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2015 Acura TLX Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Acura TLX front quarter view
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Introduction

Launched in 1986 as the first Japanese upscale brand, Acura got off to a strong start. Then Lexus arrived three years later with a larger, more powerful, more comfortable, and more refined sedan and seized the "luxury car with Japanese reliability" space. Stunned, Acura has been seeking a new space of its own ever since. Their latest attempt: the new Honda Accord-based TLX sedan, which has replaced both the TSX and TL for 2015.

Lincoln has similarly been seeking a new space to call its own, and similarly bases a midsize luxury sedan on a mainstream model. People haven't been rushing to buy the Ford Fusion-based MKZ, though. Does the TLX deserve more success?

TLX Reviews: Acura TLX front quarter view

Acura's idea of a sporty-looking sedan. more TLX photos

TLX Reviews: Acura TLX interior

Less plasticky, but now anonymous in character.

Tested: 2015 Acura TLX

4dr Sedan 206-horsepower 2.4L I4 8-speed automated manual FWD

Compared: 2013 Lincoln MKZ

4dr Sedan turbocharged 240hp 2.0L I4 6-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Why the 2015 Acura TLX?

  Compared to the MKZ
Price or payments
Price or payments: Better Better Worse

Acura has never attempted to go toe-to-toe with other upscale brands with its pricing. Instead, its cars have been priced significantly higher than the Hondas on which they are based, but well below a comparable Lexus, much less one of the Germans. With a starting price of $31,890, the new TLX continues this in-between tradition. A Honda Accord EX-L lists for $2,680 less, but a Lexus ES lists for $5,000 to $9,000 more (depending on which engine you equip the TLX with).

Audi and Mercedes both offer sedans with lower starting prices, but the A3 and CLA are considerably smaller than the TLX, and they have much less standard equipment. Equip them like the Acura, and they end up three to four thousand dollars higher.

The Accord comparison warrants a deeper look. An Accord EX-L has leather seats, forward collision warning, and a blind spot camera standard. Add the Navigation Package to the Accord and the Technology Package (which includes leather) to the TLX to reduce the number of feature differences, and the Acura lists for $4,935 more--but includes $4,900 in additional features that are not available on the Honda. The most significant of these: LED headlights and rear-wheel steering. Put another way, if you value the TLX's additional features, the car's more upscale brand and materials cost essentially nothing extra.

And the Lincoln? When both cars are equipped with four-cylinder engines the MKZ costs about $4,000 more. But this is partly because Lincoln has priced the base MKZ so that it can offer a hybrid powertrain for "no additional charge." Plus the MKZ's engine has a turbocharger. Reflecting this, plus that the TLX 3.5 replaces the TL rather than the TSX, it costs much more, $4,225 vs. $1,230, to step up to a V6 with the Acura. Opt for the V6s and load up both cars, and their prices end up about the same.

Given the $4,000 price difference and that reviewers have tended to prefer the more agile handling of the TLX 2.4, it seems a better value than the TLX 3.5 unless you must have all-wheel-drive, which is only offered with the V6.


Handling
Handling: About the same Better Worse

When Acura introduced the new TLX to journalists, it promised an engaging, exciting driving experience. Does the car deliver? Not really, but the TLX does feel more agile and eager to turn than the Lincoln. Credit four inches less length, two hundred pounds less weight, and standard rear-wheel steering. Innovative toe control rear suspension links with integral length-adjusting motors rather than a second rack-and-pinion provide the last.

But while the TLX's steering feels more responsive than the MKZ's, its suspension doesn't control body motions as well, and the Acura sedan can feel sloppy when pushed. Seeking to appeal to both sport sedan and luxury sedan buyers, Acura seems to have tuned the steering for the former but the suspension for the latter. Granted, the suspension is far from flaccid, but over wavy pavement it doesn't feel as tied-down as that of the MKZ, or of the Germans when they are equipped with optional sport suspensions.


TLX Reviews: Acura TLX rear quarter view

The TLX looks a bit thick from this angle.

TLX Reviews: Acura TLX instrument panel

The dual-screen plus a knob and buttons interface has found few fans.

Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Much better Better Worse

Compared to the MKZ, the TLX has a less steeply raked windshield, a more compact instrument panel, and larger windows. The resulting outward visibility adds to the impression that the TLX maneuvers more easily.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

Compared to the Honda Accord, the Acura TLX has stronger engines and different, more performance-oriented transmissions. As a result, fuel economy takes a bit of a hit. Focusing on the four-cylinder, the EPA ratings are 27/36 for the Honda and 24/35 for the Acura. The latter is a nice bump over the 22/31 of last year's TSX, though, and also compares favorably to the MKZ's 22/23.

