2021 Acura TLX Type S front three-quarters view

Acura has unveiled its 2021 TLX with a digital launch of the full redesigned sports sedan.

This second generation of the sedan, the successor to the automaker's TL and TSX, is distinguished by a variety of creases and seams on the hood and side body panels. Acura's signature wide, pentagon-shaped grille and sleek LED headlights dominate the front. From the side, the car continues the current Honda/Acura styling of a longish hood with a rearward-positioned cabin that has a hatchback-like angle as it drops toward the taillights.

The new car gets two turbocharged engines, available all-wheel drive, and the same touchpad controls for the infotainment system that debuted in the RDX SUV. It’s based on a new chassis that will greatly improve the driving experience, Acura said in a press release. Plus, a high-performance Type S version returns.

Acura will build the car at its Marysville, Ohio, assembly plant, with the engines, transmission, and parts of the drivetrain sourced from plants located in Georgia and Ohio.

We tested two versions of the outgoing TLX and found them to be competent but unexciting. The V6 was let down by its balky nine-speed automatic transmission, and handling wasn’t special. Acura is claiming the new model moves back toward being a more sporty offering.

Here is what we know so far.

What it competes with: Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac CT4, Genesis G70, Infiniti Q50, Kia Stinger, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Tesla Model 3, Volvo S60
Powertrains: 272-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine; 10-speed automatic transmission; front- or all-wheel drive
Price: $35,000 to $45,000 (estimated)
On-sale date: Fall 2020

CR's Take

We’re glad that Acura ditched both the automated manual and the old nine-speed automatic transmissions. Based on our experience with the RDX, the 10-speed automatic works a whole lot better. But we have serious concerns about the unintuitive infotainment system. 

Outside

The aggressive appearance of the 2021 Acura TLX is due in large part to its growth. The new car is wider and longer, with a big 3.7-inch increase in wheelbase. At the same time, the car's height has dropped by more than half an inch, furthering the sporty look.

Photos show the standard model has flared fenders, scalloped panels beneath the doors, and a variety of creases and angles on the hood, fenders, roof, and door panels. LEDs are used for both the daytime running lights and the high- and low-beam headlights. The A-Spec trim gets different wheels, different headlight and taillight trim, and a larger spoiler on the trunk lid.

Acura's high-performance Type S has bigger air intakes up front, a distinctive version of the brand's grille, additional aerodynamic details, and two 20-inch wheel choices.

2021 Acura TLX Type S profile

Inside

Acura has moved toward a more driver-oriented cockpit for the 2020 TLX. It echoes the appearance of the RDX SUV, with a wide center console splitting the cabin into defined driver and passenger spaces. In fact, Acura states the interior puts "strong emphasis on the driver and front-seat passenger," and there is more defined space for both. There's slightly more hip and shoulder room than in the outgoing TLX.

The front seats have up to 16 power adjustments, allowing occupants to fine-tune their seating position. There's no mention whether these seats are standard or whether more basic, less-adjustable seats are fitted to different trims.

Perhaps as an acknowledgment that most four-passenger cars aren't often used to ferry four people around, Acura doesn't mention rear-seat passengers or room in the back in its press release.

The instruments and gauges are a tight cluster inside the binnacle, sitting in front of a multifunction steering wheel.

There's a wide 10.2-inch display screen for the infotainment system, mounted up high on the top of the center dashboard. Driver's interact with it via a touchpad that sits flat on the center console. It's just like the system that debuted on the RDX, which we found frustrating to use because, even once owners know how it works, it's distracting and unintuitive. We think it requires too much concentration to use, with multiple steps and extended time with eyes off the road and a hand off the wheel.

2021 Acura TLX A-Spec interior

What Drives It

Initially, the 2021 Acura TLX will be offered with a 272-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and 10-speed automatic transmission. This engine makes 66 more horsepower than the non-turbo four-cylinder in the current TLX. It produces more low-end torque, the force required to get the car moving, than both the four- and six-cylinder engines of the current model.

In early 2021 Acura will introduce a Type S version which, in Acura-speak, is the high-performance version. It will use a new 3.0-liter, turbocharged V6 engine. Performance data have not been released at this time. Acura notes that the new engine "delivers dramatic gains in peak horsepower and, more critically, in torque, across the engine's full operating range, including a more than 50 percent increase in low-end torque" compared with the 3.5-liter V6 in the outgoing TLX.

Front-wheel drive is standard with the 2.0-liter engine, though buyers can opt for all-wheel drive. In order to harness the extra power, the Type S comes only with all-wheel drive. 

In addition, the 2021 Acura TLX will have adjustable drive modes that can change steering effort, throttle response, transmission shift points, bias of the all-wheel-drive system and, if so equipped, make changes to the adjustable suspension settings.

Safety & Driver Assist Systems

All 2021 Acura TLX models will come standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assistance, which are part of the brand's AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver assist systems.

The TLX will debut a few new safety features, including a driver awareness monitor and Traffic Jam Assist. The latter feature works with the adaptive cruise control to keep the car in its lane and at a set distance behind the vehicle it is following.

Acura is also debuting a new front-passenger airbag technology in the TLX. It uses a three-chamber design that is intended to better protect the front-seat passenger's head in frontal collisions that are angled vs. straight on.

2021 Acura TLX Type S rear view