2021 Acura TLX Type S: First Driving Impressions From Your Favorite Automotive Experts
The TLX Type S seems like a significant jump in performance from the standard-spec Acura sedan.
Oh, our beloved Acura. How long has it been since the last Type S product? 13 years, which is far too long. It’s been about that long since Honda’s luxe brand has had anything exciting, really, besides the NSX. More fun Acuras have been a long time coming and the new 2021 Acura TLX Type S, a turbo V6 SH-AWD meat cleaver of a sport sedan, is a welcome addition to the fleet. My colleagues across the industry have finally driven it and been able to share their thoughts; most came away impressed, with a few caveats.
For this Review Rundown, I looked at a bunch of articles and videos by our friends across the industry to get some different perspectives and info on the 2021 Acura TLX Type S. I came away from my reading with mixed feelings on the heavy Acura, but I feel confident in the excellent groundwork that’s been laid for future iterations of the model. Leaning on scales at 4,200 pounds, I do worry about what the car’s curb weight will do to tires and brakes, but it seems that Acura’s remarkable AWD system manages to make for a rotatable and balanced sport sedan anyway. I’m also a little skeptical of Acura’s staunch stance on auto-upshifting, which is a real annoyance in a driver’s car. But as you’ll read in our curated rundown here, first impressions are generally positive for the first new Type S in a long time.
Here’s the Scoop
With a substantial 13-year gap between sporty Type S products, Acura has had plenty of time to ruminate on what the brand means to it and its potential customers. Impressively, Acura did not phone this car in with some wheels and a body kit. Instead, it thoroughly revised the TLX and made this Type S earnestly distinct from any other TLX in the range. A single turbo 3.0-liter V6 lives in the engine bay, exclusive to Type S, transversely mounted, and bolted to the torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system. That’s been specially tuned for the Type S and can send 70 percent of power to the rear axle. It can even overdrive the rear axle for more rotation (read: less understeer) in the corners. Neat! To top that off, the Type S gets sway bars, springs, and dampers that Acura says are 40 percent stiffer than the standard car’s, along with structural reinforcement for the body of the car, most obviously with an A-brace behind the back seat. It also benefits from a return to dual wishbone front suspension(!) on the normal TLX platform, which has been absent since the 2014 TL and gone from most Honda products in general.
There’s still a little more to cover, but I think I’ll let our esteemed colleagues wax lyrical about the impressive work done on this new sport sedan.
On Interesting Tech and What’s New for 2021
The powertrain is certainly the most fascinating bit of the 2021 TLX Type S is the package. With a ground-up new turbo V6 and fourth-generation SH-AWD system, it has some stunning capabilities that are reminiscent of the new NSX. A lot of it comes down to recalibration of the regular TLX’s system; details on the mechanicals of the new V6 are somewhat sparse. What we do know: There’s a twin-scroll turbocharger and new low-profile head design that works thanks to a valve cover that doubles as upper camshaft bearings, both are nothing new in the realm of automotive technology but the valve cover is a first for Acura. Twin-scroll turbochargers made their Acura debut in the 2007 RDX Turbo. Good ol’ hot rodding has been done on this new V6 too, with six-bolt main bearings and fully forged internals that can certainly handle the 355 horsepower that Acura claims the engine generates.
Even with some of that “new” technology, Acura is engaging in a nice blend of old and new, with a return to the much-loved dual wishbone front suspension and analog gauges reminiscent of the 2002-2004 Acura RSX Type S while adding plenty of tech and newness to keep customers happy. The formula of the TLX Type S is nowhere near groundbreaking and almost feels classical in 2021. Still, Acura has managed to make it more than the sum of its parts.
Tony Quiroga for Car and Driver – “Strong acceleration and only a hint of low-rpm turbo lag is our first impression of the TLX’s V-6. Engineers assure us that this DOHC V-6 is a new design, sharing only its bore spacing with older Honda/Acura engines. A single twin-scroll turbo feeds the cylinders with 15.1 psi of boost. To reduce the height of the engine, the cam cover now incorporates the upper camshaft bearing. It saves space, reduces the number of parts, and makes us wonder why this hasn’t been done in the nearly 120 years of overhead-cam engines.”
