One of the vehicles leading Acura's charge into that new era is the redesigned 2018 TLX sedan. Although not a clean-sheet redesign (the TLX was all-new just three model years ago), the 2018 TLX signals the way forward for Acura with a greater emphasis on technology and performance. So does the 2018 TLX usher in a bright new future for Acura or have the lights gone dim? Come with us as we find out.
New year, new looks
Along with the latest MDX crossover, the TLX sedan ushers in a new look for Acura that was previewed by the Precision Concept in 2016. Redesigned from the A-pillars forward, the 2018 TLX wears a new nose devoid of anything that looks like a shield or a bird's beak. Instead, Acura has fitted the 2018 TLX with its latest mesh-look corporate grille design. The new grille is more interesting, but seems just a size or two big on the snout of the TLX. New jeweled headlights and a revised bumper round out the changes up front.
Out back the 2018 TLX receives a taillight nip and tuck along with a newly designed rear bumper that features integrated exhaust tips and a diffuser on models equipped with a V6 engine.
Unlike the last TLX, there are actually several points of differentiation between specific models for 2018. For example, the entry-level four-cylinder model isn't available with fog lights while V6 models get a set of angular lamps. The sport-oriented TLX A-Spec receives round fog lights and blacked-out details. That motif is carried to the rear of the vehicles as well; normal V6 models get squared exhaust outlets and chrome strips while the A-Spec gets round pipes and black accents.
The interior of the 2018 TLX is largely carryover, but Acura has sprinkled in some improvements throughout the cabin. Newly available features include a heated steering wheel, surround-view camera, wireless charging, power-folding side mirrors and heated rear seats. All TLX buyers will enjoy an updated infotainment system that is 30 percent faster and runs Android Auto and Apple CarPlay out of the box. Every 2018 TLX model also comes standard with the AcuraWatch safety suite that includes Autonomous Emergency Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist and Road Departure Mitigation.
If you're feeling sporty, the TLX A-Spec package brings with it a thicker-rimmed steering wheel, sports seats with available Alcantara inserts and unique accent trim materials. Not a fan of synthetic suede? Red leather is an option, too.
If you're interested in powertrain specs for the 2018 TLX, please refer to the 2017 model's handbook. That's because nothing has changed. Base TLX model still get a 206 horsepower 2.4L four-cylinder hooked to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, while upper-end versions get a 3.5L V6 with 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. The V6 uses a conventional nine-speed auto. Front-wheel drive models get P-AWS all-wheel steering as standard; Acura's SH-AWD is available with either engine for $2,000.
Acura has, however, dug into its toy box a bit for the new A-Spec model. In order to improve handling compared to the standard TLX, the A-Spec features beefier Michelin tires (245/40/19s compared to 225/50/18s), revised dampers, stiffer springs, a thicker rear anti-roll bar and a re-tuned electric power steering system with a faster rack. Acura has also recalibrated the TLX's Active Sound Cancellation system to let in more noise from the V6.
Behind the wheel
Acura didn't provide any four-cylinder TLX models for us to sample during our day-long drive near Louisville, Kentucky, but we got to spend time behind the wheel of both a TLX Advance V6 SH-AWD (the line's flagship) and a TLX A-Spec SH-AWD. Our day started in the TLX Advance.
The first thing we noticed about the TLX is its relatively low seating position. Unlike the Acura RLX, you sit low in the TLX with your legs almost straight out. Front-seat legroom also isn't great, which means you have to scoot the seat back, placing your body in line with the B-pillar rather than within the door opening. As a result, the outside armrests are essentially useless.
But other than a somewhat awkward seating position, the TLX's cabin is a comfy place to spend some time. Seats are soft and supportive, with just the right amount of bolstering. You can also tell that Acura chose high-quality leather for the TLX's seating surfaces. Other interior materials are just as good. Back seat space is a little tight on head and leg room.
Acura's dual-screen center stack returns for 2018 with a couple useful updates. The top screen now runs Android Auto or Apple CarPlay when a smartphone is plugged in, leaving the lower screen reserved for things like HVAC controls and radio readouts. Not having to continually flip between screens is helpful (for example, you can have the navigation screen up while still having a full radio readout), but it's a little odd to use Acura's dash-mounted joystick to operate Android Auto/Apple CarPlay. After all, those system were designed to mimic our smartphones, and no one has a joystick on their phone. However, it might be something you'd get used to over time.
Despite using such a high-tech center stack, the TLX employs a very conventional analog gauge cluster. Although admittedly out of step with the TLX's technology angle, we actually don't mind the twin-dial setup. Gauges are simple and easy to read, which are two big pluses in our book.
On the road the TLX is comfortable, quiet and capable. We wouldn't call it a full-on sports sedan, but the TLX can handle its own when the road gets twisty, especially when equipped with Acura's torque-vectoring SH-AWD. Body lean is well controlled, and while steering lacks any kind of meaningful road feel, it's at least sharp and direct. A well tuned suspension and vault quiet interior make the TLX a worthy highway muncher.
We found the TLX's adaptive cruise control to work well, but the lane keep assist system sometimes had trouble keeping us in our lane. And when it did pick up lane lines, it often bounced between them rather than maintaining a centered position.
The TLX's 3.5L V6 provides decent punch, but a little more zip would be welcomed. The TLX feels plenty quick during normal driving conditions, but can feel a little under-powered when you really whip it, like when passing on a two-lane road.
Those pining for a rebirth of the TL Type-S will be happy to see that Acura added a sporty A-Spec trim level to the TLX for 2018. However, that enthusiasm should be tempered as the A-Spec is essentially a wheel and appearance package. It also includes new springs, but those are only about 3 percent stiffer than the units on the standard TLX.
Still, the A-Spec feels plenty sporty inside thanks to a thick-rimmed steering wheel and more aggressive front bucks seats. The A-Spec also gets two unique interior options — black leather seats with Alcantara inserts or full red leather. One interesting thing to not — because red leather is difficult to accurately color match, all armrests for that hue are covered in genuine leather. If you opt for black, your elbows get vinyl.
Since the powertrain for the A-Spec is unchanged, the TLX doesn't get any faster. However, it does sound faster thanks to a retuning of the car's noise cancellation system. Despite that digital wizardry, the engine note sounds authentic and actually pretty darn good.
Steering feels a bit sharper in the A-Spec thanks to its quicker steering ratio and wider tires. On an average drive it's hard to tell much difference between the regular TLX and the A-Spec, but those slight improvements start to shine the harder you push the sedan.
In addition to its technical improvements, Acura is hoping the TLX's value positioning will help drive buyers to showrooms. Stick to the basics and Acura will sell you a TLX for about $1,500 less than anything the Germans have to offer. Even if you load on the options the TLX still makes fiscal sense; in order to get a similarly-equipped BMW 3 Series you'll have to shell out an additional $10,350. That figure climbs to $17,015 if you cross-shop an apples-to-apples Infiniti Q50.
Leftlane's bottom line
The Acura brand is in the midst of a brand rebirth, and the 2018 TLX is clearly a stepping stone along that path. The arrival of new styling and the A-Spec trim to the TLX line point the way forward to Precision Crafted Performance, but all the pieces aren't in place just yet. Still, the TLX remains a solid all-rounder in the premium sedan segment. We're excited to see what the future holds for the Acura brand.
2018 Acura TLX, $32,000-$43,750.
Photos by Drew Johnson.