2021 Acura TLX Type S Review: A Journey of Rediscovery

The hype around the 2021 Acura TLX Type S is palpable.

Over a decade has passed since the last TL Type-S, a slick four-door that handled far better than a front-drive, mid-size sedan had any right to. It was mature, like the Germans, but at a price that meant you could get a new sport sedan and that family vacation you kept putting off. It’s little wonder the things are still coveted, especially with the six-speed manual.

So the new Type S—no more hyphen—has big shoes to fill. Acura wants enthusiasts to know it sees them. The brand has given its latest sedan a performance makeover, with a more powerful, Acura-exclusive engine, retuned suspension, and some nods to the past. Is that enough to take on the best entry-level sport sedans?

What’s new?

The Type S builds off the second-generation TLX, itself new for 2021. Larger and lower than before, this sharply styled sport sedan features a double-wishbone front suspension, creating clear air between it and the proletariat Honda Accord it was slightly related to. It’s also a return to form, as the well-loved Acura models of the late ’90s and early ’00s used a similar setup.

Where the story veers off is in the engine bay. A V6 is back under the hood, a new 3.0-liter mill breathing through a twin-scroll turbocharger. A 10-speed automatic sends the power to all four corners, courtesy of Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system. The engine is unique to Acura, and the 355 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque it produces puts it right around the BMW M340i, Genesis G70, and Audi S4.

Acura didn’t just chuck more power in here and call it a job done. The suspension is retuned, along with the adaptive damper system. Big Brembo front disc brakes peek out from behind the thin-spoked 20-inch alloys too, which come wrapped in sticky summer Pirellis. The rolling stock is one of the most obvious tell-signs for the Type-S. A more pronounced lip spoiler and four cannons poking out under the rear bumper are the other big visual changes. Folks might not clock the discreet Type S badges peppering the exterior, but they probably won’t miss the Tiger Eye Pearl paint exclusive to the trim. It’s an excellent nod to the old CL Type-S.

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Driving experience

Enough about looks, though: does this reborn Type S deliver where it counts—behind the wheel?

Uh, sometimes.

In hamburger feedback format, let’s start with the positives. The new engine is a sweetheart, eager to rev and deliver a pleasant song along with it. The Type S will rip its way down a road with the brief fireworks of backfire, but it’s not overdone. Switch over to Sport or Sport+ and there’s even more bass in the mix. The transmission is good in the regular mode, and responds reasonably quickly to pulls of the wheel-mounted paddles. In Sport and Sport+, however, it can get a little eager to shed gear or three at even the lightest brush of the brake pedal. This results in more than a few unplanned explorations of the upper end of the tachometer.

SEE ALSO: 2022 Acura MDX Review: A Fitter Flagship

Working against the TLX is its own portly curb weight. No matter how much Acura has stiffened the suspension, this is still a 4,200-pound (1,905-kg) sedan. The Type S stays commendably flat in corners, but it makes for a brittle ride on rougher roads. Broken tarmac does the steering no favors, either. The rack is light and quick, which can make the Type S feel agile and pointy on smooth roads. On anything less, it’s almost nervous, like it can’t pick a line and stick to it. The rear suspension feels ever so slightly out of step, needing a crucial half-second to follow the front axle’s lead.

Those brakes are a high point: a firm pedal provides strong, consistent stops without a hint of fade.

The good news is that, when dropped back into Comfort mode, the Type S is very nearly as comfy cruising as the rest of the TLX lineup.

SEE ALSO: 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Review: Baby Grand (Tourer)

Interior and comfort

The TLX interior is a generally good place to spend time. The front seats are a comfortable (and breathable) combination of leather and faux-suede. In the very center of the dashboard sits the drive mode selector, a veritable black hole that pulls all other elements towards it. Is it gimmicky, complete with a game-like diiing every twist? Yes. Does that work? Also yes. Overall the design is a little fussy, but at least Acura is forging its own interior design path.