In my driving, the trip computer reported averages ranging between 24 and 36 mpg in the suburbs (the high number when I was especially easy on the pedals) and high 30s on the highway.

Of course, if fuel economy is a priority you can get the MKZ in hybrid form. Acura offers no such option. But the MKZ Hybrid is relatively sluggish. If you want a combination of good performance and good fuel economy in the same car (if not during the same drive), the TLX 2.4 has an edge.


Why Not the 2015 Acura TLX?

  Compared to the MKZ
Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: Worse Better Worse

Recent Acuras and Hondas have had a pair of instrument panel displays. The upper one is controlled via a knob and buttons on the console, while the lower display, situated between the upper display and its controls, is a touchscreen. I've yet to come across anyone who finds this logical. Most people find it confusing.

What I most mind, though, is that even the simplest operations tend to require multiple taps. For example, to turn on the heated seat you must tap a virtual button along the button edge of the touchscreen, then select a level, then exit. I'm all for keeping the physical button count under control (past Acuras failed here), but there are better solutions.

Not that the Lincoln MKZ's interface is much better. In some ways it's even worse.


Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Much worse Better Worse

The Acura TLX isn't an unattractive car. But it's not going to inspire any double-takes, either. Mostly it will blend into the crowd about as well as the Accord on which it is based. Acura feels that its signature LED headlamps provide a distinctive face, and they do, but this isn't enough. The 225/55R17 tires, mandatory with the four-cylinder engine, have the unfashionably tall sidewalls of a transportation appliance.

The MKZ's exterior is much more distinctive, upscale, and elegant.


TLX Reviews: Acura TLX front view

Acura's signature LED headlights.

TLX Reviews: Acura TLX back seat

Adequate room and comfort for a man of average height. Need more? Acura wants to sell more RLXs.

Interior styling
Interior styling: Much worse Better Worse

Much the same can be said for the cars' interiors. The interior trim of the recently departed TSX and TL included too much silver plastic as part of a high-tech / sci-fi design theme, and both the plastic and that theme are thankfully gone. But in their place the TLX has a thoroughly generic interior with obviously fake, overly shiny plastiwood.

The trim of the MKZ's center console would benefit from a more upscale look and feel, but overall its interior seems more upscale and much more modern.


Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: About the same Better Worse

While the Acura TLX's exterior dimensions roughly split the difference between the TSX's and the TL's, its interior dimensions are quite close to the more compact of the two. Compared to the Honda Accord, rear seat legroom is down a substantial four inches despite a shared wheelbase. Shoulder room and rear headroom also suffer reductions, of about an inch in each case. At 5-9, I can sit behind myself with a little room to spare. Passengers six feet and up will feel cramped, if they fit at all.

The Lincoln is also weak in this area. If others an inch or two more rear knee room than the TLX, but less rear headroom.


Other features of the 2015 Acura TLX

  Compared to the MKZ
Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: About the same Better Worse

The Acura TLX's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is good for 206 horsepower, but at a lofty 6,800 rpm. Without a turbocharger to plump up the four's midrange, its torque output peaks at 182 pound-feet, vs. 260 with the MKZ's boosted 2.0-liter. On paper, the Acura's engine specs aren't sufficient for a 3,500-pound luxury-sport sedan.

Yet the TLX's powertrain performs about as well as the MKZ's. Both cars can get from a stop to 60 mph in about seven seconds. In typical around-town driving the TLX feels responsive, not sluggish.

The Acura's transmission deserves at least as much credit as its engine. The four-cylinder is paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch automated manual. With so many ratios to choose from, the transmission can keep the engine at the optimal rpm for either performance or fuel economy, effectively disguising its peaky nature. An ultra-short first gear makes for energetic starts, if these are requested. Since the new gear can be engaged the instant the former one is released, shifts are as quick and crisp as they are frequent.

Dual-clutch automated manual transmissions can sometimes feel jerky in casual driving. Perhaps because it incorporates a torque converter, the Acura's rarely did in my experience (see the comments for a different impression). I more minded the amount of engine vibration that could be felt when stopped at lights. Rev the engine, though, and it sounds much better than the typical four. Active noise cancellation likely deserves some of the credit for this.


Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Worse Better Worse

The smoothness and quietness of the Acura TLX's ride aren't remarkable, in either the good or the bad sense. They're passable for this class of car.


Conclusion

Some aspects of the new Acura TLX 2.4 impress. The powertrain performs well considering the engine's weakest-in-class specs, and can return excellent fuel economy. The steering feels more responsive than that of other cars in this class. And the TLX 2.4's price is attractive, especially when the level of content is considered.

