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2021 Acura TLX Long-Term Introduction | Loving the style, testing the substance

It’s not an understatement to say that the 2021 TLX is Acura’s most important car in years. Its purpose is ambitious: to be an authentic sports sedan with premium flair. When Acura is at its best, that’s what it does, as exemplified by the Legend and the third-generation TL.

Can the TLX live up to that pedigree? We’ll spend the next year seeking answers as the attractive TLX joins our long-term fleet. The TLX is the sedan for Acura, carrying most of its aspirations as a sporting brand. Sure, there’s still the NSX, but a halo car needs to shine its light on something for mainstream enthusiasts to buy. As a reminder, the ILX is a dressed-up Civic and Acura’s former flagship, the RLX, is done. Put simply, there’s a lot riding on the TLX, but early indications are promising. 

What we got

Our new long-termer is a TLX A-Spec with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. It’s powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque teamed with a 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. It costs $47,775, including destination charges, which puts it near the top of the TLX range.

Among the TLX’s standard features are LED head- and taillights, a sunroof, heated front seats, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Acura’s unusual True Touchpad interface. Beyond the basic equipment, Acura then breaks down content into three packages, but they’re more like trim levels since you can’t mix and match them, nor are there any additional options beyond SH-AWD. As such, the A-Spec basically takes the Technology package items (blind-spot warning, navigation, leather upholstery, ambient cabin lighting) and adds additional content, including 19-inch Shark Grey aluminum alloy wheels, LED fog lamps, ventilated front seats, a sport steering wheel, a wireless phone charger, and a 17-speaker Panasonic/ELS sound system. The A-Spec also looks different with gloss black accents, smoked light casings and a matte grey diamond grille that really stand out when paired with our long-termer’s striking Apex Blue Pearl Paint ($500 option). Our car also arrived on 255/40 R19 all-season tires but we plan to swap them for winter rubber.

Why we got it

The A-Spec is the enthusiast version. It looks and feels the part of a proper sports sedan. The interior, with the supportive seats and flat-bottom steering wheel, reinforces the idea of athleticism. That’s a good sign, and the TLX feels like a complete execution. Too many times performance cars are let down by mediocre cabins, which is not the case here.

The A-Spec is the sweet spot in the TLX range. A base model with front-wheel drive starts at $38,525. Unless you live in the sunbelt and have no performance ambitions, the $2,000-SH-AWD system is worth it. Meanwhile, the Advance package comes in at $49,325 with AWD, which is reasonable, but it offers some things we’d like (adaptive dampers) and some things we wouldn’t require (head-up display and rain-sensing wipers). We passed on the Advance, but go over the features and you might decide the package is worth another two grand.

The TLX Type S is expected to arrive this spring with a 3.0-liter turbo V6 with 355 hp and a sticker north of $50,000. It’s a tempting proposition, but Acura has never been about raw horsepower, and we didn’t feel like waiting. The VTEC four-cylinder is plenty quick, so we’re really going to test our “A-Spec is Best” theory this year.

When Acura is right, it can be cooler than Lexus and legitimately aspirational. Probably a rung below Audi and definitely Mercedes and BMW, but also different — maybe younger and sportier than the staid Germans. Acura also has more heritage and identity than Genesis and Infiniti, carving out a solid niche in the upper middle class of luxury cars. None of this identity is formed in crossovers, and that means premium brands that aspire to performance need at least one mainstream car to embody those principles. For Acura, it’s the TLX.

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