2021 Acura TLX Type S First Drive Review: The Gold Standard

First Drive / Comments

Give buyers more, for less.

Aside from the NSX supercar, Acura has never really forayed into the realm of BMW M or Mercedes-AMG; those insane performance figures (and price tags) were probably considered too extreme for the budget-conscious luxury brand. Starting in 2000, though, Acura launched its Type S performance brand with the CL coupe, followed by the TL sedan and RSX hatchback. These models offered excellent (albeit below class-leading) performance, stellar practicality, and reasonable price tags. Sadly, the moniker has lain dormant since 2008 when the TL Type S left production, but now it has finally returned on the 2021 Acura TLX.

The TLX is now in its second generation after the previous model was tasked with replacing the TL and TSX in the brand's roster. Acura has positioned the new TLX Type S directly at mid-level performance options from Europe and Asia, including the Audi S4, BMW M340i, Genesis G70 3.3T, and Mercedes-AMG C43.

With the competition squarely in mind, Acura flew us to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to experience the revived Type S on the track and some of Northern California's best roads.

Acura
Acura
Acura
Acura

Exterior: Yes, It Comes In Gold

Visually, the TLX Type S benefits from the improved styling implemented on the base TLX. This includes a longer wheelbase and overall length with a vastly extended dash-to-axle ratio, making it look more like a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. Acura's improvements to the Type S are subtle but noticeable, with "Type S" badging adorning the grille, fenders, and trunk. Gloss black accents on the splitter, rear diffuser, and spoiler provide a sporty feel and can also come finished in real carbon fiber. Quad exhaust tips complete the sport Type S transformation.

Acura offers six exterior colors, including a gold Tiger Eye Pearl paint exclusive to Type S. This new hue pops in the sunlight but tends to look dark and mustardy in low light. As part of a Pirelli P Zero Summer tire package, an NSX-inspired split five-spoke wheel caps off the TLX's curb appeal in tremendous fashion. These lighter wheels don't just look better; they also reduce unsprung weight by 5.78 pounds each (21.3 pounds total). Acura says most buyers will opt for the standard shark-gray multi-spoke design wheels with Pirelli Cinturano P7 all-season performance tires, but for only $800, we highly recommend the summer rubber.

Acura
Acura
Acura
Acura
Presenting The Best And Worst C8 Corvette Bodykits
Presenting The Best And Worst C8 Corvette Bodykits
9 Hardcore Street-Legal Track Cars
9 Hardcore Street-Legal Track Cars

Performance: Strong But Not Extraordinary

We thought the base four-cylinder TLX A-Spec felt adequate but wanted to wait for the more potent Type S to deliver our full verdict on this compact sedan. Acura knew it needed to bring its biggest guns, so it developed an all-new, Type S-exclusive 3.0-liter V6 engine with direct injection and a single twin-scroll turbocharger. It produces 355 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, putting it right in the ballpark with models like the Audi S4 but below heavy hitters like the BMW M340i. Crucially, Acura made this engine aurally pleasing with an active exhaust featuring a butterfly valve that stays closed most of the time but remains wide open in Sport+ mode.

Power goes out to Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system through a 10-speed automatic transmission. The AWD system can route up to 70% of the engine's torque to the rear wheels and split that torque up to 100% to the left or right wheels.

Acura hasn't quoted a 0-60 mph time, but, weighing in at over 4,200 pounds, TLX Type S owners shouldn't expect to burn S4 or M340i owners off the line. We estimate a 0-60 time of around five seconds flat.

Acura
Acura
Acura
Acura

Driving Impressions: Hitting The Target

Acura brought a few of its classic Type S models to drive at the event, including a CL, TL, and RSX, to remind us what the performance nameplate was all about. These blasts from the past helped us frame Type S accurately based on what it represented more than a decade ago. None of these cars set performance benchmarks for competitors to chase; they were quick, well-appointed, comfortable, practical, and less expensive than rivals. By those measurements, the latest TLX hits its target and picks up where the Type S nameplate left off in 2008.

Our day at Laguna Seca began with a jaunt on California's winding mountain roads. The Type S seemed perfectly suited to this environment, using its standard adaptive dampers to deliver a cushy ride. Acura had an Audi S4 on-hand for back-to-back comparisons, and the TLX felt more compliant, despite Audi typically having the most comfortable suspension among the German options. Bringing the S4 to the event was a bold move on Acura's part, as it revealed both the good qualities and flaws in the TLX Type S.

Acura
Acura
Acura
Acura

Pushing both cars hard on public roads, we felt more confident in the Acura. Compared to the mechanical S4, the Type S delivers an electronic-feeling experience with less finite limitations. When you reach the limit in the Audi, it snaps while the Acura gently uses its electronics to nudge the car back onto the correct path. Acura's SH-AWD system is stellar, keeping the car stuck to the pavement without the understeer present in the S4.

