In an era when SUVs rule the road, is there room for a stylish, high-performance four-door that reminds us what’s good about sedans? Acura is certainly hoping so as it prepares to roll the new 2021 TLX Type S into U.S. showrooms.
Long relegated to the corner of the luxury market, Honda’s high-line brand has come out swinging in the last few years — and much of its strategy is based on success stories of the past. But don’t think Acura is going retro. The latest NSX broke ground not only with its knife-edge design but also its three-motor hybrid powertrain. Then, last year, it introduced an all-new design language with the launch of the next-generation TLX sedan.
It was an open secret that Acura would take things a next step with the return of the TLX Type S, delivering a formidable step up in performance and handling that should make the folks at BMW a bit nervous. After releasing a few teasers, the Japanese marque has finally given us a full-on look at the new model and whether you’re giving it a once-over in the sheet metal or gazing at the spec sheet, the 355-horsepower 2021 Acura TLX Type S is an eye-catcher.
New model gets a new design
The TLX sedan that made its debut last year brought to production Acura’s new Precision Crafted Performance design language. It was heavily influenced by two well-received show cars, the Acura Performance Concept and the Type S Concept. The body wraps around an entirely new platform which shares almost nothing in common with the outgoing TLX — or anything else in the automaker’s line-up. Among other metrics, the latest-generation model is longer, lower and wider.
Like the mainstream version of the TLX, the nose of the Type S is long and low, with an extended dash-to-axle ratio and short overhangs. The headlights and wide pentagon grille also sit low, that grille featuring a starburst pattern. The hood features crisp and deeply sculpted lines. The silhouette is that of a fastback, with accent lines that further enhance the feeling of the car’s low center of gravity.
Compared to the stock TLX, the performance model gets what Acura calls “significant enhancements to all elements” of the car and the driving experience. Visually, the tweaks are more modest than we’ve seen with other high-performance sedan upgrades; the most striking addition is the new copper-gold paint seen in the photos in this story. Along with the Type S badges, one might spot the new 20-inch multi-spoke wheels shod with Pirelli Cinturato P7 all-season tires. For those who want to up the aggression, there are split 5-spoke wheels wrapped with Pirelli P-Zero rubber.
Big change deserves big power
As it should, Acura has focused on maximizing performance, rather than making a show of things. That starts with an almost completely redesigned 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6. Acura engineers put the emphasis on delivering torque from low RPMs, the single-scroll turbo’s 15:1 boost keeping the rush of power going until you’re well beyond legal highway speeds. With 355 hp and 354 pound-feet of torque, this is a significant bump up from the standard-issue sedan and is expected to deliver 0-60 launches in the mid-4-second range.
Power runs through a 10-speed automatic and, to maximize grip, is directed to all four wheels. Here, however, the system has been tuned to emphasize the back wheels under normal traction conditions.
As you’d expect, the Type S isn’t designed to just give you a thrill when the light turns green. The performance TLX features adaptive dampers that can be tuned to the occasion using the Dynamic Control knob. Settings include both Sport and Sport+, the latter minimizing the impact of nanny features like electronic stability control.
Handling the horses
For those who want to feel a greater sense of control, there are metal paddle shifters for the 10-speed — though most drivers are likely to log faster times letting the gearbox do its own thing.
To further enhance handling, Acura stiffened up the body with features like shock tower crossbars and a new brace behind the rear seats.
The automaker also upgraded the brakes and offers an optional performance upgrade for those who might be pushing the limits on the street or with an occasional track run.
Acura says it will offer only a limited run, with no more than 2,000 TLX Type S models available in the U.S. for the 2021 model year. That’s likely to appeal to those who want something reasonably exclusive. But it also reflects the reality of today’s SUV-centric market.
The 2021 Acura TLX Type S starts at $52,300 before delivery fees, with an upgraded version with performance wheels and tires starting at $53,100. The official on sale date is June 23 but you can configure one online now and reach out to a dealer to place a reservation.