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2015 Acura TLX 3.5 SH-AWD w/Advance Package Review and Acura Racing Experience +VIDEO By Carey Russ



Reviewed Vehicle - Acura TLX 3.5 SH-AWD Advance

There is an Acura TLX for 2015, but no TL or TLX. If it sounds like maybe the TLX is a combination of TL and TSX, that's only because it is. Kind of...

The TL and TSX began as very different cars, but converged. The TL -- an abbreviation for Touring Luxury and the first Acura to get an alphabetic designation instead of a name -- started life in model year 1996 as a mid-size sporty-luxury replacement for the Vigor. Originally offered with a choice of five-cylinder or V6 engines, it soon became V6-only. Further generations followed in 1999, 2004, and 2009, with the original front-wheel drive specification joined by available performance-oriented torque-vectoring all-wheel drive model in 2009.

As the TL grew in size and price, and the Integra sedan was discontinued after 2001, there was a entry-level sedan void in the Acura lineup. Hence the TSX. On debut for 2004, it was most definitely an enthusiast machine, essentially the rest of the world's Accord Type S (noticeably smaller than the American version) with a sports-tuned suspension and a 200-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. 2009 saw a second generation. As seems to be the way of the world, it was larger and heavier. A V6 option was added for 2010, bringing it ever closer to the TL. Similar styling and the debut of the smaller ILX for model year 2013 further confused differences between the TL and TSX.

And so the 2015 Acura TLX sits on the same wheelbase as the 2014 TL --three inches longer than the TSX's -- but is slightly shorter, narrower, and lower. Materials developments in the chassis and powertrain departments mean less weight, all the better for both performance and fuel economy. The "TSX replacement" model features 2.4-liter DOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder engine, same displacement as the late TSX but direct fuel injection allows for higher compression and so improved power and efficiency. Which are further enhanced by an eight-speed dual-clutch sequential automated manual-type transmission that is the first such to use a torque converter as one of the clutches to improve performance and drivability in stop-and-go traffic. With 206 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque (compared to the TSX's 201 and 170) and a minimal increase in weight plus the eight-speed transmission, performance and fuel economy are both improved.

On the "TL replacement" side, V6 power is Acura's current 3.5-liter V6, as seen in the MDX and RLX, also with direct fuel injection. Its 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft is a slight increase over the 280-hp 3.5 of the previous version, again thanks in large part to the use of direct fuel injection. A nine-speed automatic is the only transmission choice. Front-wheel drive is standard, with the latest iteration of Acura's "Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive" (SH-AWD®) optional. Unlike the previous TL, that does not get you a larger, more powerful engine as the 307-hp 3.7 is history. Balancing that, the TLX SH-AWD is over 200 pounds lighter than its TL counterpart, for a nearly identical power-to-weight ratio.

As has been Acura's custom, standard equipment levels are very high, even in the "entry-level" four-cylinder model. Option packages take the place of trim levels. The Technology Package includes interior upgrades and safety technology. The Advance Package adds more safety technology and conveniences like puddle lamps in the outside mirrors and ventilated as well as heated front seats.

Press fleet spec being what it is, I had a new TLX SH-AWD with the Advance Package over a recent holiday week. That was a week of mixed weather, with Fall sunshine and the first serious storms of the season. Unlike some AWD systems, SH-AWD was not primarily designed for all-season driving, but for improved adhesion and traction in dry conditions. It also works well in the wet, even with standing water on the road (and driving at a reduced pace for sure!) A hundred-mile trip, with 70 by highway and 30 on a narrow and steep mountain road, saw a 31-mpg average -- no complaint there for a car of this power and capability. Lighter weight and greater efficiency work, and well. The Acura TLX competes in a tough category, with Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz all well-established. It more than holds its own with a fine mix of comfort, convenience, safety, and fuel economy.

APPEARANCE: The shape and styling cues are familiar, but just a bit different. The slight decrease in width and height makes the TLX look longer and more graceful than the last TL -- an interesting illusion as it's almost four inches shorter. The grille has evolved back to the five-sided shape and proportion of the past, with a thick crossbar. But the front is dominated by the compound-eye LED headlamps. Yes, they look a bit strange. But they work well and should last a long time. Tail lamps are also LED, as are the puddle lights, which automatically light when you walk up to the car with the fob in your pocket.

