SOLVANG, California — I had long been planning to venture to one of California’s wine regions to celebrate my five-year anniversary with my girlfriend. Her family has driven Acura cars for over a decade and I thought it’d be fitting to take her out for the weekend in one of their newly refreshed offerings, so I got in touch with Acura, who lent me the newly refreshed 2018 Acura TLX with the A-Spec package.
We expected our road trip from Culver City to Solvang—before you ask, yes I’ve seen “Sideways”, the 2004 film about wine tasting in the region—to be a three-hour tour up Highway 101 (per Google Maps), slightly longer than the usual with some slight deviation from the freeway to avoid closures caused by the tragic mudslides in Montecito.
As we began our detour through the coastal hills just southeast of Santa Barbara, I started to get a feel for the grip and handling in poorer road conditions. Dirt remained on the road from the trucks used for freeway clean up, but Acura’s all-wheel drive system held fast and I never felt any loss of traction.
Our B-road blast was stopped short by a police checkpoint in Summerland, where the authorities were rerouting drivers heading toward the cleanup zone. We were forced to double back toward Interstate 5, embarking on a 250 mile detour that added another 3 and a half hours to the drive as the closest alternate route, Highway 33, was also closed thanks to the massive Thomas Fire. It was time to really test the TLX’s road-tripability.
Much of the extended route, which took us around around the Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountains, was normal highway driving—first, back down the 101, then up Highway 126 to I-5, and then back west on Highway 166.
On these roads, the TLX A-Spec cruised like a champ, devouring miles and cradling its passengers in a comfortable and quiet cabin. Ride quality is firm but not hard, and while bigger bumps are felt, they don’t shake the car to its core.
Traffic on Route 166 thicker than normal thanks to the onslaught of semi-trucks on the two-lane road that, normally, would also have taken the 101. Fortunately, much of the road permits for opposite-lane passing and I made ample use of the TLX A-Spec’s power band and let the 3.5-liter V-6 engine sing.
Acceleration pulls are quick but not blow-your-mind fast. Peak torque, 267 lb-ft, comes deeper in the rev range, at 4,500 rpm. I got the most excitement from the motor when it was spinning at or beyond 6,200 rpm, making its full 290 hp. I passed the big rigs with a breeze, especially when using the paddle shifters to keep the revs up high.
After 166 came the final stretch of the drive, which was comprised entirely of winding roads. The torque-distribution from Acura’s SH-AWD system helps the TLX hold on tight through fast turns and results in a highly predictable drive. Steering feel is heavier than most midsize luxury sedans but was only a touch fatiguing on my forearms.
Our extended drive gave me the chance to fiddle with the powertrain settings, Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+. Eco gives flimsy throttle response and shuttles the 9-speed transmission up to top gear as quickly as possible. Normal is just that. Sport improves throttle Response and Sport+ transforms the TLX A-Spec into a fine sports sedan.
I used Sport+ for the majority of my drive. It delivered the best throttle response, shift mapping, and sound. The exhaust note in this setting was deep and throaty which added some additional flavor to the driving experience.
After we settled in at our AirBnB just outside Solvang and got a well-deserved night of sleep after a seven-hour day of driving, it was time to check out the town. The TLX A-Spec stood out thanks to its brilliant Still Night Blue Pearl paint and sharp styling.
By the time our relaxing weekend of wine tasting, dining and sightseeing, was over, Highway 101 was wide open and we were able to take the direct route back to Los Angeles, making it home in a mere two hours. I enjoyed SiriusXM for most of the drive, but also connected my phone through the Android Auto for navigation and music playback. (Apple CarPlay also comes standard.)
The AcuraWatch safety suite is standard on all TLX models. I used the adaptive cruise control both in traffic and open stretches of freeway and found it to be responsive, but less refined than other systems I’ve used. Forward collision warning is perhaps the most intrusive system and seems to trigger early and often. It was set off countless times by a slight adjustment from the driver in front. Fortunately, collision mitigation braking is not nearly as sensitive and never activated during my time with the car. Lane keeping assist is helpful and welcome, but I found the road departure mitigation to interfere with the natural line of the car.
With destination and handling included, our tester come out to $45,765. The platform may be a little long in the tooth, and some of the user interface technology is a little old (like the dual displays in the center console) but the sheer quantity of features and quality of driving experience make that price worth it to a buyer in search of a versatile runabout.
The 2018 Acura TLX A-Spec is comfortable in the densest of traffic, on the freeway, or blasting through B-roads. My girlfriend, a designer, appreciated the upgraded interior and exterior cosmetics, supportive seats, and smooth ride quality. Although it may still face an uphill battle competing in the midsize sedan segment, it still won a thumbs up from us after the 550 mile trip.
2018 Acura TLX AWD A-Spec Specifications
|PRICE||$45,765/$45,765 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.5L SOHC 24-valve V-6/290 hp @ 6200 rpm, 267 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||20/29 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||191.5 x 73 x 57 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.9 sec|
|TOP SPEED||134 mph|