In a time when car commercials often involve mustache donning movie stars insulting horses, muscle bound actors heading cross-country with a group of puppets, or a family of golden retrievers driving to the mall, Acura’s ad for the 2015 TLX, which illustrates the pain-staking process of developing a new sports sedan, is a refreshing surprise. In less than a minute we are taken on a journey from concept to assembly line, which isn’t exactly a feel good thrill ride, culminating in the tagline, “We made this one for us, but you can have one.”
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The first time I saw the commercial I noted that it was a bold choice for a new car launch. Acura has avoided the fuzzy puppies and superstar placement in favor of real employees, in less than glamorous work environments; hammering out details in the pouring rain, on sun scorched dirt tracks, and late night blurry-eyed fast food fueled work sessions. Sure, the unconventional choice of quickly edited video clips and raucous soundtrack of the Sid Vicious version of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” certainly made an impression, but what really grabbed my attention was that counter-intuitive tagline. In a “make the consumer happy no matter what the cost” advertising climate, why would a company intentionally brag about making a car for themselves?
With that thought in mind, I boarded a plane to travel to upstate Michigan, by way of Motor City Detroit, to spend three days with the Acura team to preview the all-new 2015 TLX. My journalist hat on, quite literally as I have an Automotive Addicts baseball cap that I travel with, I planned on asking the folks at Acura the poignant, “Why would you put yourselves before the consumer?” After spending less than thirty minutes with Acura’s research and development team, which included former SCCA Pro Rally driver and Lead Performance Engineer Bryan Hourt, I didn’t have to ask my evocative brow sweat inducing journalistic gem, I simply wanted to drive the car created by this intriguing group of family oriented, fun loving, motor heads.
Poised to be a strong challenger in the competitive mid size sports sedan market and created to replace both the bulky TL and somewhat anemic TSX, in many ways Acura has built the automotive sports sedan equivalent of the Swiss army knife. Depending on trim, the 2015 TLX is powered by a surprisingly capable 206-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that gets 24/35/28 city/highway/combined or a 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6 that is, amazingly, rated at 21/34/25 city/highway/combined. The all-wheel-drive V-6 model will cost you three miles per gallon highway, but city and combined remain the same at 21/25. Compared to similar vehicles, the 2015 TLX offers an almost unheard of performance versus cost versus gas mileage ratio.
Four cylinder models come equipped with a shift lever actuated eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and torque converter, which I can attest translates to smoother stop and go shifting and faster off-the-line acceleration. V-6 models are fitted with a nine-speed automatic transmission that also takes advantage of the torque converters smooth performance enhancing benefits. Nine-speed models include Acura’s space saving Electronic Gear Selector, which uses pushbuttons to replace the cable-connected mechanical lever. The buttons can take a little getting used to, especially for a manual transmission traditionalist who often uses the shift lever as a hand rest. On the plus side, perhaps the shifters absence would help me get out of bad habits and force me to keep my hands at ten and two – nine and three, depending on who you ask – like I’m supposed to, ready to deploy the ergonomic steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for rapid shifts at redline or engine braking when approaching a corner.
According to Mat Hargett, the 6’8” Vice President of Acura Engineering who notably fits behind the wheel and drives the TLX on a daily basis, a primary goal was to build a sedan that went beyond simply being an excellent performing machine. The intent was to use technology, infused with time tested techniques, to build a car that intuitively anticipated the driver’s next move. The aim was not to replace human input with nagging automated systems, but to build a car that worked in concert with the driver like a perceptive, but quietly understated, co-pilot. After hours of driving all three versions of the TLX, I can enthusiastically say that Hargett and the Acura team have succeeded in creating a vehicle that compliantly does what you ask and a little more.
That “little more” is exactly what makes the 2015 TLX so special.
Four wheel steering is certainly not a new idea, but the way that Acura’s Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS), found in front-wheel drive models, has been configured to work even under non-evasive driving, gives the TLX a feeling of connectivity rarely seen in an relatively inexpensive luxury sedan. Matter of fact, it took me a few minutes to realize just how hard the Acura was willing to be pushed into a tight corner without eliciting any fuss or drama. I’m sure the system, from an engineering standpoint, is fairly complex, but essentially the TLX enhances stability by turning the rear wheels a little bit – less than two degrees – in the same direction as the front wheels at high speeds and points the wheels in the opposite direction of the front wheels while turning at slow speeds to keep the car planted and improve turn-in. Much like a downhill skier approaching the lodge for some hot cocoa, the TLX toes in both wheels during aggressive breaking to decrease stopping distance and keep the rear end pointing in the right direction.
The top-of-the-line V-6 Super Handling All-Wheel Drive model (SH-AWD) takes the formula to another level, using monitors to continually measure G-forces, traction and road conditions and determine the most effective way send the TLX’s 290 horsepower to the ground. If throwing the front-wheel drive P-AWS into the corner was a game of chicken, pushing the limits of the SH-AWD model was the automotive reviewer’s version of Russian Roulette.
All of the TLX models come equipped with Acura’s Integrated Dynamics System (IDS), allowing the driver to select between Economy, Normal, Sport, and a little more Sport or as Acura has labeled it Sport+. The IDS function is similar to many selectable driving dynamic systems; modifying steering effort, throttle response, active sound management, shift patterns, and the aggressiveness of – depending on the model – the P-AWS or SH-AWD system. Moving between Economy, Normal, and Sport certainly tightens up the steering wheel and enhances the ride accordingly, but slipping the car into Sport+ mode transforms the sedate and unusually quiet, thanks to Acura’s incredible attention to sound deadening, character of the TLX into something of a track ready monster. The transmission holds gears so close to redline, the exhaust growls so angrily, and the steering wheel works so hard to return to center, that unless you are really in an adventurous mood it is almost too much. Which, for a car guy like me, means it is perfect.
The TLX interior is an exercise in ergonomically restrained luxury. The seating is comfortable, yet supportive; the cockpit has a deliberate everything-central-to-the-pilot design. The three-spoke steering wheel feels great in your hands and houses the controls that I’ve come to expect in a mid-size luxury car, allowing the driver to operate the excellent sounding infotainment center, cruise control, phone, safety features and more based on the cars optional equipment. The red aluminum ignition start/stop button looks like it belongs in a race car and thankfully, although there is a meaningful touch-screen for deeper features and controls, Acura has continued to include real knobs and tactile push buttons to operate the key features of the entertainment and navigation system. On the same count, the layout is a bit confusing. The large knob and buttons below the lower touch screen display controls the features on the upper non-touch screen, I think it would take a bit of reading and perseverance to really understand the best way to operate the TLX’s features.
While not the most aggressively styled exterior on the market, Acura seems to have found a nice compromise between conservative and statement making aesthetics. I tend to like bold and sassy, but as I’m often reminded not everyone wants to start an impromptu parade of pointing and staring with every trip to the grocery store. The sculpted nose, housing the futuristic full-LED headlamps, and chiseled hood give way to a smooth roofline and trunk. The profile of the TLX almost appears to change as you circle the car, flashes of aggression soothed by smooth lines and exit points.
Whether you opt for the least expensive 2.4L or the top of the food chain V-6 SH-AWD, the thrilling driving dynamics of the all-new TLX are sure to please. I’m not completely convinced on the front wheel drive V-6 model, especially after spending time back-to-back in it’s marginally more expensive all-wheel-drive big brother which I highly recommend, the small loss in highway MPGs is negligible in context with the increased driving performance. While there are certainly many other amazing cars in this segment, I would encourage anyone in the market to give the TLX a good look. It may turn out that the Acura team really did make one for you.
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At a Glance: