Loaner Review: 2017 Acura TLX V6 – Progress?

When I had to take our TSX wagon to the dealer for a passenger side airbag igniter recall last week, I was given this 2017 TLX as a loaner. Not surprising, since dealers often keep cars they can’t get rid of as loaners. And the TLX certainly hasn’t been a hot seller, although it is their best selling sedan. Since the TLX is a direct evolution of the TSX, I figured it was a chance to see how much had changed. Not much, and partially not for the better.

As I opened the door and lowered myself in, it all felt and looked quite familiar, despite some superficial changes. But the whole architecture and (very comfortable) seats and general configuration was very familiar. That should make driving off quickly a breeze, as I was in a bit of a rush.

Not quite so fast. It has a smart fob, so the engine now starts with a button. No problem; I’m actually good with that. And I did notice that the interior is a wee bit nicer than ours, with some “wood” accents. But it’s looking a bit dated to me. But everything does to me since the Tesla Model 3 came out. Of course it has both a navigation screen as well as one on the center stack. Or something like that. Our TSX doesn’t, on both accounts, having skipped the $3500 Technology Package. And we’ve never missed it yet.

from Acura

Sorry, but I am not going to be able to say anything about them, because I didn’t touch them. I was in the middle of a project, and was eager to get home. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been, and taken advantage of the opportunity. But then figuring out the ins and outs of it would have undoubtedly taken way too much time for this impatient person.

from Acura

Time to put it into gear. I instinctively reached for the shifter, and found it missing. Oh; that’s been changed to buttons too. And not for the better. I much prefer a lever shifter, since it doesn’t require looking down. It’s a pain to have to move the eyes so far away to find the right button, and really slow down backing out or making other maneuvers. Each of the main gear selectors is quite different too; one has to pull up on the Reverse thing, obviously to help avoid running over old ladies or kids behind the car.

Here’s a closer look, from an Acura image. It’s fiddly. One has to always look down to find it, and then the right button. With our TSX, I don’t ever have to look. I just grab the shifter, move it and go.

Of course the very large and bright rear view camera display should negate the problem of backing over people and such. That’s the one item I wish our TSX wagon had, for Stephanie’s sake. I’m so used to reversing with mirrors and a strategic glance or two backwards, they’re mostly wasted on me. I don’t use the one in the Promaster except for when I’m backing up to a loading dock or such. No complaints from me there.

This explosion of various kinds of new shifting schemes is not a good thing. I could see a proper rotary knob, because one could also find it and use it without hunting for it. But buttons on the console…pass. I was never a fan of Chrysler’s push buttons back in the day, but at least one didn’t have to drastically shift the eyes away from the field of view out the windshield.

It turns out that this new shifter is only used on the V6 versions of the TLX; the four still has the familiar lever one as in our TSX. Which brings me to the engine and transmission. I knew these come with both the 2.4 L four (like in our TSX wagon) and the 3.5 L V6; with 206 and 290 HP respectively. If I’d actually noticed the SH-AWD badge, I’d have known this was a V6. I didn’t notice it then.

I did notice that the engine sound on start-up was a bit more refined, so my guess was the V6. But when I pulled out of the dealer lot driveway, the response to my foot was decidedly sluggish. Not in necessarily a bad way, but quite different. The response in our TSX four is immediate. This V6 required substantially more poking. I don’t know if this is different from the previous TSX V6, or something new in the mapping of the throttle response. It turns out I must have had it in Eco mode. I never noticed it telling me that or where the control for it is.

When I got on the freeway, I wanted to make sure this was really a V6, and experience the difference that an extra 84 hp makes. I eventually found out, but I felt like I was running out of pedal before it kicked down several gears of its generally well-behaved 9-speed ZF transmission, which replaces the 5-speed Honda automatic on the TSX (the four cylinder now uses an 8-speed dual clutch box that also has a torque converter). When the message finally arrived in the engine compartment, the response was quite evident. There’s no doubt this is a faster car ultimately than our TSX four.

But given this TLX with the SH-AWD weighs some 200 lbs more than our TSX wagon, even though it’s a sedan, the actual difference probably isn’t that huge. The reality is that I’ve never felt under-powered in our TSX; it manages to roll along at 130 quite readily, and passing in the mountains is never a problem. I don’t mind showing a car the spurs, and the sound of the TSX’s big four at 7,000 rpm is rather delicious. A bit like the big Offy fours of yore.

