When you think of a luxury sports sedan, something German probably comes to mind. Rightfully so, the big three German luxury brands have been making the de-facto segment leaders for decades. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Acura and Lexus woke the German OEMs up and opened them up to serious competition with strong offerings such as the Legend and LS400. Acura even began offering performance-tuned models of its luxury cars. For almost 15 years, that name went away from Acura’s lineup. But in 2022, it’s back. The 2022 TLX Type S is Acura’s return to “Precision Crafted Performance.”
The A-Spec is a fine appearance package on the base TLX, but the Type S is a truly re-engineered, purpose-made sports sedan meant to compete with the best Germany has to offer. I want to get this out of the way now and say that this is a wonderful sports sedan. It only has about three flaws that hold it back from being the best in class. So what differentiates a Type S from the base TLX? A Lot.
The biggest change on the TLX Type S is a bespoke engine from Acura. The J30AC 3.0L Turbo V6 makes its introduction in this car. It makes 355hp at 5500rpm and 354 lb-ft. of torque between 1400-5000rpm. Much of this engine’s design features make you think this is an engine capable of much more power. I suspect this is for reliability but forged connecting rods and crankshaft along with a 6-bolt main bottom end show just how much Acura’s engineers wanted this engine to outlive the apocalypse. The engine features a cylinder deactivation system to aid in fuel economy in loss stress highway driving. While the 60-degree engine geometry would normally help eliminate harmonic distortion, the 3-cylinder mode required the addition of active engine mounts to help prevent the NVH from being transmitted to the cabin. The twin-scroll turbo spools very quickly, which helps explain the wide torque band that is appreciated while driving. While this engine may lack the high revving top end of the VTEC K series or even V6 J-series Honda fans loved, this turbo motor gives you all the torque you want in your usable driving range. More on that later.
Many will tell you that a car is only as good as its brakes, but I always have the caveat of saying that the chassis cannot be replaced in the aftermarket, but brakes can. Acura made several changes to the chassis to increase its overall torsional rigidity by 13% from the already stout TLX. The addition of additional stiffeners and chassis braces across the engine bay and an A-brace behind the rear seats are to thank for this remarkably rigid structure that makes the entire car feel much more cohesive when driving. Solid is an understatement.
Acura didn’t just stiffen the chassis and add a bigger engine. Changes to the suspension, steering, and transmission also took place to make this worthy of the Type S badge. The engineers adjusted the front double wishbone and rear multilink with 40% stiffer spring rates and sway bars that are now 9% stiffer in the front and 31% stiffer in the rear. The transmission is a reworked 10-speed transmission used in the base TLX and Honda Accord 2.0T. However, this gearbox version now knocks out shifts 30-40% faster, depending on your drive mode. The steering is a faster ratio and makes the car feel incredibly responsive.
The engine packaging was an unexpected and impressive aspect of the TLX Type S. As I’ve already stated, this engine is overbuilt and underrated, and I have no doubt will be reliable for hundreds of thousands of miles. The turbo’s placement is high and central in the engine bay containing the catalytic converter right behind it. Catalytic converter theft has skyrocketed over the last few years. Thieves getting under cars and sawing off the “cats” in under a minute is a hard problem to deal with if you have to street park. With this placement of the primary and secondary catalytic converters, that isn’t much of an issue. It’s a small engineering touch that gives customers peace of mind. The ease with which this engine bay looks like it can be serviced and the stoutness of the engine design makes the TLX stand out compared to its German rivals. While a BMW may become a nightmare after a lease ends, this is the type of car you may want to own for 15 years.
Now that we have gone over the technical aspects of this car, how does it drive? In short: Fantastic. This is a fun and involving car that rewards driving it hard. The chassis stiffness and remarkably well-damped suspension tuning provide a compliant but firm ride. It is controlled but does not beat you up over rough pavement. The steering is vague, but the quick ratio gives you a lot of confidence as it is very easy to point this car where you want to go. I don’t mind that the steering is numb, as it suits the character of a luxury car. This is not a GT3 Cup Car, so ultra-communicative steering isn’t what you want on a daily commute.
