2018 Acura TLX first drive

Acura's no-nonsense TLX keeps its cool, but picks up a snarl for 2018

Just three years after its introduction, Acura has given the TLX mid-size sedan a substantial mid-cycle revision for 2018, designed to bring Acura back to its roots as the top choice for entry-level premium buyers. The TLX has been given a new performance-oriented A-Spec model that Acura hopes will compete with contenders like the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS, and the Infiniti Q30.

Towards that goal, the revised TLX offers more up-to-date bodywork, a new performance-oriented model, and several luxury features that have become prerequisites in the luxury car class.

What’s new

The main thing that’s visibly new on the 2018 TLX is the front bodywork. The new face is designed to look a bit more intimidating than the conservative first generation of the vehicle. With more aggressive cut lines and new wheels, the 2018 TLX will be distinguishable at a distance from the outgoing model.

The bulk of the new features are inside the car, and they represent a complete list of luxury items that are propagating through the entry premium market as fast as automakers can add them. Features like a surround-view camera system, heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging, heated rear seats, ambient lighting, and power folding mirrors will be included with the top Advance trim.

2018 Acura TLX
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

The most notable news is the addition of the A-Spec trim level to the V6 TLX. This sport-oriented model includes features like a matte black grille with black-chrome surround, a body kit with rear spoiler, and special 19-inch blackout wheels. Under the new skin, the A-Spec includes sport-tuned struts, bigger sway bars, a quicker steering ratio, and Acura decided to let a little more engine growl reach your ears to remind you that this is the hot rod. In the cabin, the TLX A-Spec goes for sporty cues like black Alcantara or red leather upholstery on sport-bolstered seats and additional Alcantara trim.

Trim levels & features

Acura has kept the trim levels simple and predictable on the TLX. The base model with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine includes a long list of standard features carried over from the 2017 model, including heated front seats, multi-angle rear view camera, keyless entry with push-button start, and much more. New for 2018, the base model gets the AcuraWatch safety suite, support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and HD radio with traffic reporting.

On top of the base four-cylinder TLX, you can select the Tech trim including voice-controlled navigation, premium audio, rain-sensing wipers, and perforated leather seats. New for 2018, the Tech trim includes blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic monitoring, and keyless smart entry on all four doors.

Acura decided to let a little more engine growl reach your ears to remind you that this is the hot rod.

The TLX 3.5L V6 trim walk is a little more complicated. The base and Tech trims are about the same as the four-cylinder, but you can also select the top-level Advance trim or A-Spec sport trim. Advance trim includes the surround-view camera, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging, heated windshield, rear heated seats, front and rear parking sensors, and more.

Acura intends the A-Spec trim to be a co-equal branch to Advance trim, but obviously sport-oriented rather than luxury. As mentioned, you’ll get the appearance and handling package, but A-Spec also pulls in the ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging, and the front and rear parking sensors from the Advance trim.

Finally, you can add Acura’s Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) to any V6 TLX for a $2,000 premium.

Technology overview

Acura’s infotainment and convenience tech works as well as it should. Acura’s 7-inch touch screen system is clean, efficient, and once you’ve mastered the items you use every day, you won’t give it much thought. The system includes support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Acura’s navigation system works well and the voice prompts are not too intrusive. Voice control is still not a mature technology, so expect a few miscues. But overall, the TLX technology package will please you and remind you why you chose a premium brand.

Interior fit & finish

Acura products are known for fit and finish, and the TLX is no exception. Choose an uprated trim level for real leather or Alcantara seat surfaces, and choose the A-Spec if you want a truly supportive sport seating arrangement.

As a mid-size car, the TLX will comfortably seat four large men, or five if you’re friendly enough to go three-across in the back seat. The trunk is predictably cavernous, with plenty of room for luggage or golf clubs.

Mercifully, the interior is generally free of bling, with only small wood-grain inserts. Everything about the TLX is nice, functional, and free of nonsense. By focusing on the driving experience, Acura further reinforces that this is a driver’s car.

Driving performance & mpg

The 2018 TLX drives as well as any luxury mid-size sedan. Let’s not forget that this refresh is not intended to be the reincarnation of great Acura sport compact cars of the past, but rather a more sporty mid-size sedan than the launch edition. Within that context, the TLX performs admirably, and shows that Acura has not forgotten those roots.

If you choose the V6, by all means do invest in the SH-AWD package. For $2,000 that’s an IQ test that no one should ever fail.

With 206 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque, the 2.4-liter TLX offers reasonable acceleration and Acura’s Precision All-Wheel Steer system. The 2.4-liter TLX comes with an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission that makes good use of the available power.

However, most performance enthusiasts will still want to upgrade to the 3.5-liter V6. This engine delivers 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, passed through a 9-speed automatic transmission. Buy the A-Spec if sporty driving is your goal.

One performance feature to call out is Acura’s all-wheel-drive. SH-AWD not only improves handling in rain or snow, but gives the TLX an advantage on dry pavement. By vectoring power among all four wheels, the SH-AWD system noticeably improves turn-in and grip in corners, and prevents understeer. Even in a transition is simple as a lane change, SH-AWD works to maintain stability and control that you perceive as increased confidence in what your car is doing. It you choose the V6, by all means do invest in the SH-AWD package. For $2,000 that’s an IQ test that no one should ever fail.

2018 Acura TLX
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

The best EPA-estimated fuel economy for the TLX is 23 MPG city and 33 MPG highway in the base 2.4-liter trim, and that’s about what we saw on our day-long test drive. But note that the bottom fuel economy in the V6 with SH-AWD in the A-Spec is 20 MPG city and 29 MPG highway, so there’s really no meaningful fuel penalty in stepping up the performance.

Safety

Acura has made the full AcuraWatch suite of safety features standard on all 2018 TLX trim levels. This set of advanced tech features includes autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation.

By adding AcuraWatch to all TLX trims, Acura has substantially improved their value proposition. By 2022, all production cars sold in America will have autonomous emergency braking, so Acura is getting ahead of the parade here, and that’s valuable. These features should be required in any mid-size sedan that aspires to luxury status.

Conclusion

The 2018 Acura TLX is a substantial improvement over the outgoing 2017 model. That’s what a mid-cycle refresh should be – a time to bring a successful vehicle up to date. The new model retains pretty much everything you liked about the first edition of the TLX, and adds valuable new features and systemic improvements.

The TLX is designed to compete with the other Japanese and European luxury brands, and it’s well positioned to do so, both from a features and performance standpoint, and overall value. The TLX starts at $33,950 for the base four-cylinder trim, and that’s well within economy car price ranges. At the top end, you can get the TLX you really want – V6, Advance, with SH-AWD for $46,700 inclusive of all fees. Or take a thousand off and get the V6 A-Spec with SH-AWD for $45,750.

The bottom line on the TLX is that if you’re shopping mid-size entry-premium sedans, you can’t afford not to give this car a test drive.

Highs

  • Whisper-quiet cabin
  • Available all-wheel-drive
  • Full safety suite
  • New A-Spec performance model
  • Comfortable and quiet

Lows

  • Lackluster acceleration in 4-cyl model
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