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2021 Acura TLX Type S first drive review: More like Type Yes

After testing Acura's 355-horsepower TLX on road and track, it's clear the reborn Type S line is off to a great start.

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acura tlx type s

Acura revives the Type S badge with a potent performance variant of the TLX sedan.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Spending the last few months with our long-term 2021 Acura TLX has been a mostly pleasant experience, but if anything, it's whetted our appetite for a more powerful, more agile version. Enter the 2021 TLX Type S, the first in what will soon be a whole lineup of Type S models, with 355 horsepower, sharp styling and one of the best all-wheel-drive systems in the business.

Recreated almost perfectly from the 2019 Type S concept, the TLX's more aggressive front and rear fascias certainly catch the eye, especially when its new Tiger Eye Pearl paint is bathed in sunlight. In the shade, the hue loses a bit of its metallic yellow luster, taking on a more mustardlike appearance, but overall, I dig it. A gloss black spoiler and black diffusers round out the sporty aesthetic, though both bits can also be finished in carbon fiber should you desire something a little racier. The sedan's tail is also home to a quad-tip active exhaust that gets louder in the Type S' sportier driving modes.

Milano leather upholstery is standard inside, and it's available in a new Type S-exclusive Orchid White, as well as the red or black colorways found on lesser TLX trims. A flat-bottom steering wheel and Type S badging inside and out serve as reminders of the sedan's performance-oriented mission, and Acura's love-it-or-hate-it True Touchpad tech carries over from the standard TLX, housed in a 10.2-inch touchscreen atop the dash.

S is for street

Honda's Type R designation indicates race-ready performance, while Acura's Type S models are designed for optimal street driving. But that doesn't mean there isn't a little bit of overlap. Plenty of folks commute in Civic Type Rs and the TLX Type S is damn quick in its own right on the track -- something I found out firsthand at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but more on that in a minute.

Under the hood of the Type S, you'll find a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine making 355 horsepower. This powerplant features a novel design where the V6's two cylinder banks feed separate turbine scrolls, which helps the turbocharger spool up quicker, letting the engine deliver its full 354 pound-feet of torque starting at just 1,400 rpm.

The engine is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission that's unique to the TLX Type S. It features stronger gears and clutches, an improved torque converter to deal with the extra power and improved shift programming that results in 30% quicker rev-matched downshifts in Sport Plus mode. Drivers can take manu-matic control of the gearbox via standard paddle shifters.

acura tlx type s

Despite its transverse engine orientation, SH-AWD makes the TLX feel like a rear-wheel-drive sedan.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

At the business end of the powertrain is Acura's fourth-generation Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive tech, which, aside from retaining the best/goofiest name of any car technology in the biz (SH-AWD), has been upgraded with 30% better rear-axle response than the previous iteration. SH-AWD is able to send up to 70% of the engine's available torque to the rear axle and then shuffle it side to side. In practice, under the right circumstances, the TLX genuinely feels like a rear-wheel-drive car. 

Fuel economy, meanwhile, is only decent. At 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined, the TLX Type S won't win any efficiency contests, but it's not terrible for a car with 355 hp. Of course, I should note that our long-term TLX 2.0T has consistently underperformed in fuel economy testing.

The Type S' chassis has additional bracing to help its double-wishbone suspension work more precisely. The sedan features firmer springs, retuned adaptive dampers and larger stabilizer bars. The NSX's electro-servo brake technology makes an appearance beneath the Type S' wheel arches with four-piston Brembo calipers grabbing 14.3-inch rotors on the front axle. The Type S rolls on standard 20-inch wheels and all-season tires with an optional upgrade to lighter performance wheels with summer tires. Checking that box gets you a 21-pound reduction in unsprung weight and more grip at each contact patch. Acura even moved the TLX's battery to the trunk in the Type S for a slight weight distribution edge.

acura tlx type s

Acura retuned the various drive modes to take advantage of the Type S' improved performance.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Backroad blitz

The TLX's various drive modes return -- Comfort, Normal and Sport -- but each is retuned for the Type S, and there's a new Sport Plus setting, too. Acura has also gone to great lengths to make the various modes feel different from one another, and it works. Comfort mode makes the Type S surprisingly quiet and smooth around town, even with the firmer suspension bits. Normal mode, meanwhile, feels like the standard TLX's Sport setting.

Clicking over to Sport immediately wakes up the engine with sharper throttle response and a deeper, throatier tone for the active exhaust system. The steering is heavier and generally feels better connected to the front axle, and the dampers firm up for a planted, but not harsh, ride over bumps. Slaloming between bends on one of my favorite quiet, twisty roads in the Bay Area, I was pleased with the confident torque feeding into the SH-AWD system, working with the steering to drive the nose into each curve. The TLX is not only precise, but also a very easy car to drive fast over long distances.

acura tlx type s

Though not specifically designed for competition, the Type S shone when stretching its legs on the track.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Track time

With a little more room to breathe on track at Laguna Seca, I called up Sport Plus mode by turning the drive mode selector to the right and holding it for a moment to confirm the choice. Right away, you'll notice how Sport Plus makes the engine and transmission more responsive and the active exhaust even louder. 

Meanwhile, the SH-AWD system's torque vectoring is maximized, allowing me to attack corners even more aggressively and really feel the system working to send power to the rear wheel that can use it most. The Type S likes a hint of early throttle midcorner, sometimes even before the apex, which allows the AWD system to really plant the sedan into the bend. Because of this, I'm also able to roll back onto full throttle sooner and more rapidly post-apex, the system quickly shuffling power to follow my chosen line.

The adaptive suspension does an impressive job of keeping the TLX flat and controlled while cornering, and the brakes are definitely up to the task of a few hot laps. While maybe not the best car for timed or competitive track events in its stock form, the TLX Type S is a surprisingly enjoyable sport sedan to fling around a circuit.

acura tlx type s

The TLX is the first model to wear the Type S badge in 13 years, but Acura promises it won't be the last.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Pricing and availability

The 2021 TLX Type S should start hitting dealerships around the same time these words hit the internet, starting at $53,325, including a $1,025 destination charge. That gets you close to fully loaded, with the only option being the lightweight wheel and summer tire option that kicks the MSRP up to $54,125.

The 2021 Acura TLX Type S is a sharp performer (and sharply styled), comparing nicely with the likes of the Roadshow-favorite Kia Stinger GT and Audi's S4. I was actually able to drive an S4 on the street back-to-back with the Type S and, while I personally think the Audi is just a touch sharper in its most dynamic setting, this German rival is also about $10,000 more expensive comparably equipped, giving the Acura a real edge in value. The Acura looks way better, too.

The TLX is the first Acura model to wear the Type S badge in 13 years, but it won't be the last. Based on how good the modern Type S formula is when applied to the TLX, I'm looking forward to seeing how it transforms future cars, starting with the upcoming MDX.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.