One trick up the TLX Type S sleeve is its AWD system. SH-AWD, as Acura calls it, is a FWD-based AWD system that can send up to 70% of all torque to the rear wheels. Even better, it can send all of that power to the outside rear wheel in a corner. Result? More rotation. It’s a strange sensation at first, but applying more throttle mid-corner at apex makes the car rotate more so you can get on the power earlier. Typical FWD-based AWD systems result in understeer, but this car won’t if you learn to drive it correctly. On Angeles Crest Highway, this car handled the curves with finesse, keeping an impressive pace for a car that will probably be relegated to highways and surface streets. This is by no means a race car, but you won’t be holding up traffic on canyon roads either. It’s downright fun to wrestle a car this luxurious through twists and turns.
One minor downside to this car is the electro-servo brakes. This brake-by-wire system is effective at stopping the car. The 14.3in front Brembo rotors with 4-piston calipers do the job at slowing down the 4200 lbs. car. That being said, the issue is with the brake feel. The lack of feedback from the brakes made me lose confidence at first until I drove the car more, got used to it, and learned to trust it. I worry that track sessions may make it hard to tell when the brakes are fading, but I don’t think many people will be tracking this car at all.
On the highway, this car reaches its final form. It is a phenomenal road trip car. One of the primary missions of a luxury sports sedan is to get you and maybe one or two other people from point A to point B comfortably and quickly. This powertrain provides buttery smooth power delivery with torque seemingly everywhere. Passing other cars and highway on-ramps is effortless. What this engine might lack in character compared to high-revving motors, it more than makes up in competency for real-world driving. Power does drop off before the red line, but the transmission is smart enough to shift before this happens. While that might not seem rewarding, who cares? You were probably on your way to the dry cleaners closing in 10 mins after your day in the office was over with. You want the power to get around, not a race car experience. This is a car for exactly what you need, not what you want. This is the pragmatic customer’s powertrain of choice, with the emotional buyer’s chassis in the same car. The hours and miles will melt by in supreme luxury. You may want to keep an eye on your speed because you can be going much faster in this than it may feel.
The overall driving experience is engaging, fun, and effective. Competent and confident are the two words that kept popping in my head when describing the driving characteristics of this car. But how is the interior? It’s a mixed bag, and where I run into my first major issue with the car: the infotainment system. Before I get to that, I want to reiterate just how wonderful the interior is. Quality fit and finish are present throughout. It feels solid. No squeaks or rattles could be found. The seats are among the most adjustable and comfortable I have ever sat in. A 3-hour road trip in this car left me feeling more relaxed when I got out than when I left. The heating and cooling for the seats are strong and effective. Not all cooled seats are the same. The steering wheel is the most comfortable and easy-to-hold steering wheel I’ve ever held. Sounds strange, maybe but spend time in the car, and you’ll realize the steering wheel in other cars just doesn’t feel as comfortable to hold, or the button layout isn’t as easy to manipulate as this. Overall, the seat, steering wheel, and seating position are a master class in ergonomics. The sound system is the best I have ever heard in a car of any price. I felt like I was in a vegas nightclub, let alone an Acura. The backseats might be down on size compared to the competition, but it’s fine for anyone under 6 feet tall for trips under an hour. Cars are getting too big anyway, and let’s be honest, 95% of customers won’t be driving around with passengers in the rear seat regularly. Although, adding power outlets for the rear passengers was an odd omission.
With so many great things about the interior, what was it about the infotainment system that was so bad? It all concerns the touchpad, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto integration. Instead of using a touchscreen, Acura True Touchpad Interface uses a small touchpad to mimic what you would touch on the screen. Touching the lower right corner of the touchpad activates whatever button is there on the lower right corner of the screen. This helps keep your eyes on the screen, which can now be placed high on the dash keeping your eyes close to the road. For safety purposes, on paper, that’s great! This setup works fairly well using the Acura nav or satellite radio applications. However, this feature goes away when using Apple CarPlay. Suddenly, it turns into a regular touchpad, and trying to do basic functions that would normally take a single quick tap on a touch screen takes seconds of swiping and searching. The touchpad becomes almost unusable while driving. Trying to go from Waze to Spotify? This simple task took me over 6 seconds of trying to get the touchpad to activate the home button and click on the other app. This didn’t feel safe. Unless the screen mimicking features of True Touch can be replicated in CarPlay, simply replacing this system with a touch screen and moving it up 6-7” closer to the driver would remedy this.
