Acura calls its all-wheel-drive system "Super Handling," and this is no empty boast. When I put the 2015 Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance down one of my typical twisty test roads, I got a little surprise every time I glanced at the speedometer. The TLX blasted through these turns at a much higher speed than I would have expected, given its sensible design.
Its secret was quick torque vectoring from the all-wheel-drive system, throwing extra twist to the outside rear wheels in the turns. I could feel the back end being helpfully shuttled around, giving the car just a little oversteer.
With the TLX's Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) set to Sport Plus, the transmission obliged this hard driving by keeping the gears low and the engine speed high, changing down fast when I hit the brakes.
Much of the TLX's sport driving performance was brilliant, except for a couple of things. The steering, despite having its electric assist reduced, still felt exceedingly numb. The fixed suspension, which felt tuned for comfort, got downright bouncy in the turns, and the all season Goodyear Eagle LS tires, wrapped around 18-inch wheels, shrieked much more than a stickier tire would.
This sort of fun can only be had in the SH-AWD version of the TLX that, when also equipped with the Advance package of driver assistance tech, goes for a price of $45,620. Acura makes versions of the TLX without SH-AWD available as well. For $35,220 you're looking at the TLX with the same 3.5-liter V-6 and nine-speed automatic transmission as the top trim. And for $30,995 there is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder version with an intriguing eight-speed dual-clutch transmission that also incorporates a torque converter. These two latter versions are front-wheel drive but incorporate the all-wheel-steering system we tested earlier in the Acura RLX.
For UK and Australian readers wondering what an "Acura" is, it's like a Honda, but better and more expensive.
Two modes matter
The IDS button in the TLX sits next to a novel set of drive buttons replacing a traditional shifter. The Park button is rectangular, while the Drive button is round, and reverse requires pulling up on a toggle switch. The IDS button takes the car through Econ, Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus modes. Frankly, I could have done without the middle two modes. Econ detuned the throttle and shifted high, but I never found it annoying to drive in this mode. Normal made the throttle tuning slightly sharper, but not appreciably more. Sport sharpened the throttle even more, but left the transmission in standard mode, so it wasn't of much use when hitting the corners. All the fun came from Sport Plus.
During a day that made the automatic windshield wipers slash back-and-forth at their highest speed, the all-wheel-drive system showed its worth. The TLX remained very composed as I navigated a winding road that was slowly being turned into a river. In fact, I didn't feel it necessary to temper my speed due to the weather, although I wasn't going to really push the car's limits, either.
On city streets and wide freeways, I was perfectly content to roll around in Econ mode. The TLX drove with ease, perfect as a suburban commute car and errand runner. The surprisingly deep trunk could have easily swallowed up four suitcases. The 3.5-liter V-6 under the hood makes use of direct injection to improve efficiency, creating 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers may not sound huge, but the TLX felt more ready to make its engine power available than some other cars I've driven, such as the Infiniti Q70.
Fuel economy comes in at 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, very good numbers for a 3.5-liter engine. Helping out city fuel economy is an idle-stop feature, which shut down the engine at stoplights when I had the TLX in Econ or Comfort modes. Idle-stop was just a little slow kicking the engine back to life when I lifted off the brake pedal, such that some people might want to turn this feature off. However, I found I could live with it, especially as I found it easy to modulate the engine's start-stop behavior with the brake pedal. Excessive use of Sport Plus mode and San Francisco's brutally slow traffic kept my average fuel economy on the low side, at 22.2 mpg.
What annoyed me more than idle-stop was the TLX's hyperactive forward collision warning system, which incessantly blinked the word "brake" at me like an overly nervous backseat driver whenever it felt I was following too closely or not braking soon enough for stopped cars ahead. However, as the first warning stage of Acura's collision mitigation braking system, I see the value. If I weren't to react due to distraction, this system would automatically hit the brakes.
Other driver assistance features included a blind spot monitor, which lit up an icon in the side mirror casings when other cars were in the lanes next to the TLX, and adaptive cruise control, relying on forward-looking radar to slow down from my set speed to the speed of traffic ahead. Those systems worked well enough, although the blind-spot monitor tended to come on when I drove next bridge railings. Much more interesting was Acura's lane-keeping assist feature, making the TLX nearly self-driving.