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2015 Acura TLX 3.5 SH-AWD First Test

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 11/4/2014 Scott Evans, Motor Trend Staff

If you've been following the recent twists and turns of the Acura saga, you know this new TLX replaces both the smaller TSX and larger TL. As we noted in our First Drive, it's a pretty good all-around luxury sedan, but how well does it do the job of replacing its two predecessors?

First, a bit about what we're dealing with. The TLX came about because the TSX and TL were in-betweeners, neither one sized or priced perfectly for the segment it ostensibly competed in. The TLX squares that up and aims cleanly at the midsize luxury sedan class long headed by the BMW 3 Series. To get there, Acura pulled a bit from each old car. The TLX shares the TL's nearly three-inch longer wheelbase, but its overhangs have been shortened so it doesn't look so massive. (It almost perfectly splits the difference in length between the TSX and TL.) It's narrower than the TL, but wider than the TSX -- the two differed by less than two inches. It's got the interior space of the TL without looking too big for the class.

Acura splits the difference under the hood as well. The engines are essentially the same as those in the TSX, though Acura insists they're almost all-new despite retaining the same displacements and nearly the same outputs. For the purposes of this review, we'll ignore the 2.4-liter four-cylinder and focus on the 3.5-liter V-6. Gone is the TL's slightly more powerful 3.7-liter engine in favor of the smaller and more fuel-efficient 3.5-liter. Output rises from the TSX's 280 hp and 254 lb-ft to 290 hp and 267 lb-ft, still short of the TL's 305 hp and 273 lb-ft. The new V-6 also features cylinder deactivation and idle stop/start, which help the TLX V-6 blow both of the old cars out of the water in terms of fuel economy at 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. The stop/start system is nearly seamless to boot.

The Acura TLX is a 2015 Motor Trend Car of the Year contender - find out soon whether it has what it takes to win.

2015-Acura-TLX-35-SH-AWD-promo11© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Acura-TLX-35-SH-AWD-promo11

The power heads to the earth through an all-new, nine-speed automatic transmission that's just one cog short of doubling the TSX or TL's automatics. It's a fine transmission, shifting quickly and smoothly in all conditions and even displaying some pretty sharp performance programming in Sport + mode. For some reason, Honda's connected it to a push-button shifter that only appears on all-wheel-drive models and rather unintuitively reinvents the wheel for no reason other than because it can. It takes up the same amount of space as the standard shift lever, so there's no extra space on the center console, and it makes reverse hard to find when executing a quick three-point turn.

When it comes time to get moving, you'll find the TSX and TL's performance metrics split right down the middle as well. The all-wheel-drive TLX needs 5.9 seconds to hit 60 mph from a stop, and automatic to automatic, it looks pretty good. The front-drive TSX needed 6.0 seconds to do it (100-plus fewer pounds helped), and the old TL SH-AWD needed 6.5 seconds. Although, curiously, a front-wheel-drive TL would do it in 6.2. Not bad, until you remember that a TL SH-AWD manual hit 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds. It's a similar story at the quarter-mile mark, where the TLX needs 14.4 seconds at 98.4 mph to get it done compared to the TSX's 14.5 seconds at 98.0 mph and the TL SH-AWD automatic's 14.8 seconds at 96.9 mph. The front-drive TL, for reference, did it in 14.6 seconds at 96.9 mph and the TL SH-AWD manual need just 13.9 seconds at 99.6 mph.
With regard to performance, the difference-splitting starts with braking. The TLX needed 124 feet to stop from 60 mph, 2 feet better than the lighter TSX and a foot better than the front-drive TL. The TL SH-AWD would do it in as little as 103 feet with the manual, 117 feet with the automatic.

Said splitting continues when you turn the wheel. The TLX pulled 0.82 g average on our skidpad, dead even with the TSX and way behind the TL, which pulled up to 0.91 g average. Same story on the figure-eight test, where the TLX needed 26.7 seconds and pulled 0.76 g average compared to the TSX's 27.1-second lap at 0.64 g average, the TL automatic's 26.0 seconds at 0.73 g average, and the TL manual's 26.1-second lap at 0.78 g average.

What the figures don't tell you is what the new TLX feels like going around a corner fast, and this is where our editors had the biggest problem with the car. When you first crack the wheel, your face cracks a smile. The TLX turns in sharply and seems to promise some real cornering ability. The smile quickly vanishes, though, when the car abruptly transitions to serious understeer mid-corner. No change in driving style seemed to avoid this behavior, and it sapped a lot of fun out of the car. The good news is there's a solution, if you're confident or foolhardy enough to try it. When the car goes to understeer, hit the gas. Normally, this would just make the problem worse, but Acura's Super Handling All Wheel Drive sends power to the inside front wheel and the outside rear wheel and forces the car to rotate even in the midst of the understeer. The imagined result, if you stay in it, is that the car will continue to understeer somewhat moderately, the rotation will mostly cancel it out, and you can use the all-wheel drive to force the car to turn like it should. That's hardly recommended driving behavior, and not something a typical buyer is going to do, so most folks are just going to be stuck with understeer if they push the car too hard in a corner. We hope Acura decides to tune out this understeer in the future.

Balancing out this disappointment is some seriously cool technology. Our TLX tester was loaded to the hilt with both the Tech Package and the Advance Package, which means we were treated to adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and lane keeping assist. While those two systems don't sound exciting, when you activate both at the same time, the car will essentially drive itself on straight roads or those with only long, sweeping curves. We tested it on a closed oval course, and while the car becomes very angry should you take your hands off the wheel (seriously, don't), it will keep the car centered in the lane around a sweeping turn and, of course, speed up and slow down with the traffic. Of the similar systems we've tested from other manufacturers, this one stands out as the best in terms of reading the road and keeping you in the center of the lane.
We were also impressed by just how quiet the new TLX is inside. A key complaint against the TSX (the TL less so) was the noisy cabin, and Acura's fixed that right up.

Combined with super comfortable seats you have a wonderful long-distance hauler. The V-6 all-wheel-drive car seemed to struggle a little more with small, sharp road impacts such as expansion joints compared to the four-cylinder, but that's not nearly enough to put us off the car. We must also say a kind word about the price, which at $45,595 fully loaded is a bargain compared to a fully loaded German competitor that can easily reach up to $60,000. If only it were as attractive to look at as much of the competition.
The new TLX, in total, is a solid midsize luxury sedan. It's a strong improvement on the TSX and gives up very little to the TL. What's more, it's more competitive in its class than ever before. On the other hand, the missed potential in this new car, both in terms of handling and design, gives us pause. While we don't see it putting the competition on notice, we can't deny that Acura customers will find a lot to like in this car.

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