That thick center console makes the front feel narrower than it is, but have no fear, the TLX is still spacious. Well, at least up front. The low roof line limits second row head space. Worse still is the 34.9 inches (886 mm) of legroom. That’s a tenth of an inch more space than the back pew in a Genesis G70, a car that’s over 10 inches shorter.

Quality is good, with only the lower parts of the door panels remaining unconvincing in a $50,000 car.  The TLX is tight as a drum over roads too, with little outside noise permeating the cabin, even at speed.

Tech suite

I’ll keep it brief: the Acura infotainment system is still pretty terrible. The trackpad is just too cumbersome on the move, and you’ll want to hook up the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to avoid as much as possible. The best part of the screen would be the cool animations that accompany any driving mode switch.

The display between the dials is much more useful, capable of flitting between the myriad data points of a modern sports sedan. The red-on-gray tach and speedo may not be the most legible, but it certainly adds to the sense of occasion. If only there were a head-up-display available; apparently only the top 2.0-liter is worthy.

If for whatever reason the siren song of the V6 isn’t enough, Acura has fit the Type S with the excellent 17-speaker ELS 3D sound system found elsewhere in the lineup. I said only Lexus’ Mark Levinson systems can match up in this price range in the TLX A-Spec review last winter, and I stick by it here.

Acura fits the Type S with every one of its driver assists. Forward collision warning with automated braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert are all standard. Acura also throws in its Traffic Jam Assist, which allows lane centering to work in conjunction with the adaptive cruise control.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec Review: Making the Grade

What’s the competition?

Let’s circle back to those German (and Korean) competitors. Both the BMW M340i and Genesis G70 can be had in all-wheel drive form, like the TLX. Both are lighter than the big Acura, and that gap only widens if you go with the available rear-drive models. The M340i is the powerhouse of the group at 382 hp, but the Genesis isn’t far behind with 368 ponies. The Audi S4 is, unsurprisingly, all-paw only, its 3.0-liter V6 producing 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque.

Acura does pack in a lot of goodies for the $53,345 ($61,875 CAD) starting price, however. An upscale ELS sound system, parking sensors front and rear, and a surround-view camera are all part of the package. The only additional charges here are the paint ($500 / $500 CAD) and the summer tires ($800 US, standard in Canada). Total damage? $54,645 ($62,375 CAD).

The BMW starts above that—$55,695 ($65,380 CAD with standard xDrive)—and that’s before the thousands in options necessary to match the Acura’s tech. The Audi is a little better, undercutting the Acura at $52,945 (but more in Canada, at $63,650 CAD).

The tougher nut to crack is the G70. A rear-drive V6 model starts at just $43,145; add an extra two grand for AWD in the US. In Canada, the V6 starts at $55,000 CAD, but comes with more standard kit. Heck, load it up and you’re still looking at $51,445 ($59,500 CAD). It’s a fantastic deal.

SEE ALSO: 2022 Genesis G70 Review: First Drive

Verdict: 2021 Acura TLX Type S Review

After a few days with the 2021 Acura TLX Type S, I was still conflicted. It’s true that this is a sportier sedan than the brand has built in at least a decade. It’s got the looks and the sound. I don’t even really care that it’s slightly down on power or straight-line performance.

But the TLX is also compromised. It’s too heavy, which affects the ride, which affects the steering, which affects the fun. A transmission that isn’t flipping through gears like channels would be a boon, too. Like a four-door Japanese take on a fourth-gen Camaro, the TLX is also huge outside while not being particularly spacious inside.

All that said, those that have remained faithful to the brand during the lean years will be happy to see the Type S. It’s Exhibit A in Acura’s return to its enthusiast roots, and the upcoming Integra could make a very serious case, too. This hotter TLX is a good first go, but still feels held back for reasons unknown, like we need a Type S version of this Type S. With a little bit of polishing, it could be the performance sleeper its predecessor was so famous for.

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