I’m sure you’ve seen these big, glossy planes of plastic on the front of some nicer modern cars. If you thought that had something to do with radar cruise control, you’re right. I had assumed the reason that they’re often huge was a design choice, but I recently learned how the size of these “sensors” ties into functionality which is exactly the kind of mildly interesting info you’re idly surfing the internet for, right?

Radar cruise control, for those of you who might still be driving jalopies like mine and not heard of it, is exactly what it sounds like: cruise control, but in addition to holding a speed, it can also tell how fast cars ahead of you are moving and adjust itself accordingly. This is now a pretty common option in new cars, especially from higher-end brands.

The new Acura TLX has a particularly prominent radar cruise sensor, which I couldn’t help but notice at a recent event sponsored by the automaker.

Acura’s reps had parked up with a sparkly gold TLX Type S (the color’s called Tiger Eye and it’s like a glorious disco bass boat, very original and cool). While I was admiring it, the vehicle’s Senior Product Planner Jonathon Rivers walked over and asked if I had questions.

Acura TLX Type S
Acura Senior Product Planner Jonathon Rivers in the reflection of a TLX’s radar sensor. – Image: Andrew P. Collins

That’s how I learned the name of the color, the car’s price approximation (“in the $50,000s” was as specific as Rivers would get), and its primary prey: the BMW M340i, Audi S4, and Mercedes-AMG C43. You might have already known that if you read The Drive‘s post over the summer.

I said something like “that radar cruise thing in the grille sure is large,” and Rivers enlightened me a little about the physical components of the car’s radar cruise system. I’ll paraphrase what he explained:

The actual radar’s eye, so to speak, is recessed; the glossy plastic plane is essentially a window it sees out of. The reason the sensor itself is tucked somewhat aft of the front bumper is to protect it. If the car’s involved in a minor crash, the radar system will be less likely to take damage. If it is broken, inaccurate signals could cause real drivability problems, hence the measure taken to hide it.

And not only does it see straight ahead, apparently (the TLX’s radar at least) has an extremely wide field of vision. For example, it could even see a pedestrian approaching from just ahead of the nine and three o’clock positions relative to the front of the car.

In other words, these panels are so big because the sensor seeing through them needs to have a wide perspective and the sensor itself is further back than it looks.

Now next time somebody points one of these out and is like “why they heck do they have to make those so large,” you can tell them!

As for other parts of the TLX Type S, expect to hear a lot more about this car around the end of May 2021 when there will be an official launch event. After that happens, we’ll round up all the most interesting first drive impression posts and provide some commentary for you.

Acura TLX Type S
Get a load of this color. – Image: Andrew P. Collins

Rivers said something to the effect of: “we know we’re not 63-AMG level” (referring to elite Benz luxury cars with twin-turbo V8s), but seemed genuinely confident the car would impress people. He stressed that the new TLX Type S was a significantly bigger leap upwards from the TLX than the old TL Type S was from a standard TL. Specs we’ve seen on paper so far substantiate that… The new Type S will get an entirely different (larger) engine than what’s in the 2021 TLX, which is already not a slow car.

Obviously the car’s producer is going to speak highly of his own brainchild, but you can usually get a vibe in these scenarios and I got the sense Mr. Rivers was earnestly proud of this machine. I’m a lot more excited about the upcoming Type S after having talked to him.