Friday, May 1, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Acura TLX 2.4 Tech

MSRP: $31,445
As tested price: $36,420

It has been exactly eight months since we last looked at Acura's TLX, the replacement for both the TL and TSX sedans. In our first review, we looked at the base model equipped with the 2.4 liter "Earth Dreams" inline-four. We probably could have just mostly ignored the driving experience and focused on the additional tech goodies this Tech Package equipped model we are looking at now has, but that would not be much of a review, now would it?

In order to fill the void left by the TSX and TL, Acura, for the first time ever, chose to make two engines available in the TLX: a direct injected 2.4 liter inline-four, and a direct injected 3.5 liter V6 with active cylinder management. What we have here is the TLX equipped with the 2.4 liter engine and the tech package, which includes such additional items like navigation, a premium radio system, premium leather, and a host of additional safety features. Acura's goal with the TLX was to make a car that could, once again, truly compete with mid-size luxury heavy weights BMW and Mercedes Benz. Have they succeeded in building a proper successor to the much loved third-generation Acura TL?

Since its introduction last year, the TLX has gotten all sorts of comments on its looks, ranging from "Acura's best design yet," all the way to "downright hideous." Personally, I think it looks quite good. It is pretty clear that Acura's TLX design team evolved some design cues from the wildly successful third generation TL and stepped away from the extremely controversial fourth generation model. Take the front of the car for example -- if you took a third generation TL, replaced the headlight cluster with the new Jewel Eye (R) headlights and replaced the old grill with the newly update power plenum, you basically have the front end of the TLX. I do not believe this is a bad thing, as it actually works out quite well and gives the car a surprisingly aggressive look. The rest of the car is pretty conservatively designed, which is probably why it gets the "boring" comments in various reviews of the car. I would not say it is boring, but its lines do not seem to flow quite as elegantly as on the Audi A4. There are two things that ruin the overall look of the car though. The first thing are those hideous 17 inch wheels. They come standard on all 2.4 liter equipped models, and the optional accessory wheels are not any better. If Acura were smart, they would equip the standard 18 inch wheels from the V6 equipped models as standard. They look much better and give the car a better stance. Besides, the brakes look like they barely fit into the 17 inch wheels. My second issue with the design are the hidden exhaust tips. I get they are going for that "eco friendly" look, but it also looks a bit cheap too, especially since the mufflers are visible from certain angles. [Editor's note: I would be happy if they just made an effort to powder coat the mufflers black so that it made them less visible.]

There are very few interior changes between trims in the TLX. Minor things, such as the addition of a color multi-info display, and a "Nav" button on the center console, go mostly unnoticed moving between a base and tech trim. The biggest change is the leather. In the base model, the TLX is equipped with vinyl leatherette. Step up one trim, and Acura upgrades the seating surfaces with premium "Milano" leather. The premium leather certainly does feel much softer to the touch than the fake stuff used in the base model. I do find it interesting that Acura has jumped on the BMW and Mercedes bandwagon of offering leatherette on base model cars. One of the highlights of Acura's interiors has always been the fact that real leather was offered regardless of trim (Integra and RSX not included, of course). I guess that is what happens when the bean counters start taking over the company.

Regardless of trim level, the 2.4 liter equipped models come with Honda's K24W7 "Earth Dreams" engine (rated at 206 hp and 182 lb./ft.), Precision All Wheel Steer (a.k.a. P-AWS), and the new eight-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT) with torque converter. Honda has always been known for building some of the best and smoothest inline-fours around, and this engine is no exception. Unlike some of its more hardcore siblings, this K24 has plenty of low and mid-range thrust. As you approach the redline though, the power does plateau, but the TLX is not really a car designed to be driven like an S2000. Left to its own devices, the DCT shifts very smoothly without the jerking generally associated with DCTs from other manufacturers. Set the car into "sport" or "sport+" and the transmission also shifts quickly. My only real complaint lies with manually shifting gears. There is a very noticeable delay between flicking the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters and the car actually changing gears. I believe a software update is in store for that to get fixed.

I do wish handling could be better in this car. While the P-AWS system does work well in getting the car to rotate instead of understeer, imagine how much better it could be had Acura equipped the car with a decent set of tires instead of the eco-friendly rubbish that comes as standard. The only good thing that comes from the thick walled eco-tires is that they soak up bumpy roads quite well. Brakes are the usual Honda brand of "this isn't a sports car so it's ok if we give it crappy brakes." I really wish Honda would at least give its Acura branded vehicles a better set of brake pads. It should not be that expensive. Steering is nothing to really write home about either. It is not bad, but considering how successful they were with the NSX and S2000 electric steering racks, you would think Honda could do a better job.

When it comes to the equipment level to cost ratio, it is pretty hard to beat Acura in the luxury realm. With an as tested price of $36,420, the TLX comes in as the cheapest vehicle we have tested in the mid-size luxury class, yet comes equipped with everything we asked for when we sat down to iron out the key features we wanted in a daily driver. When it comes to performance though, the car does leave a bit to be desired. The engine and transmission are a great combination and deliver solid, if not exactly thrilling, performance. However, handling and braking could use some work. While the TLX is certainly not a bad vehicle, I cannot for sure say that it is primed for competition against the four largest established luxury brands (Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes Benz). What I can say for sure is that the TLX is proof that Acura is heading back in the right direction. I just hope that when the car's mid-cycle refresh rolls around, Acura will have been smart enough to address some of the critical issues and transform the TLX into a true competitor.

*Special thanks to Cerritos Acura for allowing us to spend some time with their vehicles

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