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Acura TLX GT Race Car Track Drive

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 7/2/2015 Randy Pobst

P.D. Cunningham, owner of RealTime Racing and driver of the No. 42 Acura TLX GT in Pirelli World Challenge GT, started his career in SCCA Solo II autocross in the 1980s — just like me. At his first three Nationals, he finished third, second, and first — also just like me (except I was twelfth, then third, second, and first). I won my first World Challenge race co-driving with P.D., a 24 Hour in 1990 in a Honda CRX. We grew up in racing together, often wheel-to-wheel. Like me, he won a lot. More, in fact. He is the winningest active road racer in North America, the great majority of those wins in Acuras (NSX, Integra Type R, TSX).

Today, after all those years as staunch competitors, I drive one of his precious creations. Yes, the very same monster that teammate Ryan Eversley drove to ninth at the Detroit Grand Prix in May and won with at St. Petersburg. This never happens. It’s crazy. I am thrilled for the opportunity but a little embarrassed. Taking a man’s race car is like dating his wife. Too intimate, but such is the life of a racer/journalist.

Before we hit the track at Gingerman Raceway in western Michigan, the team raises the hood. It’s empty. Just a giant hole between the intercoolers and horizontal radiator and the front differential. Where’s the 600-hp, twin-turbo, 3.5-liter, stock-block, crank and heads V-6? Just a couple years ago I was racing a similar machine in this same class, the K-PAX Volvo S60. Both are big sedans derived from FWD-based AWD chassis running turbocharged engines. The Volvo’s little single-turbo five-cylinder was transverse, right up front in the stock position, built to a differing set of rules seven years ago. I’d have killed to have it under the dash like this one, an ideal location. It would have been a lot easier to find a racing transmission, too. The Acura uses a longitudinal Xtrac six-speed sequential paddle shift, stolen from the Paris-Dakar Rally. K-PAX had to build its own custom, tricky, and sometimes troublesome sideways box. All-wheel drive, Pirelli slicks, and standing starts require a serious piece — a strong advantage to the GT Acura, as with my Volvo.

Acura TLX GT Race Car Track Drive

The TLX GT has a beautiful fabricated upper/lower control arm suspension up front, again far better than the stock-based MacPherson strut on the Volvo. Looking it over, my mouth goes dry at the thought of its potential. The TLX GT is an awesome RealTime Acura opus.

Weight distribution is secret, but I don’t have to have a set of scales to know it’s far better balanced than the K-PAX cars. Drivers are almost in the back seat; the cockpit is tidy and loaded with the latest electronics, but no stability control, like the international GT3-class cars that are the majority of the class.

As I pull onto the track, I continue to feel guilt and a strong sense of responsibility to the team, but I floor it and button-snap through the gears anyway. After all, it’s my duty to the Motor Trend community, and Acura has laid the real thing right in the palm of my hand. The big V-6 responds instantly with surging power and nearly imperceptible lag, very different from my Volvo racer. In some corners, I had to count two full seconds till boost in the S60, and specs were frozen, so we could not improve that. The Volvo felt stronger, but maybe it was just the exaggerated impact after the lag. The Acura has a broad, flat torque curve, and all-wheel drives off the slow corners with bear-claw grip. That torque also gets the TLX-GT off the start line several tenths better; we needed full wheelspin with our little 2.5-liter Volvo five. The exhaust note is an alto bellow, mellowed by the turbos, and recalls the TLX road cars Acura engineers race at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill and even the NSX P.D. used to win the championship in 1997. Must be the same firing order.

The suspension is relatively soft and compliant, no surprise to me, having chased RealTime for years, admiring its grippy setup philosophy. It wandered a lot, as if toed out, which quickens turn-in, and the steering was very light but with a fair amount stiction. Kinda tricky. Mid-corner, a strong understeer showed up, reminding me of my No. 6 Volvo. Then when delivering that prodigious torque on the exit, the Acura freed up and rocketed forward, better balanced. The TLX GT is most happy accelerating under full boost, pinning driver to seat. Lordy, that feels good, people! P.D. furrowed his brow when I complained of the mid-corner push and suggested I didn’t have much tire temp, true in my short but magical taste of the inner sanctum of Acura/RealTime. Braking was as effective as a brick wall and an ABS no-brainer with relatively high effort and a mildly soft pedal. With moderate brake dive and highly sensitive steering, the Acura leaped about somewhat when I nailed the Stop Techs. A smooth and light touch at the wheel is the key. Still a new package and already a winner, the TLX GT will continue to advance, especially on tight courses like Detroit and in the rain.

As a warm-up, we revved out the street TLX, a smooth, quiet, and luxurious sports sedan. I drove with great interest in experiencing the Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) and Agile Handling Assist (AHA) technologies therein. In the late ’90’s, I won a pro race in a Prelude SH (Super Handling). I was highly impressed with the way the trick trans drove the outside wheel harder to reduce understeer. The TLX does the same thing with the outside rear and front-to-rear, and it’s neutral when the power is rolled on while still cornering. It feels great and adds exit speed. Better line trace, says senior engineer Lee Niffenegger. In the entry phase, the AHA uses individual brakes to do the same thing. The TLX has comprehensive computer control of the handling. Behold, the future.

Read the Motor Trend First Test review of a 2015 Acura TLX 3.5 SH-AWD right here.

Now, I’m off to the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb by Gran Turismo, in the Pikes Peak Racing Nissan GT-R. And if P.D. shows up, he’s welcome to give it a try; that’s only fair. If he’s writing for Motor Trend, that is.

Loading their treasures at day’s end, RealTime breathed a collective sigh of relief. They had only a few days to prepare for the next event, and we of the press had not crashed their works of mechanical art. Whew! Founder Soichiro Honda once said, “The value of life can be measured by how many times your soul has been deeply stirred.” Thank you, Acura, for adding value to mine.

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