Review: 2018 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec
As a halo model to draw more buyers to the TLX brand, the A-Spec makes perfect sense.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s best: Handling and steering are top notch. A-Spec styling package is serious business, too.
- What’s worst: Not quite as sprightly as its looks suggest.
- What’s interesting: You don’t expect a gussied-up luxury sedan to sound quite like this.
I guess you could say the 2018 Acura TLX is a bit of an odd duck, if for no other reason than it’s a car from a manufacturer so steeped in its SUV and CUV offerings that it’s easy for people to forget that they still make good ol’ sedans.
After spending a week with the TLX in A-Spec form, however, those people should probably educate themselves. A little, at least.
Face of the family
The TLX is the second Acura model to receive the brand’s new grille style after the MDX received the treatment for the 2017 model year. It looks OK on the larger vehicle, but it fits the lower and slightly narrower visage of the TLX much better.
The way the spokes spiral out from the big Acura emblem and meets the two outermost points of the five-point grille adds a nice width to the whole affair, while the southernmost point helps ground the car, giving a lower, more aggressive and performance-oriented appearance. On the MDX, the grille seems to float a little, unsure of how to fit with the headlights and bumper. Here, it all comes together nicely, fitting well with the five-bulb “Jewel Eye” headlights either side of it. The extended three-piece black mesh lower grille that the A-Spec gets adds to the whole affair, and the foglights at either corner manage to fit well without making everything appear too busy.
The front- and rear-3/4 views aren’t quite as filled with detail, but the 19-inch gunmetal wheels are a nice touch and the molded rocker panels contribute once again to that nice stance.
Overall, what surprised me most was how, in person, the TLX is actually quite a big package. Indeed, when it debuted for the 2015 model year, it took the place of not one, but two models in Acura’s line-up – the smaller TSX and larger TL. In person, it seems much more akin to the larger car.
Looks can be deceiving
While all that suggests a whole load of room inside, that’s only half the story. The front seats are nicely roomy, given deeper side bolsters in the A-Spec and a suede/leather finish. That’s all good as it makes for that great driving position that Hondas and Acuras – from the lowliest Fit to the grandest MDX – have always been known for.
The back seat, however, is where problems start to arise in that there just isn’t as much legroom as you’d think. Headroom is fine, but with the driver’s seat adjusted for a taller driver like myself, the rear seat becomes less livable for adults. I glanced in the trunk to try and determine where the room suggested by the exterior has gone and while its nicely deep, it only has 405 L of space. That’s less than what’s on offer from the Mercedes C-Class, Lexus ES and BMW 3 Series. It’s got more that the Infiniti Q50 (and I like the below-floor storage bin), but the TLX is going to lose a few marks as a result. I guess it’s an example of what can happen when you’re asking one model to replace two.
Tech? Oh, there’s lots of it, including dual displays and compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The lower screen is a touch affair, though there are traditional buttons for your climate control as well and various shortcuts to features like smartphone menu, navi, vehicle info and more. The upper screen, meanwhile, is where your Carplay/Android Auto resides, as well as your GPS map. The whole upper shebang is navigated by the centralized controller – it’s OK, but it is a little weird to have to move through your iPhone menus with a controller, as they’ve been all-touch ever since the device debuted. Get used to that, and it’s intuitive enough and worked flawlessly during my week with the car.
Tight as a drum, but could be quicker
Our A-Spec’s V6 exists here in the same state of tune as it does elsewhere in the line-up, meaning 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque are on-hand to get you going. Since it’s a naturally-aspirated ‘plant, power delivery is nice and linear as it makes its way through the standard 9-speed automatic to all four wheels on our model; the A-Specness also extends to the four-cylinder, FWD model. A manual option? Heh, there’s a laugh. Much as Acura likes to champion the drivability and athleticism of its cars, the manual transmission has gone the way of the dodo in everything the brand offers, from the basest ILX sedan to the blingiest NSX supercar. It’s a shame, really, because parent company Honda makes some downright awesome manual transmissions and it seems like it was just yesterday that the TLX’s TL Type S ancestor was blowing all of our socks off with a close-ratio six-speed and a clutch pedal. How times have changed, eh?
So, Sport mode activated (it’s one of four, starting from Eco), it was time to see what this most sporty of Acura sedans was all about.
Immediately after throttle tip-in, the TLX is up and at ‘em, all four wheels gripping (power spilt ranges from 90:10 to 30:70 front:rear) and getting down to business. After what seems like not too long, however, the acceleration drops off to the point where I was actually commenting to myself that the car feels…heavy. Once you’re in-gear and have momentum, it tends to lighten up a bit but I guess the ferocious acceleration somewhat promised by those go-fast looks and red paint isn’t quite there. Making use of the paddle shifters helps a little, but even the transmission’s response once one is flicked is a little sluggish. It sounds the business, though; I was genuinely surprised by how vocal it was, and if it’s too loud for you, well, there’s always the non-A-Spec models. Or the lesser drive modes, which will actually allow the car to function more quietly on three cylinders if the conditions allow for it.
While the steering is a little heavy (there’s that word again) at lower speeds, I found it to be the best part of the A-Spec experience once you really get the juices flowing on a more twisty road. It really does feel like a proper sports sedan in these circumstances, as the A-Spec’s tuned suspension is given the chance to show what its capable of. Better still is the fact that while you’d the think the ride would be compromised in the name of all this performance, it’s not; if I wanted to just take it easy in Eco mode, the smart damper settings and spring rates let me do just that. This is a fantastic chassis. It really is.
The middle ground
Thing is, with that “A-Spec” designation comes the somewhat heavy burden of going up against more established models from other manufacturers’ performance-lite divisions, such as the Cadillac CTS V-Sport or Infiniti Q50 Red Sport. Those are some heady waters, and while the TLX will go toe to toe with most in the handling department, the power just isn’t there for a full-fledged attack on those other cars. It also does well when it comes to tech and (for the most part) interior comfort – not to mention a base cost of entry that undercuts much of the competition — so there is a lot going for it. Just not sure if it’s the way I’d go if performance was priority #1, which may be OK; as a halo model to draw more buyers to the TLX brand, the A-Spec makes perfect sense. Plus, the price is right and could be a bit of an ace up the sleeve, even for the top-spec A-Spec Elite AWD version.
2018 Acura TLX SH-AWD Elite A-Spec
BODY STYLE: Four-door mid-size luxury sedan
DRIVE METHOD: Front-mounted motor, all-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 3.5L V6; Power: 290hp; Torque: 267 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic
CARGO CAPACITY: 405 litres
FUEL ECONOMY (EST): 12/10.3 L/100 km city/highway
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