Sunday, May 22, 2016

2015 Acura TLX -- Second Drive Review

It's been a while since I posted!  Hey, everyone!!!

You may recall my post on the 2015 Acura TLX I drove a year and a half ago when my car was being worked on.  While I enjoyed that car, I didn't feel that it was appreciably better than several other cars at its price point.  I commented that the ELS sound system was disappointing, the nine-speed automatic transmission was borderline awful, that the back seat was less-than-huge, and that the car just didn't feel "special", despite being an excellent features-per-dollar value.

Well, I took my Acura in for an oil change, tire rotation, and NYS inspection yesterday, and they put me in another 2015 TLX.  The TLX I drove last year had the Technology Package, which adds items like navigation, the aforementioned ELS stereo, perforated leather seats, lane-keeping assist, and a few other goodies to the base model.  Yesterday's TLX had the Advance Package, which includes all of the Technology Package's items, and adds adaptive cruise control, ventilated front seats, and remote start, among other things.  In other words, it was fully loaded!  The only available option it lacked was Acura's excellent Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system, which I sampled in their MDX SUV.  It essentially gave that large, seven-seat vehicle the handling chops of something much smaller, and it blew me away.  But that's another story entirely.

Anyway, I spent a few hours in the TLX Advance Package yesterday, and ended up liking the car significantly more than I liked the TLX that I drove last year.  I'm not quite sure why.  I think this was partially, but certainly not entirely, due to the additional goodies on the Advance Package model.  Anyway, here are my thoughts:

1.  This car is FAST!  I thought this about the other TLX as well, but it's got BALLS!  It's quieter and smoother than my 2003 CL, which is why it doesn't feel quite as brutally snappy as that car does despite almost certainly being quicker.

2.  The nine-speed automatic transmission still SUCKS.  In this day and age, it's inexcusable for any automatic transmission to shift harshly.  IMHO, Toyota set the standard for smooth automatic transmissions in 1992 with that year's new Camry, and almost every normal (non-DSG, non-CVT) automatic car I've driven or ridden in since about 2000 has shifted with at least reasonable smoothness.  Not this one.  It lurches almost every time when shifting between 2nd and 3rd gear under acceleration, and it's unnecessarily busy.  It has too many speeds for its own good, and is clueless about which one to use at any given time.  That, and though the push-button shifter works more intuitively than I would have expected, the delay between pushing the drive (or reverse) button and the car actually engaging the appropriate gear is unacceptable at best and borderline unsafe at worst.  I would hate to make a three-point turn in this car in any busy city street.  If Acura would drop its outstanding eight-speed dual-clutch automatic (and its conventional floor-mounted shift lever) from the four-cylinder TLX into the V6 model, it would be a far better fit for this car and all of these gripes would be solved.  Or better yet, offer a real, honest-to-goodness six-speed stick shift as an option.

3.  Transmission aside, the ride itself is very smooth and controlled, even with sport mode engaged.  The car handles and steers very impressively as well, though I can't help but wonder how amazingly the all-wheel-drive model would handle, and I wonder if the four-cylinder model would turn a bit more eagerly given the relative lack of mass over the front wheels.

4.  It's a QUIET car.  Hondas and Acuras aren't typically the most serene vehicles, but this one is at least as quiet, if not more so, than I would expect any entry-level luxury sedan to be.

5.  Not only are the front seats heated and ventilated, but said heating and ventilation are automatically controlled based on how the climate control is set.  For example, I set the interior temperature to be 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and the car continuously adjusted the intensity of the seat ventilation to optimally maintain that temperature under my butt as well as all around me.  It was quite awesome.  I have to wonder, though, if the ventilation feature would act as a "fart-trapper".

6.  The ELS stereo seemed far more impressive in this car than in the one I drove a year ago.  It could have been that I sampled different music this time, but it seemed MUCH crisper, with deeper bass and exceptional clarity.  Quite literally, it rocked, and I felt like I was sitting in a concert hall.  It was easily one of the best car stereos I've sampled in a while, and I didn't quite feel that way last time, despite the system being identical.

7.  One of the goodies that is included with the Advance Package is adaptive cruise control.  For those unfamiliar with this technology, it maintains not only a set speed, but a set following distance as well.  It was surprisingly effective, though it took me more searching than I would've liked to find the following distance adjustment, as it wasn't grouped together with the normal cruise control buttons as it is on Honda-branded cars.  I could see myself using this feature quite a bit.

8.  Both of the TLXs I drove had "lane-keeping assist".  This feature reads lane markings and helps keep the car in its lane.  Last time, I tried using it as a hands-off feature, which it will only do for 90 seconds before requiring driver input.  It worked decently but seemed like a gimmick.  This time, I kept my hands on the wheel the entire time with this feature engaged, and it worked like a charm!  The car stayed in its lane nearly flawlessly with very minimal guidance from yours truly.  This is another feature I could see myself using regularly, now that I know how effective it is when used its intended way (as assistance to steering, as opposed to replacement).

9.  With adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist engaged simultaneously, the car essentially drives itself in certain situations.  I'm normally not one to advocate for driverless cars, but these features can definitely be useful.

Overall, I liked the TLX much better this time around.  I liked it enough, in fact, that were I in the market for a new car, I'd give it some serious thought.  The only real deal-breaker is the damn nine-speed automatic transmission.  Acura would need to drop a real manual transmission into it, or at the very least, offer their eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with the V6 engine.  Yes, this car is good enough that I would give it some consideration even with an automatic transmission, and I never thought I would say that about any car (just not the nine-speed unit it currently uses).

Two parting thoughts:

1.  I still love my 2003 CL Type-S six-speed coupe.  Even with nearly 170K miles, it's reliable, comfortable, reasonably practical, quite good on gas given its performance capability, and incredibly fun to drive.  I'm in no hurry to get rid of it.

2.  The new Honda Civic offers most to all of the cool features that the TLX offers, as well as a few that the TLX does NOT offer (such as heated REAR seats), for about $16K less.  I have yet to drive the new Civic, and after sitting in one at an auto show, it does give up a bit of the luxury vibe found in the Acura.  That said, virtually every journalist that has sampled it has RAVED about it, and there's a chance Honda might offer the fully loaded version with a stick shift next year.

And on that note, this guy needs some shut-eye!

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