2018 Acura TLX SH-AWD Elite A-Spec Road Test Review

August 16 2019, North Shore Acura

2018 Acura TLX SH-AWD Elite A-Spec Road Test Review

Sporty sedan delivers big on style, comfort and value

When Acura adapted the sensational Precision Concept-inspired "diamond pentagon grille" to the MDX mid-size SUV I liked what I saw, but I questioned how the bold design would work with other models in the premium brand's growing lineup. As it turns out there was no reason for concern, at least with the newly refreshed 2018 TLX sport sedan.

In fact, the new grille looks especially good with the new A-Spec upgrade, my tester's San Marino Red exterior paint doing a good job of showing all the glossy black highlights around the sporty honeycomb mesh grille and upgraded lower fascia, the latter adding visual drama thanks to unique matte-black mesh grille inserts at centre and larger fog lamp surrounds to each corner. What's more, Acura's signature five-lamp Jewel Eye LED headlights are darkened in A-Spec trim, plus body-colour rocker extensions now run down each side, "smoked" LED taillights enhance the design in back, and an aggressive black diffuser looks menacing below the rear bumper, the latter housing bigger four-inch dual exhaust pipes.

I should also mention that all 2018 TLX trims get a reshaped hood with more sharply sculpted creases, plus the front fenders have been redesigned to meld cleanly into the new frontal styling. Less noticeable changes affect the side sheetmetal and rear design as well, but nothing quite as dramatic as the A-Spec.

A-Spec performance upgrades are much more than skin deep

This in mind, upgrading to A-Spec trim also replaces the regular model's chrome trim with matte black side window surrounds and dark chrome around the front grille, making the latter look larger in the process, while bright chrome trim is deleted from the front fascia and the usual body-colour rear deck lid spoiler gets a glossy black treatment. Acura rounds out the A-Spec model with a set of menacing looking twinned five-spoke Shark Grey 19-inch alloy wheels on Michelin Primacy 245/40R19 tires, in place of the more luxury-oriented model's bright machine-finished multi-spoke 17-, 18- and 19-inch rims mounted on more modest rubber. As a finishing touch, A-Spec badges are added to the front fenders and rear deck lid.

As you might have guessed, Acura retuned the A-Spec chassis to match the uprated wheel and tire package, with its focus on the electric power steering and damper settings, whereas all SH-AWD-equipped cars incorporate a quicker, more responsive steering ratio, stiffer spring rates, and a thicker rear stabilizer bar.

Additionally, the A-Spec model gets a sportier interior that includes an exclusive leather-wrapped steering wheel with a thicker rim and an A-Spec badge, bright red needles and red indices for the primary gauge cluster, brushed aluminum-look trim for the instrument panel and lower console edges, red ambient LED light piping under the inlays, along the edges of the lower console, and within the cupholders, a black headliner and roof pillars, plus heavily bolstered front seats featuring contrast stitching and piping.

Great value continues to be a TLX strong point

As has long been the case, the 2018 TLX undercuts most competitors with a starting price of just $35,990 plus freight and fees, while SH-AWD models start at $40,990. The new A-Spec package can be had for just $42,190 when fitted to four-cylinder FWD trims, whereas the TLX A-Spec SH-AWD models start at $47,390 and my TLX SH-AWD Elite A-Spec tester comes loaded for $50,990.

Compare this to its German rivals and you'll quickly see the value advantage, with similarly optioned alternatives nudging up against and even surpassing $60k. Some offer more power than the top-line TLX, but I wouldn't be put off by the direct-injection single-cam 3.5-litre V6 engine's 290-horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, or the torque-vectoring SH-AWD system that puts twist down to all four wheels. These are well-proven commodities that deliver strong performance and noted reliability, while the ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic gearbox is state-of-the-art tech mated to an equally advanced electronic gear selector and performance-enhancing steering wheel paddle-shifters.

