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Speed and Luxury: We Drive the New 2021 Acura TLX Type S

Speed and Luxury: We Drive the New 2021 Acura TLX Type S

Acura brings back the Type S spirit

  • The TLX is redesigned for 2021
  • Acura's Type S performance trim, last seen in 2008, is back
  • The TLX Type S has 355-hp V6 and standard all-wheel drive

Acura is definitively jumping back into the sport sedan business with the 2021 TLX Type S. The current selection of fast four doors such as the Audi S4, BMW 3 Series (M340i) and Genesis G70 (3.3T) have all evolved to such high levels of potency, Acura really needed to spice things up to make it back onto anyone's menu. A full redesign of the TLX for the 2021 model year allowed it to lay the groundwork to relaunch its Type S performance branding that was last seen more than a decade ago.

The Type S returns

The last time you could buy a new Acura with a Type S badge on it was 2008. This was the TLX's forebear, the old wedge-shaped TL that the Edmunds editors at the time heaped a good amount of praise upon.

Even the base TLX looks sporty and has the underlying suspension bits to bring about athletic handling. The new car is also longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. Yet Acura also knew from the outset that it was going to bring back the Type S version.

The easiest way to spot a Type S out of a sea of TLXs would be from its quad exhaust pipes and 20-inch wheels or the Type S-exclusive Tiger Eye Pearl paint, which is a spectacular shade of metallic mustard.

There's some value here too. With an MSRP ranging from $53,325 to $54,125, which includes destination, the TLX Type S is a compelling pick for a performance-oriented small luxury sedan. Expect it at Acura dealerships in late June 2021.

New V6, newfound power

Powering the TLX Type S is a new turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that makes 355 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. These aren't segment-topping figures, but they are a significant upgrade from the standard TLX's turbo four-cylinder's 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. For comparison, the similar-in-approach Audi S4 makes 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. An all-wheel-drive system (Acura calls it SH-AWD) and a 10-speed automatic transmission come standard.

The V6 features a single, quick-spooling turbocharger that develops maximum torque from a low 1,400 rpm, providing a wave of ample and linear thrust almost immediately off idle all the way to 5,000 rpm. Acura estimates that the Type S can cover 0-60 mph in about 5 seconds, which feels accurate from the driver's seat.

Care about fuel efficiency? The Type S gets an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in combined city/highway driving. For context, on the high end, the BMW M340i xDrive returns an impressive 25 mpg combined, while the Genesis G70 is on the lower end at 20 mpg combined.

Enjoyable speed and handling

The TLX Type S comes with five drive modes settings (Comfort, Normal, Sport, Sport+ and a customizable Individual mode). Each mode alters the engine and transmission characteristics, steering effort, suspension damping, all-wheel-drive tuning and even exhaust sound to suit your driving intentions. Put the car in its Sport+ and it is pretty much ready for all-out driving with firmer suspension damping and sharper steering responsiveness.

We had a chance to really test the Type S at its upper limits on a closed race course, and it delivered fun and confident speed. The car's additional frame bracing really helps make the car feel solid and responsive. The quicker ratio steering, which almost felt too quick out on the street, feels perfect in this setting, and the standard Brembo brakes deliver powerful stopping power without much pedal effort.

The all-wheel-drive system, which has the ability to send up to 70% of available torque to either of the rear wheels, can essentially force the TLX on an unnaturally tight arc by channeling extra power to the outside rear tire. That allows for harder and earlier acceleration out of turns, as you can feel the extra power going to the outside rear wheel, helping to enhance traction and give the Type S a more balanced and nimble feel. It feels a little like cheating, but, oh boy, is it effective.

Those who crave the challenge of driving a performance car with a more aggressive personality might find the Type S too stable, easy and predictable. But out on real roads where there are higher consequences and more variables in play, the built-in safety nets on the Type S feel welcome and kind of make it an optimal tool for drivers at any experience level.

Still comfortable and luxurious

Dial things back to Normal or Comfort mode and the Type S transforms into a comfy luxury cruiser. The adaptive suspension does a nice job of absorbing road impacts. The Comfort setting, in fact, even felt a little too soft on some roads with more rolling undulations, which made the TLX feel like a boat out at sea. But chances are there's a setting that will work for nearly any scenario, which makes the Type S a versatile vehicle that's easy to live with.

Seat comfort is a high point as well. The front seat cushions are soft yet supportive and very adjustable, even offering variable lateral and lumbar support to better hold you in place during spirited driving. The rear seats are also pretty cushy, though they don't offer nearly as much support as the front seats.

Another trick up Acura's sleeve is the way the TLX deals with noise and vibration. Active noise cancellation and active vibration control utilize the vehicle's speakers and electronically controlled mass dampers to actively cancel out noises and vibrations from the engine and road. The Type S engine also has the ability to deactivate half of its engine cylinders to save fuel but that usually causes a natural imbalance, adding noise and vibration. These systems can counteract those imbalances as well. Overall, the TLX is impressively quiet for a small luxury sedan.

Upgraded interior, sorta improved tech

Acura's new generation of interiors are a serious step up. While it isn't a complete reinvention of the look and feel of an Acura interior, the quality and design are elevated appropriately for the small luxury sedan class. There are also a handful of Type S-specific details in the interior, including embossed headrest logos and simulated suede seat inserts.

Front seat space is excellent and will be comfortable for a wide range of adults. But while the TLX has grown in overall length, overall passenger volume remains nearly unchanged. This is still a small luxury sedan, and the back seat is where it's most noticeable. Passengers taller than 5 foot 10 or so will start to feel cramped.

Also, Acura's touchpad-based infotainment system is a polarizing feature and takes some getting used to. That's especially the case if you consistently switch between the native infotainment interface system and a smartphone integration system such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 10.2-inch display screen is well sized, crisp and attractive, but we can't help but think that Acura could improve the overall interface by making the screen a touchscreen.

Edmunds says

The 2021 Acura TLX Type S is a highly compelling performance sedan that seems to have just the right blend of speed and luxury. It'll provide driving thrills but also a decent amount of technology, convenience and daily comfort. There's a ton of value at its asking price compared to what the European marques typically charge, though the Genesis G70 still comes in slightly lower. Ultimately, we think this is one of the strongest offerings Acura has made in any sedan segment for quite some time, and it has the potential to be a class favorite.