Test Drive: Acura TLX, best of two worlds

Test Drive: Acura TLX, best of two worlds

August 16th, 2014 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The new Acura TLX has the good manners of a luxury car and the handling characteristics of a sports sedan.

Photo by Mark Kennedy/Times Free Press.

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2015 Acura TLX 3.5L

* Exterior color: Crystal Black

* Interior color: Ebony

* Engine: 3.5-liter, V-6

* Horsepower: 290

* Transmission: nine-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 34 miles per gallon highway, 21 mpg city

* Dealer: Pye Acura

* Price (as tested): $43,395

To borrow a line from an old Certs commercial, the new Acura TLX sedan is "two, two, two cars in one."

For years, Acura has offered two similarly-sized sedans: the four-cylinder TSX (which was essentially a gussied-up Honda Accord), and the TL, a smooth six-cylinder cruiser that slugged it out with the Lexus ES for market share among middle-age, middle-income buyers looking for a relaxed driving experience.

With the all-new TLX, Acura is trying to fill both market niches with one vehicle that can be sporty when you're feeling frisky and a ride like a town car when you're driving home from the steak house. Meanwhile, the "starter" Acura is now the Honda Civic-based ILX.

Judging from our first test drive of the TLX, and the overall reaction of the automotive press, Acura has hit its mark. Our test car, provided by Mike Bogdal of Pye Acura on Chapman Road in Chattanooga, was a Crystal Black TLX with an Ebony interior and equipped with an optional 3.5-liter V-6 engine. The car, one of the first of its kind to arrive in Chattanooga, stickers for $43,395.

STYLING AND COMFORT

Acura has always taken a conservative approach to styling, and consequently its models tend to age well. In the meantime, such luxury import nameplates as Infiniti and Lexus have recently started taking more daring design risks. This may leave the middle lane open for Acura to reassert itself in the segment.

The new TLX is not the kind of car that will make you stop dead in your tracks, but it is the kind of car that will make you pause and nod approvingly. Lower and wider than either of its forebears in the Acura line, the TLX manages to look grown-up and aggressive at the same time.

The front has two focal points, a toned-down version of the Acura's shield grille and elegant "Jewell Eye" LED headlights lined up five to a side. There are a couple of hood creases and handsome character lines that carve through the doors and hug the rear wheel-wells. The flowing design resolves into a rounded rear-end with nice sheet-metal tailoring that includes hidden exhaust pipes. (I always to a double-take on this Acura trademark. This time I had to get my knees dirty to find the exhaust tips hidden neatly under the rear bumper panels.)

Inside, the TLX is a showcase of next-generation automobile technology. Oh, it has all the required luxury touches, leather-clad seats, wood accents and a handsome steering wheel. But the car is clearly part living room and part spaceship. Armored with sound-deadening materials and equipped with triple door seals, the TLX is the quietest Acura we've ever driven.

Standard features include XM satellite radio, heated front seats, push-button ignition, power moon-roof, 18-inch alloy wheels and keyless entry. Our test car includes two options packages. The "technology package" adds navigation, premium audio and perforated leather seats; along with such safety goodies as blind spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, lane assist and rear cross-traffic alert. If you're a mature driver, like me, and your attention occasionally wanders, these are safety features worth considering. If they work just once, you might avoid a big repair bill.

An "advanced package" adds collision mitigation braking (a radar-controlled nanny that protects you from rear-ending someone in traffic), adaptive cruise control, ventilated front seats, puddle lights, remote start and a road departure mitigation system which helps you keep your Acura between the lines.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

TLX shoppers have the option of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder power-plant mated to an eight-speed transmission, or a 3.5-liter six cylinder engine making 290-horsepower and paired with a slick, nine-speed automatic. Our test car comes with the V-6, although it leaves off an available all-wheel-drive option.

On our test drive, the TLX was composed on the freeway -- in this case Highway 153 -- and playful on a short tour of lakeside blacktops. While the 290-horsepower V-6 has deep reserves of power, TLX models equipped with the lighter four-cylinder engine are said to have slightly more nimble handling. We think most buyers in this segment will opt for the six-cylinder model, and all-wheel-drive is a worthwhile option to consider if your live at altitude. The four-cylinder TLX, however, does come with a high-tech steering system that actually adjusts the angle of the back wheels to assist in turns. Fancy.

BOTTOM LINE

The TLX should strengthen the Acura sedan line-up by providing an improved driving experience and up-to-the-minute safety toys. A base four-cylinder model has an asking price of $30,995, and a top-of-the-line V-6 with all-wheel-drive (our preference) starts at $42,500 before options.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.