Basem Wasef for Autoblog – “Chassis updates include extra bracing for a 13% stiffer body, 40% stiffer front springs, thicker stabilizer bars, more aggressive shock valving, retuned steering, and larger four-piston Brembo brakes. Standard 20-inch wheels and tires are the largest yet for TLX, and Pirelli P Zero summer tires are available with an NSX-inspired design. Tying it all together are drive modes with a new Sport+ setup: Turn and hold the centrally positioned mode selector for 1 second, and throttle response, shifting, exhaust valve, steering effort, damping, torque vectoring, and even interior lighting take on a more aggressive calibration.”
Miguel Cortina for Motor Trend – “Besides the new engine, Acura made important changes to the chassis, suspension, and transmission to make the TLX a true Type S. Torsional rigidity increased by 13 percent thanks in part to an “A-brace” located behind the rear seats. The front control-arm suspension’s springs are 40 percent stiffer, while the stabilizer bars on both axles are larger and firmer—by 9 percent in the front and 31 percent in the rear. The Type S’s dampers provide 4 percent more support in the front and 9 percent more in the rear, and the 10-speed automatic is tuned to shift 40 percent more quickly.
With the additional power, Acura upgraded to larger, stronger brakes. The four-piston red Brembo calipers in the front squeeze 14.3-inch rotors, while the rear rotors measure 13.0 inches. They are a massive enhancement compared to the two-piston calipers in the regular TLX.”
On Driving Dynamics
It seems that the TLX Type S is generally lauded for its excellent dynamics and adjustability in corners, with rotation available via throttle modulation and intelligent AWD system calibration getting the power effectively to the ground. Other highlights include steering with some communication, specially re-geared and tuned for the Type S, and a fortified 10-speed automatic with an external cooler to handle extra punishment.
Matt Farah for The Smoking Tire (video) – “As we dive into turn two here, which is a long double apex, this is where we’re going to demonstrate- look I can lift off and rotate. I’m gonna smash the throttle here [on corner exit] and look, no understeer! It brought the back end around. That’s very good. I like that! I can get on that throttle pretty early in this car, and it sorts out the grip on its own. I can feel a lot through the steering wheel, which is nice… One of the things I don’t like about this car is that the 10-speed gearbox will give you the next gear if you hit redline, even in manual mode… it gives you the wrong gear at the wrong time, and in my opinion, manual means you listen to me not you upshift at redline, that’s just my opinion. The Acura people have a fundamental disagreement with me on that issue- they have defended their automatic upshifts, which, okay, choices.”
Kyle Cheromcha for The Drive – “But pick up your speed—say, a few hot laps around Laguna Seca, as Acura arranged to show off the Type S’ abilities—and there’s a lot to like here. The low-end responsiveness of that turbo setup is immediately noticeable, as is the way that SH-AWD setup promotes throttle steer in a fast turn; it’s incredibly easy to coax a little rotation out of it. Though you’ve got 10 speeds and the engine redlines below 6,500 rpm, I never felt like I was running out of room bouncing between third and fifth gear on the track, and once again the newly fast shifts were much appreciated. It’s not a stretch to say the gearbox approached dual-clutch speeds a few times when I really laid into it. Overall handling? Superb through the famed corkscrew, and not just for a front-wheel-drive-based car. The optional 255/35R20 Pirelli summer tires definitely help there, however.”
Bradley Brownell for Jalopnik – “On the road, the car feels about as light on its feet and nimble as anything weighing over two tons can. In normal driving, it feels like a quick people mover, as you keep the suspension soft and throttle response reined in. Hit a fun driving road, pop it into sport, and the big sedan shrinkwraps around you, feeling much smaller than it has any right to. The steering is quick and delivers enough feedback. The tires are grippy. The SH-AWD works its techno-wizardry to make it feel like a much more compact car than it is. It’s like it rotates around the inside front wheel.”
