by: James R. Healey
MIDDLEBURG, VA. — Acura can’t seem to make a wrong move on SUVs, but can’t seem to put a foot right on cars.
The 2015 TLX midsize sedan is supposed to change that. It replaces the TSX and TL, giving Acura a more sensible array of small-medium-large sedans.
Small is ILX, a Honda Civic derivative, but a poor seller this year. Large is the RLX, a modest success, but a higher-price, small-volume model in any event.
Medium is the new TLX. It’s meant to be the mainstream Acura car, a big seller that can go tire-to-tire with rivals such as Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C250, Infiniti Q50 and BMW 328.
After a day thrashing all three versions on the gorgeous back roads around here, we say Acura succeeds. If the brand has trouble selling the TLX, it needs to put its marketing, not its engineering, under a microscope.
The car is so important to Acura that the TLX head man, engineer Mat Hargett, performed an amazing feat of corporate engineering and got the launch delayed so his team could go over the car yet one more time.
“We need a clean launch. The car has a lot of new technology and launching with new technology that doesn’t work is worse than launching with old technology,” he says.
Dealers have been desperate for a strong sedan entry and were vocal about their dismay. Now the Marysville, Ohio, factory is shipping them as fast as it can, and sales are starting this month.
It has three flavors:
– 2.4-liter four-cylinder base model, with front-wheel drive (FWD) and eight-speed dual-clutch automatic.
– 3.5-liter V-6, FWD with nine-speed automatic.
– 3.5-liter V-6, all-wheel drive (AWD), nine-speed automatic.
Those transmissions are a big leap from the five- and six-speed boxes Acura’s been using. V-6 cars use a push-button transmission control. We prefer the conventional lever in the four-cylinder car, but found the buttons on the console more-or-less agreeable.
Also part of the cars’ technical signature, the FWD cars have all-wheel steering. The back wheels turn very slightly to help pivot the car around a corner, or ease into a parking spot, or glide into another highway lane.
That’s the theory, anyway. But it didn’t seem like something a driver would notice without being told it was present — a subtlety that Hargett said is deliberate.
And it doesn’t seem to cut the turning circle diameter, which is 39-plus feet on the FWD cars, vs. 37 feet or so that’s more typical of midsize sedans.
The AWD model has idle stop, also called automatic stop-start. It boosts mpg a bit by stopping the engine at long red lights, then restarting it. It’s well done — noticeable, but lacking annoying shakes and shimmies that plague some stop-start systems.
We favored the driver-selectable “sport” mode that keeps the transmission in lower gears longer, but burns more fuel. The normal and eco settings were satisfactory, though neither played to the lively personality baked into the TLX.
The styling nicely discards the cow-catcher front end of previous Acuras.
Front seats in all models are quite comfortable. Back seat’s a tad tight, though not cramped.
Handling is secure, confident. Acceleration is strong on all models, though the four-cylinder engine sounds slightly rackety compared with the V-6s. What’s most impressive is its fine overall balance. TLX is quiet, refined, smooth, quick, well-mannered and satisfying.
If you’re a numbers shopper, seeking the quickest acceleration, biggest engine and so on, you’ll find cars with better scores.
But in our view, numbers are meaningless without the soulful integration that turns them into a car you want to drive.
In our view, TLX is such a car.
WHAT STANDS OUT
Styling: Much improved from recent Acuras.
Refinement: Well-mannered and satisfying.
2015 ACURA TLX DETAILS
What? Midsize four-door sedan replacing the discontinued TL midsize and and TSX compact. Available with four-cylinder or V-6 engine, front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) on V-6 only.
When? On sale this month as fast as the factory can get them to dealers. Mass production began July 14.
Where? Made at Marysville, Ohio.
How much?Base 2.4-liter four-cylinder starts at $31,890, including $895 shipping.
3.5-liter V-6 FWD starts at $36,115.
3.5-liter V-6 AWD starts at $42,345.
What makes it go? 2.4-liter four-cylinder is rated 206 horsepower at 6,800 rpm, 182 pounds-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm, mated to eight-speed automatic.
3.5-liter V-6 rated 290 hp at 6,200, 267 lbs.-ft. at 4,500 mated to nine-speed automatic.
How big? Closer in size to the TL than the TSX. A few inches longer, an inch wider than Audi A4, Infiniti Q50, which Acura believes will be the main rivals to TLX.
Weighs 3,483 to 3,774 lbs.
Passenger cabin: 93.3 cubic ft. Trunk: 13.2 cu. ft.
Turning circle diameter: 39.2 ft., 2.4-liter; 38.8 ft., V-6 FWD; 39.5 ft. V-6 AWD.
How thirsty: 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated 24 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway, 28 in combined city/highway driving.
V-6 FWD rated 21/34/25. V-6 AWD rated 21/31/25.
2.4-liter test car got 29.2 mpg (3.42 gallons per 100 miles) in quick driving on rural two-lanes.
V-6 FWD test car: 33.1 mpg (3.02 gal./100 mi.) in mainly highway driving with some rural two-lane, all with lots of hard throttle use.
V-6 AWD test car: 26.2 mpg (3.82 gal./100 mi.) in rural two-lane driving, mostly using transmission’s Sport mode.
Premium fuel recommended; tank holds 17.2 gal.