Automotive journalist Casey Williams test drives the 2015 Acura TLX to see if has what it takes to boost the automaker’s flat sales.
Frank Espich/The Star

Acura sales have been flat for over a decade, prompting a product onslaught highlighted by the 2015 TLX that began production on July 14 in Marysville, Ohio. It replaces the TSX and TL.

I had a chance to speak with Mike Accavitti, senior vice president and general manager of Acura, the day it launched.

“It’s a very exciting time for Acura,” Accavitti said. “Having great products is critical. I’m very excited about this car. What it does for the brand — gets us back on the consideration list with a competitive entry in the midsize luxury sedan segment.

“It has new four- and six-cylinder engines, eight- and nine-speed transmission, our next-generation Super Handling All-wheel-drive, all-wheel-steering — more technology than we ever launched in a car.”

Despite so much being new, you’ll have no trouble recognizing the TLX as an Acura. A better-integrated version of the brand’s chrome bar grille complements thin LED headlamps, LED taillamps and 17-inch alloys. It looks purposeful with the streamlined rear body hunkered over the wheels as if it’s rear-drive. The beltline is elegant, but there’s an especially pleasing line that rises from the front wheelwell and arches over the rear opening. Sculpting of the body is subtle, but very nice.

On first glance, there’s a lot to like inside too. Nothing is ostentatious, but all is well made.

Slip into the heated leather seats, grip the leather-wrapped steering wheel and gaze over the dark woodgrain trim, satin silver accents and flowing dash design. A power moonroof, Studio Premium Audio, USB, Bluetooth and real-time traffic alerts are appreciated. Doors close with a typically Hondaesque thwamp.

On the other side of the coin, the TLX has a comprehensive infotainment system that includes navigation, real-time traffic alerts, SMS test messaging, XM and Pandora. But, using the dual-screen system, which theoretically lets you show navigation and other functions above the audio screen, is baffling.

It’s unfathomable why Acura would defile an otherwise great car with such a decrepit system. It makes BMW’s notoriously cantankerous iDrive seem simple.

Going through menus to get the system to scroll individual stations instead of pre-sets is hard enough, but then waiting for it to load for minutes while not being able to tune to lower stations is ridiculous. There’s no direct tune function, so you better learn all of the voice commands to avoid beep-beeping from one end of the spectrum to the other. Can’t I please have an old-fashioned tuning knob?! And, I have no idea why when I set my preferred seat/steering wheel configuration to 1 that the car returns to 2 every time it starts, requiring me to again press 1. Of course, that can’t be done while the car is moving.

Redeeming itself, safety is enhanced with blind-spot warning, forward-collision alert, lane-keep assist and rear cross-traffic alert systems. Our test car also came with rain-sensing wipers. Unlike on some competitor vehicles, the system knows the difference between oncoming traffic and a real threat, only beeping when needed — like when I was trying to figure out the audio system and nearly rear-ended a car in the Starbucks drive-through.

Despite infotainment woes, driving the TLX is delightful. A 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 is available, but you don’t need it. Our car came with the direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 206-horsepower and 24/35-mpg city/highway. That’s pretty frugal for a midsize luxury car.

Better, Acura pairs it with a slick paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic transmission.

Additional technologies enhance crisp chassis moves and precise steering. Acura’s Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) lets owners select their driving experience among ECON, Normal, Sport and Sport+. Each mode has its own power-steering effort, throttle response and transmission shift logic. Normal is great for everyday use; go for Sport+ to thrash curvy roads.

Acura needed to get the TLX right and it mostly succeeded. It is a thoroughly enjoyable machine to drive, only let down by the two-screen frustration center. Acura’s forte is building precision-engineered cars that neither bore nor annoy their owners. By that measure, the TLX is close.

A base price of $30,995, and $35,920 as-tested, puts the very affordable TLX against the Buick Regal, Lincoln MKZ, Lexus ES, Volkswagen CC and Kia Cadenza.

Send questions and comments to Casey at AutoCasey@aol.com or on Twitter @AutoCasey.


2015 Acura TLX

Basics: Five-passenger, FWD sedan.

Powertrain: 206 hp 2.4-liter I4, eight-speed automatic transmission.

Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind.

Wheels: 17-inch/17-inch alloy f/r.

Brakes: Disc/disc fr/rr.

Must-have features: Style, mpgs.

Fuel economy: 24/35 mpg city/hwy.

Assembly: Marysville, Ohio.

Base/As-tested price: $30,995/$35,920.