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2021 Acura TLX and Type S have turbo engines and seriously sharp style

The TLX is better poised than ever to take on the world's best luxury-sport sedans.

The 2021 TLX resurrects Acura's Type S model line.

Acura

The Acura TLX kind of gets a bad rap against more traditional luxury/sport sedans like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Its badge might not carry the same clout in some circles, yet the TLX offers equivalent levels of performance, luxury and onboard tech as these rivals -- and for less money, too.

With the 2021 TLX, Acura is really working to up the sedan's wow factor, while still staying true to its mission of offering a lot of features for the money. And honestly, if this new TLX drives as good as it looks, this might be the moment when the gap between Acura and the Germans finally starts to close.

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Type S is back

The 2021 TLX marks the return of Acura's storied Type S line, and it's not just a trim-and-tape updo, either. When it arrives next spring, the TLX will be powered by a brand-new, turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine, paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission and the company's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive tech. Unfortunately, Acura isn't releasing any official Type S specs as part of Thursday's debut, but I've heard this sportier sedan will pack quite a punch -- well more than 300 horsepower, at any rate. Unique suspension calibration and larger Brembo brakes will help the Type S' on-road performance, though again, Acura representatives can't yet confirm just how different the two TLX models will be. Stay tuned; I'm pretty stoked.

Thankfully, even the regular 2021 TLX has lots to offer. Its design is slightly toned down compared with the Type S, but make no mistake, this sedan is a looker. The TLX rides on a new platform, and is about 3 inches longer, 2 inches wider and half an inch lower than its predecessor, with a wheelbase that's been stretched nearly 4 inches. More importantly, Acura increased the TLX's dash-to-axle length by about 7 inches, which gives the sedan a slightly more rear-wheel-drive appearance. It's not quite as pronounced as it is on the 2019 Type S concept -- the car that previewed the TLX's design -- but the change here is still quite noticeable, and welcome.

It's easiest to spot a Type S from the rear. Not only does the Type S have a honkin' set of four exhaust pipes, it's got black finish on the license plate housing, as well as a black lip spoiler (though the A-Spec has this last one, too). The Type S also rides on 20-inch wheels, while standard TLX models get 18s or 19s, depending on trim. And while every TLX comes standard with LED headlights, the Type S loses its fog lights in favor of larger mesh air intakes. Acura showed me both a standard TLX (in its loaded Advance trim) and a TLX Type S earlier this month, and honestly, both look great in person. The base car does not sacrifice style.

Other cool details? Check out the way the piano-black trim on the upper parts of the mirror caps kind of makes them blend in with the windows. Also notice the "chicane" LED taillight signature, which comes on all models. Oh, and arguably best of all, the Type S is going to be offered in a shade of yellow called Tiger Eye Pearl, which looks totally rad (in photos, anyway).

Acura TLX: 2020 vs. 2021


2020 Acura TLX 2.4L 2021 Acura TLX 2.0L
Engine 2.4-liter I4 2.0-liter turbo I4
Power 206 hp 272 hp
Torque 182 lb-ft 280 lb-ft
Transmission 8-speed DCT 10-speed auto
Wheelbase 109.3 in 113.0 in
Length 191.7 in 194.6 in
Width 73.0 in 75.2 in
Height 57.0 in 56.4 in
Passenger volume 93.3 cu-ft 93.4 cu-ft
Cargo volume 13.2 cu-ft 13.5 cu-ft

Tiger Eye Pearl and 20-inch wheels are both exclusive to the Type S.

Acura

Turbos for everyone

I'll say it again: Beyond the fact that the Type S has a 3.0-liter V6, 10-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, there aren't any more performance specs to discuss right now. The rest of the 2021 TLX range will be powered by a 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine -- the same one you'll find in the RDX crossover -- and uses a 10-speed gearbox. Front-wheel drive is standard, SH-AWD is optional.

