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All-New 2021 Acura TLX & Type S Get Serious About Fun

Will the new TLX finally define Acura as a brand? The company is bullish on the idea.

Nelson IresonWriterManufacturerPhotographer

There wasn't much wrong with the 2004 Acura TL. It looked sharp, it had plenty of power, it was well-equipped (and a strong value), and it handled well, especially in A-Spec form. It's the TL some of us call "the good TL. "  At the time, it represented a major departure from the previous TL, and, as writer Michael Jordan noted in our first drive of the car, "[It] has more style, more horsepower, more road manners, and more feature content. This is not just a TL makeover; it's an Acura makeover."

Based on our recent time with the 2021 Acura TLX in a secret location ahead of the unveiling (unfortunately, no we didn't get to drive it yet), all of the same can be expected of the new car, and its sportier incarnation, the TLX Type S.

2021 Acura TLX Design

No matter if photos convey it or not, seeing the new 2021 Acura TLX in person is an impactful experience. The long, proportionally low hood; the long dash-to-axle distance; the slightly Coke-bottle shape when viewed from directly above; the bluff, short rear end seen in profile—all of these design elements come together in a seamless, artful fashion. If you stopped a stranger on the street, they might not know it's an Acura, but they'd tell you it looks expensive.

For those that do know it's an Acura, all of this design goodness didn't materialize out of a vacuum. Two main concepts influenced the TLX's new look: The Acura Precision Concept, and the Type S Concept. The Precision Concept's somewhat more radical look is captured in the proportion of the 2021 TLX, while the Type S Concept's surfacing and details are evident on every panel. The end result is a look and feel that's modern, attractive, and premium, and one that speaks of the car's performance potential, too.

More than that, riding on a new, unique-to-Acura (i.e. this isn't a tweaked Honda Accord) sedan platform, the TLX speaks of Acura's potential, and its commitment to continuing the success found with its first car built under Acura's new brand ethos, the new RDX crossover.

"This is precision crafted performance. It's Acura in its totality," said Acura boss Jon Ikeda. "And I think this car, with its looks, its performance, it's who we are. You know? Everybody else has different values and we're not here to just check off lists of things—they're doing it, so we're going to do it. We have to be who we are."

Acura design boss Dave Marek explained the process of redefining Acura through first impressions.

"It's kind of like, what is your goal?" he said. "What do you want it to look like? What do you want it to handle like? If we keep communicating to everybody, look, it's performance first, and it's got to work right, and it's done to meet our brand. We understand what we're making—just get on board with us."

2021 Acura TLX Performance

Style with no substance can be fun, but not for long. To endure, a car needs to offer as much of both as possible. The 2021 Acura TLX aims to do that with a strong base configuration and an even stronger Type S.

The base TLX isn't just a base car, though. Doing the reverse of how most manufacturers approach the design of a new sport sedan, Acura started with the structure it needed for the Type S, then dialed it back for the base TLX, a decision Acura hopes will show through in the base car's performance.

Under the hood of the 2021 Acura TLX, you'll find a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated for 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Those figures represent peak increases of 66 hp and 98 lb-ft over the previous TLX's entry-level engine—in fact, the new turbo-four makes 13 lb-ft more torque than the previous TLX's V-6.

The 2.0-liter turbo TLX engine mates to a 10-speed automatic transmission, which is tuned for more aggressive acceleration and response than the previous TLX's 8-speed dual-clutch and 9-speed automatic. The new 10-speed is also capable of four-gear direct downshifts. The 2021 Acura TLX Type S will also use the 10-speed automatic, but with unique Type S tuning and upgrades to handle the increased power and torque.

For the Type S, Acura will launch a new Acura-specific (not shared with Honda) 3.0-liter single-turbo V-6. Because the Type S won't launch until the spring of 2021, Acura remains mum on power and torque output and other Type S performance metrics. We expect to learn more as we get closer to the Type S's full unveiling.

Acura's fourth-generation SH-AWD all-wheel-drive system, optional in the base TLX and standard on Type S, delivers 30-percent quicker torque transfer to the rear axle, and 40-percent greater total torque capacity. Up to 70 percent of the engine's torque can be sent to the rear wheels, and 100 percent of the torque sent rearward can be directed to either side.  On top of the rear-biased power delivery, the rear axle is continuously overdriven by 2.9 percent for improved turn-in and cornering.

The electric power-steering system also gets some changes for the 2021 TLX. Gone is the rack-and-pinion electric-assist system, replaced by a belt-driven electric assist.

Not all of the performance upgrades to the 2021 Acura TLX come in the form of hardware, though.  Acura's Integrated Dynamics System (the marque's name for its performance-settings control suite) now offers a user-programmable Individual mode in addition to the familiar Comfort, Normal, Sport, and, on Type S models, Sport+ modes. The Individual mode isn't just a first for the TLX, it's a first for Acura.

