Acura TLX vs Audi A4 and Rivals: How Does it Stack Up?

Acura has refreshed the TLX sedan for 2021, with a renewed focus on dynamics and a sharp new look to match. It faces 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, 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.

Get a Quote on a New Audi A4 or Acura TLX

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 (4,942 mm) nose-to-tail, making it at least 7 inches (178 mm) longer than any of the competitors. The closest is the Audi A4 at 187.5 inches (4,762 mm), and the shortest is the 182.5-inch-long (4,625-mm) Giulia. Wheelbases are much closer: the Acura clinches it with a 113.0-inch (2,870-mm) 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 (1,810 mm). The Bimmer is a little wider, coming in a tenth shy of six feet, with the ascending order being A4 (72.7 in / 1,845 mm), Giulia (73.7 in / 1,872 mm) and TLX (75.2 in / 1,910 mm). Every one of the sedans is 56-and-a-bit inches (1,420 mm) 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 the case: the TLX tops the charts for front leg room and shoulder room in both rows, but brings up the rear in second-row head and leg room.

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 (481 L) of storage. Put another way, that’s over 40-percent more room than the smallest boots of the bunch, the 12.0-cubic-foot (340 L) holds of the Alfa and Audi. The TLX sits in second place thanks to its 13.5 cubic feet (382 L).

dimension Acura TLX 2.0 SH-AWD  BMW 330i xDrive Mercedes-Benz C300 4MATIC Audi A4 45 quattro Alfa Romeo Giulia AWD
length 194.6 in 185.7 in 184.5 in 187.5 in 182.5 in
width 75.2 in 71.9 in 71.3 in 72.7 in 73.7 in
height 56.4 in 56.8 in 56.3 in 56.2 in 56.5 in
wheelbase 113.0 in 112.2 in 111.8 in 111.0 in 111.0 in
curb weight 3927 lb 3772 lb 3605 lb 3627 lb 3632 lb
headroom (f/r) 37.2 / 36.3 in 38.7 / 37.6 in 37.1 / 37.1 in 37.3 / 37.4 in 38.6 / 37.6 in
legroom (f/r) 42.5 / 34.9 in 42.0 / 35.2 in 41.7 / 35.2 in 41.7 / 35.7 in 42.4 / 35.1 in
shoulder room (f/r) 58.2 / 55.0 in 56.0 / 54.6 in 55.3 / 55.0 in 55.9 / 54.5 in 56.1 / 53.6 in
trunk space 13.5 cu-ft 17.0 cu-ft 12.6 cu-ft 12.0 cu-ft 12.0 cu-ft

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 has 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. Nonetheless, Motor Trend track-tested the TLX A-Spec and couldn’t best a 7.0-second run.

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 Acura bringing up the rear with a respectable 21 city, 29 highway, and 24 mpg combined.

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performance Acura TLX 2.0 SH-AWD  BMW 330i xDrive Mercedes-Benz C300 4MATIC Audi A4 45 quattro Alfa Romeo Giulia AWD
engine 2.0-liter I4 turbo 2.0-liter I4 turbo 2.0-liter I4 turbo 2.0-liter I4 turbo 2.0-liter I4 turbo
horsepower 272 hp 255 hp 255 hp 261 hp 280 hp
torque 280 lb-ft 294 lb-ft 273 lb-ft 273 lb-ft 306 lb-ft
transmission 10-speed automatic eight-speed automatic nine-speed automatic seven-speed DCT eight-speed automatic
mpg 21/29/24 25/34/28 23/33/26 24/32/27 23/31/26
0–60 mph 7.0 sec 5.3 sec 5.7 sec 5.6 sec 5.1 sec

Tech and Features

On sheer screen real estate, the TLX is certainly class-competitive, offering up a 10.2-inch central screen. It uses the brand’s True Touchpad Interface however, which requires precise touches on a pad in the center console. Rough pavement makes it difficult to navigate, though the graphics themselves are at least nice.

SEE ALSO: 2019 Acura RDX Review

That’s bad news, because the TLX is up against some serious competition in this segment. 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 landing in 2022.

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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 it’s a standard 8.8 inches across.

Every TLX comes 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.

Pricing

Pricing for the TLX begins at $38,525 for a front-drive model. We’re talking AWD here though, and that tacks an extra $2,000 to the bottom line. More than the previous-gen TLX, sure, but the new car carries much more standard equipment.

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Even with the base price jump, the TLX is the value leader of the pack. The next-closest competitor is the Audi A4. In 45 Quattro trim, it stickers for $41,945. In ascending order, it then goes Giulia ($43,845), 330i xDrive ($44,245) and C300 4MATIC ($44,650).

Every TLX comes with standard heated front seats; front-seat ventilation arrives on the A-Spec, and heated rears show up on the top Advance trim. The AcuraWatch suite of active safety features is standard too, including collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, traffic jam assist, traffic sign recognition, and lane departure warning. A 360-degree camera, blind-spot information system, and rear cross-traffic alert are available on higher trims. 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.

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