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The 2015 Acura TLX is a brand-new midsizer intended to replace the automaker’s now-discontinued TL and TSX sedans. To Acura’s credit, it readily admits that the TLX is more TL than TSX in that it prioritizes smooth luxury over crisp sportiness — something our first drive of the sedan last month seemed to confirm.

But there’s simply too much going on under the skin of the TLX to take in one drive review, so we’re glad Acura offered us another opportunity to take the wheel. This time, we traded the windy, hilly roads of Virginia for the windy, somewhat less hilly roads of northern Michigan — and even managed to tuck the TLX’s 6-foot, 8-inch program manager into the back seat for an informal on-the-road question-and-answer session.

Let’s dive in.

The optional direct-injection 3.5-liter SOHC V6 engine provides 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. While clearly a part of the Honda V6 family, Acura says this particular engine was developed specifically for the TLX. Photo by Acura

THE ENGINES

The engine lineup for the TLX is going to look suspiciously familiar to anyone who’s configured a Honda Accord, but the Acura folks assure us that the 2.4-liter inline-four and 3.5-liter V6 are unique to the uplevel brand.

The base engine is a direct-injected DOHC 2.4-liter inline four. It’s good for 206 hp at 6,800 rpm and 182 lb-ft of torque at @ 4,500 rpm. If you want to verify Acura’s claims of uniqueness, you can look up the motor by its official model name: K24W7.

The beefier motor, a direct-injected SOHC 3.5-liter V6, puts out 290 at 6,200 rpm and 267 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm. A member of the Honda J engine family, its designation is J35Y6.

To goose fuel economy, SH-AWD-equipped V6 cars get an idle-stop function; using active engine mounts, Acura says it can reduce the jarring start-stop jolts that plague similar systems. During testing, we scarcely noticed the system in operation — so we’ll mark that as a success on Acura’s part.

A sportier version of the TLX was repeatedly hinted at by Acura personnel, but there’s no saying what might be under the hood of that. Honda’s rekindled interest in forced induction raises some interesting possibilities, though. Hey, the racing version of the TLX uses a twin-turbo V6, so we can dream.

The TLX’s nine-speed automatic transmission, developed by ZF, weighs less and boasts faster shifts than the outgoing six-speed in the Acura TL. Unfortunately, no manual option is offered. Photo by Acura

TRANSMISSIONS

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Look back at our past reviews and you’ll quickly notice that the Acura’s six-speed manual transmission was one of our favorite features from the automaker — not to mention one of our favorite gearboxes on the market. So it’s really too bad that it isn’t even an option on the TLX.

Instead, you get a ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic (in the V6-equipped cars) or an eight-speed dual-clutch with torque converter (in the inline-four cars). Both are adequate; though the nine-speed lacks a gearshift knob entirely, paddle shifters give a fair amount of control over the gears. The torque converter-equipped (an industry first) dual-clutch transmission (which does get a conventional gear selector) succeeds at eliminating much of the herky-jerky stop/start characteristics of a typical dual-clutch.

But why no six-speed manual? Acura hopes this car will make volume in a crowded segment, and buyers aren’t exactly snapping up manuals today. Mat Hargett, the so-called “large project leader” for the TLX program, seemed to share our pain over the loss of the manual even as he reassured us that the two TLX transmissions delivered similar “responsiveness.”

The sentiment is nice, but the dwindling numbers of manual die-hards out there know it’s just not quite the same.

The rear differential in SH-AWD-equipped TLXs is smaller and lighter than the diff in the outgoing TL. Photo by Acura

SH-AWD, P-AWS and AHA

If there’s something that Acura can’t seem to get enough of, it’s acronyms (Acuranyms?). But there’s one – the SH-AWD torque-vectoring system — that seems to represent a cornerstone technology for the brand in the same manner as Audi’s Quattro. SH-AWD is shorthand for Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, and it has has supposedly received substantial updates — both in hardware and software — for the TLX.

