2015 Acura TLX first drive
The best of both worlds
Photo: Mark Toljagic
Lore has it that Africa had left its turn indicator on when it collided with North America in a big continental fender-bender some 300 million years ago. The state of Virginia bore the brunt of the tectonic collision, gaining a crumpled topography known as the Appalachian Range. The new mountains rivaled the Alps for height and grandeur until rain, wind and gravity wore them down like 60-grit sandpaper, dispatching the eroded rock and sediment into the numerous rivers draining the region.
Today they’re no Rocky Mountains, but they’re still high enough to ensure the roads passing through them will be sufficiently snaky to induce car sickness at unreasonable speeds. Naturally, we had to go there to find out. Acura was thinking the same thing. What better place to demonstrate its new TLX sport sedan than in lumpy Virginia, where the car could be tested on some of the twistiest asphalt east of the Mississippi?
Honda’s luxury division is known for making fetching sport utilities these days – the Acura MDX and RDX utes are familiar to many – but is mindful of the fact that its sedans play in a heated segment populated by sporting Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz autos. Acura knew it had to campaign a more competitive sports sedan than the sleepy TSX and oddly styled TL.
Pruning the family tree
Photo: Mark Toljagic
It’s not easy retiring two models – both the TSX and TL have their hard-won fans – and introducing a new one, but Dave Gardner, Acura Canada’s marketing chief, explains the move was necessary to revitalize the automaker’s car sales. “Sedans drive the prestige of the brand,” he explained, just as the 3 Series sedan minted BMW’s reputation in Europe and in North America. Sport-utes aren’t revered in the same manner by enthusiasts.
If the TSX was seen as a tad too small and the TL unnecessarily big for a sporting sedan, the TLX effectively splits the difference. While the wheelbase remains identical to that of the outgoing TL, the front and rear overhangs were trimmed by more than 10 cm in total, and the roofline was lowered by 1.2 cm to give the car a go-faster stance, aided by the backlight’s fastback rake and the stubby trunk, along with tighter tire-to-fender gaps. The TLX looks quick standing still, but in a wholly conventional way – just like its rivals. It breaks no new styling ground here, which, given Acura’s track record, is probably a good thing.
Engineering a strong suit
Photo: Mark Toljagic
Engineers incorporated a variety of high-strength steels in the unibody, selecting the best composition for each application. Some 60 per cent of the car is fashioned from advanced materials, resulting in 21 per cent greater torsional stiffness over the TL and 25 per cent better suspension mount rigidity. The doorframe or “ring” is hot stamped from one continuous piece of steel, making it especially strong and light. Ten areas in the chassis get acoustic spray foam injection, effectively cutting air leakage – and the associated wind and tire noise – by half.
It should come as no surprise that the cabin is incredibly hushed – yet it does astound. Until recently, Hondas and Acuras were notorious for being noisy machines. Beyond the serenity, occupants are treated to a thoroughly contemporary interior design with a typically (for Honda) low cowl and broad, comfortable seats. Rear-seat room is adequate for adults, although the centre-rear position is never a favourite. Up front, the dual display screens are overkill and the controls are needlessly redundant and complicated. Similarly, the nine-speed transmission’s gear selector is an odd grouping of differently shaped buttons that flummox the driver (the four-cylinder TLX gets a traditional lever).
Forward thrust is supplied by two distinct powertrains. The base motor is a direct-injected 2.4-L DOHC four cylinder that generates 206 hp and 182 lb.-ft. of torque using premium fuel. Neither number seems overtly impressive – until you remember this is a naturally aspirated engine. The motor utilizes some welcome advancements, including ion-plated piston rings, a dual-stage intake to tweak the torque band and no idler pulley. Acura was reluctant to confirm it, but the motor is a variation of the Accord’s excellent Earth Dreams four-cylinder.
World’s first DCT with torque converter
Inextricably tied to the four banger is the world’s first eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission complete with a torque converter (an industry first). Come again? Acura engineers felt a torque converter would smooth takeoffs and squelch driveline vibration – off-the-line jerkiness is a telltale sign of this transmission type – and they were right. Once underway the converter locks up fast, aiding the quick gear changes a DCT is lauded for. Acura’s hastens gear changes by 33 per cent, knocking 1.5 seconds off the car’s 0-96 km/h acceleration time compared to the TSX.
Sadly, advanced technology has also accelerated the demise of the manual gearbox. There is none to be had with any TLX. “Why would you mate all of this cutting-edge engine technology with an antiquated gearbox?” mused Mat Hargett, the TLX development team leader. He cites the automatic’s higher efficiency, stronger acceleration and more refinement as benefits. Besides, stickshifts don’t sell in significant numbers anymore. C’est dommage.
The upsell motor is Acura’s new direct-injected 3.5-L SOHC V6, good for 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque – both numbers representing incremental improvements over the V6 in the outgoing TL. It features Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system, which decommissions three cylinders during low-load driving conditions to save fuel. Acura turned to German cogmaker ZF to supply the V6’s conventional nine-speed automatic transmission, which delivers quicker gear changes while packaged in a small and lighter case.
The TLX resolutely remains a front-drive platform that must contend with some formidable competitors, many of whom have sworn an allegiance to rear-wheel drive. Along with its carefully tailored diet – the new ZF transmission takes 30 kg off the scales and an aluminum hood helps, too – the TLX relies on an impressive array of technologies to overcome the biases inherent to a front-drive chassis. The good news is the hardware works flawlessly.
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