Acura has refreshed the TLX sedan for 2021, with a renewed focus on dynamics and a sharp new look to match. It will face off against the toughest luxury class out there: the compact sport sedan segment.
There’s no shortage of competitors here. The Audi A4 is most similar on paper, previously offering front- and all-wheel drive and now just the latter as part of its own 2021 updates. But there’s also the other Germans in the shape of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW’s 3 Series. Even looking past Deutschland however, there’s the handsome pair of Volvo’s V60 and Alfa Romeo’s Giulia. There’s good reason to include both here, but with Acura’s stated goal of a more exciting drive, we’re going with the Giulia. Alfa updated the car for 2020, and its Stelvio crossover sibling, with improved infotainment and higher-quality interior fittings.
A heads-up early: while we’re excited to get behind the wheel of the TLX Type S and its all-new 3.0-liter turbo V6, we’re going to be focusing on the four-cylinder models here. The reason is two-fold: Acura hasn’t released full details on that model yet, and it launches later, in spring 2021.
SEE ALSO: 2021 Acura TLX Revealed: All-Turbo Power and a Focus on Dynamics
With that, let’s get down to how the 2021 Acura TLX stacks up against the rest of the luxury sport sedan market on paper.
By the Measurements
Acura has long straddled the compact and mid-size segments in terms of size with the TLX, and that continues with the second generation. It stretches 194.6 inches nose-to-tail, making it at least seven inches longer than any of the competitors. The closest is the Audi A4 at 187.5 inches, and the shortest is the 182.5-inch long Giulia. Wheelbases are much closer: the Acura clinches it with a 113.0-inch axle-to-axle measurement, but everything else is within two inches. The Merc is the narrowest of the quartet, coming in at 71.3 inches. The Bimmer is a little wider, coming in a tenth shy of six feet, with the ascending order being A4 (72.7 in), Giulia (73.7 in) and TLX (75.2 in). Every one of the sedans is 56-and-a-bit inches in height; Acura might’ve shaved a bit off the top for the second-gen TLX, but the Audi is lower still.
SEE ALSO: 2020 BMW 330i xDrive Review
With the Acura on top in most every dimension, you’d think it’d be the easy winner in the space race. Not entirely: Acura hasn’t released individual head-, leg-, and shoulder room dimensions yet, but the 2021 model gains just 0.1 cubic-feet of total interior volume over the previous model. Using the 2020 model’s measurements as a yardstick, TLX 2.0 could boast the most front legroom and shoulder room in both rows. Headroom was on the lower end of the spectrum before (37.2 / 36.7 inches), so unless the seats are mounted much lower in the new car, we can’t see it beating the Alfa or BMW. Maybe leave the hat at home. The stretched wheelbase should give the TLX the extra space in the rear to match its rivals, which all feature 35 inches and change back there.
On average the BMW is the most spacious, and that extends to a clear lead in trunk space. The 3 Series boasts a positively massive (by comparison) 17.0 cubic feet of storage. Put another way, that’s over 40-percent more room than the smallest boots of the bunch, the 12.0-cubic-foot holds of the Alfa and Audi. The TLX sits in second place thanks to its 13.5 cubic feet.
Engine and Drivetrain
Okay, so the five cars are all actually a little different in terms of the tape measure. That pales in comparison to the diversity under the hoods. There’s a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder, and… oh.
We joke, but these are all exceptionally stout—and frugal—powerplants. The least powerful of the group still puts out 255 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, which are the sorts of numbers that would embarrass a Mustang V6 of just 10 years ago. They all are pretty fleet of foot, too: the Germans all dust the 0–60 mph dash in under six seconds. The Alfa is the quickest, which is expected: it has the most ponies, the most torque, and is just 27 pounds heavier than the lightest car (the Merc).
We don’t expect the TLX to out-sprint the racy Alfa, at least not in any four-cylinder trim. The TLX will have very healthy stats, with 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque at its disposal. Those numbers aren’t far off the 2020 model’s V6 outputs, so with SH-AWD, we expect it to maybe dip slightly below that car’s 0–60 times, which hovered around 6.0 seconds even.
The TLX uses a traditional automatic transmission, the same as every other one of the cars except the Audi. Like most four-ringed models, the A4 uses a dual-clutch transmission, with seven gears. The TLX trumps the others in sheer cog count, with ten gears; the Merc comes with nine, the Alfa and Bimmer eight apiece.
At the pumps, the 330i xDrive is the reigning champ of the current all-paw sedans, scoring a 28 mpg average and up to 34 mpg on the highway. The others are all pretty close, with the Alfa bringing up the rear with a respectable 23 city, 31 highway, and 26 mpg combined.
We don’t see the TLX stealing the crown from the Bimmer. Acura hasn’t released EPA figures yet, but we’re expecting the 2021 car to land somewhere near the current 2.4-liter model’s 23/33/27. The new turbo engine has more power, but it also has extra cogs to work with. For reference, the RDX with the same drivetrain scores 21/27/23.
Tech and Features
We don’t know much about all the features of the 2021 TLX yet. We do know its central infotainment screen is a 10.2-inch item, which certainly makes it class-competitive. The brand’s True Touchpad Interface is here for duty, using the same “Absolute Position” setup as in the RDX. We were cautiously optimistic when we drove that model in 2018; it could be a solid setup for the TLX.
SEE ALSO: 2019 Acura RDX Review
It’s up against some stiff competition however. Leader of the pack is the A4. Audi’s MMI system is the most intuitive, and when it’s joined by the digital gauge cluster, it’s a peach. The 2021 update adds wireless Apple CarPlay, which is also available in the Bimmer. Speaking of, BMW’s iDrive is next on the list: it’s another very in-depth system, though not quite as easy-to-learn as the Audi system. Unfortunately, the Merc is saddled with the brand’s last-generation COMAND system. If it had the MBUX setup, like the new A-Class, we’d rate it much higher. That will have to wait for the next-generation model in a year or two.
Meanwhile, the Giulia is a wild card. We didn’t love the last system, but Alfa has updated it for 2020, aiming to improve usability. Mercifully, it’s now a touchscreen, the menus are customizable, and a standard 8.8 inches across.
Every TLX will arrive with the AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver assists as standard. This includes the usual automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control (with a new Traffic Jam Assist function), blind-spot monitoring and a driver awareness monitor. The other cars all feature these in some form or another, though many are only available as options or as part of packages.
The current TLX has a huge price advantage over the competitors here. That’s thanks to a weedy nat-asp four-cylinder engine and front-drive, however. Acura is keeping quiet on the exact price of the 2021 TLX right now, only saying it will start in the “mid-$30,000 range.” With all-wheel drive, a much more powerful, turbocharged base engine, and a longer standard feature list, we expect the new model to ring in near the current TLX V6 SH-AWD. The cheapest way into that car right now is $39,225, including $1,025 in destination charges.
Even with the base price jump, the TLX should be the value leader of the pack. The next-closest competitor is the Audi A4. In 45 Quattro trim, it stickers for $41,895. In ascending order, it then goes Giulia ($42,695), 330i ($43,745) and C300 ($44,395). The Germans all come with a $995 destination fee; the Alfa, $1,295.
As mentioned before, the options lists of the other cars are lengthy. If you want all the latest tech and safety features, expect to drop a few thousand more. Acura will be releasing more info on the TLX’ packages closer to its autumn release. We do know the A-spec pack will return, with more aggressive exterior styling and unique 19-inch wheels.