Now in the fourth model year of its current generation, the 2018 TLX gets a slew of visual updates and a reworked multimedia system. Drivetrains carry over, with a four-cylinder or V-6 engine available with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive can also be had with the V-6, as can an A-Spec performance package — a $2,900 option that's new for 2018. We drove a V-6 TLX AWD in regular and A-Spec form at a Kentucky media preview (Cars.com pays for its travel and lodging for such automaker-held events).
The TLX's engines — a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 3.5-liter V-6 — boast direct injection but not the turbochargers that are ubiquitous among competing sports sedans. We've driven the four-cylinder in past TLXs, and despite its modest numbers (206 horsepower, 182 pounds-feet of torque), it features lively revving and surprisingly adequate midrange oomph when paired with Acura's responsive eight-speed automatic transmission, which got the engine to higher revs in short order. Acura says it retuned this transmission for 2018 to improve refinement, but we've not driven it yet; the 2018 V-6 we drove had a nine-speed automatic.
The optional 3.5-liter V-6 makes heartier numbers (290 hp, 267 pounds-feet of torque), but neither drivetrain replicates the immediate thrust of the turbo four-cylinders in the BMW 330i or Audi A4. The V-6 makes up for it on the back end with a silky crescendo of power that builds as the tachometer swings clockwise; Acura officials told us it's enough to hit 60 mph in the high 5-second range. That's on par with manufacturer-estimated times for the German rivals, and the TLX does it with swift accelerator response — an underrated benefit given the maddening pedal lag in too many luxury cars.
The V-6's nine-speed transmission, also retuned for 2018, is a mercurial bedfellow. Sometimes the transmission shifts smoothly and other times it hunts for gears on downshifts or refuses them outright. A driver-selectable Sport mode improves decisiveness on gear choices but can't seem to coax faster kickdown.
Minimal body roll and strong brakes keep with other sports sedans, but the TLX’s steering exhibits unwelcome numbness when centered.
Minimal body roll and strong brakes keep with other sports sedans, but the TLX's steering exhibits unwelcome numbness when centered, with a degree of lazy initial response that doesn't square with the car's sporty intentions. The A-Spec gets weightier steering and a faster ratio, and it restores welcome feedback and steering precision, though the ratio could be faster still.
The A-Spec also highlights Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, a system that does yeoman's work to mask the sedan's front-heavy weight distribution by routing extra power to the outside rear wheel in corners. It doesn't make the TLX as fun to throw around as its best rear-drive competitors, but it dials back the understeer well enough, and you can slide the tail a bit if you sneak in some extra gas mid-curve. For casual driving enthusiasts, that's entertaining enough.
The tradeoff comes in ride quality, where the A-Spec's sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch wheels make for a busy ride. It tackles potholes and ruts as well as the regular TLX, which has softer tuning and smaller wheels (17s or 18s) with higher-profile tires, but isolation over minor bumps is noticeably worse. Unless you live around glass-smooth roads, take note.
Outside, Acura replaced the TLX's shield grille, a staple since the late 2000s, with the five-sided unit from the brand's Precision concept. The TLX wears it with reasonable panache, though it looks best above the A-Spec's three-portal bumper. Other TLXs have a two-portal design with stretched outboard openings and an awkward expanse of sheet metal in the center. Yes, it's a callback to earlier TLXs and TLs — but the two-portal bumper was awkward on them, too.
There's better news in back, where V-6 models have exposed tailpipes again. They were going the way of jean shorts for a while at Acura — a visual buzzkill on a purported sports sedan like the TLX. Unfortunately, four-cylinder models stick with concealed pipes. The opposite is true inside, where the four-cylinder stays traditional, with a mechanical gearshift, while the V-6 gets a confusing push-button gear selector. You win some, you lose some.
Cabin quality reflects the TLX's bargain price, with lots of silver plastic and grainy, hard materials below elbow level. Rival sedans from Cadillac, Lexus and Jaguar have similar drop-offs, but others — particularly rivals from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz — are more consistent.
Still, the TLX is roomier than most in its price class. The front seats have space to stretch out, while the backseat feels as generous as similarly priced mid-size sedans — think Buick LaCrosse, Lincoln MKZ and Lexus ES. It's much roomier than the backseats in the smallish sports sedans with which Acura claims the TLX competes. (You're the shopper, so you decide.) Trunk volume, at 14.3 cubic feet, lands roughly between the two groups. A 60/40-split folding backseat is standard, but the opening to the backseat is only modest.
Acura's multimedia system retains its controversial dual-screen layout, but with newly standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the upper screen, the layout seems more justified even if execution is still a bit off (read our deeper dive here).
The TLX starts around $34,000, which is relatively affordable for the class. It's a complete luxury car at that price: Standard features include heated leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, power front seats, keyless access and push-button start, the upgraded multimedia system, a backup camera, and a host of safety and self-driving systems that used to be optional: full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane centering steering and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. Seldom does the mid-$30,000s get you that much in a luxury car.
Still, safety-minded shoppers may want to wait until the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests the 2018 TLX. Officials cited a revised headlight design to improve on the 2016-17 TLX's disappointing IIHS headlight scores, but they didn't say if Acura made any structural changes to improve on the car's less-than-perfect front crash-test scores. As of this writing, new IIHS tests are still pending.
Climb the trim levels and you can get ventilated front seats, power-folding mirrors, 360-degree cameras, and heaters for the rear seats and steering wheel. Luxuries like a panoramic moonroof and power-adjustable steering column are unavailable. But the TLX tops out around $47,000, which is peanuts for this class. Many rivals top out well above $50,000, and a few climb into sticker-shock terrain in the $60s. And that's before you add the type of optional higher-performance engines the TLX doesn't offer.
If money is no object, other luxury sedans beat the 2018 Acura TLX in performance and quality. But the TLX has value in spades, and it holds its own in more than a few areas beyond that.