2021 Acura TLX Advance with SH-AWD

SEATTLE — Even though the sedan market has been shrinking in sales over the last few years, it has allowed the cream to rise to the top. The best sedans, ever, are being built right now. Regardless of who’s making it, there’s never been a better time to be a sedan owner.
The newly designed Acura TLX for 2021 offers excellent features, styling performance and handling and after a week of driving it, here are our thoughts.

From a design perspective, Acura has pulled out the stops in sculpting the body shape with a cool, masculine look that really does a great job of elevating the overall look of the TLX. It’s meant to take on the competition from Germany and even those in Japan and from a design perspective, Acura has nailed it.

Even though its new design language with a redesigned mesh grill, this TLX has the best implementation we’ve seen of that so far.

Under the hood you’ll find a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder, turbo-charged engine that’s good for 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Acura paired up a quick-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission that does a rather seamless job of gear management. Zero-sixty times are just a hair under 6-seconds. Not bad for a mid-sized sedan.

Our test model had the “Advance” trim package which includes Acura’s best version to date of its SH-AWD (all-wheel-drive) system. What’s great about it is just how seamless it is to the drive. Real-time wheel monitoring allows the system to sense any wheel slipping and effortlessly transition power to either other wheels and adjust the front-to-rear power as well.

As for fuel economy, the EPA rates the TLX at 21 mpg (miles per gallon) in the city and 29 mpg at highway speeds.

Acura’s attention to detail doesn’t stop on the outside. As you step inside, you’ll see one of the best interior designs to come from Acura. If a surface looks like wood, it’s wood. If it looks like leather, then it is. Except for some cheap-feeling plastic atop the door panels, everything in here looks great and has a nice tactical feel to it. It’s actually rather impressive, considering this car’s price point.

Once nestled in the driver’s seat, everything is in easy reach and the dash has some great-looking analog gauges for the speedometer and tachometer. While some manufactures have gone with fancy, electronic gauges, I really love the look of analog.

Front seating is very comfortable with side-bolster support, heating/vented, lumbar support, under-thigh bolster and both front seats are fully adjustable. Not many brands give the same luxury seating to the front passenger, so it’s great to see Acura doing this.

The rear seats, while comfortable and heated, do present a challenge for taller passengers above 5’10” or so. It’s not the most spacious area back here but overall not bad and, in a pinch, will do. There’s a fold-down armrest with integrated cup holders and there is no pass-through to the trunk.

The 10.3-inch display has a touchpad that has a 1-to-1 ratio with what you see on the screen. For example, if you press the upper-right of the touchpad, that’s the corner of the screen you’ll get. This provides for far better precision than anything found in the dreaded touchpad from Lexus. It is not a touchscreen, however.

Audio sources included XM Satellite Radio, AM/FM, USB and Bluetooth audio. Support for Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. While the on-board navigation works well with voice commands, the mapping looks a bit dated compared to some german cars in this category.

Not long ago, Acura introduced its ELS audio system that was co-developed with Grammy Award-winning producer and engineer Elliot Scheiner. The speakers are made by long-time audio partner Panasonic. What sets this system apart from others is the inclusion of headliner mounted speakers for a true surround effect.

My feelings about its playback experience is a mixed bag. On one hand, you have its precise imaging and a wrap-around effect that’s rather convincing. However, when someone goes to a concert and listens to live music – barring any reflections caused by walls – the majority of the sound comes from in front of where you’re at. This is the reason center channel technology for mobile audio came out in the late 80s – to center the vocal placement while the instrumentation is typically left to the front right and front left speakers. This is what’s known in the audio industry and imagining. It’s the system’s ability to recreate a live setting. And by live, I don’t necessarily mean a massive P.A. system you’ll find at most of today’s huge concerts. Instead, think about a live Jazz ensemble inside of a small club in New Orleans.

Acura’s ELS 3D makes it sound as if it’s coming from all around you. While that’s a great effect for watching movies (think Dolby Surround), it’s not what’s the best for standard music playback. Even with Acura’s included (with our loaner car) USB drive filled with ELS-optimized songs, the net result didn’t wow me. I’d love to watch an action movie, however, on this system – if that were possible.

The sound quality is clear and precise on the midrange and upper frequencies, however, the subwoofer component is strongly lacking. If you compare it to the latest from Lexus’ Mark Levinson and certainly Volvo’s Bowers and WIlkens bass response, you’ll see that the ELS misses the mark here with a sub-par bass presentation.

Driver aids include adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, frontal collision avoidance, parking assist, rear cross-traffic alerts, lane keeping assist and pedestrian alerts and braking.

On the road, the TLX is fun to drive and provides a spirited experience. The “enhanced exhaust note” (meaning, fake and piped through the audio system) is okay but is honestly kind of silly. As a driving enthusiast, I get that folks love the sound of a great exhaust, but we want the real deal. Acura certainly isn’t the only manufacturer to do this and it’s been going on for years now. However, when you remember that it’s a 4-cylinder under the hood, it seems to not bode well with the artificial sound. I do like the way the car drives, however, and appreciate the minimal body roll around hard corners. While we’d like to see standard tires with more grip, the included all-seasons are adequate for most people.

Steering feels decently weighted in sport mode and overall, the TLX feels very poised on the road. Road trips shouldn’t be any issue with its comfortable seats up front with not too much driver fatigue. Interior noise is nice and quiet on the open road and it does a good job of negotiating bumps in the road for a comfortable ride.

One most of the important elements, Acura has done a great job with the 2021 TLX Advance and it certainly does an admirable job of competing. You’ll find top-shelf design, a classy interior, solid technology and solid reliability.

If you’re in the market for a compact sedan with good performance and styling, then make sure to check out the new TLX Advance from Acura.

  • Car Coach Rating:
  • Performance: 7
  • Handling: 8
  • Safety: 9
  • Features: 9
  • Design: 8
  • Quality: 9
  • Value: 8
  • Seating Comfort: 9
  • Visibility: 9
  • Technology: 10
  • Car Coach Total: 86

Check out Lauren’s take here:

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