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Saturday, May 5, 2018

2018 Acura TLX Review

2018 Acura TLX Review
A new grille and sporty A-Spec trim aren't enough to elevate the comfy and feature-laden 2018 Acura TLX.

The 2018 Acura TLX mid-size luxury sedan improves on a recent new design with a new face this year and a sporty-looking appearance package.


But it's the sedan's balance and powertrain that should win over outright looks.

The TLX earns a 6.8 on our overall scale thanks to its comfort and impressive features. We’d ask more from the styling.

A new grille sits between a pair of reshaped headlights and above a less busy lower bumper, while in back, visible exhaust outlets appear for the first time and join tweaked taillights. In the cabin, ambient light piping along both sides of the center console and new seat designs freshen up what's otherwise a perfectly OK cabin.

The new A-Spec model will likely receive the most attention. It wears a sportier exterior, a unique grille, standard 19-inch wheels, and 4-inch exhausts integrated into the rear bumper. Its cabin has two trim choices for its more heavily bolstered seats, while an A-Spec-specific steering wheel gives drivers meatier grips. On the hardware front, the A-Spec receives a slightly firmer suspension and an Active Sound Control that amplifies intake noise in the cabin.

Both the TLX's base 2.4-liter 4-cylinder and 3.5-liter V-6 are carried over from last year's model. The 4-cylinder engine works alongside an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission (which includes a torque converter, a unique twist) to send power to the front wheels, while the V-6 uses a 9-speed automatic to send its power to the front or all four wheels.

New tech for 2018 includes an updated 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with revamped menus and response times that are up to 30 percent faster than last year's model. The LED headlights score an auto on/off function alongside standard high-beam assist, which should improve on the 2017 TLX's “Marginal” rating in the IIHS' headlight testing, while wireless cellphone charging brings a dose of the future to the cabin.

With the 2018 TLX, Acura sets a base price of $33,995, including a mandatory $995 destination charge. That sum will cover a 2.4-liter base model. The new A-Spec trim starts at $43,795, while a top-of-the-line TLX Advance sells for $44,745. Acura's excellent Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive is a $2,000 option on all V-6 trims, while 4-cylinder models remain front-wheel-drive only.

Styling
A new grille and headlights are improvements, but the Acura TLX still lacks design flair.

The 2018 TLX is a difficult vehicle to get excited by, especially compared to the more avant-garde designs from Lexus, Infiniti, Audi, and Alfa Romeo. The new grille is a marked improvement, but the TLX still feels a too anonymous to give more than an average 5 out of 10. 

The death of the TLX's controversial shield-nose grille is a welcomed change that dominates the rest of the exterior treatment. Situated high and splayed wide across the fascia, the new grille and the larger LED headlights are less visually heavy than the 2017 TLX, giving this sedan a clean, refined look.

Acura was less extreme with the rear end, delivering mild tweaks to the taillights, adding a diffuser-like attachment to the rear bumper and building exposed exhausts to brighten up the backside. While the V6 model gets unexciting rectangular exhaust outlets, the A-Spec model gets a handsome pair of 4-inch cannons, integrated directly into the bumper. The exhaust treatment is as eye-catching as the new grille.
Changes in the cabin are milder, consisting of revised seat designs on V-6 models that includes contrast stitching and piping (V-6 Technology models and above, only). The result is a more premium aesthetic for the four standard interior color themes. The piping also appears on the all-black leather/Alcantara treatment and Full Red upholsteries, the latter of which looks fantastic. Ambient light piping appears on the range-topping Advance trim and the sporty A-Spec.

But many of our past criticisms of the TLX remain. For a start, even with a more prominent grille and the sporty A-Spec package, the TLX still feels a little anonymous alongside style-intensive competitors, from traditional mainstream premium brands like Lexus and Mercedes-Benz to near-premium competitors like Infiniti. And while Acura's designers have made significant strides in the cabin, adding piping—of the leather and ambient-light varieties—isn't enough to spruce the place up.

Performance
The A-Spec trim adds sporty touches, but not enough substance to elevate the TLX.

The 2018 TLX's carryover powertrains are nothing to get excited about, but the arrival of a new A-Spec trim to challenge the sporty models from Lexus, BMW, Alfa Romeo, and Mercedes is enough to score the refreshed TLX 6 out of 10 points. 

While we've only tested the V-6 TLX and TLX A-Spec, the initial performance from the high-end engine is impressive. With 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, off-the-line thrust is strong and paired with the optional Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system it's relatively undramatic. At higher speeds, the loftier torque and horsepower peaks—4,500 and 6,200 rpm, respectively—come into play, presenting plenty of thrust for freeway passes. But the V-6 TLX remains handicapped by its 9-speed automatic transmission.

While Acura says it improved the ZF-built gearbox for 2018—it does feel more willing to engage from a stop—its dynamic abilities are lacking compared to the 8-speed transmission in the BMW 340i, the 7-speed dual-clutch in the Audi A4, and even the 8-speed DCT in last year's 4-cylinder TSX. Even set to its most aggressive, upshifts don't happen as quickly, while the transmission still takes its time on downshifts. Combine that with the simple fact that nine gears are too many to rifle through while driving vigorously, and we'll continue to recommend the 4-cylinder TLX as the enthusiast's choice.

