Mountain Wheels: Acura’s sporty TLX seeks a high-altitude boost (review)
2018 Acura TLX AWD A-Spec
MSRP: $44,800; As tested: $45,750
Powertrain: 290-HP 3.5-liter V6 with nine-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 23 combined (20 city/29 highway)
We always seem to want that which we cannot have, often with good reason — though in the automotive world, if you throw enough money at those desires, nearly anything is possible.
Thus, a magic solution appeared to resolve the central issue I had with the very sexy, comfortable and certainly performance-oriented 2018 Acura TLX and its upscale A-Spec package.
Here’s a beautiful and comfortably scaled four-door “performance luxury” sedan that shows more and more of the stylistic DNA of the mind-blowing NSX, which itself has been reborn for a new generation as one of the most impressive big-brand exotic automobiles out there.
TLX doesn’t go quite that crazy, even with the fancy extras included in the A-Spec trim — super-aggressive two-tone grille and fascia treatments (and a mega-aggressive rear air diffuser and giant tail pipes) that really made my beautiful white-colored test car look a lot like a Japanese version of a Mercedes-Benz AMG E-Class or a BMW M5 variant. Which is, I gather, sort of what the car is aiming for.
Unfortunately, awesome as the TLX is, both in looks and in its overall performance, the 3.5-liter V-6 delivers power not quite commensurate with the upscale competition.
Its 290 horsepower is more than enough for low-altitude highway romps and blazing cruising power, with lots of giddy noises, as well, but when I got into some hill-climbing situations and tried to push the TLX into really getting the most out of its four-mode drive settings, the results were less instantaneous.
In fact, in the highest sport-related set-up, while revs were very high and shift changes jarringly fast — it’s a nine-speed automatic transmission, with large wheel-mounted paddles if you want to second-guess the system — I still wasn’t getting the kind of boost I really wanted.
So back to that magic solution. At this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Acura solved the TLX’s issue by mounting a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6, good for 500 horsepower, plus a bunch of suspension and aerodynamic bits borrowed from the TLX GT, the car’s race car variant.
For that car, they added a limited-slip differential to push much of the power up front for hill-climbing prowess; in the regular automobile I drove, Acura’s Super-Handling AWD still provides precise power shifts and contributes to its overall versatility.
Minus a race car-styled budget for some engine swapping, are you going to be disappointed by the sharp-looking TLX as it is, especially when 140-MPH uphill drives are not part of your daily regimen? I don’t think so.
The TLX really does a lot to meld sexy and sporty into a vehicle with real-life proportions, including an elevated rear seat with room for actual passengers — plus an enormous trunk.
With the A-Spec package, you also get some pretty serious, flat-bottomed, aggressively-bolstered race seats with Alcantara suede and ventilation to keep you grounded and comfortable.
Cabin design is strikingly modern, taking the double-decker video screen routine from Acura’s mainstream Honda siblings and surrounding it with lots of gloss and dramatic detail, but fully functional controls. Yes, two screens is a lot of screens, but the simultaneous display of info and navigation details helps justify all of it.
There’s more Alcantara in the doors and good use of some luxurious-looking graphite trim, especially around the center console. A smaller race-oriented wheel also adds to the sporty feel.
First-timers will however be absolutely flummoxed by Acura’s new transmission controls, which are very strange, but make sense once you learn them. Gears are actuated by a row of buttons — press for park or neutral, pull for reverse or hit the big round “D” to go — the combined effect may or may not blow your mind.
The new AcuraWatch safety feature package is also pretty serious, as it has been in other Acuras, which were very early adopters with wheel-grabbing lane correction and accident avoidance software. Drift over the lines and the system now vibrantly wiggles the steering wheel; quite often, while approaching oncoming traffic for a turn or in other situations, a gigantic “brake now” warning came onto the instrument display.
One other quibble: The auto-stop feature, which can be disengaged, was also very jarring and killed the power steering when it shut off the engine, which I did not like at all. So goes ahead-of-the-curve technology.
More power, please.
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