2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec review: Return to form

When the TSX ceased to exist following the 2014 model year, Acura lost the last truly engaging sedan in its stable. Yes, the company rolled out the larger TLX as a replacement, but it failed to really excite audiences with its frumpy, lackluster styling and somewhat boring drive character. With the all-new 2021 TLX, Acura hopes to recapture some of its old sedan magic. And with slick looks, a healthy dose of tech and — most importantly — better on-road manners, the new TLX is nicely positioned to do just that.


  • Sharp styling
  • Involving drive character
  • Awesome ELS audio system

Don’t Like

  • Muted gear changes
  • All-season tire grip
  • Hefty curb weight

High-style Acura

The new TLX is Acura’s best sedan design execution in quite a long time. While I was a fan of the company’s older TL and TSX models, none of those vehicles were head-turners, but the latest TLX definitely is. Based on the 2019 Type S Concept, the TLX boasts a fair amount of attitude with a fast roofline, slim Jewel Eye headlight treatment, hunkered stance and sizeable rear haunches. Compared to the outgoing model, it’s 3 inches longer, 2 inches wider and half an inch lower.

In the case of my A-Spec test car, the TLX gets a touch more aggressive with 19-inch split-spoke wheels (18s are standard on the base model), a black grille, black window trim, model-specific decklid lip spoiler and foglights.

Head into the cabin and you plop into extremely comfortable and supportive front bucket seats covered with soft Milano leather and suede inserts. These seats offer plenty of adjustability, allowing me to find the perfect position behind the thick-rimmed steering wheel. While some on the Roadshow staff find the TLX’s dash layout busy, I like the tiered design and prefer its plethora of traditional, clearly marked buttons to screens or haptic sliders. 

High marks also go to the quality materials that make up all major portions of the TLX’s cabin. The dash and door panels feature large swaths of leather-wrapped and contrast-stitched areas, brushed aluminum trim and piano black bits. There’s also a serviceable amount of space in front, and there’s enough legroom for adults in back, though taller folks might like a little more headroom. For cargo, a trunk with 13.5 cubic feet of space is ready to swallow lots of goods.

Strong tech hand

Acura’s True TouchPad interface runs the TLX’s infotainment software, offering better touch accuracy than before, making it easier to control navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth. Working through the various screens is intuitive enough but entering nav destinations does take a little longer than I might like, especially since the crisp, 10.2-inch center display isn’t a touchscreen. I do, however, appreciate the addition of a volume knob and skip buttons to the right of the touchpad, which make audio adjustments a lot easier.

The True Touchpad system’s addition of a volume knob and skip button is welcome.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Speaking of audio, the A-Spec comes with a totally rocking ELS audio setup. With 17 speakers and 710 watts of power, you’ll want to have the best-quality uncompressed audio files you can get your hands on to truly appreciate this system. It sounds magnificent and goes toe-to-toe with anything from Bose or Harman Kardon.

Acura’s safety menu is substantial, with all TLX models coming standard with adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist and traffic sign recognition. My A-Spec packs a few more standard goodies like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear parking sensors.

Back to the performance well

While better looks and tech improvements are important, the new TLX’s performance is the headline here. Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 making 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, with the latter available from 1,600 to 4,500 rpm. The performance specs are more than competitive against rivals such as the Audi A4, BMW 330i and Mercedes-Benz C300. Front-wheel-drive is standard on the TLX, but you can add the company’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system for an additional $2,000.

The TLX’s turbo I4 is a smooth and powerful operator.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Routing power to the wheels in every TLX is a 10-speed automatic transmission, built in-house for Honda/Acura products. My AWD A-Spec tester is rated to return an EPA-estimated 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

The smooth engine offers quick throttle response, lively mid-range grunt and pulls hard all the way up to the 6,800-rpm redline. The transmission, on the other hand, would benefit from some fine tuning to address its slightly muted shifts and while the manual shift mode isn’t horrendous, it’s far from the best in this class.

Raising this Acura’s handling IQ is a chassis that ditches the previous TLX’s MacPherson strut front suspension in favor of a double-wishbone setup. Together with the multilink rear suspension, the new TLX is compliant enough to soak up small to medium impacts, but is also remarkably competent through bends. There’s the smallest bit of body roll at corner entry, but then the TLX hunkers down and confidently tracks through. 

The TLX A-Spec is hankering for something stickier than its all-season Michelins.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

The main performance-limiting factors are the A-Spec’s not-so-trim 3,990-pound curb weight and the Michelin Primacy all-season tires. These are good all-season tires for balanced daily driving performance, but you tell the chassis can handle so much more. Plus, the latest-generation SH-AWD system is now capable of routing up to 70% of the engine’s torque to the rear axle, which the tech can then fully distribute to the left or right wheel. Combined with the well-tuned suspension, the TLX is just begging for more grip.

Even with the all-season Michelins, the TLX is quick to turn in and the steering provides satisfying feel and feedback. The brakes are a little grabby with strong initial bite, but quickly slow this nearly two-ton sedan with confidence. 

How I’d spec it

The 2021 TLX starts at $38,525, including $1,025 for destination. To spec my ideal version, I’d begin by checking the box for the excellent $2,000 SH-AWD system, given my Midwest residency. From there I’d spring for the $2,750 A-Spec package for the sportier looks, and this also allows me to option the awesome $500 Apex Blue paint job. The A-Spec treatment also requires the addition of the $4,000 Technology Package for goodies I’d want anyway like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and stellar ELS audio system. All in, my perfect Acura sedan would sticker for $47,775 — the exact same price as my Performance Red Pearl tester.

This 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec wears a $47,775 price tag, including $1,025 for destination.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

A complete package

As a Honda/Acura enthusiast, I was excited by all the promising news leading up to the arrival of the 2021 TLX. The styling previewed by the Type S concept, return of double-wishbone front suspension and forthcoming TLX Type S all sound great. Now, after driving the TLX A-Spec and experiencing some familiar driving traits that made old Acura models so endearing, I’m even more upbeat about Acura’s future. 

No, the new TLX isn’t perfect, but it’s a strong, competitive package. Acura’s latest sedan offers styling, tech and performance that should make anyone considering an Audi A4, BMW 330i or Mercedes-Benz C300 take a second look.

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