Way back in the mid-1980s when Honda's luxury brand was new, Acura's best car was the mid-size Legend. Available as a sedan or sport coupe, the Legend was a very good car for its time wearing a truly great name, unlike today's three-letter labels. We think the 2015 TLX is the closest thing yet to being Legend's long-awaited heir.
The 2015 Acura TLX is an all-new model logically positioned midway between Acura's compact ILX and its flagship RLX. The Acura TLX replaces both the TSX and TL. And, for a split personality as a refined country clubber that can mix it up with the best four-door automotive athletes, Acura loaded it with a unique blend of highly effective technologies.
The 2015 TLX comes in three flavors: The Acura TLX 2.4L comes with a 206-hp 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder and an innovative new 8-speed dual clutch transmission; the Acura TLX 3.5L features a 290-hp 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 with a new 9-speed automatic; while the TLX 3.5L SH-AWD adds Acura's next-generation Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive.
We have driven all the models and found the new Acura TLX boasts crisp steering and excellent handling along with pleasingly quiet, road-smoothing ride. Some of this is owed to its new Motion-Adaptive Electronic Power Steering, its Amplitude Reactive Dampers.
We found the 2.4-liter engine that comes standard to be surprisingly powerful with good torque. This engine uses direct fuel-injection and iVTEC (Intelligent Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) to deliver 206 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. The Sequential SportShift transmission with paddle shifters delivers ultra-quick shifts among closely spaced ratios with automatic rev-matching downshifts, which gives it an eager sports sedan personality. This is the world's first dual-clutch transmission with a torque converter, whose role is to smooth stop-and-go driving while multiplying torque for better off-line acceleration compared to a typical DCT.
For those wanting still-stronger performance, the direct-injected aluminum V6 offers 290 horses and 267 pound-feet of torque. The V6 uses Variable Cylinder Management, or VCM, which deactivates three of its six cylinders for improved fuel efficiency when lightly loaded. When teamed with SH-AWD, it also has a fuel-saving idle-stop feature.
Two-wheel-drive TLX models with either engine come with Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS), which points their rear wheels slightly in the opposite direction as the fronts to improve maneuverability in low-speed turns and in the same direction in higher-speed maneuvers to enhance stability. A handful of automakers have toyed with optional rear-wheel steer in the past but have found few takers, mostly due to high cost. This one is standard, it works exceedingly well, and it does so completely transparently.
Acura's latest Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) is a new lighter, lower-friction, hydraulically controlled design that provides more torque-vectoring across a broader spectrum of driving conditions to improve cornering capability in low-speed and tight-radius corners. Both of these systems are aided by Agile Handling Assist (AHA), which blends light braking and Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) to help pivot the TLX into, then stabilize it through, high-speed and near-limit-handling curves.
Acura's Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) offers selectable ECON, Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes that let you customize the TLX's dynamic responses. Each determines its power-steering effort, throttle response, transmission shift logic, HVAC system operation, and control logic for the P-AWS or SH-AWD systems.
On the safety side, the 2015 TLX is Acura's first vehicle with a new monocular camera and millimeter wave radar that work together to expand both the accuracy and scope of its road-sensing skills. This combination of camera and radar technology improves the capabilities of the Adaptive Cruise Control and available Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) to better prevent or mitigate both car-to-car and car-to-pedestrian mishaps.
The 2015 TLX is the first Acura with a new Road Departure Mitigation (RDM) system. Included with the Advance Package, it uses the monocular camera to recognize lanes and road edges, then warns you and applies corrective steering and even braking if necessary to keep you in your lane if it senses that your projected path is heading out of it.
We have not been fans of recent Acura sedan design. In the past several years, their body shapes have been invisibly bland while their faces have been dominated by big, overly aggressive bird-beak grilles. As compact and midsize sedans have become more stylishly appealing, Acura's luxury sedans have not. The TSX and TL looked much like each other, and the TL seemed not much different in size or appearance from the RLX. And their two- and three-letter names did little to distinguish them. Though with another three-letter name, the new TLX distinguishes itself from the TSX and TL it replaces.
The 2015 TLX is 3.7 inches shorter than the outgoing TL. Also, the new TLX has shorter overhangs than the outgoing TL, on the same 109.3-inch wheelbase, meaning there is less car sticking out in front of and behind the wheels and axles. Less overhang suggests better handling and reduces the chance of scraping in a severe driveway transition. The TLX benefits from an all-new, much-stiffer platform; a stiff structure is the key to sharp handling and a smooth ride. The size of the new midsize TLX allows it to fit neatly between the smaller, compact ILX and larger RLX.
