Sedans & Coupes

The 2021 Acura TLX Disappoints in a Surprising Area

The old saying goes, “Never judge a book by its cover.” If you know a lot about cars, you know you should never judge one solely by its exterior. This applies to the new Acura TLX, according to several reviewers. In a recent review of the 2021 Acura TLX, MotorTrend said, “The TLX’s sheet metal is writing checks this car just can’t cash.” 

But despite the magazine’s unimpressed review, the 2021 Acura TLX somehow made MotorTrend‘s Car of the Year contenders list, meaning there’s something to like. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this luxury compact executive sedan and why it disappointed reviewers.

The 2021 Acura TLX is screwed together well

The newly remodeled Acura TLX discarded almost everything its predecessor offers, including its cabin. The much-needed changes to the interior were borrowed from the Acura RDX crossover. Overall, you can expect the 2021 Acura TLX to have a more luxurious and attractive interior than the outgoing model, according to MotorTrend. With an MSRP starting at $37,500, the base TLX offers a sharp-looking interior that features heated front seats, a 10.2-inch infotainment system, a 10-speaker sound system, LED headlights, convenience tech, and AcuraWatch active safety.

Like the RDX’s touchpad, the 2021 Acura TLX’s touchpad is the single control for its infotainment system. It has a raised center console that divides the space between the driver and front passenger with easy-to-access drink holders. Acura added a futuristic 24-color ambient lighting system with colors representing famous highways around the world; for example, ocean blue depicts Pacific Coast Highway. There’s also an optional crisp ELS Studio premium audio system, found in the RDX as well. But the TLX’s ELS Studio has 17 speakers instead of the RDX’s 16. The TLX comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the latter of which isn’t available in the RDX. 

The TLX packs value but lacks thrills

RELATED: Is the 2021 Acura TLX Worth the New Price Jump?

Judging the Acura TLX by its edgy exterior design, one might expect a supercar. It features a supercar-like width, low roofline, and sporty interior, indicating that kind of performance. The styling definitely distinguishes the all-new TLX from its predecessor. However, the latest MotorTrend review paints a slightly different picture. With a design resting between a compact and midsize luxury sedan and priced similar to its compact European competitors, the TLX seems a reasonable value play. But upon closer inspection, it isn’t easy to get a sense of where this car resides in this competitive segment.

Christian Seabaugh, a features editor for MotorTrend, said, “The engine makes good power, but the gearing of this transmission is far too tall and shifts far too slow to make good use of it … The TLX’s sheet metal is writing checks this car just can’t cash.” And Erick Ayapana, MotorTrend’s associate road test editor, agreed by stating he “would enjoy this car more if the gearbox was more responsive.” Their lack of enthusiasm concerning the transmission’s gearbox is due to the TLX’s higher gearing ratio.

The TLX needs pep in its step

The 2021 Acura TLX comes standard with a 272-hp turbo-4 engine capable of contending with the TLX Type S turbocharged V6. But because it’s paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, this 2.0-liter engine’s power is noticeably diminished. That’s because more gears mean less torque; fewer gears generally mean more torque. Nevertheless, the reviewers also complained that the gear shifting wasn’t what they expected from a car considered a sports sedan.

To make up for the gearing, the engine’s displacement would need changing. However, this would all but destroy the TLX’s borderline fuel economy. It’s already less fuel-efficient than top competitors such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Audi A4. The 2.0-liter Acura TLX gets 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. That’s barely more efficient than the 3.0-liter version, which gets 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

One good point MotorTrend’s reviewers missed is the fact that lower torque usually translates to a higher running speed. The 2021 Acura TLX’s top speed exceeds 130 mph, with some unsubstantiated reports claiming a top speed of over 150 mph. For a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, even a top speed of 130 mph isn’t bad. 

Is the 2021 Acura TLX — priced at close to $40,000 — worth buying? Not likely. Several other compact sports sedans cost about the same but offer much more in terms of road performance, including the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F. Some of them are even hybrid and electric models. So, unless you’re a staunch Acura fan or unconcerned with pep, shop around.