One other odd choice is software based. The 10” center infotainment screen is split, two-thirds for your main section and one-third dedicated to either acting as a clock or showing navigation or what media you are listening to. It can’t go away, and it does not integrate with CarPlay. It is always there. If you want to use the entire screen for navigation or apple CarPlay, too bad. Buy a BMW for that. There is a button dedicated to this side of the screen. If Acura adds some new software code to make that part of the screen disappear, you can use the entire display for what you want to see.
The driver’s instrument cluster is the second complaint about this car. It contains old-school-style analog gauges for speed and tachometer. These are silver gauges with orange lettering. This seems cool until you have to try to read them during the day in any kind of light, and they become almost impossible to read. The central digital display between the gauges can show a digital speed readout, but then you can’t use it to view any other trip or efficiency information. This wouldn’t be an issue if the TLX came with a head-up display. What is odd is that Acura offers a head-up display in the Advance trim base TLX. But the more expensive Type S does not even have this as an option. Both the MDX and Integra come with fully digital instrument clusters now, so I’m sure the TLX will eventually as well.
The good news about all of these complaints: they can be easily fixed in a mid-cycle refresh or a change in trim packages for the next model year. These minor problems can all be fixed with parts already in Acura’s parts bin. Instead of scratching my head wondering why this car comes equipped with the tech it does, updating this tech would make it a nearly flawless home run for what a class-leading luxury sports sedan should be. If it adds $1500 to the price of the car, it would still be a bargain compared to the competition. Did I mention that this car is a bargain? It is. At around $55,000, this car, comparably equipped to its BMW M340i, Mercedes C43, or Audi S4 competition, is roughly $13,000 cheaper than they are.
Are there any other complaints about the car? Two small ones. The trunk is 13.5 cu. ft., which is ok, but you have to be careful about how you try to fit two full-sized check bags in the trunk to get them to fit. The A-brace in the trunk that adds to the chassis stiffness looks cool but makes sliding longer items through the bypass with the rear seats folded just about impossible. However, if you’re buying this car, rear trunk space probably isn’t your biggest priority, and its enough room for 99% of what you’ll need to put back there. The weight is my last complaint about this car. This car weighs 4200lbs. That is over 200-300lbs heavier than its competition. It shows when it comes to fuel economy as I was only able to get roughly 27-29mpg out of the car on all my highway driving. That’s not great, but it’s also not terrible. Physically, it fits in between where a 3-series BMW and 5-series would in terms of length and width. It’s a bigger car than most of its competition, but that doesn’t reflect in the trunk and rear seat room. A small sacrifice for just how stunning this car looks.
Overall, the TLX Type S is an incredibly impressive car at any price, but an absolute steal for $55,000. On paper, its performance figures might lend you to believe it’s slower than some of the competition, but numbers don’t tell the full story. The SH-AWD and chassis tuning allow anyone to get in this car, feel like a professional driver, and put the power down no matter the conditions. Whatever the German rivals might have in numbers, this has in character and real-world speed. It’s fun to drive, engaging, and competent. The quiet cabin offers one of the best sound systems money can buy and perfect damping to crush highway miles fast and in supreme comfort with total confidence in the car. If there were ever a handful of cars today that would be perfect to complete a NYC to LA cannonball run record, this would be a perfect car for the job. If you’re the type of customer who looks at a spec sheet, this might not seem appealing to you, but I plead with you to drive it. The TLX Type S is just about one of the best ways to get around town, period. The fact that it executes everything a luxury sports sedan should do at a fraction of the price of its rivals makes this a compelling car to buy. Lastly, it’s rare. Only about 1,700 TLX Type S cars have been sold so far in the US. For reference, about 1,500 Ferrari F40s were produced. If you want to stand out from the crowd, get one of the most beautiful, unique, fun-to-drive sedans on the market and save money: Buy a TLX Type S. It is a great sedan, and it is a mid-cycle refresh away from being a nearly perfect sports sedan.