First drive: 2015 Acura TLX

With most cars the strategy is simple: get the most expensive one. But the 2015 Acura TLX is a bit different, in that cheaper is better.

When it comes to most cars, the equation is simple: more money equals a better car.

When I go on a first spin, I usually try and drive the most expensive version of any given vehicle last. That way, I get to appreciate what the cheaper models have to offer before they are ruined for me by the sea of leather, power, and dollar signs further along the trim chain.

So when I started my day in the top-of-the-line TLX with its 3.5-liter V6 and Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), I was worried. It was a luxurious and refined car, but not as exciting as I had hoped. “If I feel this way in the best of the TLX, how was I going to handle the cheapest?” I wondered to myself.

Thankfully, the solution to this TLX conundrum is one that I wish I could use more often: spend less money.

An athlete like Tim Duncan

Acura used the phrase “red carpet athlete” to inspire its designers and engineers for the TLX. When it comes to performance the comparison, it’s a slam-dunk. However, instead of being an athlete like LeBron James, the TLX can best be compared to Tim Duncan.

So what is it like to drive Tim Duncan? Like the “big fundamental,” the TLX rarely delivers highlight reel excitement, but still delivers tremendous results.

In the top of the line TLX performance comes by way of a 3.5-liter 295 horsepower 267 pound-feet of torque V6. On paper this looks great. Under normal driving conditions, it lives up to the promise with silky smooth acceleration and a surprisingly good 21/31/25 mpg split.

2015 Acura TLX

But under harder driving, the Duncan comparison comes into full force. Instead of flying dunks, the TLX delivers layups.

Acura’s SH-AWD drive system may have torque vectoring that delivers miles of grip and surprisingly nimble handling, but the problem is that the system works almost too well. Going hard into a corner, I could get all four wheels to screech, as the car hung on for dear life. I didn’t feel, however, like I had much to do with it.

Driving the SH-AWD TLX can still be fun; it does handle well and have plenty of power. It is a bit antiseptic and passionless for my taste, though.

TLX rarely delivers highlight reel excitement, but still delivers tremendous results.

This wouldn’t be so bad but the V6-powered TLX is saddled with a nine-speed transmission. And nine is just too many speeds. The car never seems to know what gear to be in. In non-sport mode, the transmission shifts too much. In sport modes it shifts too little. One answer is to use the steering wheel-mounted paddles to take control.

Thankfully, the other answer to this problem is to spend less money and get the 2.4-liter model with front-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic. Not only is this set up lighter and eager for punishment, its eight-speed dual-clutch box is much quicker and more responsive.

Power from the naturally aspirated four-banger may be just 206 hp and 182 torques, but the delivery is thrilling and it even sounds better than the V6. Not to mention an excellent 24/35/28 mpg split. So if the V6 model is Tim Duncan, the four-cylinder is Chris Paul.

The four-cylinder version – along with the front-wheel drive V6 – comes with Acura’s Precision All-Wheel Steering (P-AWS). At low speeds this system steers the rear wheels in the opposite direction of the front to improve maneuverability. To prevent this system from getting too twitchy at high speed, though, P-AWS reverses course at high speed and steers the rear wheels with the front.

The result of this system is a complete lack of torque-steer and a noticeable lack of understeer. Instead, the plucky front-drive TLX hangs onto the road like a terrified octopus. You heard it here first; it’s more fun to drive a terrified octopus than Tim Duncan.

Red carpet relaxation

Thankfully, whichever TLX buyers choose, it’ll live up to the “red carpet” part of Acura’s inspirational phrase.

Driving the SH-AWD TLX can still be fun; it does handle well and have plenty of power.

Building off the tech that Acura has already unveiled in its MDX crossover, the TLX is a dramatic improvement over its predecessors in terms of comfort and refinement. Thanks to triple door seals and liberal use of acoustic foam, the TLX is now probably the quietist and least harsh car in it is class.

To me, though, the ride is what really impressed. Thanks to adaptive suspension dampers on all four corners – not to mention over innovations that I understand even less – the TLX has an exceptionally smooth ride. The TLX could run over a pile of armadillos – not that I am recommending this – without waking up the baby in the backseat.

Beautifully, while the high-end model receives some exclusive amenities, like cooled seats, the $30,000 base car is still just as nice to ride in as its more expensive stalemates – or for that matter a $50,000 Lexus.

Two screens is too many

Unfortunately, while it is hard to find fault with the TLX’s comfort and refinement, the same cannot be said for the infotainment system. Acura has continued the unfortunate trend of installing two screens.

In the TLX one 8.0-inch touchscreen with haptic feedback controls the audio and the climate systems, and another screen displays navigation, vehicle settings, phone, and – wait for it – audio controls. In fact, precisely the same audio information can be displayed simultaneously on both screens. I really want to make a joke about this, but it makes so little sense that I don’t even know what to say.

2015 Acura TLX

This duplication of function is mirrored elsewhere as the driver can choose from steering wheel controls, a “mouse”, and voice commands to interact with the AcuraLink infotainment.

There may be market research that shows that the multi-screen systems and multiple interfaces are what customers want, but personally I find it frustrating. It feels as if Acura didn’t have enough confidence in any one aspect of the infotainment system to let it shine, so it doubled down.

However, despite the two screens, Acura does at least deliver on the tech features – and for a reasonable price. The four-cylinder model I drove came equipped with navigation, heated seats, Lane Keeping Assist, blind-spot monitoring, and a rearview camera with crosstraffic monitoring – all for just $34,000.

The complete package

For $44,000 the SH-AWD Acura TLX may be a good value. After all, for that money it comes fully loaded, while the similarly priced BMW 3 Series doesn’t even have a reverse camera.

So while the V6 TLX may be a great car for the sort of luxury buyer who doesn’t want their golf pants torn off by g-forces, it doesn’t quite live up to the performance side of the equation.

Thankfully, for those of us who want a classy way to arrive pants-less at the golf course, there is a solution. Not only is this solution more fun, but also it costs $10,000 less, and it’s the 2.4-liter TLX with front-wheel drive. Eat your heart out, penny-pinchers.

Highs

  • Extremely competitive, entry-level price
  • Quiet and refined ride
  • Above average gas mileage
  • Fun driving experience on entry-level model

Lows

  • Frustrating nine-speed gearbox on V6 model
  • Confusing two-screen infotainment system
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