2020 Acura TLX Review

Liz Kim | Sep 06, 2019

Introduction

Acura introduced its midsize TLX luxury sedan in 2015, blending the previous TSX 4-cylinder and TL 6-cylinder models into a single model.

Designed to toe the line between well-equipped mainstream family sedans and more expensive European offerings, the TLX lacks the outright luxury and prestige that premium buyers often seek, but offers an upgrade in quality and performance compared to a typical midsize car. In other words, the Acura TLX is either a genuine value or a waste of money, depending on your perspective.  

Six model years later, the TLX is due for a redesign. Acura previewed what is widely expected to become the next-generation TLX during Pebble Beach Car Week in August 2019, displaying the Type S concept car. Promising greater style, sophistication, and performance, the Acura Type S promises good things for the company’s midsize car.

Until then, Acura is celebrating the current TLX with the new PMC Edition. A limited-production, hand-built version of the car, the 2020 Acura TLX PMC Edition is manufactured alongside the NSX sports car in the company’s Performance Manufacturing Center in Ohio. This hand-assembled nature, glowing Valencia Red Pearl paint, and gloss black exterior trim set it apart from the rest of the TLX line. And, the PMC Edition is the only TLX that combines A-Spec and Advance Package trim.

2020 Acura TLX PMC Edition Red Front QuarterFor this review, J.D. Power evaluated the TLX PMC Edition, which is priced at $50,945, including the $1,995 destination charge. The destination charge is high because Acura ships the car individually to ensure the highest quality.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Acura TLX, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact premium car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Compared to owners across the segment, TLX owners skew a little more female (37% vs. 35%) and are slightly younger (55 years vs. 57 years). They make less money, too, with an annual median household income of $134,804 (vs. $150,146).

That lower income level appears to impact some TLX owner sentiments about buying a car. For example, they are less likely to strongly agree that they will pay extra to have the latest safety features (28% vs. 37%), and they are more likely to strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (57% vs. 46%). Acura TLX owners are more likely to agree that fuel economy is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (51% vs. 45%).

Perhaps because the TLX is built in Ohio, their owners are slightly more likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (33% vs. 29%). Reliability is important to TLX owners, with 61% strongly agreeing that it is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle.

Acura TLX owners are less likely to strongly agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (36% vs. 46%). They’re also more likely to agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (30% vs. 25%).

Owners say their favorite things about the TLX are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, seats, and in a tie the engine/transmission and interior design. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the TLX are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, climate control system, storage and space, infotainment system, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her perceptions about how the Acura TLX measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Acura TLX owners love the way their car looks and cited it as their favorite aspect of ownership. With its pentagon-shaped grille and sharply angled headlamps, the TLX will please many and offend none. While the overall look is handsome, it lacks distinctiveness in comparison to some luxury sedans.

The TLX PMC Edition’s Valencia Red Pearl paint job is lovely, the 19-inch wheels improved the car’s stance, and the A-spec package adds more visual interest with giant exhaust outlets, subtle side sill skirts, and different bumper designs. The PMC edition takes things further with gloss black accents all around.

Interior

Acura gives the TLX a tightly constructed, well-composed interior, full of premium materials and a thought for cohesive design. Most likely as a result of its hand-assembled nature, this is the most buttoned-down, sturdy Acura cabin I’ve experienced outside of the NSX sports car.

Where the TLX falls behind is in terms of sizzle. It lacks the design flair and high-tech look that tickles the buyer with some extra cash to spend, and who wants their passengers to be reminded of it every time they get in the car.

Seats

My husband and I, two people with vastly different shapes and proportions, both found the TLX’s front seats to be extremely comfortable and supportive.

The rear seats are not as accommodating. Legroom isn’t generous, and shoulder room is tight. However, the seats themselves are comfortable and supportive, and soft front seatbacks make it easier to transport taller passengers.

Climate Control System

My test vehicle’s climate control system cooled the TLX’s cabin quickly and effectively during high summertime temperatures, in spite of the car’s black interior. Rear air conditioning vents and ventilated front seats helped, and in winter both the heated front and rear seats come in handy.

Infotainment System

Many people dislike Acura’s two-screen infotainment system setup. In fact, owners rank it as their least favorite feature of the car – aside from fuel economy.

While inelegant, I do understand the reasoning behind Acura’s approach. A dual-screen design shows you as much information as possible, without the distraction of scrolling through different menus to find what you need.

Nevertheless, the learning curve is steep. Only one of the screens offers touchscreen functionality, and the controls for the other screen are located nowhere near it. Plus, Acura splits climate controls between physical and virtual buttons. At least it includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection platforms.

Oddly, there’s only one USB port in the entire car. Acura does offer a wireless charging pad, but if your iPhone isn’t an X, you’re out of luck.

Storage and Space

Open the trunk and you’ll find 14.3 cu.-ft. of room for your stuff, which is average for this type of vehicle. The trunk has two side bins, along with a deep, spacious bin under the load floor that helps to keep your grocery bags upright.

The glove box is a good size, while the center console is on the small side. There’s a convenient location for your phone in front of the transmission shifter; that’s where the wireless charger is located. The fold-down rear console has a useful little bin to hold phones, along with cup holders.

Visibility and Safety

My test vehicle had a full roster of active safety technologies. They included adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, and a surround-view camera. However, the TLX does lack some of the latest driving assistance and collision avoidance features, like pedestrian detection and lane-centering assist.

Safety-wise, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration thinks that the 2020 Acura TLX will keep its occupants safe in a collision, giving the car a 5-star overall rating. However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety declines to give the TLX a “Top Safety Pick” rating due to an “Acceptable” rather than “Good” performance in its rigorous but critical small overlap frontal-impact collision test.

Engine/Transmission

Pop open the TLX’s hood and you’ll find either a 206-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder or a broad-shouldered 290-hp 3.5-liter V6. My PMC Edition test car comes standard with the V6, and it delivers smooth, even, and copious acceleration.

An 8-speed dual-clutch transmission sends the 4-cylinder engine’s power to the TLX’s front wheels. The V6 is paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission, and this combination is available with Acura’s torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system. Together, these mechanical components create a symphony of driving enjoyment.

You can customize a TLX’s drivetrain characteristics using the Econ, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ driving modes. My test car’s paddle shifters also came in handy as I put SH-AWD to the test on local canyon roads.

Fuel Economy

The EPA says that an Acura TLX equipped with a V6 engine and SH-AWD should get 23 mpg in combined driving. That’s exactly what my test car returned in spite of my repeated use of the car’s acceleration capabilities.

Given my experience, it’s quizzical as to why fuel economy is cited by TLX owners as their least favorite aspect of the car. But then, fuel economy almost always lands at the bottom of the list, regardless of vehicle type.

Driving Dynamics

If fuel economy disappoints TLX owners, they are clearly happy with the car’s driving dynamics. It is their second favorite aspect of TLX ownership.

Drive one, and it’s easy to understand why. Lively acceleration, impressive handling, and a favorable balance between ride quality and corner carving capability make this Acura enjoyable to drive. It lacks the sharp playfulness of dedicated sports sedans in the segment, but you can rest assured that it’ll be up to a romp on a challenging road.

Final Impressions

The 2020 Acura TLX is a comfortable car, with talented competence on roads and refinement to spare.

Some buyers in this price range prefer something with a little more flash and panache, whether it’s in terms of appearance, furnishings, technology or outright performance.

Others, especially people seeking a more affordable route to luxury car ownership, may find the TLX a perfect answer to the question of what to drive.

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