2018 Acura TLX A-Spec: Rocky Mtn Real World Test [Review]

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec
The 2018 Acura TLX A-Spec at 11,670 feet elevation. [photo: TFL]
The new Acura TLX A-Spec was introduced earlier this year, and represents a new focus by Acura to put performance back into the languishing luxury brand. Maybe it has to do with the rollout of Acura’s NSX supercar. It brought the company back its mojo, the one it built up via the beloved Integras of the 1990s. Whatever the case, the TLX, and the A-Spec version in particular, is the fun Acura to drive, assuming you can’t get or afford the NSX.


The A-Spec gets 19-inch wheels with 245-series rubber instead of the 18-inch wheels with 225-series tires found on the more pedestrian TLX with the V6. That’s a big jump in grip and a stiffer suspension helps as well. Beyond the wheels and suspension, the A-Spec package is mostly cosmetic ala Lexus’ F-Sport line or Audi’s S Line trim. The A-Spec gets a more aggressive grill, headlamps, steering wheel and rear diffuser and spoiler among other doodads.

My press car came with Acura’s Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) and a $45,750 sticker price, destination included. Outside of getting the car with or without AWD, there were no options listed. The standard features list is thorough and includes, among many other features, vented (and heated) front seats, wireless smartphone charger.

The TLX’s all-wheel-steering and AWD make for fun times in the twisties. [photo: TFL]


At the heart of the TLX is Honda’s and Acura’s V6 workhorse that appears across the lineup in some variation in minivans, SUVs, and sedans. In the TLX A-Spec it’s a 3.5-liter plant that pumps out 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft. of torque and is mated to a 9-speed automatic with paddle shifters. EPA mpg numbers are 20 city/29 hwy/23 combined. Over the course of my week, traveling mostly on suburban and exurban roads and highways, I averaged 24.7 mpg according to the car’s computer.

Drivers can choose between Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ driving modes. For most of the 281 miles I put on the Acura, I left it in Sport+ mode. Doing so tightens up the suspension and steering, turns the automatic transmission into a semi-manumatic one operated via the paddle shifters. My feeling: If you’re going to by a sports sedan, you want to drive it at its sportiest all the time.

On a run up to the top of an 11,670 foot pass outside of Denver, Colorado, the V6 held its own once it got its rpms up, but coming out of tight corkscrew turns at that elevation, I did notice a lack of pop from the engine as it gasped for air. However 6,000 feet lower in Denver, the V6 responded well enough to remind me that I was in a sports sedan. I drive a peppy turbo 4-cyl. as my personal car, but I did enjoy the smooth and linear power delivery of the TLX’s sweet V6. There’s something to be said for the feel of a V6 (or even a V8) over the increasingly more ubiquitous turbo 4s on the market. The TLX’s 9-speed transmission aids that effect with shift points occurring almost seamlessly during acceleration. We’ll see if Honda keeps this engine around; since the next-gen Accord is going with all 4-cylinder options in the coming years. If so, this TLX could be that last of its kind.

[photo: TFL]
Two quibbles: When using the paddle shifters to downshift before a sharp turn or to initiate a passing maneuver, I had to play F1 driver and flick down 2-3 gears before hitting the meat of the power band. The gearing is that tight and takes some getting used to.  The other quibble: Acura did a fantastic job sound-proofing the cabin and tuning its active noise control system as any luxury brand should. But to *hear* the TLX’s engine roar, Acura pipes in a fake growl that is depressingly inauthentic. It’s so bad that passengers laughed at its cheesiness.

A better discovery was the car’s handling thanks to 4-wheel steering and Acura’s SH-AWD system. A gauge on the dash showed me in real-time where and how much power was being shunted between all four wheels. On a sweeping, high-speed right hander, I was simultaneously feeling power shift to the rear left wheel while noticing that the gauge was showing me that the car was doing exactly that. It was an added sensory experience that I soon got addicted to, and in my mind, truly defines the TLX’s performance capabilities. In short: It handles like a sports sedan that should cost much, much more.

Many would call this dash boring for a luxury brand. I call it sleek and sophisticated. [photo: TFL]


As far as first impressions go the interior of the TLX A-Spec falls short in the wow-factor. It’s functional and clean but the dash is awash in plastic. But then I noticed the small details, brushed metal accents, faux carbon fiber insets and then I got what was going on. In architectural terms, the TLX is more sleek mid-century modern than over-stuffed with plushness and leather and/or bristling with an onslaught of technology. And in that regard, I found the TLX very sophisticated and grew to love it.

But the best aspect of the TLX is how it fit me. From the seat to the steering wheel to my view out the windows, the TLX is by far the best-fitting vehicle I’ve ever driven. I liken it to pulling on a custom-made suit where the suit’s perfect fit almost feels like I’ve acquired super powers after putting it on. For all the faults the interior has, I was happy to overlook them when I got behind the wheel. I suggest everyone *try on* as many vehicles as they can. When you find one that fits best, you’ll get it and be happy driving it for decades.

As for the TLX’s faults: There’s the lack of headroom for the rear seats and even up front, the small pass-through between the trunk and the folding rear seats, and the obtrusiveness of the dash when it came to the passenger’s legroom.

Acura packed this TLX with safety features including its Lane Keeping Assist program which can essentially put the car into autopilot on a straightaway for a few seconds while the driver fiddles with something like sunglasses. I found it helpful, and unlike the full-autopilot features in a Tesla or MB, it kept me engaged instead of allowing me to check out.

The TLX also had a forward collision warning system that would automatically brake the car if the system deduced that a rear end collision was imminent. There were several incidents where it activated a split second before I was about to brake. While a nice bit of tech, I found it to be cautious overkill.

TFLCAR’s TAKE: The Acura TLX A-Spec with SH-AWD is a true sports sedan at fair price for the performance its V6 delivers. It may not be the fastest, tightest, or most luxurious four-door option on the market, but it is one of the easiest to live with and drive in almost any environment or at any speed.

For a different take on the 2018 Acura TLX A-Spec check out TFLcar’s Roman Mica’s thoughts in the video below.