I had hoped it would never happen to me, but over time I had been unknowingly lulled into a sense of numb complacency – not with my work but the subject matter itself.
With countless crossovers and electrified machines in recent times, I’d reached the point where a vehicle’s range, seating real estate, or the slickness of its all-glass command centre was almost all that mattered anymore. I feared I was losing my appreciation for the harmonics of a beautifully-tuned, high-performance engine, or the telepathic responses to subtle steering inputs. It used to be about the love of driving. It used to be about passion.
However, a week with the 2023 Acura TLX Type S – the sportiest variant of the brand’s midsize sedan – reawakened my love of driving, with an experience behind the wheel that’s far more engaging than I expected.
The allure of the TLX begins before the push-button ignition is engaged. It’s an attractive car that’s well-proportioned – long, low, and lithe in this era of bulbous, blobby SUVs that dominate the roads. In Type S guise, it gains a host of subtle visual upgrades, from the darkening of any chrome trim, to its deeper chin spoiler, while less subtle changes include a contrasting trunk-lid spoiler, and four proud exhaust tips.
There’s also a set of spidery 20-inch wheels painted a dark charcoal. Simple, and clean in design, they’re perfect on this Acura and leave very little of the sexy red Brembo calipers to the imagination. Even the Platinum White Pearl paint ($500) sparkles and gleams, and suits this car so well.
Inside, the TLX’s dashboard is driver-centric, with the controls wrapping around the pilot and keeping the front-seat passenger very much in what feels like a separate space. The materials don’t all look or feel as premium as they might in such a costly car from another premium brand, but they’re assembled with precision. And while the controls are laid out for serious driving business, the bright red leather seats are downright naughty by comparison.
Driving Feel: 8/10
Expecting the Type S to be little more than styling exercise (like the A-Spec), the snarl from the exhaust after depressing the starter button was downright shocking. A few stabs of the throttle pedal produced an engine note unlike those from the TLX’s German competitors. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz have tuned theirs for deeper, more gravelly sounds, but this Acura offers a distinct note with a higher pitch that’s more Formula One than NASCAR.
Before even leaving the parking lot at Honda Canada headquarters, the Type S was ready to reveal its frenetic personality. The steering is very quick and precise, the brakes bite with immediacy, and the throttle is borderline jumpy for those of us who’ve spent too much time in soccer-parent buses lately.
That’s just in the normal drive mode, too. Crank the giant knob in the middle of the dash to the right and you’ll unleash sport mode, elevating the energy level further in the process. Throttle response becomes more immediate and the 10-speed automatic transmission holds gears until the revs reach the higher digits on the tachometer. With a heavy foot on the accelerator, first gear is dispatched in a blink, then second, third, and fourth rev out farther until you’re well into the danger zone for your driver’s licence. The upshifts are very quick, while the Type S isn’t afraid to downshift and let its revs sing again and again when slowing down.
The TLX is a bigger car than the BMW 3 Series or Audi S4, but the lightness and quickness of its steering helps make it feel friskier. The sticky summer tires cling to pavement with ferocity, and Acura’s all-wheel drive system works its sorcery to apportion torque wherever it’s best utilized.
A favourite road with an uphill left-hand curve that ends with a sharp, nearly 300-degree right put the Type S to the test. Most cars – even those with sporting pretenses – will wash out in a wave of understeer when pressed as hard as the Acura was as it clung ferociously to the tarmac and rocketed away.
Acura has a history of making energetic V6s, and while mounting them transversely (as is done here) isn’t generally associated with outright performance cars (the original Acura NSX notwithstanding, of course), it doesn’t hold the Type S back. Displacing three litres, there’s 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque available. Those figures are lower than what both the BMW M340i and the Genesis G70 with its 3.3L V6 generate, and the torque rating is also lower than Audi’s S4; plus each of those competitors weighs in at least 100 kg (220 lb) less than this Acura.
Even still, the Type S moves away from a stop with authority and has plenty of gusto in the mid- and upper reaches of the rev range. While its sprint times aren’t quite as quick as those of its competitors (although they aren’t far off, either), the TLX rewards with the sound and feel of its engine revving so freely to its redline.
Fuel Economy: 6.5/10
Keeping that V6 singing in its sweet spot doesn’t do any favours for fuel efficiency, and the Type S’s highway rating of 9.4 L/100 km is about the worst in the class. Its city rating is mid-pack, but at 11.0 L/100 km its combined rating is a full two litres thirstier than the BMW M340i. This test week, which included a decent mix of commuting, country roads, and urban crawling, netted an indicated average of 10.5 L/100 km. The low fuel warning would start glowing after about 500 km, suggesting this Acura wouldn’t make an outstanding cross-country cruiser.
