Call it the curse of competence. The perils of being good all around, but never standing out in any individual area. The 2015 Acura TLX is an entry-level luxury car that has been charged with replacing two under-performing models – the TL and the smaller TSX – and re-invigorating the Japanese brand in the affordable premium segment. It’s not that there was anything particularly ‘wrong’ with either of the departing Acura sedans, but it was definitely confusing for customers to walk into showroom and see two similarly-sized automobiles offering comparable power and features at different price points.
With the 2015 Acura TLX great effort has been made to take what was best about the models it is replacing (the TSX’s smaller exterior footprint, the TL’s more engaging driving experience) and combine them into a single, palatable four-door package that will theoretically snag the same 50,000 buyers or so a year that had been attracted to its predecessors. Unfortunately, after having spent time behind the wheel of this all-new sedan, it seems unlikely that it will have the same success in convincing owners of other luxury cars in its class to switch allegiances. The Acura TLX is a perfectly good daily driver that doesn’t rise above the fray in any recognizable way, a straight-B student guaranteed to graduate but unlikely to be voted ‘Most Likely To’ do anything other than keep existing Acura customers happy and provide years of faultlessly reliable service.
Technology Remains A Focus
While it may sound as though Acura’s product planners have simply maintained the status quo with the 2015 Acura TLX, this is truly only in the sense of where the sedan finds itself in a market crowded by heavyweights like the Lexus ES and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. In fact, from a technological standpoint the automaker’s engineers have been paddling furiously to keep up with the riptide of development that has surged through the luxury set in recent years.
Front and center for the Acura TLX are a pair of new transmissions: an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with a torque converter for four-cylinder cars (wait, what?) and a more traditional autobox featuring nine forward speeds for the available V-6 engine. The decision to pair a torque converter with a DCT unit might seem counterproductive, but the philosophy behind it touts increased smoothness off of the line and in stop-and-go traffic while preserving the dual-clutch’s rapid shifting. Although efficiency is clearly the name of the game for each of these gearboxes, Acura has also designed their respective cogs to act more aggressively than the five and six-speed transmissions they are replacing, with only the top gears coming in as higher across the board.
Under the hood TLX's hood displacements might read identical to last year at 2.4-liters for the four-cylinder and 3.5-liters for the V-6, but Acura claims that each engine is all-new, featuring direct fuel injection, improved efficiency (28-mpg combined for the smaller mill, 25-mpg combined for the 3.5-liter), and in the case of the six-cylinder a secondary set of intake runners to help boost performance in the higher rev range. Despite the extensive changes made to each engine power stays relatively flat compared to 2014: you get 206 horses and 182 lb-ft of torque with the four, and 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque with the six.
Say Hello To Four-Wheel Steering
The 2015 Acura TLX’s chassis has also been thoroughly modernized, but instead of employing a trick adaptive suspension system as has become vogue amongst many of its rivals, the sedan has instead implemented a version of the four-wheel steering system already found on the larger RLX sedan. Called the Precision All-Wheel Steering System (P-AWS), the setup can individually adjust the toe of the rear wheels inward and outward so as to enhance straight-line stability at highway speeds, enhance turn-in when driving on twisty roads (in conjunction with the car’s passive front brake torque vectoring system), or improve stopping stability under heavy braking. P-AWS is standard with all front-wheel drive versions of the TLX.
Of course, V-6 editions of the sedan continue to benefit from the availability of Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), which offer a sophisticated active torque vectoring capability of its own that can direct power from wheel to wheel hand-in-hand to promote grip and control during spirited driving. For 2015 SH-AWD has seen its hydraulically-activated hardware lightened by 25 percent.