The TLX A-Spec is a bright spot in the range, if only from an engagement standpoint. While the spec sheets say there's a sportier suspension tune on offer courtesy of stiffer springs, firmer dampers, and a larger rear sway bar, the reality is that these improvements are minor. The A-Spec's real trump card is the throatier intake note provided by the Active Sound Control system, as well as a thicker steering wheel and more aggressively bolstered front seats. The changes should do a good job of luring the driver into having fun and push harder through turns, even if the overall dynamic results don't match up. Our main complaint? The A-Spec is only available as a V-6—a 4-cylinder A-Spec probably could have helped notch another point here.

Comfort & Quality
Still quiet and comfortable, but spiced up with small design details.

Past TLXs have traded outright driving dynamics for ride comfort and the 2018 model is no different. The quiet, relaxing ride's interaction with a cosseting set of front seats—as well as a healthy dose of technology—help the TLX score a 7 out of 10 on our comfort scale. 

The TLX really deserves praise for its highway cruising ability. At higher speeds, there's little road, tire, or wind noise. And in the unlikely event you hear something unpleasant? Cue up the 10-speaker ELS stereo, which can provide crisp, clear tunes.

Like last year's model, the 2018 TLX is home to an extremely comfortable set of seats. But unlike last year, Acura has addressed some of our criticisms with the seat design, introducing handsome accent stitching and piping on the V-6 Technology, Advance, and A-Spec models. Combined with subtle design changes, the new seats now look as premium as they do comfortable. And they're very comfortable. Wide, heavily cushioned, and just supportive enough in the bends, we'd happily cover 1,000 miles in these chairs.

While the now-standard AcuraWatch suite of driver-assistance features is primarily on board to keep both driver and passengers safe, the system also reduces driver fatigue. There's no need to make constant minor steering corrections at freeway speed in the TLX because the combination of lane-departure warning with active lane control help keep the car centered. Adaptive cruise control, meanwhile, maintains a safe distance and adjusts speed accordingly.

Beyond the changes, the TLX is broadly the same. Head, shoulder, hip, and leg room is unchanged. In fact, the passenger compartment is 93.3 cubic feet, just like it was in 2017. That means many of our complaints from last year still apply—the BMW 3-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class have more spacious cabins and an extra inch of second-row leg room.

Safety
The 2018 Acura TLX has performed well on most crash tests.

The 2018 Acura TLX has performed fairly well on federal and independent crash tests, but it's the standard automatic emergency braking on all models that has our favor.

Federal testers gave the TLX five stars across the board for safety, including five stars in each of their subcategories. The IIHS mostly agreed and gave the TLX top "Good" scores on all crash tests, except an "Acceptable" rating for front small overlap crash protection. The IIHS rated the standard automatic emergency braking system on the TLX as "Superior," its highest score. We give the TLX an 8 for safety. 

A rearview camera is standard on all models and blind-spot monitors are options on base and V-6 versions, standard on A-Spec cars.

Features
A new infotainment system, wireless charging, and ambient lights give a more modern feel.

While Acura's mid-cycle updates don't include a lot of new equipment, there are a few crucial updates on hand, including standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and a faster, more attractive infotainment system. That's enough for the TLX to score a 9 out of 10. 

While Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are the big news, they're only a part of a revamped infotainment system. Acura made the switch from a resistance-type touchscreen—one that takes its inputs from physical pressure of a human finger—to a capacitive-type touchscreen, like you'd find on a smartphone. The result, the company claims, is a 30-percent improvement in response speeds.

It makes a big difference. While we still dislike Acura's twin-screen infotainment system, the more responsive touchscreen paired with traditional buttons is easy to manipulate. That's partially because Acura reworked and simplified the menu structure for the infotainment.

Also new is an optional wireless charging system, if you have a compatible smartphone. The compartment ahead of the shifter where the charge pad lives is big enough for an iPhone 7 Plus.

Beyond these new additions, the TLX remains a near-luxury sedan with an impressive array of both standard and optional equipment. As is Honda tradition, Acura sorted all that extra gear into Technology or Advance packages. The former adds $3,700 to the price of either the 4- or 6-cylinder TLX and adds navigation, HD radio, Milano leather upholstery (V-6-powered models get the same upholstery but with contrast stitching/piping), blind-spot monitors, and cross-traffic alert.

The Advance Package is only available on the V-6 and adds $3,850 on top of the price of the Technology Package—so you'll pay $7,550 to take the V-6 TLX from base to loaded. The Advance Package includes everything from the Technology Package and then adds ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, auto-dimming, power-folding side mirrors, a heated windshield, a surround-view camera system, front and rear parking sensors, remote start, wireless phone charging, ambient light piping, a rear spoiler, and LED fog lights/puddle lights.

Fuel Economy
Most versions of the 2018 Acura TLX will manage combined fuel economy in the mid-20s.

Changing the looks of the 2018 Acura TLX didn't much change its fuel economy.

The EPA estimates that front-wheel-drive versions of the TLX with a V-6 will manage 20 mpg city, 32 highway, 24 combined. That earns a 6 on our fuel economy scale.

That's likely to be the most popular version of the sedan, but others don't stray far from that mark. The most efficient version of the TLX is the inline-4, which is EPA rated at 23/33/27 mpg.

Adding all-wheel drive doesn't dent fuel economy much: 21/30/24 mpg. Adding the sportier A-Spec package does: 20/30/23 mpg with front-wheel drive, 20/29/23 mpg with all wheel drive.

Most of the competition for the TLX has moved to smaller, turbocharged engines for their sedans for better fuel economy, but the Acura remains competitive with its V-6.

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