- Handles well, to a point
- Strikingly handsome design, inside and out
- Less expensive than rivals
- Handles well, to a point
- Mediocre fuel economy
- Infotainment touchpad
A sportier, more powerful version of a relatively common Japanese luxury sedan may not be all that significant for most folks – especially not in these SUV-crazed times we live.
Given the unexpected attention it garnered in the short time I had it, however, it seems the arrival of the 2021 Acura TLX Type S – and the return of the Type S badge after a 13-year hiatus – has generated quite a bit of hype among a certain type of motorist.
That type is Honda people. Over just four days of TLX Type S testing, I witnessed a Honda dealership shuttle driver whip their camera phone out, the driver of an oncoming TLX A-Spec flash their high-beams in recognition, and one very enthusiastic Honda Accord owner at a gas station slightly lose his mind at the sight of this car and request – nay, demand – permission to take a picture of it as a souvenir.
Where there’s hype, high expectations usually aren’t far behind. That’s certainly the case here, and the 2021 Acura TLX Type S lives up to them. Sort of.
When I drove the regular TLX Platinum Elite earlier this year, I was a little underwhelmed with its looks – especially compared to the beautiful concept on which it’s based. This much more aggressive Type S version, however, features quite a few aesthetic additions that, in my eyes, really bring this gorgeously low-and-long design together.
I love the red brake calipers, flat-bottom steering wheel, red stitching, and huge quad-exit exhaust tips. I love the 20-inch NSX-style wheels that also mimic those on the old TL Type S, the exposed intercooler, the smoky gold paint, and how wide the rear fenders look. It’s all very nicely curated and clearly influenced by parent company Honda’s strong tuner heritage. If you had a souped-up Honda Civic Si in the ’90s but a house in the suburbs today, you’ll feel very at home in a TLX Type S.
As much as I enjoy the aesthetic enhancements, this Type S spec is way more than a TLX with some nicer wheels and a body kit. While the regular version makes do with a turbocharged 2.0L making 272 hp, the Type S gets a 3.0L twin-turbo V6. Newly developed specifically for this car (as well as the upcoming MDX Type S), it makes 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, and the TLX Type S a satisfyingly brisk vehicle as a result.
All that torque is available at just 1,400 rpm, which means strong acceleration anytime, anywhere. Speed is delivered smoothly and with little turbo lag, and is accompanied by a sound that’s cool and racy in timbre but not overly loud. Pro tip, though: avoid driving this car with the powertrain in comfort or normal mode if you’d actually like to enjoy it, as either setting delays the throttle way too much – even by comfort and normal mode standards.
Serving as the middleman between the engine and the wheels is a 10-speed automatic transmission developed and upgraded in-house by Acura. It’s fine when left to its own devices, but the paddle-operated manual shifting experience is middling.
First, I quite like how the steering wheel paddles themselves feel. They’re metallic and smooth, and nicely sculpted to the fingers. Ad-hoc downshifts happen quickly, but upshifts come with a disappointingly long delay. Also, the TLX Type S will not let you run up against the rev limiter, automatically shifting up every time you do and sort of defeating the purpose of having a manual mode in the first place. More positively, purposeful upshifts come with a subtle pop from the exhaust, giving this car’s powertrain some much-needed character, however mild.
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Driving Feel: 8.5/10
In addition to a more aggressive look and extra engine output, the Type S badge also denotes better handling and stronger brakes, and this TLX doesn’t disappoint. Most of the time.
At the risk of stating the presumed and obvious, the TLX Type S is way more fun to drive than the standard TLX. Steering is unquestionably quicker and sharper even at low speeds, and lends to real precise and positive-feeling direction changes. On paper, this car is on the heavy side compared to its rivals, but Acura masks this fairly well during regular driving by making its inputs light. The steering and brakes move and respond with a feathery deftness that feels very Honda.
