The 2021 Acura TLX Should Make the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series Worry

The buildup to the 2021 TLX has been intense, with high hopes resting on Acura’s updated sports sedan. Acura is positioning the TLX against the segment’s stalwarts, the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4. Now, the first reviews of the Japanese sedan are coming in. And it’s clear the German cars will have a fight on their hands.

What does the 2021 Acura TLX offer?

A blue 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec drives down the road
2021 Acura TLX A-Spec | Acura

The Acura TLX comes into the 2021 model year with a full redesign inside and out, Automobile reports. It also no longer rides on an Accord-based platform. It’s about 200 pounds heavier than the outgoing model, Motor Trend reports. But it’s also longer and wider with more interior space, Car and Driver reports.

The rear view of a white 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec AWD on a bridge
2021 Acura TLX A-Spec AWD rear | Acura

Under the hood, the base 2021 Acura TLX has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 272 hp and 280 lb-ft. It’s less powerful than the outgoing V6, MT reports, but it makes more torque. It’s linked to a 10-speed automatic, which is the only transmission available. Front-wheel drive is standard, Motor1 reports, but AWD is optional.

The sheet metal and powertrain aren’t the only new things about the 2021 Acura TLX, though, Roadshow reports. It has a new front and rear suspension with either amplitude-reactive or adaptive dampers. The latter are standard on the Advance trim and upcoming Type S. The battery is now in the trunk, which, combined with the new aluminum suspension components, shifts more weight rearwards. The 2021 TLX also has an updated steering column, Autoblog reports, and the brake-by-wire system from the NSX supercar.

Interior and features

The 2021 Acura TLX Advance's interior with tan-colored leather
2021 Acura TLX Advance interior | Acura

The Acura TLX’s interior has also been updated for 2021. In addition to the extra space, even the base 2021 TLX features real aluminum trim, Motor1 reports. Advance models pair that with open-pore wood. Each TLX features a 10.2” touchscreen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot. It also has a standard 7” digital driver’s display and, starting with the Technology trim, adjustable ambient lighting.

The base model’s ADAS features include adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, and automatic emergency braking. If you step up to at least the Technology trim, you also get blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, as well as front and rear parking sensors. Plus, if you get the A-Spec or Advance trims, you get a 17-speaker ELS Studio 3D audio system. The Advance trim also comes with rain-sensing wipers, a heads-up display, and a surround-view camera, MT reports.

The red-leather-upholstered interior of the 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec
2021 Acura TLX A-Spec interior | Acura

Interestingly, despite being the sporty trim—at least, until the Type S arrives—the A-Spec doesn’t get adaptive dampers. But it does come with a rear diffuser and spoiler and red leather upholstery. And each trim also comes with adjustable driving modes that modify the throttle, steering, shift points, the AWD system’s torque vectoring, and the suspension settings.

How does it drive?

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In terms of handling, the 2021 Acura TLX’s biggest flaw is its tire choice, Car and Driver reports. They’re good for fuel efficiency and minimal road noise, but the Michelin Primacy A/Cs aren’t performance tires. As a result, the grip is somewhat limited, and the sedan doesn’t turn in very sharply.

However, with a decent set of summer tires, Motor1 reports, that could noticeably change. Because Acura’s efforts with the TLX have left it an extremely competent sports sedan. Even without the adaptive dampers, MT describes the AWD A-Spec’s handling as “splendid.” And because of the increased chassis rigidity, you don’t really need the upgraded dampers to get a smooth ride, Automobile reports.

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As far as transmissions go, Roadshow reports, the 10-speed automatic is decent. However, while it shifts smoothly, even in Sport Mode, it doesn’t respond very quickly to the shift paddles, Autoblog reports. However, with the Type S’ new V6 engine and standard AWD may come new transmission programming. And it also has higher-spec Pirelli tires, Car and Driver reports.

Is the 2021 Acura TLX worth buying over the Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series?

With the Type S still unreleased, we can’t compare it against the Audi S4 or newly-updated BMW M3. However, we can compare the base sedans against each other.

A red 2021 Audi A4 parked in front of a modern upscale hotel
2021 Audi A4 | Audi

For 2021, the Consumer Reports-recommended Audi A4 gets a new mild-hybrid powertrain and standard AWD. But to get close to the Acura TLX’s output, buyers will need to step up to the 45 TFSI model, which only has 261 hp. However, MT reports that the AWD A4 is lighter, which might even the playing field. It also has a roomier back seat.

The 2021 Audi A4's interior with tan leather upholstery
2021 Audi A4 interior | Audi

On the downside, some of the 2021 Acura TLX’s standard safety features are optional on the Audi A4. Plus, the A4 is more expensive than the TLX when equipped to similar levels, Roadshow reports.

a blue 3 Series at speed on a scenic mountain road.
2019 BMW 3 Series | BMW

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Meanwhile, the BMW 3 Series has also been mildly updated for 2021. And unlike the Audi A4 or Acura TLX, it will now offer a plug-in hybrid powertrain, Car and Driver reports. Plus, it seems the iconic sports sedan has finally recovered some of its handling prowess, Car and Driver reports. True, the base 330i’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes less horsepower than the TLX’s engine. However, the 330i is RWD; and even with AWD, it’s likely lighter than the Acura, Car and Driver reports.

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But the BMW 3 Series is even more expensive than the Audi A4. And it offers fewer standard ADAS features than the A4 or TLX. Plus, the WiFi hotspot is optional.

Choosing between these 3 sedans, then, will require a back-to-back drive. But at least in terms of value, it seems the 2021 Acura TLX has the advantage over the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series.

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