MIDDLEBURG, VA – Nowhere is Americans’ love affair with the CUV more evident than at Acura.
Six to 10 years ago, the brand sold 60,000-70,000 TL midsize sedans per year and another 30,000-40,000 smaller TSX sedans.
This year, the midsize RDX and large MDX CUVs have sold that much through July, while TSX and TL sales total 15,656, WardsAuto data shows.
With the entry-level ILX and flagship RLX sedans selling in very small numbers, to say Acura has a lot riding on the new ’15 TLX to right its car sales is putting it mildly.
The TLX replaces both the TSX and TL in Acura’s U.S. lineup. The brand believes retailing a vehicle similarly sized to competitors (the TSX was smaller than a BMW 3-Series, the TL a bit larger) will help spur sales.
But size alone can’t correct Acura’s car woes.
The TLX, while proving a competent performer during test drives of both 4- and 6-cyl. models here, wears a look too similar to that of the TL, including Acura’s widely panned 6-year-old power-plenum grille.
Overall, the new TLX isn’t ugly, but it doesn’t stand out against the competition or seem very fresh.
Engines Updated With Lots of Technology
Acura says the TLX’s 2.4L 4-cyl. is a different engine than the same-sized mill in the outgoing TSX or current Honda Accord, thanks to the addition of direct injection, a higher compression ratio and more horsepower and torque.
A dual-stage intake also is present, using the long runner below 3,900 rpm then switching to a short runner. This allows for a wider, flatter torque band and quicker response, says Chief Engineer Mat Hargett.
The TLX 4-cyl. makes 206 hp at 6,800 rpm and 182 lb.-ft. (247 Nm) of torque at 4,500 rpm, up from the old 2.4L, which produced 201 hp and 172 lb.-ft. (233 Nm) at best.
Acura mates the 2.4L to a new, in-house 8-speed dual-clutch transmission with a torque converter. The torque converter may be a head-scratching addition on a DCT, but Hargett says it dampens vibration and “herky-jerky” motion that may be present in DCTs at low speeds.
The new 8-speed DCT is geared for performance, with the first seven gear ratios lower than the TSX’s 5-speed automatic’s fifth gear.
Fuel economy matches the 2.0L turbo BMW 320i’s 28-mpg (8.4-L/100 km) average and bests the Bimmer’s highway fuel economy by 1 mpg, with a rating of 37 mpg (6.4 L/100 km).
Our time spent in the 2.4L TLX is brief, but we manage to outdo the combined fuel-economy figure, earning 29.1 mpg (8.1 L/100 km) on mostly mid-speed surface roads.
The dual-stage intake alleviates the gripe Honda engines have too high a torque peak. However, the DCT tends to always be in a higher gear than what we want. Fortunately, downshifting via paddle shifters alleviates this problem, as does putting the car into Sport+ mode, one of four selectable driving modes that vary transmission and throttle calibration and which holds lower gears longer.
V-6 Performance More Invigorating
Most of our time is spent in V-6 TLXs, first the front-wheel-drive model and then the grade with Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive.
The SH-AWD on the TLX is a new generation of the torque-vectoring technology which now has a single motor, helping to cut total system weight 25%. The one motor independently controls the hydraulic pressure to the left and right rear wheels.
Because the added weight of an AWD system hinders fuel economy, Honda’s stop/start system is added to the V-6 AWD TLX.
At a full stop, we find the system inconspicuously shuts down the 3.5L, but restarts are more obvious.
The 3.5L is the same V-6 Acura uses in the MDX, with identical horsepower and torque figures: 290 hp and 267 lb.-ft. (362 Nm).
While it bests the specs of the outgoing TL’s 3.5L V-6, it underperforms that car’s optional 305-hp 3.7L V-6, which achieved 273 lb.-ft. (370 Nm) of torque. This likely is an intentional strategy, to put more distance between the TLX and Acura’s 310-hp RLX, as well as leave room for a possible TLX Type-S.
For the first time in memory, Acura outsources a transmission. The V-6 is mated to ZF’s 9-speed automatic.
While it certainly improves performance vs. the TL’s 6-speed automatic, with its first seven gear ratios lower than that transmission’s sixth gear, it also doesn’t downshift when you want it to, at least in Normal and Sport modes. Fortunately the 9AT’s paddle shifters are five times faster than those in the TL 6AT model.
The almost 100-lb.-ft. (136-Nm) of extra torque in the V-6 TLX makes the car feel significantly quicker and more willing than the 2.4L model.
Ride and handling is good in each vehicle, with an appropriately firm ride. Still, after a quick test of an AWD 328xi, the TLX feels a tad heavier than the exceedingly fling-able BMW.
The TLX has perfect interior fit-and-finish, with no flaws found in our three test cars. Material selection could be better (we’re looking at you, glossy wood), but the cabin is attractive if not inspired. The 328xi has virtually the same materials and even identical horizontal stitching on door panels.
Ergonomics are good, with buttons and knobs in easy reach of the driver. Door armrests are oddly low, though.
The TLX has the most safety technology ever on an Acura, including lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist. In one test car, these two features work consistently but in another function just 25% of the time, proving autonomous technology isn’t ready for prime time.
Pricing and standard features (paddles, heated seats, LED headlights) are compelling on the TLX. The base FWD 2.4L model is about $2,000 less than a ’14 320i and $6,000 less than a ’14 Lexus IS 250.
The difference is greater when comparing the FWD and AWD V-6 TLXs to competitors, as the car begins at $35,220 vs. the turbo 4-cyl.-equipped 328i’s $37,400 starting point. A ’14 BMW 335i will set buyers back at least $43,500, about $1,000 below where a fully-loaded AWD TLX tops out.
Acura lacks the market cachet of its German competitors. A really progressive-looking TLX would help capture buyer attention in the shrinking Lower Luxury car segment.
’15 Acura TLX 3.5L SH-AWD w/ Advance Package Specifications
|Vehicle type||4-door, 5-passenger car|
|Engine||3.5L DOHC all-aluminum V-6 w/ direct injection|
|Power (SAE net)||290 hp @ 6,200 rpm|
|Torque||267 lb.-ft. (362 Nm) @ 4,500 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||89 x 93|
|Wheelbase||109.3 ins. (2,776 mm)|
|Overall length||190.3 ins. (4,834 mm)|
|Overall width||73.0 ins. (1,854 mm)|
|Overall height||57.0 ins. (1,448 mm)|
|Curb weight||3,774 lbs. (1,712 kg)|
|Price as tested||$45,595 incl. $895 destination & handling (base-price range $30,995-$44,700)|
|Fuel economy||21/31 mpg (11.2-7.6 L/100 km) city/highway|
|Competition||Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Volvo S60|
|Upgraded powertrains, suspensions, safety, etc.||Design not changed enough|
|Dual-stage intake on 2.4L good||Stop/start on V-6 so-so|
|Standard paddles||8-speed DCT, 9AT cling to higher-than-desired gears|