Double-wishbone front suspension and sticky Pirelli P Zero tires mean grip is significant, too, and this car is able to pull some decently mad g’s on highway onramps with little drama. Acura’s all-wheel drive system is inherently front-biased, and while the front axle here isn’t quite as aggressively athletic as the front-drive prodigy that is this car’s spiritual little brother, the Honda Civic Type R, you do get the sense that the two were born out of the same company when taking the TLX Type S through corners quicker than you probably should. There isn’t a whole lot of feel coming through the steering, although that’s pretty much expected in this segment.
Standard Brembo brakes bring the Type S to a stop well and are smooth, although arriving at red lights while in sport or sport+ mode sometimes happens with some unpleasant lugging from the transmission. In 97 per cent of real-world situations, the Acura TLX Type S is quite a nice car to drive. It’s about as comfortable and easy-going as a regular TLX when commuting – and almost relaxed when cruising – but immediately tightens up and becomes light on its feet when driven harder, striking an impressive duality that defines this category of car.
But let’s go over that last three per cent – when the Type S is driven really hard. When this hotted-up TLX is pushed through corners well past everyday speeds, it just doesn’t feel as buttoned down, agile, or confidence-inspiring as its competitors, despite what the marketing materials would have you believe, or as it probably ought to. It lumbers. When you drive a BMW 3 Series – or a Kia Stinger, for that matter – way quicker than you should, you get the sense that it was made for that kind of fun. It’s like those cars’ creators literally live at the Nürburgring and drive to work every day on the Autobahn. Because they do. With the TLX Type S, it’s as if it was made by people who merely visited those places for a couple of weeks on an expense-account research trip. Because they probably did. The Acura will provide similar thrills, but only to a point.
As a commuter that will keep its occupants comfortable and coddled, however, the TLX Type S scores higher marks. Adaptive dampers are standard, as are heated and ventilated front seats with an automatic setting, adjustable bolsters, and lumbar, and a heated steering wheel. Heated rear seats, however, are absent here and only come in the less powerful but more luxury-leaning TLX Platinum Elite.
Set in normal or comfort, said dampers do feel slightly tauter than those found in that Platinum Elite-trim car but in no way make the Type S uncomfortable. In fact, I don’t think the Type S rides significantly less comfortably than most of the other sedans Honda happens to make such as the Accord or Civic. Even in sport mode, the ride becomes a tad more communicative but the difference here is really not huge, still providing a supple ride that’s more than acceptable for a daily-driven vehicle.
Encompassing all of the technologies found in the lower Tech Package TLX, the Type S comes standard with rain-sensing wipers, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic-jam assist, lane-keep assist, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot monitoring. The traffic jam assist function was very adept at crawling through rush-hour traffic on Highway 401 across the top of the Great Toronto Area without driver input, while Acura has placed the blind-spot monitoring lights inside the doors rather than on the mirrors.
The Type S also receives the company’s new-gen front passenger airbag that’s shaped like a baseball glove and apparently reduces the risk of head injury during angled frontal crashes. The 2021 Acura TLX is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ recipient, scoring top marks in all areas of crashworthiness, crash avoidance, and child-seat anchors.
On top of the already mentioned performance, comfort, and advanced safety features, this more potent TLX is fairly well appointed, boasting wireless charging, an upgraded 17-speaker audio system that sounds great, a surround-view camera system, power seats with two memory slots for the driver, and ambient interior lighting with 27 different colour combinations.
However, despite being costing almost $8,000 more than the TLX Platinum Elite, the Type S misses out on a couple of creature comforts that do come with that more luxury-focused albeit cheaper model – namely, a head-up display, LED fog lights, and those aforementioned heated rear seats.
User Friendliness: 7/10
When it comes to operating all that tech, this higher-performing TLX’s interior may have received some sportier aesthetic touches but the fundamentals are all pretty much the same as that of the normal TLX, for better and worse. The ergonomics and usability of the buttons, knobs, and switches are quite well done. They’re mostly straightforward and nice to use – something that isn’t really true of the infotainment system.
