Updated: Apr 1, 2022
Some people like to think journalists, automotive and otherwise, play favorites, excusing missteps in the people, policies or cars they love and savaging the ones they don't.
As a journalist, automotive and otherwise, I will say those people exist in the profession, but are in the minority. And sticking strictly to cars, I'll offer the last ten years of automotive media coverage of Acura as proof. A beloved brand from its launch in 1986, by the early 2000s, it seemed to have lost its way, and automotive journalism as a whole, and yours truly in particular, called them out on it.
In the past five years, it's been clear Acura figured out what it was, what it was born to be and got on the road to a comeback. It has arrived. The NSX is breathtaking, the 2022 MDX is nothing short of brilliant and now we have the 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec.
In terms of styling, Acura has achieved the near-impossible---evoking exotics from a mid-size four-door sedan. Pictures do not do this car justice. The flow of the lines, the stance and proportion are just stunning.
The new TLX is 2.9 inches longer than last year's, with a 3.7-inch longer wheelbase. It's also 2.2 inches wider than the outgoing model, with an increase in track width as well (an extra 1.2 inches in the front and 1.5 inches in the rear). And the 2021 Acura TLX is half an inch shorter than the '20.
Under the hood is a 272-horsepower 2.0-liter VTEC turbo four-cylinder (up from 206 horsepower last year). It's mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission. Sixty miles an hour from a standing start happens in 7.0 seconds. That's not an earth-shaking number. But the EPA fuel economy estimate of 21 city/29 highway is. And if you absolutely must have more power, the Type S will be along shortly, with 355 horsepower.
Regular readers know I prize handling over raw power---and that's where the 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec shines. The SH-AWD is for "Super Handling-All Wheel Drive".
The new TLX is heavier, but Acura saved weight in key areas, switching to aluminum for the front damper mounts and front fenders, and it moved the 12V primary battery to the rear of the car, resulting in better weight distribution (a 57/43 front weight bias, compared to 60/40 for the old car), and thus better handling.
Handling is also enhanced by a much more rigid body, the stiffest ever on an Acura sedan. Driving this just three weeks after the NSX, it's obvious the two cars, as different as they are in design, mission and especially price, come from the same manufacturer.
Inside, the improvements continue. The standard on our A-Spec model ELS Studio 3D audio system has 17 speakers, 16 distinct channels, and 710 watts, with two subwoofers and four overhead Highline ultra-slim speakers. It's nothing short of exquisite.
There's also Iconic Drive lighting...an ambient light feature with 27 separate themes, three of them tied to the Comfort, Normal and Sport driving modes.
The base price of the 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec is $46,250. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but among the standard equipment highlights at that price are, the audio system, the Iconic Drive lighting, heated 12-way power adjustable front seats, a dual-zone climate control system with air filtration, a power moonroof, navigation and adaptive cruise control.
And that's it. Acura does one-price trim packages, so with $1,025 destination and handling, the as-tested price of the 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD A-Spec is $47,275.
This is a phenomenal car for less than $50,000. It's been a long journey, but Acura has arrived. Welcome back!