2021 Acura TLX Review

Completely redesigned with fresh styling and innovative technology.

4 months ago
Michael Harley
EVP Product, Editor-in-Chief
  • Excellent value
  • Innovative technology
  • Comfortable front seats
  • Impressive driving dynamics
  • Tight second row
  • Four-cylinder engine lacks excitement

The 2021 Acura TLX is a five-passenger compact luxury sedan that was completely redesigned for the new model year. The four-door arrives with fresh styling, an upscale passenger cabin with luxury appointments, innovative technology, and a peppy turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. First introduced for the 2015 model year, the Acura TLX is currently in its second generation. Pricing for the 2021 Acura TLX starts at about $37,500.

TLX Exterior

Acura has done an exemplary job shaping the exterior of the 2021 TLX. Unlike its predecessor, which was rather indistinctive when out on the road, the all-new model has stylish flair with an aggressive undertone.

The front fascia boasts large air intakes (insinuating power), sleek LED headlamps (insinuating speed), and a distinctive Acura grille (for family alignment) that are all well integrated into the design. The sides of the sedan are characterized with sculpted lines that perfectly compliment the sloping greenhouse covering the passenger compartment. And the rear continues the theme with sharply edged tail lamps and oversized exhaust ports.

TLX Interior

The passenger cabin of the all-new TLX has moved significantly upscale when compared to its predecessors. Materials, fit, and finish are first-rate and the overall look is cohesive and visually appealing — it’s genuinely welcoming. 

Gone are the two disjointed displays from its predecessor. They have been replaced by a single, high-mounted, 10.2-inch HD display controlled only via Acura’s console-mounted True Touchpad Interface. The 5th-gen operating system works well, with improved swipe zones and handwriting recognition, but we still prefer the option to physically touch the infotainment screen (as we do with our smartphones). Primary instrumentation is an eye-pleasing, easy-to-read mix of analog (tachometer and speedometer) and digital (center information display). The multifunction steering wheel feels great in hand, and all of the controls are logically arranged and easy to reach. Bonus points to Acura for the traditional volume knob and rocker switch to allow effortless audio adjustments.  

2021 Acura TLX Review

The front seats are supportive and comfortable for all shapes and sizes. And, thanks to the TLX’s wide cabin (more shoulder room than the larger Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class), there is generous elbow room between the front passengers. Unfortunately, the rear seat is much tighter than expected and far less accomodating. Blame the TLX’s attractive styling and sloping roof for the compromised rear-seat room (we suggest that someone seeking more space in the second row seek out the Acura RDX crossover, which effectively satisfies that requirement). On a positive note, those in the second row have expansive windows and convenient HVAC vents to keep things temperate.

2021 Acura TLX Review

TLX Powertrain

All models of the 2021 Acura TLX share the identical turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (272 hp/280 lb-ft of torque), which is good for a 0-60 mph sprint in about 7.0 seconds. While that number is not exactly sport-sedan quick, abundant low-end torque (thanks to the turbocharger) improves drivability compared to its predecessors, which were offered with a choice between a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four and a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6.

The standard transmission is a 10-speed automatic gearbox (an upgrade over last year’s 9-speed unit). Acura says the new transmission is capable of four gear direct downshifts – promising quicker response. All TLX models are configured with front-wheel drive, but the company’s fourth-generation Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) is optional across the range. The EPA rates the 2021 Acura TLX at 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg overall. 

2021 Acura TLX Review

TLX Driving Experience

Acura’s newest sedan is quick off the line. Credit goes to an advanced VTEC-equipped turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers abundant torque off the line and a transmission that cracks off seamless shifts without a bit of drama. A seven-second sprint to 60 mph isn’t going to snap passenger’s necks, win stoplight races, or satisfy the cravings of a horsepower junkie, but it’s brisk enough to allow effortless pulling into traffic from a standstill or merging onto the highway. The soundtrack is about what we expect from a turbocharged four-cylinder — muted, slightly buzzy, but overall pleasant (use the Sport driving mode for the most robust audio track).

The Amplitude Reactive (AR) dampers in the standard models and the upgraded Adaptive Damper System (ADS) in the Advance trim perform an exemplary job keeping the ride comfortable and capable. When the road gets twisty, turn-in is precise and accurate with a perfectly weighted steering effort. 

At (or slightly above) legal cornering speeds the 2021 Acura TLX is very enjoyable — it feels balanced and responds obediently to the driver’s inputs. Handling, which leans towards the sporty side of the scale, is very good and the sedan inspires confidence in the corners. However, drive aggressively (or push the TLX past about seven-tenths) and the driving dynamics begin to change. This is the point when torque-vectoring and SH-AWD — two of Acura’s race-proven driver’s aids — are overwhelmed by the heavy curb weight (the Advance with SH-AWD tips the scales at 4,050 pounds) and let down by the all-season tires. The TLX begins to lose its composure as it predictably understeers while its tires squeal.  