Acura’s “absolute positioning” touchpad sets out to replace the touchscreen with a touchscreen-like experience that simultaneously keeps the display high in the driver’s line of sight and the control module low and within reach. It seems smart in theory, but it just doesn’t work very well in practice. The system does support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but nixes the whole “absolute positioning” deal in lieu of a laptop-like swiping control method. This is especially frustrating if, for example, you’d like to listen to satellite radio while navigating with Google Maps, in which case you’d have to constantly switch between the two control methods depending on what you’re doing.
Opting for Type S does not in any way impede the TLX’s ability to carry passengers or stuff since it boasts the exact same interior and cargo dimensions as its less-sporty counterparts. There’s a reasonable amount of room in all four outboard seats. Rear legroom is fine but this car’s relatively low roofline means taller passengers may find rear headroom a little lacking. This car’s 382-L trunk is of a decent size and the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
As of this writing, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has yet to officially rate the TLX Type S’s fuel economy, but Acura says its V6 sports sedan is good for 12.3 L/100 km in the city, 9.8 on the highway, and 11.2 combined. At the end of my four-day test, the car’s trip computer showed 13.2 L/100 km, a bit thirstier than anticipated, although to be fair, a good amount of my time with this vehicle was spent driving it quite hard and idling for photographs, two use cases that definitely don’t lend to good fuel economy.
For comparison, the non-Type S four-cylinder TLX is rated for 9.8 L/100 km combined, while this car’s BMW M340i and Audi S4 rivals officially out-sip the Type S, getting 9.2 and 10.1 L/100 km combined, respectively. Acura’s hottest sedan is, however, more efficient than the Genesis G70 3.3T, which is rated for 12.0 L/100 km combined by NRCan.
Naturally, 91 octane is recommended but, like the regular TLX, 87 is the actual minimum grade of fuel required.
The Acura TLX Type S starts at $61,875 including its non-negotiable $2,375 freight charge and comes pretty much loaded, which means other than some additional dealer-installed accessories there aren’t any options or packages here to jack up the price much higher other than a $500 colour charge that you’ll pay for any Type S that isn’t grey. Tacking on A/C tax, the Tiger Eye Pearl car you see here came out to $62,475 before tax.
The equivalent Genesis G70, meanwhile, beats the TLX Type S on value, commanding an all-inclusive $59,000 for the 3.3T Sport model. The competing Bimmer, meanwhile, starts at more than $66,000, while the S4 from Audi is priced from $63,650, with invoices for both of those German sedans able to climb quite a bit higher once you dig into their respective options sheets.
I might have given the 2021 Acura TLX Type S a bit of a hard time earlier for being not quite as capable as some of its rivals in the driving department, but the fact that it costs quite a bit less than most of them kind of makes up for it. In short, this new Type S is a reasonably quick, satisfyingly precise, and immensely stylish sedan that (touchpad infotainment notwithstanding) I’d happily live with on a day-to-day basis. However, it just isn’t the sort of mind-blowing performance car I’d see myself going out for drives in for the sake of driving very often.
If money is of little concern and all you want is the absolute best driving and greatest performing mid-level luxury sports sedan out there, Acura’s offering doesn’t fully scratch that itch. However, if all you want is a fun, luxurious commuter with Honda dependability and tunerific Honda styling, the TLX Type S is kind of all the car you need – and for a decent price, to boot.
|Engine Displacement||3.0L||Model Tested||2021 Acura TLX Type S|
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo V6||Base Price||$59,500|
|Peak Horsepower||355 hp @ 5,500 rpm||A/C Tax||$100|
|Peak Torque||354 lb-ft @ 1,400–5,000 rpm||Destination Fee||$2,375|
|Fuel Economy||12.3 / 9.8 / 11.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb (per Acura)||Price as Tested||$62,475|
|Cargo Space||382 L|
$500 – Tiger Eye Pearl paint, $500