When The Fast and the Furious premiered in 2001, Honda was the king of the tuner scene, and many gearheads still refer to the heady days of the mid ’90s as Honda’s golden-era.
Its ubiquitous Civic was cheap, reliable, fun to drive, and — most importantly — easy to modify for speed. But as the fun flick about SoCal street racers evolved into a billion-dollar franchise, Honda slowly retreated from the enthusiast market, and when production of the sporty, high-revving S2000 ceased in 2009, its exit seemed complete. Honda remained practical and safe, but fun wasn’t part of the equation anymore.
Flash forward to 2017, and the landscape has changed completely — Honda is back. With the NSX, the company is fielding a world-class supercar. The 306-horsepower Civic Type R is receiving rapturous reviews. Accords with a fastback — and a stick! — are on the way. And the redesigned Ridgeline is decimating the expanding small-truck segment.
So how does the 2018 Acura TLX AWD A-Spec fit into the company’s most exciting lineup in a decade? We drove it for a week to find out.
2018 Acura TLX AWD A-Spec Exterior:
First things first: The beak nose which proved so polarizing on Acura’s recent product? Gone. The front end is sleek and refined, sporting five-tier LED headlights and a dizzying grille which makes it look like the Acura badge is heading to hyperspace. The hood is athletically detailed, with a central ridge and sharp creasing on each side, while prominent fog lights bordered by body-colored accents frame the bottom of the front fascia.
Our only real complaint about the exterior is the lack of painted brake calipers, particularly since the A-Spec’s 19-inch, gunmetal alloy wheels are so attractive. Red ones would really pop, and would carry over nicely to the interior’s red accents — but any buyers who share our opinion will be able to rectify that without much trouble. Out back, the subtle spoiler, prominent dual exhausts, and rear diffuser continue the TLX’s aggressive theme. Overall, Acura’s designers did a heck of a job here, and we got plenty of compliments and questions during our stints around town.
The sports sedan might be based on the more-humble Accord. But it’s worth remembering that as far as DNA is concerned, we’re mostly chimpanzee.
2018 Acura TLX AWD A-Spec Interior:
Our test car featured businesslike black leather with contrasting white stitching and Alcantara seating surfaces, though we think the available red hides would satisfy the exterior’s performance aspirations better. We might also ask for some more detail on the passenger-side dash, but found the cabin comfortable, and appreciated the heated and cooled driver seat. Speaking of the chairs, the bolstering is prominent, but not invasive, and is more than adequate to keep you properly planted during a spirited session on a twisty road.
We particularly liked the illuminated red accents in the door panels, which provided some futuristic flare without feeling overwrought. And while it took a couple of drives before our muscle memory knew exactly where to reach, we liked the central consul gear selectors. Park, reverse, neutral and drive are all discrete buttons, in a sexy stack that we liked more every time we pushed them. We also liked the red, billet-aluminum start button. Obviously, it’s something you’re going to use every time you get in the car, and it looks and feels great. Angles made it hard to get a proper picture, but it’s a fantastic detail.
2018 Acura TLX AWD A-Spec Performance:
Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6, which is good for 290-horsepower and 267 pound feet of torque, and everything is put to the road thorough a nine-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The six-pot is the same one available in the standard TL, but along with the all-wheel drive system, the A-Spec also gets some stiffer suspension settings, and fatter meats, by way of the Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-seasons. Add it up, and that means the A-Spec will make the sprint to 60 in around six seconds, and continue up to a — we’re guessing electronically limited — top speed of 134 mph.
It’s worth noting that while the latest flavor of TL isn’t overpowered, the V-6 makes a great, but not overwhelming, noise all the way up to its 6000-rpm redline. For the record, some of that is filtered into the cabin via the Active Noise Control system, which uses electronic wizardry to up its report. This is kind of a controversial development in the enthusiast world, but it works here, and in this day and age, even BMW is using similar tech. In corners, Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive and nicely weighted electrically assisted steering rack inspire confidence, and while you’re unlikely to use them much in town, snapping off gear changes with the paddle shifters is a hoot. We haven’t driven other flavors of the current TL, but we can definitely say the A-Spec is genuinely fun and engaging to drive.
2018 Acura TLX AWD A-Spec Safety:
Our test car featured a full suite of driver safety aids, including Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking, a Lane Keeping Assist System, and Road Departure Mitigation, along with Blind Spot Information and a Rear Cross Traffic Monitor. Given that most of our miles were in town, we initially suspected the Forward Collision Warning might have a bit of a hair trigger, but upon reflection, we think that has more to do with Seattle traffic.
In testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the standard TLX performed brilliantly, earning a five-star overall rating, and perfect scores in frontal, side, and rollover crashes. There’s no reason to infer that A-Spec models will fare any differently, so safety-conscious buyers should feel at ease behind the wheel.
2018 Acura TLX AWD A-Spec Overall:
Perhaps the biggest things we can say about the infotainment system in the TLX? We didn’t really notice it — and that’s high praise. While we’d prefer buttons and nobs — as opposed to a touch screen — for functions like climate control, overall the system was glitch-free and easy to navigate. The integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mean both camps of smart phone users will be equally at ease, though iPhone users won’t be able to use the wireless charging without springing for accessories. If you can keep you foot out of the carpet, you can expect around 23 mpg combined**.
At the end of the week with the TLX AWD A-Spec, we didn’t want to give it back. And a test drive at your local AutoNation-affiliated Acura dealer will demonstrate why — it’s attractive, comfortable, and fun to drive. As we’ve mentioned previously, the sporty sedan also solicited plenty of positive feedback from folks on the street, and we had several great conversations with passerby about how much they love, or loved, the Acura vehicles they’d owned over the years.
So while much will made about how the A-Spec does in match ups with the Germans, Acura’s fan base will be thrilled with it, as will first-time luxury customers intrigued by the reasonable pricing.
*MSRP excluding tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.