With more technology and more data sources being piped into cars every day, automakers have been struggling to figure out how to present drivers with a crush of information in a safe, intuitive way. That swelling tide has given rise to increasingly complex infotainment systems featuring multi-controllers and ever-larger displays. It’s become enough of a problem that companies like Acura and Infiniti have resorted to using more than one big screen in their center stacks just to relay all the information, and other automakers are poised to join them. So far, though, such dual-display arrays have left a lot to be desired.
The 2018 TLX sedan is a tacit acknowledgement that Acura’s twin-screen system hasn’t been the most intuitive interface, let alone the quickest. This infotainment approach was first introduced on the company’s 2013flagship, and since then, Acura’s engineers have been steadily beavering away, making incremental improvements it rolled out to other vehicles.
With the automaker’s 2018 TLX, Acura’s regularly criticized system has been given its first major overhaul, a much-needed update that helps both speed up and greatly rationalize most functions. The changes are so significant that Honda’s premium brand is now calling the system On Demand Multi-Use Display 2.0, or ODMD 2.0 for short. Catchy, eh?
In fact, the changes to ODMD mirror the thoughtful approach that Acura has taken with the TLX as a whole — smarter design and more robust performance are possible without making massive investments in clean-sheet technology. The TLX’s mid-cycle refresh may be more comprehensive and meaningful than most, but Acura hasn’t thrown out the baby with the bathwater, either — it’s built on what works.
Like the ODMD 2.0 system living in its dashboard, the 2018 TLX presents a cleaner face to the world, with all-new sheet metal from the windshield forward. Gone is the shield grille that has dominated the TLX’s snout since 2015, and in its place is a more sharply proportioned “diamond pentagon” unit that draws inspiration from. Combined with a redesigned fascia and Acura’s now trademark Jewel Eye LED headlamps, the TLX presents a more aggressive and modern visage, but as before, it’s a look that not everyone will fall for.
Acura knows that crossovers and SUVs have been dramatically eating into sales of conventional sedans lately, and as a result, vehicles with four doors and a conventional trunk need more sprucing to continue to attract shoppers’ eyeballs. To that end, the 2018 TLX also gains a new A-Spec model, which features wider 245-series, 19-inch Michelin Primacy MXM4 rubber to go with sportier suspension and steering tuning. More obvious visual changes include unique dark-finish alloys, bigger exhaust outlets, more aggressive aero bits, and the usual smattering of look-faster badges and gloss-black trim.
All of these changes sound good on paper, and indeed, look pretty good in the metal. But given that the TLX is tasked with taking on sporty four-doors like the, , and , the proof was always going to be in the driving. Acura thus invited us motor journalists to the scenic precincts outside of Louisville, Kentucky to sample their much-updated baby on the region’s winding b-roads.
The TLX range starts with 206-horsepower, front-wheel-drive 2.4-liter 4-cylinder models that come equipped with a novel eight-speed dual-clutch transmission that features a small torque converter for improved refinement. Such models start at a reasonable $33,000, picking up right where high-content mainstream family sedans leave off.
In fact, those base-powertrain models may offer the best bang for the buck, but you’ll need to spend at least $38,200 to get an AWD V6 model with the nine-speed automatic to really net the ease of power and comportment that say “luxury.” The latter models top out just shy of $46,000 for a top-shelf Advance Package model, but when aligned equipment-for-equipment, the TLX is still less costly than rivals.
Acura officials remain understandably quick to point out that V6 TLXes come with a healthy 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers may be identical to last year’s model, but they still give the TLX a significant horsepower advantage versus the competition’s (costlier) four-cylinder turbo models. After 31 years, Acura is still not yet able to match Audi, BMW and Lexus for brand cachet, so they’re emphasizing more power and features for the dollar. The concepts of “value” and “prestige” don’t always click together with upwardly mobile customers, so it’s a good thing the refreshed TLX is a pretty solid steer.
I sampled both standard and A-Spec V6 all-wheel-drive models on the launch, and one needn’t be behind the wheel of the sportier trim to realize that improvements have been made to the TLX’s handling. Corner turn-in proved quick and accurate in either standard or A-Spec guise, and ride quality was unfailingly good, even with the A-Spec’s larger wheels.
The models I tested tracked faithfully down the road, but in terms of feedback and general involvement, there were still moments where it would be tough to label the TLX a sport sedan. While it’s possible to pitch the car enthusiastically into a corner, eager steering still gives way to a sizable, steady diet of understeer.