A Well-Mannered Ride
The 2015 Acura TLX offers drivers two distinct personalities depending on which engine box has been ticked on the order sheet. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder is well-matched with its eight-speed transmission, as the unit responds quickly to upshift or rev-matched downshift requests from its steering-wheel mounted paddles shifters and offers an occasionally raucous but generally well-behaved soundtrack to go with its respectable acceleration. The TLX’s four driving modes – Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ - affect the sedan’s throttle response, transmission shift pattern, and steering effort, with Sport+ allowing you to maintain manual control over gear changes indefinitely without the ECU intervening and stepping you up into a higher gear prematurely.
The 3.5-liter TLX is unquestionably much quicker to drive, but selecting the larger engine doesn’t just bring with it an additional 84 horses. It also imparts a nose-heavy feel to the sedan’s steering that saps away much of the playfulness exhibited by the four-cylinder version. I drove both the front-wheel and SH-AWD editions of the six-cylinder Acura, and while the four-wheel steering was transparent to the point where I was unaware that the car’s handling was being so-assisted, the SH-AWD’s stability control feature deprived me of throttle response several times while accelerating through a corner, once stranding me in the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler for several tense seconds at a highway entrance yield before giving me back control over the car’s forward progress. On the highway the car shone brightest of all, with both four and six-cylinder models offering good passing power and a more planted feel than they had on secondary roads.
Acura Inside And Out
I have yet to make mention of the 2015 Acura TLX’s styling, but it the sedan really doesn’t stray too far from the template set by the TL and TSX. It’s got shorter overhangs front and rear, along with new LED headlights up front and a revised set of sculpted LED tail lights, but the overall design is the definition of familiarity for anyone who has seen a previous-generation mid-size Acura four-door. Time has mellowed the large bar on the front grille to the point where it doesn’t stand out like it once did, and that’s kind of the point: the TLX is nice, but it’s not going to draw much attention cruising through a middle school parking lot, or feel too flashy when pulling into work. It’s understated and classy, ceding flashier looks to its German competitors.
Inside the Acura TLX presents a somewhat overwhelming collection of screens and buttons, with two LCD panels on the center stack that can each show similar, if not at time identical content. Interacting with the infotainment and navigation system that is available with the car can at times get complicated, and although Acura has cleaned up the mess of buttons-on-top-of-buttons found in the older TL, there are still a few puzzlers to deal with.
For example, the volume control knob that sticks out at the top left of the stack can be pushed in flush if you want to, but in order to turn off the stereo you have to use a separate square-shaped button that’s positioned directly beside it. Why not combine the functionality of the two? Similarly, on the steering wheel there are two buttons that can be used to activate the car’s optional lane keeping assist feature, a sort of ‘master on’ switch that lights up the indicator in the gauge cluster as well as the other control you have to push to actually get it going. Then there’s a third button under the dash that adds another layer of anti-road-departure assistance to the equation. Three buttons, three variations on the same task, in three different places.
That being said, you do get several important crash mitigation and avoidance features (including forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control) with the TLX if you feel so inclined to investigate the upper reaches of its trim structure. The rear seat is also quite roomy in the car, the cabin is quiet, and the front thrones are supportive and wrapped in soft leather.
A Hit For The Converted – But Unlikely To Convert
The 2015 Acura TLX is a fine, comfortable, and practical premium sedan. With a starting price just north of $30,000, and a top-spec sticker of roughly $45k, it also happens to be reasonably affordable. What it’s not – despite Acura’s advertising to the contrary – is a driver’s car. Once again, we encounter the curse of competence. Although never over it’s head on a tight two-lane road, the TLX couldn’t coax me into exploring how hard I could push it through the more interesting stretches of blacktop I encountered during my drive through rural Virginia, nor did it offer the kind of feedback through the wheel and the chassis that would be necessary to truly engage me as a pilot. Certainly Acura has constructed a more compelling-to-pilot sedan than Lexus has been able to manage with the ES, but there’s not much here to siphon away BMW 3 Series or Cadillac ATS customers. Not that it will have to: there’s a built-in market eagerly waiting to trade in their TL’s and TSX’s for this car, and for each and every one of those customers the 2015 Acura TLX represents a welcome, if unexciting upgrade.