Antuan Goodwin for CNET Roadshow – “Clicking over to Sport immediately wakes up the engine with sharper throttle response and a deeper, throatier tone for the active exhaust system. The steering is heavier and generally feels better connected to the front axle, and the dampers firm up for a planted, but not harsh, ride over bumps. Slaloming between bends on one of my favorite quiet, twisty roads in the Bay Area, I was pleased with the confident torque feeding into the SH-AWD system, working with the steering to drive the nose into each curve. The TLX is not only precise, but also a very easy car to drive fast over long distances.”
On Interior Quality and Styling
It seems that the TLX Type S carries over much of what made the normal TLX such a great cruiser. A nice, quiet cabin with an apparently bangin’ 17-speaker Panasonic stereo, and a host of standard features including ambient lighting and ultrasuede trimmings help elevate the Type S beyond the normal TLX.
Outside, the car gets very aggressive-looking quad exhaust tips and a standard A-Spec body kit. I’m not the biggest fan of how the TLX looks, but it’s certainly the best looking current Acura this side of an NSX, and is a huge improvement over the Acuras of the last 10 years. The infamous “beak” Acura was so fond of for so many years in the 2010s died the death it deserved.
Basem Wasef for Autoblog – “Climb inside, and a relatively busy dashboard and center stack arrangement combine sculpted surfaces with Acura’s so-called True Touchpad Interface and a few conventional hard buttons. Although at least one Autoblog editor has made peace with it, I cannot be counted as a fan. The non-touchscreen 10.2-inch display is a clunky and frustrating way to manage some of the car’s simplest settings.
On the flipside, at least the Type S comes standard with a 17-speaker ELS Studio 3D sound system with outstanding audio quality aided by active noise cancellation to deliver crisp, clean-sounding tunes. Also good: The hard buttons below the volume knob for skipping or backing up track selection. The feature is largely extinct in modern cars, and this holdover is a reminder that not all change is good when it comes to human/machine interface design.”
Tony Quiroga for Car and Driver – “The TLX’s size is obvious inside, where a wide center console houses Acura’s difficult-to-use touchpad infotainment controller. That interface is not getting easier to operate with practice, and it never seems to respond to your finger the same way twice. A spacious and comfortable front seat with an easily tailored seating position is the perfect place to appreciate high Gs, whether it’s g-forces or music. Start turning the volume knob, conveniently positioned next to the touchpad, to hear the fabulous Panasonic ELS audio system. It has the punch and clarity to turn you into a stereo snob, and it probably won’t take long before you find yourself searching for Free Lossless Audio Codecs (FLAC) files to play through the system’s 14 speakers.
Simple and elegant analog gauges might buck the glass-cockpit sports-sedan norm, but leather and Ultrasuede seats, metal pedals and trim, and a stitched instrument panel are right in line with competitors. Rear-seat riders get a supportive bench, but the legroom and space in back isn’t what we’d call generous, despite the car’s 113.0-inch wheelbase. At highway speeds, the Type S’s cabin remains hushed, although working the engine or switching to Sport or Sport+ will increase the amount of V-6 sound pumped into the cabin.”
As I said, I’m not particularly enamored with the new TLX Type S’ look but I’ll leave you with a few angles on it so you can judge for yourself. If you want to see some more, of course, Acura’s got a huge batch on its official media site.
All of the first drives for the 2021 Acura TLX Type S happened in Monterey, CA, a coastal city about an hour away from San Francisco and home to Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca. Testers were able to freeform drive the Type S on many fabulous Bay Area backroads, and were given track time on Laguna Seca to feel out the limits of the Type S. We did note that they used different cars for the road and track, with the track cars using higher specification brake pads that Acura will offer as an option.
Once people start getting press loaners, you’ll start seeing TLX Type S’ out in the wild, and probably all over Southern California’s famous backroads.