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2015 Acura TLX review: Acura TLX handling belies sensible sedan style

With a torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system, the new Acura TLX tears up the corners despite its modest sedan design.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
8 min read

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.

2015 Acura TLX

2015 Acura TLX

The Good

Direct injection contributes to V-6 engine efficiency in the 2015 Acura TLX, and a torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system aids handling. Adaptive cruise control combines with lane-keeping assist for near-autonomous driving on the highway.

The Bad

The cabin tech interface confuses with an LCD, separate touchscreen and a jog-dial controller.

The Bottom Line

The 2015 Acura TLX is a quirky but comfortable sedan, its all-wheel-drive system and drive modes giving it occasional sports cred but lacking the connected aptitude of competitors.

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.

Underneath the TLX's sensible styling lurks a ferocious canyon carver. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

Quirky TLX shows Acura's new chapter (pictures)

See all photos

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.

Acura's drive mode buttons take a little getting used to, as you push the Drive button but lift the Reverse toggle. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

An icon in the side mirror casing shows when it is unsafe to change lanes. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

This system uses a forward-looking camera and the car's electric power steering, recognizing lane lines then actively steering the car on a course between the lines. I drove for miles on the freeway keeping a light touch on the steering wheel, and feeling it twist to follow the lane lines. Similar to my first time using adaptive cruise control, getting used to it was a bit eerie, but then I missed it when it was off. The system has a few built-in limitations to prevent drivers abusing it. For one, it flashed a warning reading "Steering required" when I let go of the wheel. Second, Acura sets it to only work between 45 and 90 mph. The lower limit is kind of annoying, as it could come in handy when stuck in slow traffic.

Acura makes the controls around this system a little mystifying, too. When I saw the green band in the instrument cluster reading LKAS, I assumed lane keeping was active. However, that band just indicates that the system is ready. I had to push a button on the steering wheel, off by default, and check that a graphic representing lane lines was present on the instrument cluster display.

Beyond the speed limitations, lane-keeping assist only worked when the system could see clearly defined lane lines.

The instrument cluster display shows when the adaptive cruise control system is tracking forward traffic. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Two screen confusion

One thing I can't be persuaded to like about the TLX is its cabin tech interface. Consisting of an LCD on the dashboard, a touchscreen LCD on the center stack and a jog dial surrounded by buttons below that, this system is a mish-mash of confusing controls and informational displays. The top LCD shows the map, audio and phone information, all controlled by the lower jog dial and buttons. Meanwhile, the touchscreen shows some of the same audio information and offers limited controls for music selection along with a shortcuts menu and a keypad for alphanumeric entry.

Enlarge Image
Each screen shows the same track information, but in two different formats and controls schemes. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

This system could be much improved if Acura did away with the jog dial and put the entire control interface on the touchscreen, with the upper LCD merely showing navigation and other pertinent driver information.

That said, I liked the navigation system, which gave me clear instructions and easy-to-follow graphics for upcoming turns. Even better, its traffic coverage was extensive, showing flow and incident information for surface streets and smaller highways. And carried over from prior Acura navigation systems, this one includes a database of scenic drives from around the country.

The TLX's main online service comes through the Acura Streams app, which relies on Harman's Aha Internet radio service. Acura Streams let me listen to a wide variety of podcasts, music services and news from around the Internet. It also includes services to find nearby hotels and restaurants, although this feature runs a bit slow and offers limited results. I would much prefer a fully integrated online destination search combined with an app like Yelp, similar to what Chrysler offers in its UConnect system, which I most recently saw in the Jeep Grand Cherokee .

Audio sources include Bluetooth streaming, HD Radio, USB for drives or iOS integration and even an integrated Pandora app. I liked how easy it was to choose different HD channels using the touchscreen, although that capability didn't seem to be present when using the jog dial and LCD controls. Selecting music from an iOS device, I could view my entire music library on the upper LCD or request individual albums or artists with voice command. The touchscreen interface was more limited, however, only letting me browse sequentially from album to album.

As this TLX came with Acura's Technology package, it had the 10-speaker ELS audio system, an Acura staple for premium audio. And as with previous examples of this system I have tested, it seemed tuned for acoustic and light rock. However, turning up the bass and subwoofer made the sound profile more appropriate for what I wanted. This system did an excellent job revealing the details in tracks, raising the prominence of sounds and instruments that get lost from inferior systems.

The TLX makes for a comfortable and capable commute car, but its quirks may be too much for some drivers. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Acura advancing

Acura's model development became a little stagnant up until recently, but the company is now revamping its models and innovating some unique technologies. The 2015 Acura TLX follows the new RLX and MDX models in implementing new features. The TLX benefits from Acura's drivetrain improvements, getting an efficient direct-injection V-6 and a nine-speed transmission. Combined with the idle-stop feature, fuel economy should hit mid-20s average for most drivers, much better than the below 20 mpg average from prior Acura V-6 models.

The cabin tech offers a useful set of features, although I'm not crazy about Acura's current connected strategy. And I really don't like the confusing and duplicative interface. As for driver assistance features, the adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance are an impressive combination, but I am baffled why Acura would make the latter unavailable below 45 mph, where it could allow near-autonomous driving in slow traffic.

For me, the SH-AWD system was the star of the show. The TLX became downright ferocious in the turns with torque vectoring pushing the back end around. Sport Plus contributed by keeping the power on tap, turning the TLX into something of a sleeper sports car.

Tech specs

Model 2015 Acura TLX
Trim SH-AWD Advance
Powertrain Direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6, nine-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 22.2 mpg
Navigation Standard with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Internet-based streaming, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD radio, satellite radio
Audio system ELS 10-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitor, precollision warning, rear-view camera
Base price $30,995
Price as tested $45,620
2015 Acura TLX

2015 Acura TLX

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 7Design 7Media 6


Available Engine GasBody style Sedan