2021 Acura TLX Handling & Chassis

Under the new TLX's long, low hood lies another performance system that's a bit unusual in the class, though it was long a staple of the TL formula: double-wishbone suspension. Eschewing the previous TLX's McPherson strut system in favor of double wishbones not only improves suspension geometry throughout its range of motion, but enabled Acura's designers to make the hood and front fenders lower, which is good for handling as well as design.

The wishbones tucked into the front corners are complemented by available adaptive dampers and multi-link rear suspension. Acura's all-new dedicated sedan platform ties the whole show together, offering a 50-percent improvement in torsional stiffness over the previous TLX, thanks in part to a new center tunnel structure, triangulated shock-tower bars, underfloor braces, and cast aluminum shock-tower mounts, as well as the extensive use of aluminum and press-hardened steel in the chassis structure itself. The resulting weight balance for the standard TLX? A reasonable 57/43 percent front/rear.

Like the NSX, the 2021 Acura TLX uses a brake-by-wire system. This electric-servo braking system allows Acura to tune the brake pedal force and feel based on the desired driving characteristics. For the Type S, upgraded Brembo four-piston front brake calipers and larger discs will help improve braking performance, while the electric-servo braking system will be retuned for the improved hardware and more sport-focused mission of the Type S.

Even in base form, the TLX comes with 18-inch wheels, with 19-inchers available as an upgrade. Performance tires in 255 section width provide a claimed 20-percent increase in grip over the previous TLX's wheel and tire setup. For the Type S, 20-inch wheels are standard—10-spoke units finished in Shark Gray. A lightweight wheel option will also be available for Type S with a Y-spoke design inspired by the NSX.

2021 Acura TLX Equipment

With overall dimensions increased by 3.7 inches in wheelbase, 2.9 inches in length, and 2.2 inches in width, the new TLX is noticeably bigger than the previous car. The end result is a roomier cabin packed with more goodies. What sort of goodies?  The high-tech kind, mostly.

Headlining the interior equipment list is a new triple-chamber airbag technology that we'll learn more about in the coming weeks; for now, it is best described as a "catcher's mitt"-style setup. The aim is to reduce the forces on an occupant's head, especially twisting forces, to improve survivability and reduce injuries in frontal crashes.

"It basically cradles the front passenger's head to help prevent neck rotation in a frontal or offset crash so that we reduce brain injuries," said Jason Ray, performance development leader for TLX. "This is actually a first application in this vehicle. We're pretty excited about that."

Front and center in the cabin sits a 10.2-inch high-definition display paired with a console-mounted touchpad, now with physical controls for volume, power, and seek functions right beside—no more taking your eyes off of the road to reach forward to the dash. The touchpad itself is upgraded, too, as is its control software. A brief spin testing the infotainment system during our visit with the car ahead of its launch proved the touchpad is intuitive and easy to use—though we will reserve final judgment on its efficacy and true ease of use until we try to operate it in motion.

For those inclined toward cloud services in their car, the 2021 Acura TLX also offers AcuraLink with 4G LTE and in-vehicle Wi-Fi.

Acura will offer an expanded color palette for the 2021 TLX, including unique colors for both the base model and the Type S. Phantom Violet Pearl is the base TLX's new option, while the Type S will get a unique green-gold color called Tiger Eye Pearl.  The Type S will also get the Apex Blue Pearl paint color previously available only on A-Spec models.

Seven interior color options will be available for the TLX range, including Ebony, Espresso, Graystone, and Parchment for the standard car. Type S models will choose from either Ebony or red leather, both with black Ultrasuede inserts, while a special Light Orchid interior leather colorway will also be available.

All TLX models will feature a new ambient lighting system, which can sync with the driving mode, or be selected separately from a list of 24 different schemes based on iconic driving destinations like Suzuka or Pacific Coast.

There will be several trim and equipment packages available, including TLX Advance, TLX A-Spec, and TLX Type S. Full details, pricing, and equipment specifications are expected closer to launch.

2021 Acura TLX Pricing & Availability

Precise pricing for the 2021 Acura TLX hasn't been released yet, but Acura says the TLX will start in the mid-$30,000 range, with prices scaling accordingly with upgrades. The 2021 Acura TLX will go on sale this fall, while the new TLX Type S will make its full debut next spring.

2021 Acura TLX Quick Facts

  • On sale: Fall 2020 (TLX); Spring 2021 (TLX Type S)
  • Price: From the mid-$30,000s (TLX); TBA (TLX Type S)
  • Size changes: +2.2-inch width, +2.9-inch length, +3.7-inch wheelbase, -0.6-inch height
  • Type S engine: 3.0-liter single turbo (twin scroll) V-6
  • TLX engine (standard): 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4
  • Dampers: Fixed (standard); Adaptive (optional)
  • Suspension: Double wishbone
2021 Acura TLX Specifications
ON SALE: Fall 2020
PRICE: From the mid-$30,000s
ENGINE: 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/272 hp, 280 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 10-speed automatic
LAYOUT: 4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE: TBA
L x W x H: 194.6 x 75.2 x 56.4 in
WHEELBASE: 113.0 in
WEIGHT TBA
0-60 MPH: TBA
TOP SPEED: TBA