2021 Acura TLX Review

2021 Acura TLX Trim Levels and Pricing

The all-new Acura TLX has to satisfy a loyal customer that expects a premium sporty sedan. But this year’s model also has to fill some of the void left by the departure of the luxurious and technology-laden flagship RLX. The automaker has chosen to accomplish this with four different models: 

  • TLX (starts at about $37,500) – Leatherette upholstery, 12-way power seats, and 18-inch wheels
  • Technology (starts at about $41,500) – Milano leather, GPS-linked climate control, 19-inch wheels
  • A-Spec (starts at about $44,500) – Milano leather and Ultrasuede upholstery, dark exterior accents, rear spoiler
  • Advance (starts at about $46,300) – Milano leather, 16-way power seats, adaptive suspension

Add Acura’s SH-AWD (all-wheel drive) to any model for $2,000.

If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price a TLX on Acura’s official web site. 

Excellent driving dynamics and innovative technology at an impressive price.

TLX Best Features

Acura’s SH-AWD, which is optional on all models of the TLX, continues to impress us with its transparency and capability. Unlike most all-wheel drive systems, which are tuned to improve performance on wet or snowy roads, Acura has engineered SH-AWD to improve performance and enhance traction under all driving conditions — even a dry summer day.

What is our Favorite Version of the Acura TLX?

We recommend the Technology trim, which is bundled with the premium leather upholstery, advanced navigation system, keyless entry, and a very nice suite of technology equipment. If we lived in a climate with snow, we’d opt for the impressive SH-AWD, too.

2021 Acura TLX Review

TLX Notable Safety Features

Acura uses high-strength steel throughout the TLX’s ACE Body Structure, including ultra-high-strength crossmembers in the dashboard, for better crash-energy management. Standard safety equipment includes airbags with next-generation technology that improve the control of head rotation in oblique-angle frontal collisions.

AcuraWatch, the automaker’s suite of acronym-heavy safety technology, is standard on all models. 

The NHTSA and IIHS have not released test data on the 2021 Acura TLX, but we expect it to earn 5-star and Top Safety Pick+ ratings, respectively. 

2021 Acura TLX Review

Who should buy a 2021 Acura TLX?

Those seeking a stylish mid-size traditional sedan with advanced luxury features and sporty driving dynamics should take a close look at the 2021 Acura TLX. The all-new four-door is loaded with the latest electronic gadgetry and advanced features, which should keep technology geeks satisfied. The TLX provides a high level of luxury, with a cabin that is comfortable and very well appointed for those who appreciate these amenities. While the TLX is spacious for two adults, the rear seats are tight — best left for children (out of car seats) or adults for short trips. (Those seeking more space, or young families, should look at Acura’s excellent RDX crossover). 

The TLX drives well, making it ideal for those seeking a competent daily driver or something for a long commute. In all cases, we recommend opting for Acura’s impressive SH-AWD system. The permanent all-wheel drive is extremely competent and it makes the sedan a bona-fide four-season vehicle for all parts of the country.

While Acura promotes the sportiness of the four-cylinder TLX, performance junkies seeking a dedicated sport sedan should likely look elsewhere for something with rear-wheel drive, more power, upgraded brakes, and performance tires. That said, there is good news on the horizon for driving enthusiasts, as Acura has announced the TLX Type S for arrival in Spring 2021. The performance-tuned variant will boast a turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 (355 hp/354 lb-ft of torque) and a full complement of performance upgrades.

2021 Acura TLX Review

CarExpert’s take on the 2021 Acura TLX

The all-new 2021 Acura TLX does a lot of things really well. We like its interior and exterior styling, comfortable front seat accommodations, cohesive ergonomics, innovative technology, great premium sound system, and confident driving dynamics. The four-door delivers a lot of luxury for the segment, which is effectively packaged in a beautifully appointed cabin (the premium features will help it appeal to those buyers who would have sought out the discontinued RL).  

While the TLX sedan falls short on second-row accommodations, Acura offers the larger RDX crossover for those seeking more room and utility (the RDX is on CarExpert’s recommended list). And those seeking something a bit sportier than this four-cylinder variant should wait until Spring 2021 when the TLX Type S — with its twin-turbocharged V6 — hits showrooms. That enthusiast-tuned variant promises performance only second to the company’s NSX supercar.

Acura has crossed it’s T’s and dotted its I’s to ensure this four-door delivers excellent driving dynamics and luxury at an aggressive price — when it comes to features, the Europeans can’t touch its value. If luxury, technology, fuel efficiency, safety, and styling are at the top of your must-have list for a new four-door sedan, the all-new 2021 Acura TLX is a near-perfect fit.

Ink Acura’s newest sedan onto CarExpert’s recommended list. 

2021 Acura TLX Review

TLX Competitors to Consider

  • Audi A4
  • BMW 3 Series
  • Lexus IS


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Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 8.7
Ride Comfort 8.9
Safety 8.6
Fit for Purpose 8.5
Handling Dynamics 7.7
Interior Practicality and Space 7.7
Fuel Efficiency 7.9
Value for Money 9.1
Performance 7.7
Technology Infotainment 8.8