Acura’s 2015 TLX Makes a Quiet Statement – Wall Street Journal

Posted: Saturday, November 01, 2014

2015 Acura TLX

THERE ARE A LOT of lovely sedans you can buy for between $30,000 and $50,000. Indeed, so many that I can imagine car shoppers, especially couples, reaching an impasse over the decision. This is a chink of daylight for the new Acura TLX.

It’s the upscale midsize family sedan you buy when you can’t make up your mind. Not too spendy, not too speedy, not too gassy (although the four-cylinder version drinks premium gasoline, which stings a bit), and not too pushy. The new TLX is pleasantly rounded and averaged and harmonized in a way that could be catnip for suburban un-deciders.

This is not a trivial position in the market. As any car dealer will tell you, consumers are blithering idiots in showrooms. They don’t know what they want. Not only that, the products in the TLX’s competitive segment—call it premium/entry luxury, including Cadillac ATS, Lexus ES 350, Volvo S60—are photo-finish close in many metrics. Who can decide?

2015 Acura TLX 3.5L SH-AWD (Advance Package)

Price, as tested: $44,700

Powertrain: Naturally aspirated direct-injection 3.5-liter DOHC V6 with variable valve timing; nine-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode; full-time all-wheel drive with torque vectoring

Horsepower/torque: 290 hp at 6,200 rpm/267 pound-feet at 4,500 rpm

Length/weight: 190.3 inches/3,774 pounds

Wheelbase: 109.3

EPA fuel economy: 21/31/25 mpg, city/highway/combined

Luggage capacity: 13.2 cubic feet

Common sense suggests if competitive cars are materially and functionally equal—and market forces would almost guarantee they are, big picture—what people buy is the image, the brand, the styling. This is no earthshaking insight.

But has anyone given any thought to upscale consumers who don’t particularly care to make a statement? These consumers would like to abstain, if it’s all the same to you, from the sweaty exertions of Cadillac’s and Lexus’s styling departments. They don’t want a car that looks like a filter feeder or a spaceship. Maybe they don’t like Volvos because Sweden has Obamacare.

Maybe you like the German cars in the 2- and 3-liter class—BMW 3 and 5 sedans, Mercedes-Benz C and E class, Audi A4 and A6—but you just can’t bring yourself to pay the brand premium that you know in your heart is baked into the price. I feel you. Some ancient Scottishness roils my guts when I think about paying that kind of ransom to the Hun. Arr!

2015 Acura TLX V6.

(An aside: It may make you feel better to know German car makers take a beating on price in the U.S.)

Maybe, for whatever reason, you resist the optics of owning a high-tone European sedan. Perhaps you are in public service or a member of a religious community. Suddenly, from binders full of possible cars, you’re reduced to one.

Built for Americans by Americans, in Marysville, Ohio, the TLX is a new car for Honda’s premium Acura brand, which discontinued the TSX (smaller) and TL (larger) for model year 2015 and split the difference with the TLX, a close relative of the Honda Accord. But the two cars feel quite a bit different. Among the TLX’s soothing attributes is a deep quietude across a range of frequencies. This thing punches way above its weight class in cabin refinement.

They wanted this car bloody smooth, and it sure is. My cellphone has more vibration.

The nice man from Honda explained that, seizing a competitive advantage in NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), the TLX is stuffed to the gills with sound-deadening foams and panels; the 3.5-liter V6 is mounted to the chassis with computer-controlled active engine mounts to quell transient rocking during gear shifts or, in the case of the V6, the cycling of the idle stop. Also on the menu: Active noise cancellation in the cabin.

The sum acoustical effect is persuasive, if just a bit too much like a decompression chamber for me.

You still have a few choices to make, Sophie. The four-cylinder comes with a sporty eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, a tricky bit of hardware enclosing a torque converter, in play at initial acceleration—say, dead stop to the first through second shift—before it hands off mechanical load to the dual-clutch gear packs at higher speeds. This combines a converter’s torque multiplication and the many gears’ optimization of ratios.

If you want the “Super Handling All-Wheel Drive” system ($2,200), you also have to get the V6 ($41,450), and that means forsaking the trick eight-speed transmission in favor of another cybernetic gear-shifter, the ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic transmission.

In either car—I drove both the 2.4- and 3.5-liter sedans, with eight- and nine-speed transmissions—the operation of these units is largely a matter of speculation, so isolated and uneventful are the powertrains. Again, nothing about this is unintentional for Honda/Acura. They wanted this car bloody smooth, and it sure is. My cellphone has more vibration.

The following passage about driving dynamics and performance is both true and irrelevant to just about anybody who would buy this car. The TLX with the V6 and SH-AWD is actually a fairly sporty driver. It’s willing, it’s trilling, it’s got more forward gears than you can shake a stick at. It also has what you might call a temper button: the Integrated Dynamics System (IDS), with settings for Econ, Normal, Sport and Sport+. With the wick turned up the TLX will absolutely rupture itself trying to please. Zero-to 60 mph isn’t disgraceful at 6.8 seconds. But, to be sure, the naturally aspirated six doesn’t have the cammy edge and bite of the German competitors’ turbo engines, and the TLX steering mechanism feels connected to the wheels by way of a seance.

The latest evolution of Acura’s SH-AWD hardware and software is lighter, more responsive and more authoritative in cornering than in previous vehicles—again, according to the Honda field agents who arrived with the cars. Among the talking points: uniquely articulate torque vectoring at the rear axle, able to overdrive the outside wheel in a corner as much as 2.7% to help turn the car, like a paddle stroke turns a canoe. The application in the TLX provides a subtle but worthwhile tug toward the corner.

And all of that is great, if police detective John McClane commandeers your vehicle for a high-speed chase through a bad movie. Otherwise, it’s actually pretty hard to invoke SH-AWD on dry pavement. Nothing about the car’s all-season radials and 60/40 front/rear weight distribution make you want to explore its dynamic limits.

For most consumers, the TLX’s motor sports glory will remain heroically hidden.

Actually, the knowing consumer would go right to the four-cylinder, front-drive TLX with Technology Package, $35,920, as the best buy. Way better fuel economy—an average 28 mpg for the four-cylinder, 3 better than the V6—and 102 pounds lighter. Front-drive TLX’s are equipped with an active rear-steer system—P-AWS—that is able to subtly deflect the rear wheels’ toe angle in concert to improve straight-line tracking, stability under braking, as well as turn-in and cornering at speed. At low speeds, the system allows the wheels to track opposite the front wheels, to improve ease of parking.

The TLX offers the full complement of electronic driving nannies, including the dire-sounding Forward Collision Mitigation Braking System (part of the Advance package, $3,250), Lane Keeping Assist System and the Road Departure Mitigation System. Alas, the worthwhile gadgetry is mixed in with Acura’s stale and weirdly busy console layout. The split displays, the double binnacles, the ranks of controls, Honda/Acura’s whole interface is the work of bifocal-wearing button fetishists.

In the end, the TLX represents your nonaffiliated choice, your principled silence in upscale consumerism. When brought to the microphone of automotive posterity, TLX buyers solemnly intone, “No comment.”

Well put.


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