“Wow, Dad! Looks really fast… and the blue… sparkles!” my almost-five-year-old daughter exclaimed when I picked her up from school in a 2021 Acura TLX Type S – in Apex Blue Pearl of course.
It’s hard not to start with the looks. They are the first impression anyone gets of a car and in this case, the impression is fetching – a notion that was further validated by the fact that the TLX’s mix of swoops and sharp edges were the first thing friends or other family members grabbed hold of.
Looks, though, only go so far. Utility counts, too, and to explore that I ran the TLX Type S through its paces on a 766-mile road trip from Phoenix to Southern California’s premier motorsports extravaganza, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. I had already planned to attend the event covering the Historic GTP group for Vintage Motorsport, so why not get the measure of the new Acura in the process?
A small handful of e-mails later, this striking 355hp 3-liter turbocharged V6 sedan showed up at the door, ready for the road.
An important Step Two after getting my daughter’s impression was to capture photos of the car before it became Jackson-Pollocked with bug guts on the AZ to CA run.
“I have another surprise for you” I said to my daughter after buckling her in. “I need your help getting some photos of the car.” She replied with a simple, “OK. But only if I can bring my camera…and we get ice cream after.”
We dashed off after dinner for a photo session in the late-afternoon Arizona light. “Can we go fast, Dad?” I heard from the back seat as I pulled out of the driveway. “My daughter,” I smiled, twisting the large dial in the middle of the center stack to put the car in Sport +.
Destination reached rather quickly, and with smiles painted on both our faces.
With many other cars, I can barely tell the difference when switching between drive modes. That is not the case with this car. The suspension is significantly firmer in Sport+ and the exhaust note is considerably louder. But the real difference comes with the 10-speed automatic gearbox and how it tries to keep you in the powerband (which is surprisingly linear thanks to the twin scroll turbocharger) the entire time.
As a result, the throttle is very responsive—a feature I think has been overlooked in modern drive-by-wire cars. That said, I did find Sport+ (and even Sport) mode to be a bit much in that regard for casual driving. Cruising down the street at 3,500 rpm and aggressive-ish downshifts when approaching a stop light seemed a bit overkill in most situations.
Precisely why there are five driving modes to choose from, I’m sure.
Photos and first impressions out of the way, it was time to hit the road and really see what it is like to live with this performance sedan. That means it is time to talk about the interior.
I’ll start with the things I enjoyed, and atop that list is the auto function for the seat cooling/heating. Depending on ambient temperature, the seats will either cool or warm when the car is remotely started. Living in the desert we regularly have 30-plus degree temperature variations during the day so there have been many times I have used the heat first thing in the morning and cranked on the AC later.
Another plus are the manual switches and buttons for climate control. Navigating a screen and/or menu to simply turn on the air or change the temperature can be tedious. Yes, this is a bit nitpicky, but given the option, I will always prefer tactile climate controls.
Additionally, there was more than enough space for all the equipment and clothes I seem to always overpack. I even put the back seats down and positioned my electric cooler back there. I ran a DC plug from the center console and the portable refrigerator kept my drinks and photographic film cool during my journey.
Knowing that the car utilizes wired Apple Car Play, I was sure to load my phone with plenty of podcasts for the six-hour journey. Managing that while on the road was where things got a bit frustrating for me.
In lieu of a touchscreen, Acura opted for what it calls its True Touchpad Interface. It took some getting used to initially and it wasn’t bad all the time. However, several times out on the road I needed to pause and go to navigation or some other seemingly simple task, and an imprecise gesture from my finger had me backtracking and starting all over again.
Did the designers do this to retain those manual climate controls I so enjoy? Not sure. I did realize I would rather the way it is over a touchscreen any day and ultimately concluded that with some more time and practice I could probably mitigate many of the flubs I experienced with the touchpad.
At $53,100, the price tag of the TLX Type S sits well below some European performance models, but it is by no means inexpensive. The car seems to live in a nice middle ground as well of performance, comfort, and function. If you need a track-focused beast that will get you the best lap time possible for a sedan, I don’t think this is it. However, if you want a peppy sports sedan that turns heads and can be both economical and luxurious when you want it to be, this may be the one.
Sadly, Acura does not make performance cars very often anymore. This is the first type S in over 10 years, and there is no guarantee it will continue in this direction going forward. I could easily see this model garnering a similar cult following that I participated in when I was longing for a six-speed TL Type S back in 2008.
And who knows: Maybe my daughter will want one in 12 years when she finds these photos in the family album …