The electric power steering features a quicker ratio than the standard TLX, though it still feels light and highly assisted in its comfort mode. Sport mode or the Type S-exclusive Sport+ mode adds some weight to the mix, giving the car a more substantial feel behind the wheel, though we still preferred the S4's steering. We weren't fans of the NSX-derived tunable electro servo-brakes, which felt a bit difficult to modulate on the road. Advantage Audi here. The brakes felt more at home on the track, where the lack of physical connection to the pedal gives them a consistent feel devoid of fade.

Acura
Acura
Acura
Acura

Most Type S owners will never take their car on a race track like Laguna Seca, but driving the car here helped us discover the car's more extreme potential. The car tends to push wide when you take a bend too quickly, but you can nudge the car around by hitting the throttle early in the corner to prompt the SH-AWD's torque vectoring abilities, giving it more RWD-like changes of direction and rotation.

Acura's drive modes are perfectly calibrated, with the most aggressive Sport+ mode keeping the engine and transmission in a frenzy. Out on the road, we actually found the Sport+ mode annoying in traffic, meaning it does exactly what its name suggests. Oftentimes, Sport+ modes are poorly named and still allow the car to settle down into a comfortable cruise, which is the case in the lesser TLX. Not so with the Type S, which is truly aggressive. However, the TLX Type S could still strike an accord with buyers who value comfort more than track performance and 0-60 mph times because of the versatility in its driving modes.

Acura
Acura
Acura
Acura

Interior & Features: Well-Optioned

As with the subtle exterior changes, the cabin changes are minimal on the Type S. The Ultrasuede/leather seats from the A-Spec model come standard with heating, ventilated, and 16-way power adjustment, including adjustable side bolstering. Those chairs now have "Type S" embossing in the headrests, matching a subtle "Type S" steering wheel badge. Customers can select a black or red interior or a new Type S-exclusive Orchid white option.

With content from the Advanced and A-Spec packages, the TLX Type S is better equipped than its rivals as standard. The extensive standard features list includes a 10.2-inch infotainment display with built-in navigation, a 710-watt 17-speaker ELS Studio 3D premium audio system, and a wireless charging pad. The only important missing features from the TLX Advanced package are a head-up display, 360-degree camera, and heated rear seats.

Unlike its pricey European competitors, the TLX Type S comes loaded with safety features such as forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane-keeping, and traffic sign recognition. The German options boast more premium materials and mature cabin designs, but the TLX doesn't feel cheap given its price and array of standard features.

Acura
Acura
Acura
Acura

Space & Cargo Capacity: Few Sacrifices

The TLX strikes a nice balance with regards to its size and interior packaging. A 113-inch wheelbase is longer than competitors, but that length doesn't translate to vastly superior passenger volume. With 77.4 inches of combined legroom split up in a 42.5/39.4 front/rear ratio, the TLX has enough space to fit four comfortably, although taller occupants may feel a bit cramped in the back.

The trunk houses 13.5 cubic feet of space, which is among the larger options in this segment. For the Type S model, Acura fitted additional bracing behind the rear seat. Rather than delete the trunk passthrough, Acura engineers kept the folding rear seats. The bracing hinders practicality a bit, blocking larger items from fitting in the opening, but the gap is still useful for skinnier items like skis.

Acura
Acura

Pricing: An Outstanding Value

Acura promised that the TLX Type S would start in the low $50,000 range and has delivered on that goal. The Type S starts at $52,300 ($53,325 with destination) with the standard all-season tires. Opting for the high-performance wheels with summer tires only adds $800, bringing the price to $53,100 excl. destination. Only one "trim" level will be offered, meaning all of the important equipment comes standard aside from some optional carbon fiber interior and exterior trim. This pricing structure puts Type S on par with its 6-cylinder-powered competitors' base MSRPs but far ahead when factoring in options.

Its key rival, the Audi S4, starts at $49,900, but that price can quickly balloon to over $60,000 when similarly equipped. It's a similar story with the BMW M340i and the Mercedes-AMG C43. Only the Genesis G70 3.3T and Volvo S60 Recharge provide similar performance for less cash.

Acura
Acura
Acura
Acura

Verdict: What Type S Was Meant To Be

After driving the new TLX, we are excited to have the Type S brand back in our lives. If you approach this car with reasonable expectations, it satisfies them well. The TLX Type S bundles a comfortable ride and well-appointed interior with sporty styling, spirited handling, and a throaty soundtrack. If you were expecting this car to come along and smash every performance benchmark set by Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, you would walk away disappointed. Driving this car back-to-back with the S4, there were characteristics we preferred on the Acura, and there were a few things we liked better in the Audi. But that's how close competitors should be.

If you are in the market for a sports sedan in the $50,000 price range, the TLX Type S deserves consideration as a wallet and back-friendly option. It's more comfortable than its European rivals, it costs less, and it should be cheaper to maintain as well. Acura carefully formulated what it wanted Type S to be, and it came out right on target.

CarBuzz
CarBuzz
CarBuzz
Acura

Join The Discussion

Gallery

62
Photos
Back
To Top