COMFORT: An inviting interior, in both design and function, is a hallmark of a luxury car, and Acura scores mostly well here. Basic automotive functions are handled well; a multitude of electronic infotainment systems mean complexity for those controls, with the center stack having two screens -- upper for navigation, information, phone, and audio, controlled by a knob and hard button interface, lower a touchscreen for audio, seat heat or cooling, and some climate control. And then there' shifting… don't look for a shift lever. There are buttons and toggle switches on the console, Park, Reverse (lift), Neutral, and Drive. Drive mode is selected immediately behind D, with manual shifting by means of paddles behind the steering wheel spokes.

Back to regular car function and the TLX works well. The cabin is quiet and relaxing, thanks to both good use of soundproofing and active noise cancellation. Steering wheel adjustment is manual, for both tilt and reach, but everything else is power-assisted. There are two memory positions for the driver's seat and mirrors. The steering wheel has the usual auxiliary controls. The main instruments are backlit and easy to see in all lighting, with no glare issues. Rear space is okay -- if you really want rear seat room in an Acura, that would be larger RLX. This is a luxury car, so don't expect drink bottle holders in the doors. The rear seatback does fold with a 60/40 split. Trunk space is reasonable if not huge, no surprise in a sedan. More luggage-carrying needed? RDX or MDX crossovers.

SAFETY: In the new TLX, active safety is addressed by excellent handling, braking, and acceleration abilities. Which are enhanced in the AWD version by the newest SH-AWD torque-vectoring system, and in the FWD models by the P-AWS electronically-controlled rear-wheel steering system. Brakes are four-wheel disc with antilock and all of the other expected safety systems. Advanced Compatibility Engineering™ in the unibody design channels crash energy around the passenger area to protect passengers. Systems including adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic detection, and a multi-view rear monitor can add more protection.

RIDE AND HANDLING: There are undoubtedly plenty of carryover bits from the late TL, but the details are new. Extensive use of lightweight materials in both the unibody structure and external sheetmetal means a significant weight reduction, and the TL's double-wishbone front suspension has given way to MacPherson struts. Note to those who decry struts: it's not the design, it's how the design is implemented. BMW has been using struts since the early 1960's and Acura's suspension engineers have done a fine job here. Both the front struts and rear multilink setup feature amplitude-reactive dampers for a fine combination of ride comfort and cornering ability. The Integrated Dynamic System (IDS) allows the driver to select between economy, normal, sport, and sport+ modes. Economy is self-explanatory, and works well for steady-state highway driving. Normal is, well, normal, with Sport sharpening throttle response, decreasing (electric) steering assistance, and enhancing SH-AWD torque vectoring. Sport+ improves on that, from a sport perspective, and also modifies transmission shift mapping for more performance at the expense of fuel economy. I used Sport most of the time, and found the TLX sure-footed and enjoyable on all roads and in all reasonable conditions. Rain that overpowered the wipers doesn't count as a reasonable condition, but the TLX handled that very well.

PERFORMANCE: If the new 3.5-liter V6 has a bit less power than the previous 3.7 -- 290 hp at 6200 rpm and 267 lb-ft at 4500 rpm vs. 305 @ 6300 and 273 @ 5000 -- you won't notice. The TLX has less weight than the TL SH-AWD. Which is a win for performance, handling, and fuel economy. Weight has been shed not only from the chassis structure but from a lighter transmission and SH-AWD system. Direct fuel injection and a consequent higher compression ratio is a main contributor to performance with efficiency; Variable Cylinder Management shuts down three cylinders under light-load cruising conditions for more, and automatic stop and restart at stoplights even more. That last works smoothly and unobtrusively. The 21mpg city, 31 highway EPA rating used to be good for subcompact sedans -- and seems pretty accurate to me as I got 31 on a mixed highway/backroad trip, 29 in the reverse direction (in vile weather) and 26 overall.

CONCLUSIONS: Acura improves its presence in the mid-luxury/sports sedan segment with the new TLX.

2015 Acura TLX 3.5 SH-AWD Advance

Base Price                      $ 44,700
Price As Tested                 $ 45,595
Engine Type                     aluminum alloy SOHC 24-valve V6 with
                                 direct fuel injection and i-VTEC
                                 variable valve lift and cam phasing
Engine Size                     3.5 liters / 212 cu. in.
Horsepower                      290 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)                  267 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission                    9-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length              109.3 in. / 190.3 in.
Curb Weight                     3774 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower           13.0
Fuel Capacity                   17.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement                91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires                           P225/50R18 95H m+s Goodyear Eagle LS2
Brakes, front/rear              vented disc / solid disc, 
Suspension, front/rear          independent MacPherson strut /
                                  independent multilink
Drivetrain                      transverse front engine, full-time all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed           21 / 31 / 26
0 to 60 mph                             est 6  sec

Destination Charge              $ 895

Carey's Acura TLX Racing Experience

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

In August 2015, I was invited by Acura to watch their entry, a specially-modified 2015 TLX, compete in the Sonoma Raceway round of the Pirelli World Challenge. That sounded interesting, so I accepted. The weekend didn't turn out the way Acura had hoped, but such is racing.

The Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) is meant for identifiable production-based cars. This means either production racers, with GT3 Porsches and various Ferraris the most popular among private entrants, or specially-modified street-based machinery. There are several different classes that race at the same time, with GT being the premier professional class.

PWC is not a "showroom stock" series, but neither is it a "silhouette" series with cars that only vaguely look like their street-legal counterparts, and use a completely different drivetrain and chassis. There is plenty of official and semi-official factory involvement, with entries from Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, McLaren, Dodge Viper, Cadillac, Aston Martin, and even Kia, as well as the Porsches and Ferraris in the top GT class. Acura once competed, successfully, with the NSX and, in lower classes, Integras. Now it's the TLX's turn.

How close are PWC GT cars to stock? I'll quote from the rulebook:

2.1.1: The purpose of the Pirelli World Challenge is to provide an opportunity for teams and manufacturers to showcase their vehicles and products through a Championship Series of closed - circuit speed events.

2.1.2: In keeping with this purpose, vehicles and products used in the series must be identifiable with the vehicles and products offered for sale to the public and available through the manufacturer's normal distribution channels Grand Touring (GT). The allowed body styles within this class are coupe, sedan and convertible. The cars permitted in GT are typically sold in the market as "sports" cars, "sport-touring" cars, or performance versions of "luxury" cars. Forced induction is permitted on cars that come equipped with forced induction stock, or on cars that PWC has determined need help reaching the target horsepower range. Power output ranges from 425 - 525 hp. Weight varies depending on power output and tire size. All of the vehicles in GT are rear - wheel drive, or all - wheel drive

The cars are based on the production chassis structure, suitably modified for safety and integrity with a full roll cage. Pretty much anything not suited for racing gets tossed -- say goodbye to stock interior parts, air conditioning, audio, infotainment, and all the comfort stuff. These are race cars!

Note that "forced induction is permitted on cars that PWC has determined need help in reaching the target horsepower range." Stock, the TLX has just under 300 hp. What to do?

As driver and owner of RealTime Racing Peter Cunningham said, "hair dryers". Otherwise known as twin turbochargers. The V6 used in the PWC RealTime Racing TLX does have direct fuel injection, like the street engine, but it's more closely-related to Honda's LMP2 endurance racing prototype engine. All the better for internal integrity -- but they do run a stock crankshaft, a tribute to Honda engineering. Cunningham has been racing Acura and Honda products for a long time -- including that championship NSX -- and RealTime Racing and Honda Performance Development (HPD) are close partners here.

Looking for the stock driveline? Don't -- the TLX's 9-speed automatic and SH-AWD system work very well in the real world, but were never meant for the continuous abuse that is racing. Yes, the RealTime TLX is AWD -- an XTRAC system. XTRAC is also the transmission supplier.

With the removal of interior and sound-deadening materials and substitution of carbon fiber for steel and aluminum exterior panels, the RealTime Racing Acura TLX weighs about 600 pounds less than the stock version. And has more than a bit more power!

I got to the track bright and early Sunday morning, only to find out that plans had been changed. PWC was running as a support race for the IndyCar series, which it does at most circuits where IndyCar competes. The format for PWC is one race on Saturday, and another Sunday. Cunningham had qualified mid-field for Saturday's race, not bad for a relatively new car still under development. The sighting lap was completed successfully, and then the field stopped at the grid for the standing start.

Something happened with the clutch and the car stalled on the grid. All was well for maybe ten seconds, and then WHAM! a hard hit from the rear by an Aston Martin. Cars were cleared from the grid, the race re-started, and the RealTime team looked into repairs.

Wasn't gonna happen, alas. And with only one car, no spare, they were out. Such is racing. But things are looking up for 2015, with a second car and driver added and likely more spare parts. PWC cars may not quite be what you can drive on the street, but they're about as close as it comes in pro road racing. It's an exciting and hyper-competitive series, and expect RealTime Racing and Acura to do much better next year.