Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Preview: 2021 Acura TLX

To say that I've been eagerly awaiting this car is a huge understatement. My current job has me working literally a block away form Honda's R&D facilities in Torrance, CA, so I occasionally catch glimpses of the camouflaged test mules roaming around my area. I once even tried to chase one down in the S2000 after work one day. My family has had two third generation TL Type-S (East Brother had a silver 6MT and I had a white 5AT) and it is still, to this day, one of my absolute favorite cars. When Acura finally announced the second generation TLX last week, complete with Type-S variant, I was ecstatic.

From the outside, the car looks fantastic. It takes a lot of its cues for the Type-S concept introduced last year, which is precisely what many people were hoping for. I think my favorite angle of this car is the rear three quarters. It looks like a grown up version of the current ILX, which isn't a bad thing. I like the current ILX A-Spec's look and think it's a a good look to build upon. With the Type-S quad exhaust, it just looks aggressive in the best way possible. The front of the car also looks great, with Acura designers doing a great job of integrating the new corporate front grille into the design of the car.

Now we get to the big one: power, handling, and content. This is where, for the last near decade, Acura has really done a disservice to the brand. In the early 2000s, around the time of the third generation TL, Acura was seen as an equal alternative to the likes of Lexus, and even in some cases, BMW, Mercedes and Audi. Despite being front wheel drive, the third generation TL performed as well and was as luxurious as its class rivals. The second generation RL, which was the first vehicle in its class to introduce torque vectoring all-wheel drive to the class, also blew its competition out of the water in its early years. But as the fourth generation TL was introduced and the second generation RL continued on largely unchanged, Acura began its long downhill slide. Its horsepower figures were no longer competitive, the luxury factor started to fall due to cost cutting, and the looks...oh lord the looks. Luckily, the MDX and RDX crossovers kept the brand alive, and Acura did see a brief resurgence with the introduction of the TLX and RLX. Unfortunately, the TLX was never considered a worth alternative to the 3-Series or C-Class due to its lack of power, and the RLX is effectively dead after this year (which will be discussed in a future article).

However, my biggest gripe with the Acura brand actually has to do with parent brand, Honda. Acura in the last few years has always been one step behind Honda's cars when it comes to new content. The reason why we ended up with at 2016 Honda Accord Touring instead of a 2016 Acura TLX was because the Accord had newer and better content than the TLX, not to mention nearly identical horsepower ratings and more room. Our last article before we bid goodbye to our 2014 Acura RLX highlighted the discrepancies between our Accord and the Acura flagship, showing that for over $25,000 less, you can get an Accord that out classes Acura's flagship in many respects. This is also the reason why I ended up with a 2020 Civic Si instead of a 2019 ILX A-Spec. Sure, the Civic may be missing a few luxury features, but it is in every other way, the superior car compared to the ILX.

With the introduction of the second generation TLX, this will hopefully change. Yes, the base vehicles will share some version of the 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder Honda currently uses in the Accord (and RDX and Civic Type-R), but what I'm more interested in is the 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 in the Type-S. Finally, Acura will get an exclusive engine not previously designed for a Honda application. We don't know how much power it's going to make, but rumor has it that it should make 35% more power than the current 3.5 liter V6 in the TLX. That puts it in the 390 to 400 horsepower range, which will be fantastic. Double wishbone suspension (which is making a return), the latest version of SH-AWD, and an interior featuring the latest technology Honda has to offer, Acura is finally making a divide between itself and parent Honda's vehicles. As far as I can tell, the only piece of equipment that might be carried over from the Accord is the 10-speed transmission, but even that should be significantly different from the Accord's since it'll need to be able to handle far more horsepower and torque.

It's still going to be a while before the 2021 TLX hits the market, but all things are pointing in the right direction for this car. The automotive press is hailing the TLX as a return to its early 2000 sporty roots, and boy I sure hope they're right. Acura needs a new renaissance, and they need it quick. Sure, the NSX brought some attention back to the brand, but Acura needs something more available to the masses, and they needed it yesterday. Let's see how things go...

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