Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Acura TLX SH-AWD Elite

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

Launched in the fall of 2014 as a 2015 model, the then all-new Acura TLX replaced the slow-selling Acura TL and Acura TSX sedans. The gambit seems to have paid off, as the TLX easily exceeded sales of the two retired models in 2015.

The list of standard and optional equipment is generous, and heavily oriented toward safety.

Mind you, there are two powertrains that deliver different TLX driving experiences: one more like the former TSX and one closer to the TL (a little more on that later). Starting at a modest $35,490 (plus $2,045 freight) for the base four-cylinder TLX, our top-of-the-line V6 TLX SH-AWD Elite stickers at $47,990 plus freight and fees for a total of $50,156. However, at the time of this writing, Acura is offering a rebate/incentive of $3,500 that brings the current price of our fully loaded tester down to $46,656 including freight and fees.

This is a very competitive price for such a well-equipped, executive sedan, but before looking at features, it’s worth considering where the Acura TLX resides in relation to some obvious competitors. It’s not as big as a BMW 5 Series, but is larger than a 3 Series, so it sits midway between a luxury compact and intermediate-sized vehicle. It’s actually very close in size to a Lexus GS, although the similarly equipped TLX SH-AWD has a shorter wheelbase and is priced $5,000-$8,000 below the Lexus and considerably lower than equivalently optioned BMWs.

The list of standard and optional equipment is generous, and heavily oriented toward safety. In fact, the Acura TLX achieved the top available rating from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2015, scoring five stars in each of its nine vehicle test modes. It also received a Top Safety Pick + rating from the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Technology contributing to and/or relevant to these designations include multiple airbags, a Collision Mitigation Braking System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind spot information, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Road Departure Mitigation, Rear Cross Traffic Monitor and Mult-View Rear Camera with Dynamic Guidelines. The TLX is built on Honda/Acura’s latest Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) front body structure designed to protect occupants in the event of a collision.

Buyers receive all the above technologies in the SH-AWD Elite model.

Motive power is provided by a 3.5L, direct-injected V6 engine making 290 hp at 6,200 rpm, and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Power is delivered through a nine-speed, paddle-shiftable automatic transmission and distributed through Acura’s excellent revised and enhanced Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system.  Fuel consumption is rated at 11.2/7.5 L/100km, city/highway (my average from both environments over 350 km was 10.2 L/100 km.

A Mid-sized Showdown: 2015 Infiniti Q50 AWD vs 2015 Acura TLX V6 SH-AWD

An Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) permits changing from “Normal” to “Sport” mode to increase steering feel and quicken throttle response. When equipped with SH-AWD – as this car is -- the system more aggressively distributes power (torque vectors) to outside rear wheels in a curve. The “Comfort” mode creates a lighter power steering feel while maintaining the normal settings for the other systems. The select button for the IDS is located behind the Drive button on the electronic shifter.

Other than the somewhat jarring design of the LED headlights and the still-polarizing Acura grille (a new corporate grille thankfully debuts for 2017 models), the TLX shares the same exterior lines as the ILX and RLX sedans. Overall, the understated look, while not unappealing, is also not particularly distinctive. In my view, the TLX too willingly blends into the blur of everyday life.

The interior’s very nice, however, more immediately pleasing. Ours was equipped with coffee-coloured leather upholstery and sublime seating for those up front that benefit from both heated and ventilated seats (rear-seat passengers may be a little challenged for foot room, but their heated seats are also finely contoured). The aluminum and wood trim is finely executed and the major gauges are easy-to-read and offer a range of data on a centrally located display.

The major display for the navigation system sits atop the centre stack, with a smaller display below it that handles climate, entertainment, vehicle settings, etc. That secondary display is a jumble characters, boxes and options that defies interpreting at a glance.

At the front of the centre console is the electronic shifter that consists of buttons and levers to select shift from Park to Drive or Reverse. I found that when changing gears I always had to look at it to see where the buttons were located, which made three-point turns or positioning properly in a driveway more time consuming than usual. It is space saving, although you can’t do much with the space that’s saved.

On the road the TLX is smooth and very quiet.  A push-button start gets things going, and once up to speed, active noise cancellation helps to keep the noises outside where they belong.

Under acceleration the engine pulls well and is turbine-smooth, the transmission typically shifting imperceptibly. It doesn’t feel particularly muscular, though –perhaps not quite as responsive to the throttle as I would have expected -- and in low-speed traffic, the shifting can become abrupt as one alternates between speeding up and slowing down. It’s only remarkable, I suppose, because it seems something of an aberration compared to the car’s normal poise and sophistication.

Where the TLX SH-AWD Elite really shone for me was in its handling and suspension. There are a few locations in my area where the road sharply twists and turns and the surface is uneven after many repairs and patches. In my experience, this area usually upsets vehicles, but in contrast the TLX SH-AWD Elite was completely controlled and balanced. The chassis just dealt with the broken pavement, absorbing the undulations as it rounded the curves. This is not a nervous car.

And the SH-AWD system is one of the best in the business. Regularly praised in the media since its introduction, this all-wheel drive package is superb on slippery winter surfaces and surely contributes to the car’s poise and balance in everyday driving.

In addition to the features listed above, the TLX SH-AWD Elite is equipped with the ELS Surround Sound audio system, voice recognition (English and Quebec French), heated steering wheel, “Milano” perforated leather seating, rain sensing windshield wipers, power folding mirrors, garage door opener, 18-inch alloy wheels, engine start-stop system and a capless fuelling system.

So… smooth, quiet, well-equipped, great AWD system, not as sporty as Acura suggests, but a fine executive-level conveyance at a competitive price-point.

But one more thing… I mentioned there are two engines available and it’s the model equipped with the four-cylinder engine that gets all-wheel steering (it also has a different transmission: eight speed rather than nine). This model is, I think, more nimble and arguably more engaging to drive than the V6-powered TLX. Same look, many of the same standard features as the TLX SH-AWD Elite, but it’s front-wheel drive only.

4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2016 Acura TLX SH-AWD Elite
Base Price $47,990
A/C Tax $121
Destination Fee $2,045
Price as Tested $50,156
Optional Equipment