Now in the fourth model year of its current generation, the 2018 TLX gets a slew of visual updates and a reworked multimedia system. Drivetrains carry over, with a four-cylinder or V-6 engine available with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive can also be had with the V-6, as can an A-Spec performance package — a $2,900 option that’s new for 2018. We drove a V-6 TLX AWD in regular and A-Spec form at a Kentucky media preview (Cars.com pays for its travel and lodging for such automaker-held events).
The TLX’s engines — a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 3.5-liter V-6 — boast direct injection but not the turbochargers that are ubiquitous among competing sports sedans. We’ve driven the four-cylinder in past TLXs, and despite its modest numbers (206 horsepower, 182 pounds-feet of torque), it features lively revving and surprisingly adequate midrange oomph when paired with Acura’s responsive eight-speed automatic transmission, which got the engine to higher revs in short order. Acura says it retuned this transmission for 2018 to improve refinement, but we’ve not driven it yet; the 2018 V-6 we drove had a nine-speed automatic.
The optional 3.5-liter V-6 makes heartier numbers (290 hp, 267 pounds-feet of torque), but neither drivetrain replicates the immediate thrust of the turbo four-cylinders in the BMW 330i or Audi A4. The V-6 makes up for it on the back end with a silky crescendo of power that builds as the tachometer swings clockwise; Acura officials told us it’s enough to hit 60 mph in the high 5-second range. That’s on par with manufacturer-estimated times for the German rivals, and the TLX does it with swift accelerator response — an underrated benefit given the maddening pedal lag in too many luxury cars.
The V-6’s nine-speed transmission also retuned for 2018- is a mercurial bedfellow. Sometimes the transmission shifts smoothly and other times it hunts for gears on downshifts or refuses them outright. A driver-selectable Sport mode improves decisiveness on gear choices but can’t seem to coax faster kickdown.
Minimal body roll and strong brakes keep with other sports sedans, but the TLX’s steering exhibits unwelcome numbness when centered.
Minimal body roll and strong brakes keep with other sports sedans, but the TLX’s steering exhibits unwelcome numbness when centered, with a degree of lazy initial response that doesn’t square with the car’s sporty intentions. The A-Spec gets weightier steering and a faster ratio, and it restores welcome feedback and steering precision, though the ratio could be faster still.
The A-Spec also highlights Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, a system that does yeoman’s work to mask the sedan’s front-heavy weight distribution by routing extra power to the outside rear wheel in corners. It doesn’t make the TLX as fun to throw around as its best rear-drive competitors, but it dials back the understeer well enough, and you can slide the tail a bit if you sneak in some extra gas mid-curve. For casual driving enthusiasts, that’s entertaining enough.
The tradeoff comes in ride quality, where the A-Spec’s sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch wheels make for a busy ride. It tackles potholes and ruts as well as the regular TLX, which has softer tuning and smaller wheels (17s or 18s) with higher-profile tires, but isolation over minor bumps is noticeably worse. Unless you live around glass-smooth roads, take note.