2018 Acura TLX A-Spec
3.5-liter SOHC V6 (290 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm; 267 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm)
Nine-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
21 city / 30 highway / 24 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
12.0 city / 8.2 highway / 10.3 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
23.1 mpg [10.2 L/100 km] (Observed)
Base Price: $33,950 (U.S) / $38,135 (Canada)
As Tested: $45,750 (U.S.) / $53,135 (Canada)
Prices include $950 destination charge in the United States and $2,145 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.
Is it possible to move this elephant out of the room?
Perhaps not, but whether we try to move the elephant or allow him to stay, a review of the revamped 2018 Acura TLX, even in this top-spec V6 SH-AWD A-Spec trim, will forever be set against a backdrop that is the all-new 2018 Honda Accord, a veritable wooly mammoth.
It can’t be helped. Acura knows the new 10th-generation Accord offers features unavailable in the Acura lineup. The TLX, meanwhile, features an interior that’s more than a little reminiscent of the ninth-generation Accord’s cabin. Fonts, buttons, switches, two-screen format — the upmarket/downmarket connections are too obvious to be dismissed as simply the mandatory parts-bin sharing of a global automaker with justifiable cost concerns. The new 2018 Acura TLX and the old Honda Accord are remarkably similar cars.
But is that so bad? The Honda Accord is, with good reason, consistently one of America’s most popular sedans, and the refreshed 2018 Acura TLX is a particularly nice interpretation of that car. Besides which, the Acura TLX isn’t just an Accord. It’s not merely an Accord. The TLX’s more powerful V6, a nine-speed automatic, and a very effective all-wheel-drive system make sure of that.
True, the elephant hasn’t exited the premises. But now that it’s standing out in the hallway, we can judge the 2018 Acura TLX V6 SH-AWD A-Spec on merit, rather than simply distinguishing the degree to which the TLX is or is not a Honda.
For just another moment, let that elephant alert us to the size of his, umm, trunk. See, despite virtually identical dimensions, the outgoing Honda Accord (of which thousands remain on dealer lots across America) offers four extra inches of rear legroom, an extra inch of rear shoulder room, 8 percent more passenger volume, and more than an extra cubic foot of cargo capacity.
Forget the Accord: the Acura TLX is by any standard a large car that doesn’t feel like a large car inside. Though undeniably easier to get in and out of than the Lexus IS350 we tested a week ago, the 2018 TLX doesn’t reveal itself as a car with notable space advantages when compared to the Lexus, a sedan that’s eight inches shorter than the Acura, bumper to bumper.
So if the TLX doesn’t gain an advantage over its smaller sports sedan brethren in terms of space efficiency, does it make headway in the athletics department?
Among Acura’s updates for the 2018 TLX, powertrain changes are notably absent. The optional 3.5-liter V6 — an upgrade from the standard 206-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder/eight-speed DCT combo — still produces 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque and is still linked to a nine-speed automatic that’s happiest in sportier drive modes and under heavier throttle inputs.
Admittedly quick when caned, the TLX’s 3.5-liter is a distinctly naturally aspirated unit, an engine that needs to rev, an engine that likes to rev and sounds great when doing so. Yet customers increasingly acquainted with low-rpm turbo punch aren’t going to quickly take a liking to the TLX’s off-the-line recalcitrance. There’s enough weight in a top-spec TLX, 3,838 pounds, to slightly degrade the impact of the TLX’s heady horsepower numbers.
Indeed, there’s a persistent sense of mass when piloting the 2018 TLX V6 SH-AWD, a factor that stands in the way of Acura’s midsize sedan feeling truly nimble. Fortunately, under pressure, the TLX displays a pleasant dearth of body roll, steering that weights up nicely, minimal need for mid-corner correction, and an ability to put power down before, during, and when exiting a bend that mainstream sedan owners can only dream of.
Although the 2018 TLX lacks the final degrees of bite that would make it a true sports sedan — and on Michelin Primacy MXM4s, it lacks the necessary rubber, too — there are benefits reaped from Acura’s compromises. Ride quality remains ideal even on the A-Spec’s 19-inch rims: firm enough to never be floaty, soft enough to isolate brutal pavement. Observed fuel economy of 23 miles per gallon easily topped the Lexus IS350’s 19-mpg result. The nine-speed transmission, meanwhile, was reprogrammed for 2018 and now allows the TLX to settle into a serene and mature groove that does a fair job of squeezing the TLX V6 SH-AWD A-Spec onto a bridge that spans the Lexus IS350/ES350 gap.
Alas, there’s no getting around the fact that at this lofty $45,750 as-tested price point, the 2018 Acura TLX lacks the desired cues of a luxury car. Besides the aforementioned Honda connections, of which there are too many to count, the TLX cabin offers nothing to wow, nothing to remind you of the money you’ve spent, nothing that shouts, “I’m special!”
The Audi A4 has its Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster. Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class, besides a tacked-on faux iPad, has the kind of interior design and materials that make it worthy of an E-Class price tag. Last week, the seats in the Lexus IS350 hugged so tight you had to know something must be up.
The Acura TLX’s interior, loaded up with all the equipment Acura can throw at it, leaves the impression normally left by a feature-laden and slightly cramped version of a conventional midsize family sedan.
Yet a quick, naturally aspirated, relatively affordable and unpretentious family sedan is evidently what many consumers are looking for. The TLX is America’s eighth-best-selling premium brand car, selling more often than the Audi A4, Lincoln MKZ, and Lexus IS, among many others.
In fact, Acura believes this MY2018 refresh will prove sufficient to drive TLX sales to the highest levels seen so far.
On what grounds? The 2015-2017 TLX, tasked with replacing the TSX and TL, was a wallflower. “Shoppers who rejected TLX,” Acura spokesperson Matt Sloustcher told TTAC, “often did so on the basis of the design not being aggressive enough for a sport sedan.”
If the TLX sold in decent numbers when it was scarcely noticeable, Acura figures, the wide-grilled 2018 TLX will surely attract more attention.
Of course, price remains a leading factor across much of the TLX range, if not this specific tester. To get to $45,750, an Acura TLX buyer must select the V6, all-wheel drive, a $3,700 Technology Package, and then the $2,900 A-Spec package.
But with V6 power and AWD, the 2018 TLX is priced at a far more psychologically comfortable $39,150. Moreover, TLX pricing kicks off at $33,950, an attractive entry point for an upmarket brand. At that price point, a basic Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is embarrassed. We won’t truly know how a $33,950 2018 TLX stacks up, of course, until we’ve tested a 2018 Honda Accord.
You can’t keep an elephant that large out of any room.
[Images: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]