Beyond these strengths, though, the TLX can't seem to decide whether it's a sport sedan or a luxury sedan. The responsive steering and tight rear seat suggest the former, while the less-than-taut suspension and shiny faux wood interior trim suggest the latter.

I'd especially like to see more artful and distinctive styling. I continue to find the 2004-2008 TL among the most attractive sedans on the road. What happened to the people and process that created that car?

As it is, the Acura TLX is a pleasant enough option, but not a compelling one--unless you're seeking the most affordable midsize sedan with an upscale brand. If this is exactly what you're seeking, then you've found it.

TLX Reviews: Acura TLX engine

Feels stronger than 206 horsepower thanks to 8-speed dual clutch transmission. Good sound, too.

TLX Reviews: Acura TLX trunk

Depressions on each side of the carpeted cargo area help keep items from sliding about.

See more 2015 Acura TLX photos

Acura and Lincoln each provided an insured car for a week with a tank of gas. Richard Wolf at Star Lincoln in Southfield, MI, provided an earlier MKZ, with the turbo four engine. He can be reached at 248-354-4900.

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2015 Acura TLX pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2015 Acura TLX. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from wmba

10:19 am May 24, 2015

I drove one of these just a few miles. The dash was ablaze with a giant orange BRAKE sign each time as I came to a stop behind other vehicles in traffic. The front collision warning came on after a little old lady and her dog had finished crossing as I waited at a STOP sign in a deserted urban neighborhood. WTF? The salesman didn't know either.

The car had the feeling of an eager little terrier as it whipped through the gears with a kind of frenetic energy with not much result, but my old Legacy GT is far more relaxing and composed, yet much quicker on these same roads which I've driven for decades - by comparison it wafts.

Back to the dealer, then because I was actively unimpressed. The thing then tried to kill me as I made a left turn across traffic froma rolling start. Given gas, absolutely nothing happened - there I am pumping the gas pedal, while down in the transmission room, some gerbil tried to figure out what gear I should be in at 5 to 8 mph. Answer - none. After several agonizing seconds with the salesman getting loud with traffic bearing down on his side, some gear finally engaged and we just made it. Then going up the steep hill into the dealer's lot, the thing upshifted goodness knows how many times at less than 25 mph, then wouldn't shift down as I slowed, resulting in less than 1,000 rpm, bucking and shaking, as if a novice forgot to push in the clutch coming to a stop. Complained to the dealership GM. Scratched heads.

Then drove a V6 with the same horrible 9 speed ZF as the Chrysler 200. Useless thing, and the car vibrated on the highway at 65 to 75 mph, and it wasn't wheel wobble. I've driven enough cars over the last 50 years to know, and as an engineer, I'd say it was structural or poor rubber mount design.

Useless car, in my opinion. Subsequent follow-up on acurazine shows car has similar behavior for others, although most haven't experienced the problems or they haven't noticed. I'm just glad two test drives removed this underdeveloped vehicle from my consideration.

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Response from Member549

12:56 pm February 26, 2016

Leased a 2015 TLX V-6 in September '15. Took delivery and headed home. BAD vibration at 65-75 MPH. Returned to the dealer within 1/2 hour. Immediatly a Tech trieda reflash on the Trans. Left dealer. Same problem and the 1-2 and 2-3 gear shifts are "abrupt". Next day returned the car. They gave me a loaner and kept the car for almost 2 weeks. Dealer claimed it was better and they went through every system in the car. Drove out and it was a bit better but not "perfect". Two weeks of extended driving I was convinced it was a combo of tires and transmission. Back to the dealer and the GM and I went for a ride. He agreed that there was an issue. Took out an identical car from the lot and it was 100% better. They offered to replace the tires from Bridgestone to Michelin. I agreed and result was a much better ride. There still is a very slight vibration when holding speed steady on smooth flat road @ about 1400 RPM (regardless of speed) and the 1-2 and 2-3 abrupt gear shifts are still present. THERE IS A DEFINATE ISSUE WITH THE 9-SPEED ZF TRANSMISSION THAT ACURA/HONDA FAILS TO ADDRESS. The dealer is doing the best he can. I won't/can't fault them. Going back in next week for it's first "Service" appointment. I'll address these issues at that time(again).

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Response from mkaresh

1:25 pm February 26, 2016

People are also reporting problems with the same transmission in some Jeep and Chrysler models. Most often the fix (if there is one) involves software, so these aren't showing up in our stats. Volvo opted to use the Aisin 8-speed automatic instead.

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