2021 Acura TLX Type S First Test Review: SH-AWD’s Time to Shine

Historically, Acura Type S models were only marginally more sporting than the workaday versions, so as not to infringe on the Type R ideal of all-out performance. But what Acura has done with the 2021 TLX Type S, the first in a reborn line of Type S-badged cars that includes versions of the new MDX SUV and the NSX supercar, moves the needle much closer to Type R territory without sacrificing what makes a Type S approachable and livable.

Not only is the TLX Type S a serious performer, it’s also far and away the best version of the TLX you can buy. When we tested the 2021 TLX A-Spec at our Car of the Year competition, we said it had the right moves, and despite not putting up big numbers, it could still hang with the best when it came to handling and overall feel. The Type S brings the numbers to the party, courtesy of a burlier engine.

Its twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 makes 355 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, way up from the A Spec’s 272 hp and 280 lb-ft. The result is a 0-60-mph sprint of 5.1 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 13.7 seconds at 101.8 mph. That’s way down from the A-Spec’s 6.1-second sprint to 60, and the gap opens up even further once they reach the end of the quarter. In terms of braking from 60 to 0 mph, the Type S’ optional performance tires helped the 4,179-pound car stop in 112 feet—4 feet shy of the 220-pound lighter A-spec car.

Both the A-Spec and the Type S use Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) that can send up to 70 percent of torque to the rear axle and as much as 100 percent of that output to either rear wheel. But Acura has fiddled with the AWD software for the Type S, making it quicker and more eager to engage the rear wheels in the Sport and Sport+ modes, and that makes it noticeably more agile. Around our figure-eight course, a 2020 TLX A Spec needed 26.6 seconds to complete a lap at an average of 0.66 g. The Type S is noticeably quicker at 25.0 seconds, with a significantly grippier 0.75 g average. That’s down to both the SH-AWD programming and this model’s stickier, $800 Pirelli P Zero tires.

It’s worth noting that rivals like the Audi S4, BMW M340i, and Genesis G70 3.3T are all quicker to 60 mph. Simply put, they just launch harder than the Type S does, but once we twisted the steering wheel in the figure-eight test, the Type S outperformed the Audi and tied the BMW. Not bad for something that’s down on power to the Bimmer and much heavier than either German.

More important, though, is how this car feels out in the real world. This is a sport sedan, after all, so it should feel like one even in everyday use. And it absolutely does.

The cabin provides the space you need to drive, the sport seats are well shaped and supportive, the V-6’s 355 horses always feel just an ankle flex away to help you dice up traffic, and the ride is compliant and comfortable despite the car rolling on large, 20-inch wheels. Not only that, but the trunk is deep and has a large aperture which makes loading and unloading cargo a breeze. The rear seats could be a little more spacious, but the Type S is on par with other cars from this class in that regard.

Other nice touches include an individual mode that allows drivers to configure the weight of the steering, the aggressiveness of the powertrain response, and the fitness of the dampers. We found the suspension’s Comfort mode to be a little floaty at times, so Normal mode for the dampers, Sport mode for the powertrain, and Normal for the steering was our preferred setup for the daily bump and grind.

And since the Type S is fun to drive even while commuting, it’s of course enjoyable when you hit an empty back road. Yet, unless you’ve previously driven an Acura SH-AWD vehicle hard, the driving experience takes some getting used to. That’s because the TLX is fundamentally a FWD car, and SH-AWD only sends power to the rear when you’re on throttle.

Essentially, if you want to extract delightful rear-drive vibes from the Type S, you need to be on the accelerator through a corner. The result is a total rethink of the way you drive fast. Instead of approaching a corner and braking, entering it on maintenance throttle, and powering out, the Type S lets you return to the gas much sooner. It’s unnerving at first, but once you wrap your brain around what the AWD system is doing, the Type S delivers and absolutely flies across a good, curvy bit of road. The Type S won’t quite pivot around its driver the same way RWD cars do, and it doesn’t deliver oversteer shenanigans, but it handles with absolute precision and accuracy.

The brakes proved a bit of an issue on the road, as well, but it’s not that they’re not capable—it’s that they’re too sensitive. A brake-by-wire system is tasked with clamping the 14.3-inch front rotors and 13.0-inch rears, and the pedal is awfully sensitive, with what seems like a very small amount of travel before you get full braking force. That’s great for more enthusiastic driving, but it makes coming to a controlled stop around town a pain, and after a week with the car we still hadn’t quite mastered stopping without flinging our heads forward.

But touchy brakes aside, the Type S is a huge step up from the A-Spec we tested last year, and one that genuinely moves the Type S brand in the right direction. It’s a serious contender in a very serious segment, especially when you consider its $54,645 starting sticker well undercuts those of its German, Korean, and American rivals.

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