Under normal driving, SH-AWD is biased toward the front wheels, but 70 percent of the torque can be pushed the rear wheels in such situations, with up to 100 percent of that twist shuttled to either axle. Thus, front-end plow can be mitigated by bravely pouring on the throttle mid-corner. That’s normally a no-no, but the torque-vectoring Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive effectively overdrives the rear outside wheel to induce rear-end rotation, allowing for a better chance to clip the apex. This sounds more entertaining than it is in practice.
Acura says they’ve retuned the nine-speed automatic for improved refinement, but I never really had a problem with it before. It’s well behaved tooling around town, and with the drive mode selector tuned to Sport or Sport+, upshifts are properly crisp whether executed automatically or called for manually with the paddle shifters.
You may want to use those paddles — despite having a significant horsepower advantage on paper, the V6 TLX doesn’t actually feel particularly sprightlier than many of its four-cylinder rivals. My seat-of-the-pants accelerometer suggests a 0 to 60 time of close to six seconds. Competitors deliver similar (and occasionally slightly better) torque figures, and thanks to their turbocharged nature, their power comes on sooner. That said, I tend to prefer the sound and overall refinement of V6 engines to boosted fours, even if that traditionally comes at the expense of fuel economy. (The EPA has not revealed efficiency numbers for the 2018 TLX yet, but I suspect it’s a trade-off I’d happily live with.)
I do wish Acura had better leveraged those inherent V6 characteristics to their advantage in the TLX’s new A-Spec model. They went to the trouble of giving the A-Spec a more aggressive appearance and they retuned the steering (slightly quicker ratio) and firmed up the suspension (bigger anti-roll bars, stiffer damping). All of that’s good stuff, but they didn’t give the A-Spec’s engine additional power to really make it feel special.
Doing so would have gone a long way toward realizing the “red-carpet athlete” vision that Acura has been espousing since the original TLX debuted in 2015. Yes, engineers have retuned the car’s active sound control to deliver up to four decibels more engine sound at high revs through the audio system, but to my ears, the V6’s soundtrack could still be more assertive in Sport and Sport+, both inside the car and to passers by.
Veering back to the interior, the standard TLX’s cabin remains largely unchanged save for the infotainment overhaul, but that’s no bad thing. Seats are comfortable, materials are of good quality, noise is well managed and most controls are thoughtfully located. Acura’s unusual button-based gear selector returns, and while it may confound some, to my eyes, it’s among the best e-shifters on the market.
A-Spec models are treated to “-inspired” cabins with either red or black Alcantara and leather upholstery, with the seats featuring extra bolstering, as well as contrast stitching and piping. Aluminum-look trim, red LED ambient lighting and a stainless-steel dead pedal are among the other sport-minded cabin upgrades.
So there’s plenty of equipment onboard, and that philosophy extends to safety countermeasures, too. AcuraWatch, a suite of active safety features, is standard across the line, and it includes forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking and lane keep assist, among other features. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are available, as is a surround-view camera.
Together, the 2018 TLX’s updates add up to a significantly improved automobile, but the single greatest quality-of-life improvement is likely its revamped infotainment. ODMD 2.0 still employs two screens, an 8-inch inset upper display and a 7-inch lower touchscreen (the latter now features capacitive touch instead of the old car’s clumsy haptic feedback unit).
The new system features greatly rationalized screens, and there’s a lot less need to click around, and less functional overlap between the screens. As Jonathan Rivers, TLX lead product planner, told me, “We’ve deleted a lot of random and double menus.” The result, Rivers says, is that despite having the same underlying processing power, the system is 30 percent quicker. Plus, it’s just plain easier to get the information you want to call up, many of the graphics look better, and you can keep tabs on more functions at the same time.
The twin-screen setup really comes into its own if you’re a regular Apple CarPlay or Android Auto user. Compatibility with both is standard, and it’s convenient to have these phone-based integrations living on the top screen essentially all the time. It might be more intuitive to have CarPlay or AA running on the lower display to take advantage of its phone-like touchscreen, but Rivers says the goal was to prioritize line-of-sight for maps. To be fair, I still prefer the interfaces from some rivals, but the update is enough of an improvement that I no longer view the system as a barrier to purchase.
Other nice connectivity-related features include available wireless charging and a USB port that’s been upgraded to 2.5 amps instead of the slow-charging 1.0-amp connector of last year (a second USB port is notable by its absence).
As a company, Acura has floundered around in the muddy mid-waters between everyday brands and true luxury nameplates for most of its 31-year life. The company says it’s recommitting to its original mantra of “Precision Crafted Performance,” and indeed, the changes wrought to the TLX elevate what was already a very appealing — if overlooked — automobile. Will it be enough to in turn resuscitate the company’s moribund sedan sales? That’s harder to predict, and perhaps unfair to ask of a mid-cycle redesign.