The 2021 Acura TLX Advance Lives Up to Its Name

The newest Acura sedan marks an advance for Honda's luxury brand.

acura tlx advance 2021

If you're of the mindset that driving is something to be enjoyed instead of tolerated, the name "Acura" has likely levied different connotations depending on the year you heard it. In 1994, for example, it'd make your heart thrill as it brought about connotations of the NSX and Integra. In more recent years, however, apart from the occasional driver's treat like the TSX and the second-gen NSX, the brand's offerings have trended as much towards mass-market appeal as driving fun.

The second-generation TLX aims to help change that. With the help of a new platform and license to pump up the sportiness, Honda's engineers have worked to create a new car that strikes at the sport in the market long dominated by the BMW 3 Series.

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This new Acura is a looker

Acura has a history of going bold with its designs; sometimes it works (the RL, the NSX), sometimes it doesn't (the ZDX coupe-crossover-thingy). The new TLX certainly belongs in the former category. It's a bold, aggressive-looking machine, with headlights that look like Zombie Tools blades and a hyper-wide version of Acura's five-sided Superman grille. It looks good in pictures, and even better in person.

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The TLX wants you to believe it's rear-wheel-drive

Take a look at those proportions in profile. Long, long hood, tight trunk, with a roofline that swells over the rear axle as though it's being pushed up by a swell of power. It looks, for all the world, like a car that should have six inline cylinders under the hood pushing power to the rear wheels.

It does not. Basic versions shunt their power to the front wheels, although many (if not most) TLXs will send it to all four corners via Acura's torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive. Regardless, though, there's only one engine you can grab it with: a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four related to the one found in the Honda Civic Type R (and the Accord, for what it's worth) that makes 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. (A new twin-turbo V6 making plenty more will arrive later this year in the new TLX Type S.)

Whether or not it looks like it should be RWD is beside the point, though. That rear-biased design looks cool — as though it were being blown backwards by a thousand-mile-per-hour wind even standing still.

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Acura, to its credit, goes its own way inside

While the exterior design may have a certain generic RWD sport sedan flavor to it, the interior is much more distinct than most of its competitors. That round metal knob in the center of the dashboard seems like it should be the shifter, or barring that, the volume; it's actually the drive mode selector. Shifting between directions is accomplished by the buttons below it, which look more at-home here than in, say, the Passport. And the three-dimensional angles of the dash give an added sense of solidity to the interior.

The aesthetics provide a nice user experience, too. The steering wheel's rim has a deliberate thiccness that feels good to the touch, especially at the crucial nine-and-three positions. And blessedly, there's an array of hard controls — buttons, knobs, etc. — for frequently-interacted-with controls, like the climate and volume.

That mean you won't need to interact with Acura's unique True Touchpad Interface control for the infotaiment system as much as you might think, which, ultimately, is for the best. While a clever idea in theory (and still a better system than Lexus offers), the interface — which has you poke the piece of the touchpad that corresponds with the same area on the screen — is ultimately less intuitive than even the MacBook-like touchpad of new Mercedes models, let alone something like a touchscreen.

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There are car stereos, and then there's the Acura ELS Studio

But if there's one killer luxury feature in the TLX Advance, it's the ELS Studio stereo system. You might not know this, but Acura has quietly been leading the world in OEM car stereos for years.

Ever heard of Elliot Scheiner? He's a music producer and sound engineer who's been in the game more than five decades, worked with some of the biggest names in music, and racked up eight Grammy wins and 27 nominations — and he's been helping Acura tailor and tune its top-shelf stereos since the 2004 TL. (That car even offered DVD Audio capabilities, a fact I remember discovering firsthand in the showroom in high school when I had the chance to sample 3 Doors Down in both CD and DVD quality.)

Now, I'm no audiophile. Yet even my uncultured ears were able to tell how much better the ELS system is than any other car stereo I can recall in recent memory. The notes were more crisp, the highs and lows better-balanced and the sound richer overall, even when listening to Spotify streams and SiriusXM broadcasts. Even if you don't think you care about car stereo quality, you owe it to your earballs to at least test out this system.

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Super-Handling All Wheel Drive lives up to its name

The badges may say SH-AWD, but Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive is just so damn fun to say that it deserves better than to be abbreviated. It also makes the cars it finds its home in more fun than you might expect.

The torque vectoring system does a spectacular job of shunting power to the outer wheels, with the net effect being a sense of composure and confidence in turns that few cars can match. On the track, it might be an added complication — but for real-world situations like cloverleafs, it's spectacular, giving a confident push into the turn that almost feels like dragging your kayak paddle into the inside of a turn. (Technically speaking, that would be closer to brake-based torque vectoring, not the power-boost kind used here, but hey, it's a simile.)

Anyone who truly craves an involving, traditional entry-level sport sedan will be more likely to seek out a Genesis G70 or a 3 Series; anyone who wants something more cutting-edge might prefer a Tesla Model 3. But if you're looking for a Goldilocks solution that splits the middle — or even just a car with a killer stereo — the TLX is worth a peek.

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2021 Acura TLX Advance SH-AWD

Base Price: $49,825

Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four; nine-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive

Horsepower: 272

Torque: 280 lb-ft

EPA Fuel Economy

Seats: Five


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