TLX Reset

For the 2018 model, Acura designers and engineers made changes to the sport sedan that go beyond a typical refresh. Here’s why and how.

Jon Ikeda, vice president and general manager, Acura, at the New York Auto Show, when revealing the 2018 TLX, a car that has been refreshed to a degree that is something between a traditional updating of a car and a model change, made one of the most understated observations in the industry: “It's no secret that the luxury sedan market is a tough business.” That would be “tough” as in the context of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He added, “And with every premium automaker fighting for its share, I'm not surprised to see the competition resorting to very aggressive tactics.” By which he means aggressive sales and marketing tactics. That said, he continued, “So, it's a challenging market but sedans remain a critical pillar of our brand.”

According to Ikeda, while Acura, too, is experiencing growth in the SUV/crossover categories, with its MDX and RDX models, when people think about a “performance vehicle,” odds are better that they’re going to think of a sedan before they think of something with a high roofline.

Yes, they may think of a sports car before they think of a sedan, and Ikeda would be all-too-ready to point to the NSX. Ikeda says that when people go to the Acura website to look at the NSX, Acura data miners have found that the next place those people go to is, yes, the TLX page. “We have to make sure the design of our sedans has the connection to the NSX, that we tie the energy, performance and attributes of that into our core product,” he explains.

The TLX is an important product in the company’s lineup, as it competes, says Jonathon Rivers, lead product planner for the car, in the Entry Premium segment along with the likes of the Mercedes C300, Audi A4, BMW 330i, Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50. Although, he acknowledges, that segment is fairly flat and is expected to remain so for the next five years, it is the largest segment within the premium/luxury sedan category, so there’s volume, and “entry,” of course, means leading to something else (in Acura’s case it would be its RLX.)

What’s more, the TLX is the melding of two cars that had done comparatively well in the Acura lineup: the TL, which ran from model year 1996 to 2014, and the TSX, which went from model year 2004 to 2014. The TLX was introduced as a model year 2015 midsize sport sedan.

Performance and enthusiasm are important to Ikeda and his team, as is design.  For the 2018 TLX they developed, he says, what are essentially three different appearances for the sedan. There is the entry model with the 206-hp, 2.4-liter direct injected I4 and an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission, and then two models with a 290-hp, 3.5-liter V6 and a nine-speed automatic (paddle shifters all around), the TLX V6 and the TLX V6 A-Spec. (The torque vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive all-wheel drive system, is available for all V6 models.

The A-Spec version is the sportier of the two V6 models. The A-Spec nomenclature goes back to 2004, when the Acura Factory Performance Package was given that name (it debuted on the RSX).

There are visible differences among the three. In all cases, everything ahead of the A-pillars is new, as in hood, fenders, bumper and diamond pentagon grille (the grille is a new design signature for Acura, as the company transitions away from the shield-style grille that had been nothing if not controversial).

The V6 model also has the addition of chrome trim accents, available LED fog lights and a new rear fascia. The visible dual exhaust pipes on the V6 are rectangular. On the back of the A-Spec the dual exhausts are four inches in diameter. There are an aggressive diffuser and a black spoiler, too. The A-Spec has its own front fascia with a darker grille and round fog lights. The A-spec has 19-inch alloy wheels and 245-series tires; the regular V6 has 18-inch alloys and 225-series tires.

Dan Powderly, TLX engineering development leader, has been working on the TL and then the TLX for the last 10 years. He describes the dynamic tuning that they performed for the A-spec as a “leap forward,” explaining that the A-Spec isn’t just “a cosmetic upgrade.” They increased the front and rear damping forces through revised valve tuning; they increased the spring rate, as well (from 2.9 to 3.0 kgf/mm in the front and from 3.0 to 3.1 kgf/mm in the back). The stabilizer bar has been increased in size, with the diameter from 24.7 to 25.4 mm and its thickness from 3.7 to 3.8 mm. Yes, he admits, the tuning is harsher and there’s more road noise than is the case on a standard TLX, but on the spider diagram the handling (initial response and turn-in confidence) steering (on-center feel and gain level) and gross body motion are all much better than the standard car provides.

On the inside, the A-Spec is distinguished by featuring Alcantara trim, contrast stitching, red ambient lighting and an available red sport seat, along with a new thicker steering wheel.

Although the TLX—across the board—is about sporty, possibly exhilarating, driving, there is one thing that Acura is doing with the vehicle that sets it apart from its competitors in the class: It is offering its active-safety and driver-assistive technologies—as in Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) with automatic emergency braking, Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low-Speed Follow (LSF) and Road Departure Mitigation (RDM)—that are branded under the name AcuraWatch, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, standard.

It’s not that the other manufacturers don’t have such capabilities on offer, but Rivers notes that they do, at a price.