The 2.0T is rated at 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, which stacks up nicely against the four-cylinder turbocharged engines in the TLX's competitors. These are increases of 66 hp and 98 lb-ft over the old, naturally aspirated, 2.4-liter I4 from the outgoing TLX. And while the 2.0T might be down 18 hp compared with the 2020 TLX's 3.5-liter V6, it's got 13 more lb-ft of torque, delivered lower in the rev range. Acura doesn't have fuel economy numbers available just yet, but expect the 2.0-liter engine to do a whole lot better than the V6, which was rated at a dismal 20 miles per gallon city, 29 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined with all-wheel drive.

Acura recently touted the new TLX's double-wishbone front suspension, which replaces the old car's MacPherson strut setup. This should offer improved cornering grip, and combines with multilink rear suspension geometry. The other big mechanical changes are variable-ratio programming for the electrically assisted power steering, and a change from hydraulic to electro-servo assist for the brakes. TLX Advance and Type S models get adaptive dampers, too.

Every TLX will come with the usual Comfort, Normal and Sport drive modes, and the Type S will get an additional Sport Plus program. There's also a new Individual setting, accessed by pushing the large Dynamic Mode button in the middle of the center stack, where drivers can adjust the parameters for the throttle, transmission, steering, adaptive dampers (if equipped) and so on.

The cabin has a lot going on visually, but the materials are all superb.

Acura

Luxury and tech in high supply

Inside the TLX, Acura's made a great effort to zhuzh up the cabin, with real metal on the speakers, open-pore wood and soft leather surfaces. Overall, the design is a little much -- there's a lot happening here -- but the steering wheel is nicely sized and feels great in my hands, and the relatively thin A-pillars allow for great overall visibility from the driver's seat. The rear seats are large enough to accommodate most adults, and there's 13.5 cubic feet of space in the trunk, which is about average, though slightly larger than the old TLX.

The center stack will be familiar to anyone who's been in an RDX, where the somewhat confusing electronic shifter is housed below the overly large drive mode selection dial. Simple climate controls are found above that, and Acura's latest multimedia system is housed on a 10.2-inch screen atop the dash, controlled by the company's True Touch Interface touchpad on the center console. Don't worry, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

A word about TTI: Acura's version uses "absolute position" logic, meaning it doesn't work like the touchpad on your laptop or the horrible one Lexus uses in its cars. It's admittedly not my favorite interface, but isn't bad once you get used to it, and thankfully, there are physical volume and seek controls to the right of the touchpad. Acura says the latest version of its TTI tech has "more accurate swipe zones" and "other performance enhancements," and as the company continues to improve this system, over-the-air updates will be pushed out to all customers, thanks to the TLX's standard 4G LTE WI-Fi connectivity.

A 7-inch color display shows all sorts of information in the gauge cluster, though Acura's fixed instruments can't compete with its rivals' fully digital IPs (hello, Audi Virtual Cockpit). At least there's an optional head-up display, measuring 10.5 inches. Owners can select 24 different ambient lighting options, too, including two-tone schemes named after different driving-centric destinations, like race tracks (Suzuka) or great roads (Pacific Coast Highway).

A-Spec models get the Type S' rear spoiler, but not its awesome quad-exhaust tips.

Acura

As for driver-assistance tech, every TLX comes with the AcuraWatch bundle, which includes traffic sign recognition, a driver-awareness monitor, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and other features. The TLX gets traffic jam assist, too, which combines the adaptive cruise and lane-keeping tech to make gross commutes easier. Yes, the TLX's competitors are available with this sort of tech, but most of them require you to spend more for an optional package in order to get the good stuff.

Pricing and availability

The 2021 Acura TLX will hit dealers this fall, and Acura says pricing will start in the "mid-$30,000 range." The 2020 TLX starts at $33,000 before destination, and I expect the new one to come in around $35,000. Mum's the word on how much the Type S will cost when it arrives next spring, though it'll likely undercut rivals like the Audi S4, BMW M340i and Mercedes-AMG C43.

On appearance alone, the TLX is leaps and bounds ahead of its forebear, and it certainly sounds like Acura's made plenty of engineering improvements to make this sedan a better performer. The TLX always deserved better than its also-ran status in the luxury/sport class. Here's hoping this new one will strike a stronger chord.