Hot-rod versions of mainstream luxury sedans are pretty much a given from every premium automaker. These high-performance four-doors create a certain halo effect across the whole lineup, inciting buyers to consider the conventional sedan that they really can afford, while lusting for the sportier, faster, more capable “hot-rod” version that they can’t justify — or afford.
Such is the case with Acura’s latest new product, the midsize TLX sedan, now returning in sportier S-Type trim after more than a 10-year absence from the lineup.
About 15 years ago, Acura, Infiniti and others all offered potent (for the era) versions of their mainstream luxury sedans. Acura, steeped in racing history for parent Honda, and perhaps a more athletic brand than some of its peers, sort of lost its mojo as the wave of crossovers took over every segment. The brand dropped the best nameplate ever for a car, Legend, it abandoned the entry-level Integra coupe that helped launch the brand, going for some ill-defined rebranding of the Civic, while pushing an unloved RL full-size sedan into the market that never caught buyers’ attention or affection.
The TLX, the evolution of the original Legend/TL, is currently the marquee’s third best-selling model, after the two crossovers labeled MDX and RDX. Pricing starts at $38,525 for front-drive models with the 2.0-liter turbocharged 272-hp engine, ranging to $53,325 for our AWD S-Type with a 355-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6. Competitors include the Audi A4/S4, BMW 330/340, Cadillac CT5/CT5-V, Genesis G70 and others.
Notably, this Acura gets the all-new 3.0-liter Turbo V-6, while the original Legend/TL was the first Honda product to get a V-6 engine over 30 years ago. A potent, smooth, responsive powertrain married to a slick, smart 10-speed automatic transmission, there is more than a hint of irony with this engine. Honda (and Acura) are just now ramping up turbocharging for many products, a technology they were slow to embrace given that the brand is one of the largest engine manufacturers in the world. Given that many automakers are idling internal combustion engine engineers — early retirement, shifting responsibilities, hiring more computer programmers as they plan for EV motors and the like — how many ground-up new engines like this 3.0-liter V-6 will the industry produce in the coming years?
The turbo engine makes the S-Type the lustful sporty sedan that buyers have traditionally embraced. The responsiveness is very lineal, the power building as the twin-scroll single turbo spools up additional power. The automatic is so well programmed that you are wasting your time fiddling with the paddle shifters; this trans is ahead of your right foot, and your brain. Twist the driving mode knob to Sport + and the adaptive suspension tightens up the recalibrated control-arm front suspension and all four shocks, the rev-matching senses downshifts and adjust throttle inputs, and even the active exhaust note can be altered — to your pleasure.
Despite a 4,200-pound curb weight, the S-Type jumps from 0-60 mph in under five seconds, the torque-vectoring AWD system distributing appropriate power to the rear wheels to improve cornering grip and overall handling, even deciding which wheels (of all four) have the best traction.
All of this racing technology would be irrelevant if the feedback from the helm was less than optimal, but Acura’s engineers have created a chassis with excellent steering feel, top-notch brakes (huge four-piston calipers up front) and a balanced ride and handling dynamic that closely mimics the best in this class — the Cadillac and the BMW.
Outside, the styling reinforces the sporty nature. With hints of German emphasis evident from certain angles, and more than a little Kia Stinger too, the TLX looks sharp, powerful and ready to roll while standing still. The wheel croppings are snug with the 20-inch wheels, the large quad-exhaust pipes are perfectly matched in the rear fascia, while the Acura-brand image in the widened front appears to be more aggressive.
Buyers will find a high-quality interior swathed in complementing textures and colors — a rich interior that moves far beyond a typical Honda-to-Acura transition. The 17-speaker ELS audio system is impressive, the console-mounted touchpad controller handling the audio, and too many other functions, is less so. AcuraWatch driving aids, Apple/Android/Wi-Fi, and the Super-Handling AWD are included; a color HID Heads-up display is optional. The rear seat is snug considering the car’s dimensions — 195 inches long, 113-inch wheelbase — yet the detailing inside will off-set this shortcoming for many.
Wearing a rich-looking Tiger Eye Red paint job, the TLX S-Type cracks the code and is a real road warrior ready to battle the established hot-rods in this class. Let’s hope this TLX helps Acura rediscover its identity before cars like this won’t exist anymore.