The styling of the TLX is less polarizing than that of the outgoing TL and outgoing TSX. The Acura beak has been toned down a notch. The five-element LED headlamps on the TLX look sharp, and the finned front lower air intakes are nicely integrated into the lower fascia. Along the sides, nicely sculpted fenders and character creases work well with the pleasing proportions of a sports sedan.
Thanks to multiple sound isolation and absorption measures, the Acura TLX cabin is as quiet as it is nicely trimmed, and there's ample room and comfort for four or five adults. The seats in both the TLX 2.4L and TLX 3.5L gave fatigue-free comfort and support. The premium-look soft-touch instrument panel and door panels are complimented by tasteful, authentic-looking woodgrain and aluminum accents, while handsome leatherette trim is standard and Milano leather available. The manual steering column tilts and telescopes, which is good, but we were disappointed that it did not do so electrically with the press of a button.
Among the many standard and available features are heated and ventilated front seats, Bluetooth HandsFreeLink, keyless access with Push Button Start, 3D Navigation and AcuraLink Real-Time Traffic with Traffic Rerouting, GPS-linked automatic climate control, a color Multi-Information Display (MID) with turn-by-turn guidance, LED accent lighting, HD Radio, Pandora and Aha integration, and HDMI and USB connectivity and next-generation AcuraLink cloud-based connected car system, which enables a broad range of cloud-based and embedded convenience, connectivity and security features. Only one USB outlet, though.
A seven-inch touch-screen displays and controls these and other features, and, unlike in some recent Acura models, nearly all of them are easy to see and use. The available Multi-Information Display sits above the touch screen in a hooded recess. We found the big upper navigation screen and the touch-screen's controls below it intuitive and easy to use even while on the move. There are hard buttons for key climate and entertainment system functions and a much-appreciated volume knob, but unhappily not one for tuning. One of our favorite features on the TLX is the brilliant Acura/ELS 10-speaker Studio Premium Audio system (part of the Advance Package).
The rear seat is easy to access and a generally pleasant place to be. Cargo capacity, access and flexibility are much improved over previous models thanks to a larger, wider trunk opening, a flat cargo floor and new 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks.
All TLX models have an Electronic Parking Brake with Automatic Brake Hold, which can retain brake pressure when stopped in heavy traffic or on hills. TLX 3.5L models debut a handy push-button Electronic Gear Selector (instead of a gear lever) that frees up center-console space.
Our day-long test drive started in a TLX 3.5L SH-AWD with Advance Package then transitioned to a TLX 2.4L with Technology Package. The most noticeable difference seemed to be the additional performance from the V6 in the TLX 3.5L, which served up 84 more horses and 85 more pound-feet of torque over the four-cylinder engine of the TLX 2.4L.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder in the TLX 2.4L delivered surprisingly strong mid-range torque and wound to its 7000-rpm redline with joy (and a bit more noise) and was nearly as enjoyable as the 3.5L to drive aggressively on the variety of challenging, twisty, often rough-surfaced Northern Michigan two-lanes we encountered on our prescribed test route.
Both the V6's SH-AWD and the front-wheel-drive four's P-AWS provided deliciously crisp and athletic handling, while the electric power steering served up feel and response nearly as satisfying as that of a typical mechanical/hydraulic system.
Both the four-cylinder's 8-speed torque-converter DCT and the V6's 9-speed automatic snapped off quick shifts on their own or when prompted by the steering wheel paddles. The four-mode Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) offered noticeable dynamic differences: ECO was lazy, Normal was agile yet smooth-riding, Sport was crisper but stiffer and Sport+ was rough but race-track-ready in terms of throttle, steering, shifting, ride and handling responses.
We did not encounter stop-and-go traffic so we cannot report on the adaptive cruise, lane keeping or other driver assistance and safety systems that have become near ubiquitous on well-equipped vehicles these days, but we can tell you that the brakes were powerful and fade-free all day, no matter how hard we used them.
The all-new 2015 TLX is the best and most competitive Acura mid-range sedan in many years and a fitting heir to the long-lamented 1980s Acura Legend. The TLX looks better, drives better and fits into the model lineup better than did the TL/TSX duo it replaces.
Gary Witzenburg filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of TLX 2.4L and TLX 3.5L models near Middleburg, Virginia.