TLX's suspension strikes a good balance between ride comfort and handling, though it's clear that ride comfort takes priority. This bias towards ride comfort obviously takes some of the edge off of the feeling of responsiveness, though this suppleness doesn't seem to negatively impact forward progress by any tremendous degree. In this sense, the 2.4 TLX reminds us fondly of the original TSX - a machine which makes its maximum performance very accessible and effortless to the driver.
One other thing we should mention is that the P-AWS system was essentially imperceptible, which is likely a good thing. It just works, and seemingly goes about its business without forcing its presence upon the driver. Side Note: the toe-control actuators used on the TLX utilize a completely new design that is 100% unique from the P-AWS system found on the Acura RLX, though they offer roughly the same degree of toe control (±1.8 degrees, to be precise).