Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Acura TLX V6 SH-AWD

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

“And more,” comes the sneering, snarling, slurring line from thoroughly dead punk rocker Sid Vicious, “Much more than this: I did it myyyy way.”

Cue Acura TLX carving up a mountain road, people laughing, and the tagline, “It's that kind of thrill.” Thing is, Sid, I'm not so sure.


Oh right, sorry. The whole dead-for-three-and-a-half-decades things. My bad.

For those of you as confused about Acura's naming structure as you are about what the South London–born lead singer of the Sex Pistols is actually mumbling, then here's the liner notes. No more four-sedan lineup, now Acura claims to be selling three Accords and the truth: the four-cylinder ILX is the entry model, the Frankie-say-RLX is the luxury version, and the new TLX sits in the middle.

It's a long time since the people test driving these took the safety pins out of their ears, and from the exterior, the TLX is anything but punk rock.

It's an amalgamation of sorts, an attempt to smush together the TSX and the TL so that the entire Acura range now has three-letter acronyms and better positioning against conventional rivals like BMW. Let us take a brief moment to honour the fallen stick-shift TL SH-AWD, one of the best cars that nobody ever bought.

First impressions are pretty good. The TLX isn't as cleanly handsome as the first generation TSX was, but in its unremarkable urbanity, there is appeal to be found. It's my opinion that many Lexus buyers are choosing their cars in spite of the extreme styling rather than because of it, and with the Acura range there's no such visual barrier to entry. It's a long time since the people test driving these took the safety pins out of their ears, and from the exterior, the TLX is anything but punk rock.

This being the Elite version, there are multi-bulb LED headlights (these look a little less insectoid than the RLX or MDX), 18-inch alloys, LED foglights, standard puddle lights, etc, etc. How shall I put this? The TLX is to the Accord as Banana Republic is to the Gap. If you're ready to graduate to something a little nicer without the flashiness, then here you go.

Take one look at the inside of any modern Acura, and you'll get the impression that the entire team ditched their graphing calculators for iPad Minis at the exact same time. Gone is the button-fest of old, now replaced by a setup that includes twin-screens and touchpads. Much like the Honda versions, everything's blue-backlit and high resolution. Actually, never mind the Apple references – Acura's infotainment is nowehere near as intuitive.

It's not just the lower-mounted touchscreen that handles duties, there's also an iDrive-like knob controller. Effectively, you have three types of controls from buttons to touchscreen to dial. There's some repetition of information between the upper and lower screens as well, as well as the expected redundant controls on the steering wheel. It's very busy: when everything works it's just fine; when it doesn't, it's like the Polyphonic Spree falling down a staircase.

As far as passenger comfort and space goes, the TLX is only a slight cut above a top-level Honda Accord. The trimmings are a little nicer, however, and fit-and-finish is excellent. I liked both the interior wood, and the clever two-level forward pocket that contains a USB jack and is big enough to tuck your phone away.

And now, a tale of two surprises. First, allow me to put the TLX in Drive, an unusual process thanks to the multi-button shifter. This is the size of the remote control for a home theatre, but actually well-designed ergonomically, all things considered. You “pull” the switch that goes into reverse, and you press a big green-ringed button for Drive. Odd, but it works.

Here's the first surprise, and it's not a good one. When cold, from a stop, the TLX kicked me in the kidneys like it was wearing Doc Martens. Given gentle throttle application on a mild hill, I was expecting to roll off the line smoothly, and was totally surprised by the rough, uncouth behaviour of the nine-speed transmission. What the heck? It did it again a couple of lights later.

I've driven cars with janky transmissions before – the V12 Vantage's seven-speed is like a jackhammer – but in a car as smooth and quiet as the TLX is, it's frankly unacceptable. Acura fans won't like this, and neither will people cross-shopping Lexus and Infiniti offerings.

Once warmed up, things settled down somewhat, and the TLX proves itself very quiet indeed. This is not intended as insult, but it feels just like a much nicer Honda Accord.

On the highway, cruising, the TLX feels a great deal like the old TL, nine-speed transmission or no. The last gear is absurdly long for travel on Canadian highways, but it's there should you need to foray south and run at above 130 km/h. The adaptive cruise control works very well indeed, and the Elite-spec cars are fitted with a lane-keeping assist system that's not obtrusive.

One of the main reasons to look at something from the Acura range is the sheer amount of features and technology that the company bundles together, and here the TLX is a whole bento box filled with neat stuff. Pop back off the highway, and the low-speed automated cruise makes slow-shifting traffic bearable. The forward collision warning, as I've experienced with other Acuras, is as nervous as a new mom, and tends to panic if the car in front slows suddenly. Well, you wouldn't want it to be undersensitive, I suppose. 

SH-AWD is an acronym standing for the very Mr. Sparkle–sounding Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive. Super handling! Who wouldn't want that? In fact, this system transformed the old TL into something of a surprising backroads car, always assuming you put a set of decent tires on it.

In the TLX, it's almost like an ankle brace supporting a weak link. On my favourite wriggly backroads, Acura's mid-sizer turns in willingly enough, but then goes a bit soft. Give it a bit more boot and the torque-vectoring rear end actually pivots the car and gives it a bit more bite. It's uncanny – I'd like to drive this machine in a front-drive version to assess the differences.

SH-AWD is an acronym standing for the very Mr. Sparkle–sounding Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive. Super handling! Who wouldn't want that?

As it is, I can tell you that you can absolutely hustle the TLX along surprisingly fast, to the tuneful note of that 3.5L V6. It makes 290 hp at 6,200 rpm, 267 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm, and if you cane it hard enough, you can actually see the fuel gauge move. Driven normally, it'll officially return 11.2 L/100 km city and 7.5L/100 km highway.

But there are two things missing: confidence and joy. I know the TLX's limits are way out there somewhere, and I know the all-wheel drive will catch a mistake, but it's not really a car that invites a lot of thrills. If you put the drive mode (Acura's acronym is IDS) in Sport+ and use the paddle shifters, it's possible to stir up a little emotion, but certainly nothing like some of the mid-sized V6 models that have gone in the Acura range.

No, far better to ease back and play something relaxing on the 10-speaker stereo. Anarchy in the UK? Not hardly.

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Model Tested 2015 Acura TLX Elite V6 SH-AWD
Base Price $47,490
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,074
Price as Tested $49,664
Optional Equipment