Out of Ohio, remade Acura TLX challenges Cadillac, BMW performance
The Cadillac CT4 and CT5 aren’t the only important luxury sedans being built in the Great Lakes states this year.
Acura has introduced its all-new, 2021 Acura TLX, one of only two Asian luxury sedans made in the USA (Lexus’ ES sedan is Kentucky-produced). The TLX will be bolted together in Marysville, Ohio — just down the road from the Performance Manufacturing Center which produces the Acura NSX, the only mid-engine supercar made in the U.S. in addition to the Corvette C8.
Though SUVs dominate the American market, the athletic TLX — like the Lansing-made Cadillacs — is key to defining its brand’s performance aspirations. With all-new, turbocharged 4- and-6-cylinder engines, dramatic styling and a BMW M-fighting Type S badge, the TLX completes Acura’s return to performance prominence.
“It’s one of the most important pieces for us as we rebuild the brand for the future of Acura,” said Acura North America chief Jon Ikeda.
Once an enthusiast brand with such icons as the Integra and free-revving RSX Type S, Acura lost its way in the early 21st century. With the NSX supercar introduced in 2016, Acura began its return to performance under a new brand mantra — Precision Crafted Performance — and a new leader, Ikeda, who came to the company as a designer in 1989 inspired by its performance cred.
To underline its renewed focus, Acura partnered with Troy-based Penske Corp. to race in the IMSA Weathertech sports car series.
The Acura Precision Concept car, introduced at the 2016 Detroit auto show, and Acura Precision Interior Concept defined the brand’s new design direction. The TLX sedan — along with the popular RDX SUV introduced in 2019 — are the first manifestations of those concepts.
The TLX is longer (by 3.7 inches) and wider (by 2.2) than the outgoing model with signature “Jewel Eye” headlights staring out from under a long, low hood. Body panels are deeply sculpted with the car sitting back on wide haunches like a predator ready to pounce. The 113-inch wheelbase now exceeds the BMW 3-series though it is shy of the Cadillac CT5’s class-leading 116 inches.
“We doubled down on the things that sports sedans do best: styling, performance, emotion,” said global development boss Max Ernst.
The interior takes cues from the NSX with “trigger”-style gear and drive mode selector anchoring the console. A tablet infotainment screen, recessed in the dash, is controlled by a touch pad. The pad has received mixed reviews in the similarly equipped RDX, which Acura hopes to alleviate with a hand-rest pad located at its base.
But the key to the TLX’s transformation lies under the skin. The chassis has been stiffened by 50 percent, and a race car-like double wishbone suspension added to the front end for better handling.
“The new TLX platform shares nothing with its predecessors, and not with anything else in our model lineup,” said Ernst, referencing past Acuras that shared the same bones as Hondas. “It’s an Acura-exclusive sports sedan.”
Despite its makeover, TLX remains a front-wheel-drive biased car with transverse-mounted engines, putting it at a disadvantage to class rear-wheel-drive athletes like the Caddy, Bimmer, Genesis G70 and Alfa Romeo Giulia. But the new suspension should help — as will its highly regarded, optional SH-AWD (super-handling all-wheel-drive) system.
SH-AWD is standard on the much-anticipated Type S performance model. This hottie — dressed in 20-inch wheels, Brembo brakes, and huge, corner front air intakes — also introduces an all-new turbocharged, 3.0-liter V-6 engine so the Acura can run with the big dogs. The base turbo-4 engine is no slouch either, boasting a best-in-class 272 horsepower for 4-cylinder engines (a whopping 66 more horsepower than the last gen’s 2.4-liter 4-banger).
Targeted at the U.S. market, the TLX has deep American roots. Its body was styled in California and engineered in Ohio. It will be manufactured exclusively in Marysville with its engines coming from Anna, Ohio, and its 10-speed automatic transmission from Tallapoosa, Georgia.
For all its performance ambitions, the TLX will retain Acura’s claim as one of the best values in class. Its RDX SUV sibling comes standard with AcuraWatch, which offers such safety goodies as adaptive cruise control and blind-spot assist for thousands of dollars less than competitors. AcuraWatch will be standard on TLX also.
The TLX will also offer 27 programmable, interior light themes, 16-way leather seats and four drive modes.
Expect the TLX to arrive this fall with a starting price around $35,000 — thousands less than BMW and Cadillac competitors and competitive with Korea-made Genesis. The Type S model will follow in spring 2021.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.