But yes, the V6 is of course smoother and offers potentially faster passing yet. How many drivers will actually ever take advantage of the ultimate difference is another matter.

For what it’s worth, when I got back into our TSX, the response was so much more immediate, I had to force my foot to back off the first time or two. But then it doesn’t have an Eco mode.

As to the TLX’s handling, I obviously didn’t have much chance to probe its limits. It feels like it is undoubtedly capable, although the extra weight is mostly on its front end. The TSX wagon comes in at quite favorable 57:43 front-to-rear ratio versus the TSX V-6 sedan’s 62:38, which is the single biggest reason I wouldn’t have gotten the V6 even if it had been available in the wagon. The weight shift toward the rear helps the TSX wagon hold corners tighter than expected and makes the car much less prone to under-steer. It’s essentially almost impossible to tell that it’s a FWD car.

The TLX V6’s weight distribution is a bit over 60 on the front too. Not really noticeable on my drive, but the TLX did feel a wee bit heavier all-round, which of course it is. That’s not to impugn it; these cars are deceptively good handling, and can generally stand up to the best cars in its class in that regard.

But it also had that distinctive Honda thin-walled feeling too, meaning road noise is readily apparent; too much so.

The TLX comes with AcuraWatch, a suite of advanced driving aids. I didn’t have the opportunity to use the adaptive cruise control, which I now regret. I allowed myself too little time, and I was testing the V6’s higher-speed acceleration instead of cruising on my short freeway stretch.

The lane-departure warning did beep and visually alert me to when I started getting too close to the edge of the lane  Could live with that.

But the frontal collision warning (I assume) also beeped at me and flashed a BRAKE warning on the instrument panel several times when I approached a stopped or slower car in traffic. I do tend to brake a bit late, but this was not welcome. I don’t think I could live with this nanny yelling at me to brake sooner. I would have to change my bad habits.

I didn’t try out the back seat (image from Acura), but undoubtedly it’s roomier than the TSX, thanks to its almost 3 inch wheelbase stretch. It now sits on the 109.3″ wheelbase of the previous generation US Accord, rather than the shorter non-US Accord wheelbase of the TSX. Good thing, as the TSX’s rear seat is quite compromised unless the front seats are well forward. This is progress.

Of course this TLX is essentially a previous generation Accord, dressed up a bit. If you’re not a fan of the current Accord’s styling, this is might just be your ticket. A rather big ticket though, as the MSRP on these runs a bit steep. I saw one in the showroom with a $46k sticker (it must have been loaded). A base 2.4 starts at $33k. I’m guessing that there’s a fair bit of light between MSRP and what one can negotiate for. These are obviously languishing a bit, given the general malaise in the sedan market.

No need to shed tears for poor Acura, though; they’re doing quite well, actually, despite the very common assumptions otherwise. How many articles or comments have I seen over the years on CC and other websites bemoaning Acura’s decline?

Well, it’s all about their CUVs, which has been an Acura strength for years. The new RDX is off to a hot start, and Acura sales were up 11% in November, over last year. And YTD sales are up some 2%, which is well above the market overall. Acura is outselling Lincoln, Infiniti and possibly Cadillac (GM doesn’t report monthly sales anymore). More importantly, Acura’s profits are most likely quite strong, as almost all of its models are heavily shared with Honda under the skin.

The TLX is still Acura’s third best selling car after the RDX and MDX, with some 28k sold YTD, down 13% from 2017. That’s actually down quite a bit less than most other sedans. Is the TLX doing better than I assumed? Eugene is not a good place to make assumptions based on what’s on the streets here, given that I saw no less than four Tesla Model 3s today on a short errand run. It’s the new Prius here.

The final verdict? It’s a nice car, if you fancy a sedan whose origins are in the early days of this century. If I really wanted a sedan like this, other than a Model 3 it would have to be something with a better value equation, like a Camry V6. But I don’t, as I have no use for a sedan in my life, so this is all a bit of an abstraction. Or distraction, in the case of having to take the TSX in, but then it’s the very first time in its almost-five years. And it is good to get a bit of exposure to something different. Now if only they’d given me an NSX.