Set the drive selector to Sport or Sport Plus mode and the TLX SH-AWD A-Spec combines the expected sporty driving dynamics with a surprisingly smooth and refined experience, with the added benefit of commendable fuel economy that's rated at 12.0 L/100km in the city, 8.2 on the highway and 10.3 combined as tested, aided by auto start/stop. The engine is wonderful bit of kit, providing a nice growling rumble that does a superb job of unmasking its sizeable displacement. The big pipes in back help to amplify the note, plus of course the aforementioned sport modes. The TLX follows this audible sensation up with strong straight-line performance as noted, while the A-Spec suspension upgrades result in truly athletic capability through tight, twisting corners without intruding on ride quality.

Strong performance combined with comfortable livability

It's this kind of comfortable livability that makes the TLX so popular in its class. The suspension is wonderfully balanced whether pushing the limits of the road, where it's dialed in for understeer at its breaking points, or cruising the highway, where it tracks effortlessly. It's ultra easy to drive around the city, too. Consider this TLX SH-AWD A-Spec a great all-rounder.

The front seats are plenty comfortable too, Acura even adding a powered extendable lower cushion for the driver seat. Most competitors make you pull such extensions out manually if available at all. I really didn't need it due to my five-foot-eight height, but I'm guessing taller folk will find it a positive addition. The leather and microfibre upholstery was very nice too, the latter proving helpful in the corners where it gripped backside well, while this material might even be more useful in the rear due to less side bolstering. Those back seats are also comfortable with excellent lower back support, while three abreast seating is possible, although better if the middle passenger is smaller in stature. Those to each side will enjoy seat heaters when equipped, although they've been known to start squabbles when three's a crowd.

Now that we're talking practicalities, the trunk is quite large at 405 litres. Its lid swings up high and out of the way, plus the lift over height of its sill is quite low for easy loading. The rear seats fold in a typical 60/40 fashion, while the trunk is very well finished thanks to carpeting on each side, the top and floor, the latter removable with a large divided compartment below.

Comfortable cabin provides the latest in high tech

Likewise the TLX interior is a class act. I picked it up in the evening, which made its glowing red ambient lighting all the more noticeable. It was an experience unlike anything else I've driven, while the semi-digital primary gauge cluster and dual-screen infotainment setup was as bright and colourful as car electronics get. The cabin workmanship is very good too, with high-quality soft-touch synthetic surfaces in all the expected places, plus some harder plastics used below the beltline, which is normal for the class. Acura blings up the interior with the usual satin-finish silver and chromed detailing, all very nicely done.

The dual-screen infotainment system was redesigned for 2018, by the way, with a much friendlier interface that adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A new 7.0-inch capacitive touchscreen sits below, boasting 30-percent quicker response times, while the top display seems higher in resolution with deeper, richer colours.

Also new, every 2018 TLX receives a standard suite of AcuraWatch advanced driver-assistance systems including Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane Departure Warning with steering wheel haptic feedback, Lane Keeping Assist, and Road Departure Mitigation, while blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert was added to my top-tier tester as well. These worked flawlessly during my test week, alerting when required and never beeping, flashing and vibrating unnecessarily, which can often be the case with other systems.

Loads of features underscore the TLX value proposition

As you might expect this fully loaded TLX came well stocked with luxury and convenience features, the list of notable items not yet mentioned including auto high beams, LED fog lamps, remote engine start, proximity access, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, a colour multi-info display, adaptive cruise control with low speed follow, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, an excellent 360 surround parking monitor, very accurate navigation with detailed mapping, front and rear parking sensors, voice activation, dual-zone auto climate control, wireless smartphone charging, a heatable leather-wrapped A-Spec sport steering wheel, a 10-way powered driver's seat with memory, an eight-way powered passenger seat, heated and ventilated front seats, perforated Milano leather upholstery, 10-speaker ELS Studio audio, satellite radio, active noise cancelation, a universal garage door opener, a powered moonroof, and much more.

I believe the redesigned TLX will attract even more buyers to this already popular model, especially those looking for a sporty ride that leans a bit more toward comfort than extreme performance. Its improved design, superb quality, good expected reliability and excellent value, plus its strong performance and good fuel economy make for a compelling package that's hard to pass up.