Of course, there’s more to a good long-distance cruiser than just range, but the TLX Type S also has a relatively stiff ride. Still, the other sporting machines in this class are similarly firm, and the Type S can be softened up a bit in comfort mode, which adds more compliance to the adaptive suspension. Wind and road noise are reasonably suppressed, but that lively engine is tough to ignore, as it makes all those wonderful noises.
On the upside, the TLX has supportive and very comfortable seats. Often, the sport seats in competitive models can be overly aggressive with their bolstering and the stiffness of both the leather and their cushioning, but Acura has made the TLX’s thrones just supple enough to take the edge off. Plus, they’re heated and cooled.
Despite being closer in size to the sedans mentioned above, the TLX’s interior dimensions more closely align with smaller competitors. Rear-seat space is particularly scant, with notably less leg- and headroom than the BMW 3 Series. Even still, there’s enough for two adults to sit with reasonable comfort, and a third to squeeze between them for short stints.
In terms of cargo space, the TLX once again finds itself midpack, with notably more space than Lexus and Genesis entries, but its 382 L is less than what the 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class offer. Even still, fitting four golf bags shouldn’t be an issue.
In this class, expectations for contemporary technology, sporty but sophisticated style, and posh interior finishes with plenty of amenities aren’t unreasonable. The TLX Type S mostly delivers on those fronts, and even if it would be nice to see more interior panels finished in leather rather than plastic, the standard multi-zone climate control, power sunroof, onboard navigation, and the impressively powerful sound system are all sure to please.
It’s a shame then, that such a wonderfully engaging, well-equipped car could be so let down by its user interface. Acura’s 10.2-inch infotainment display doesn’t offer touch functionality, instead relying on a small console-mounted touchpad as its primary interface. In practice, it’s a tedious exercise in frustration to try to make even rudimentary inputs while at speed. Acura has designed the pad to correspond at a 1:1 ratio with the screen, meaning that a touch on the upper right corner of the pad will affect the same place on the upper right space on the screen, but it’s still less intuitive than simply touching the space you want on the screen. And with Apple CarPlay it’s even more finicky to use, making effective voice commands the only way to keep one’s sanity.
I’ve griped about Acura’s obtuse collection of push-and-pull buttons of varying sizes and shapes for the transmission’s gear selector in other models, and it’s just as annoying here. If freeing up console space is the goal, just give us a console shifter like Mercedes does, or a single control toggle the way most other car makers are doing these days. It also takes some muscle memory to realize the giant volume knob in the middle of the dash is actually the drive mode selector, and the only soundtrack it makes louder is the exhaust.
Once the car is in gear and the favourite tunes, temperature, and drive mode have been set, the TLX is a great place for the driver. Sightlines are very good all around, and the steering wheel and driving position encourage sporty driving. And while some may feel Acura is behind the times by not offering an all-digital gauge display, the pair of traditional dials for speedometer and tach look great and are well-suited here.
The Acura TLX receives the top safety ratings from both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) thanks in no small part to the comprehensive suite of advanced safety amenities offered as standard. Adaptive cruise control, automated braking, pedestrian detection and collision avoidance, lane-keeping assistance, automatic high-beam control and 360-degree camera views plus parking sensors are all found on the Type S.
At a starting price of $61,500 before freight and tax, the Type S is the costliest TLX trim by a fair margin. Buyers will need to cough up an additional $500 for anything other than a grey paint hue, but aside from accessories like winter mats, Acura has loaded this thing up. At that cost, the Type S is on par with a similarly-equipped Lexus IS 350 AWD, but offers notably more performance. The three primary German competitors start a fair bit dearer, and with several costly option packages to get them loaded up like the Acura, they’re tens of thousands of dollars more. In fact, within the segment the only real nemesis in terms of performance and luxury for the money is the Genesis G70 3.3T Sport that’ll save a buyer a few grand compared to the TLX Type S.
The 2023 Acura TLX Type S is a rare treat in an increasingly insipid automotive world. Its drivetrain is rich in character, its handling impressive, and its steering genuinely engaging, making this an antidote for drivers desperate for some zeal in their daily commute. When measured against similarly enchanting sport sedans from premium European brands, the Acura rings in as a relative bargain, too. Enthusiast drivers should add the TLX Type S to their shopping lists, but should test drive one before buying to ensure they can live with the touchpad interface.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo V6|
|Peak Horsepower||355 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||354 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||12.3 / 9.4 / 11.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||382 L|
|Model Tested||2023 Acura TLX Type S|
|Price as Tested||$64,695|
$500 – Platinum White Pearl paint, $500