First, the hardware: While previous SH-AWD systems used electromagnetic actuators, this new system has switched to a hydraulic actuator with an integrated lubrication pump. The new SH-AWD rear differential is subsequently smaller and 25 percent lighter than previous units.

Acura tells us that this next-generation SH-AWD system gets a series of logic improvements as well, but it’d be hard to tell without comparing the new TLX to, say, the old TL. In any event, the system works well; when SH-AWD pushes more torque to the outside rear wheel in a corner, you can feel the car rotating around you. At least that’s what we told ourselves.

Two-wheel drive cars get P-AWS, or Precision All-Wheel Steering, which tries to do much of what SH-AWD does with two fewer driven wheels. At low speeds, P-AWS sets the front and rear wheels out of phase, decreasing turn radius slightly and improving stability. Higher speeds set the rear wheels in phase with the fronts for better line tracing. The rear wheels will even toe in slightly — think a skier doing a very gentle snowplow stop — to stabilize the car under high-speed braking.

Both SH-AWD and P-AWS work in conjunction with AHA (see what we mean about Acura and acronyms?), or Agile Handling Assist. AHA acts as a sort of torque vectoring system by independently braking wheels rear wheels while cornering.

The overall goal of all of these systems is to reduce the feeling of understeer and keep the car feeling flat and stable while making directional changes at speed.

Lane-to-lane translations are smooth and confident for both P-AWS and SH-AWD cars, but the overall effect is, as one might expect, more dramatic when SH-AWD is in play — especially in corners. It’s a genuinely good AWD system that we’d love to explore further, perhaps in the wet and on ice and snow; we could see it being used to provide a truly sporty, as opposed to a merely confidence-inspiring, feel on whatever hot version of the TLX Acura sees fit to produce.

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The interior of a V6-equipped Acura TLX is shown — note the absence of the gear shift knob. Inline-four cars are similar, but they get a conventional gear selector. Photo by Acura

THE PACKAGING AND PRICING

At 73.0 inches across and 190.3 inches from nose to tail, the TLX is longer and wider than the TSX, but an inch narrower and 3.7 inches shorter than the TL. Thankfully, that trim comes from the overhangs — the front is down 1.1 inches and the rear, 2.7. The top of the roof is also half an inch closer to the pavement.

Compared to the TL, the TLX achieves a smaller footprint without sacrificing any of the interior space of its predecessor. If you fit in that one, you’ll fit nicely in this one; we managed to fit three adult males (one 6 foot, one 6-5 and the last 6-8) in the car for the test drive. So long as your author, the 6-footer, sat in the back, everyone seemed to get along nicely.

The car is rather handsome in person, to boot. The visual bloat of the outgoing TL is gone along with the controversial Power Plenum (perhaps you know it as the Acura beak). It’s not exactly breathtaking, but it looks good — and, perhaps more importantly for the Acura brand, it is distinct from the Accord sedan, a dignified car in its own right.

Inside, you’ll find a center stack cleaner than the ones we’ve seen in recent Acuras. There are two screens: one displays audio and navigation functions (on navigation-equipped cars), and the other, a touch-sensitive unit, displays climate information and varying audio/navigation/car setup functions. Redundant physical buttons should satisfy those who prefer a more tactile experience.

Seats are comfortable; not as cushy as a Lexus, not as upright as something from the Germans. There are touches of wood on the center console, dashboard and door panels, but it’s certainly not the richest or trendiest veneer in the class — we’d probably give that one to the open-grain accents from Audi, whose interiors seem all-around better designed (even if you’ll have to pay to get features, like dual climate control, that come standard on the Acura).

There are a variety of trim levels available, and depending on how you option your TLX, you can tack nearly 50 percent in extras on to the base car’s price. Fortunately, in Honda/Acura fashion, comfort, technology and safety upgrades are all combined into a handful of trim packages.

