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2021 Acura TLX long-term introduction: This one deserves a double take

We'll be taking an closer look at Acura's luxury-sport sedan over the next 12 months.

2021 Acura TLX
We'll have better photos to show off the rich color soon, we promise.
Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Now more than ever, the Acura TLX deserves your attention. The redesigned sedan is a more premium, better-driving car than it was before, and it's finally got the chops to truly battle Germany's luxury-sport stalwarts. That in mind -- and right on the heels of saying goodbye to our long-term 2019 BMW 330i -- we're adding a 2021 Acura TLX to the Roadshow garage for the next 12 months.

This won't be our usual year-long test, however. Rather than spending a full year with one car, we're going to split our time and test two TLX variants back to back. First up: The 2021 TLX 2.0T SH-AWD Advance, finished in Acura's sweet new Phantom Violet Pearl paint.

How we spec'd it

The Advance Package is basically Acura-speak for a fully loaded TLX. This car comes with everything: A surround-view camera, rain-sensing wipers, 10.5-inch head-up display, wireless charging pad, ELS premium audio system, Milano leather seats (all of which are heated), a heated steering wheel, open-pore wood trim and a whole lot of other niceties. Those are all in addition to the TLX's generous list of standard amenities, including LED headlights, a 10.2-inch infotainment display with Wi-Fi and more. Every TLX also gets the AcuraWatch safety suite, with forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, full-speed adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and so on.

The Advance uses the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the base TLX, with 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard, but we opted to add Acura's excellent, torque-vectoring Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive tech.

A base TLX starts at $38,525 including $1,025 for destination. The Advance Package is a $4,800 option that also requires the addition of the $4,000 Technology Package, and with SH-AWD adding another $2,000, the final, as-tested price of our 2021 TLX comes out to $49,825. Not bad, all things considered. 

Every TLX comes standard with these sharp headlights.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Initial impressions

We've only had the TLX for a few weeks, but it's making a great first impression so far. On its first weekend in our fleet, I took it on a day trip from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara and back, and it's a great companion for long drives. The seats are super comfortable, the cabin is quiet, the sound system is great and the adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist work well.

"The TLX makes a great first impression," writes social media editor Daniel Golson. "It finally looks like a proper luxury car, and I love the rear-drive proportions that Acura was able to achieve."

News and features editor Kyle Hyatt agrees. "The TLX is both kind of surprising and utterly unsurprising in different ways," he writes. "The former because it's one of the best-looking sedans on the market today and also because, even in its more tame four-cylinder trim, it offers a surprisingly engaging drive. The latter is true because at heart, it's a Honda, and all the core things the Japanese automaker is known for doing well are done well here. It feels solid and well-made, it handles well thanks to the return to Honda's famous double-wishbone front suspension, the engine is efficient and comfortably trades blows with turbo-fours from Germany."

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

However, it's not all perfect. "The dash layout is overcomplicated and could do with some real simplification in terms of where the buttons live," Hyatt notes. "That big aluminum drive mode selector is dumb. It's an unnecessary focal point that most people probably won't use that often. Also, the instrument cluster feels dated in a world where fully digital displays are commonplace."

I'm not a huge fan of Acura's True Touchpad infotainment interface, but I'm finding that -- as with a lot of things -- the more I use it, the more proficient I become. One complaint, though: When I'm using Apple CarPlay, the absolute positioning tech stops working. When you're using the native interface, you put your hand on the touchpad where you want the cursor to light up. But with CarPlay, you have to swipe, up, down, left and right to get to the various buttons, and since the display isn't a touchscreen, there's no easy workaround.

So far, we're really impressed with the TLX.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Hotter things to come

Our long-term test of the 2021 TLX will be split into two shorter loans: After we wrap up six months with the 2.0T Advance SH-AWD, we'll be taking a step up to experience a bit of Acura's reborn performance brand. That's right, we're swapping it out for the forthcoming TLX Type S.

We'll be sure to introduce the Type S when it arrives in mid-2021, but needless to say, we're pretty excited. After all, it packs the same creature comforts as the standard TLX but adds a 355-hp, twin-turbo V6, not to mention a number of chassis tweaks. We're expecting very good things, largely because the base TLX is already a great starting point. Golson says it best: "I'm stoked for the upcoming Type S after spending a few days in this one."

Check in with Roadshow's other long-term testers