A base 2.4-liter TLX starts at $31,890; for a base 3.5-liter car, you’re in $36,115. Though these cars get goodies like keyless entry, push-button ignition, dual climate zones and LED headlights, you’ll have to step up to the Technology package — $35,920 for the 2.4-liter cars, $40,141 for 3.5-liter cars — to enjoy a GPS navigation system, blind spot and forward collision warnings and lane-keeping features, rain-sensing wipers and a premium leather interior. At the top of the heap is the Advance package (not available on 2.4-liter cars), which adds parking sensors, puddle lights, active cruise control and more. On front-wheel drive 3.5-liter cars, the Advance package brings the total to $43,395.

We’d lean toward some varation of the V6-powered SH-AWD car. It is available with the Technology package for $42,345; stepping up to the Advance package pushes you to a lofty $45,595 sticker.

A pair of new transmissions, selective use of high-strength and lightweight materials and downsized components decrease the weight of the TLX (compared to the outgoing TL) and increase efficiency. Photo by Acura

WEIGHT AND EFFICIENCY

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We’re happy to see that Acura is fighting for efficiency on all fronts — including lighter materials, downsized components, new transmissions and aerodynamics. Weight savings are substantial when compared to the outgoing TL; the V6-powered SH-AWD TLX, for example, is down at 200 lbs or more (depending on options) compared to the TL SH-AWD V6. Fuel economy improves as well. The complete breakdown is as follows:

Two-wheel drive, four-cylinder: 3,483 lbs; 24/35/28 mpg

Two-wheel drive, six-cylinder: 3,585 lbs; 21/34/25 mpg

All-wheel drive, six-cylinder: 3,748 lbs; 21/31/25 mpg

The Acura TLX comes off as very sensible. Whether that will win over brand-conscious luxury buyers remains to be seen. Photo by Acura

ON THE ROAD, AT THE DEALERSHIP

Halfway through a day of driving, Acura was kind enough to supply us with a handful of competitor cars for comparison purposes. We drove an Audi A4 Quattro (around $40,500) and a BMW 328i xDrive (ludicriously priced at around $55,000), then switched back to the V6 SH-AWD Acura.

All clocked in at between 6.5 and 7.0 seconds during our highly unscientific 0-60 mph tests (we don’t claim to be the quickest on the stopwatch, or we’d be more specific) but the Acura actually felt faster after driving its German competitors.

We were more surprised by how well the Acura handled. We pushed the car into corners. Hard. The car pushed back. Tires screamed. But — and this in particular caught us off guard — it seemed to understeer less than the A4. (The BMW happily rotated around any corner we could throw it into, but that’s to be expected given its rear-biased setup.) As we concluded in our previous test, the system will work more than well enough for most people — even if it won’t fool you into thinking you’re in a tail-happy sport sedan.

But is Acura’s alphabet soup of driving aids and tech-laden cabin enough to lure buyers to dealerships?

We’ll know soon enough. The 2015 TLX is on sale now. Prices range from $31,890 for a two-wheel drive with I4 power to $45,595 for a fully loaded SH-AWD V6 car. That’s quite a range. But then, the TLX is up against quite a range of competitors — from pricey German vehicles to well-equipped, value-priced offerings from Detroit and Korea. And then there’s that attractive midsize sedan from Honda…

Acura is hoping its mix of creature comforts and impressive engineering features (SH-AWD, P-AWS, etc) will help sell the TLX to value-seeking entry-level luxury buyers while endearing it to technology and performance-focused enthusiasts. That’s a tall order — and genuine sport package would certainly help the car appeal to the latter demographic. But it’s worth remembering that, back in the mid-2000s, Acura was able to move nearly 80,000 TL sedans per year; the marque’s future as sensible automaker for the smart set seemed bright.

As it stands, the TLX comes off as a very sensible package in all its incarnations. Whether buyers will rush to embrace it as the smart choice, however, remains to be seen.

Image: 2003 Acura TL 4-door Sedan 3.2L Headlight, size: 640 x 480 ...
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Graham Kozak – Graham Kozak drove a 1951 Packard 200 sedan in high school because he wanted something that would be easy to find in a parking lot. He thinks all the things they’re doing with fuel injection and seatbelts these days are pretty nifty too.
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