2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD Road Test Review

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
New A-Spec trim adds sportier styling to the classic MDX look for 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

What? You don’t know what an A-Spec is? It’s ok. Sometimes I forget that normal people don’t follow the auto industry as closely as car enthusiasts and journalists like me. A-Spec is Acura’s sport-oriented styling package that may or may not include real performance upgrades. With respect to the new 2019 MDX A-Spec, it’s all about the look. 

That look starts with glossy black and dark-chrome detailing for the grille, headlights, window trim, and tailgate spoiler, plus a bolder front fascia design, painted front and rear lower skid plate garnishes, body-coloured outer door handles, body-colour lower side sills, larger-diameter exhaust finishers, and a near equally darkened set of 20-inch 10-spoke Shark Grey alloy wheels on lower profile 265/45 rubber. Those tires might seem like the only exterior upgrade that could potentially enhance performance, but then again it’s the same used on the MDX’ most luxuriously appointed Elite trim. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The A-Spec styling updates wrap all the way around the upgraded MDX. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Stepping inside means you’ll pass overtop one of four A-Spec-branded aluminum doorsill garnishes, while additional interior enhancements include a special primary gauge cluster embellished with more red on the rev and speed markers, a thicker-rimmed A-Spec-badged steering wheel featuring a dimpled leather wrap on its lower three-quarters, metal sport pedals, unique carbon-look console trim, and sport seats upholstered in “Rich Red” or in the case of my tester, black leather with perforated black suede-like Alcantara inserts plus high-contrast stitching. 

I like the visual changes made inside and outside, the latter giving new life to a still handsome yet aging design, and the former also masking an SUV that’s starting to look like yesteryear’s news now that the all-new RDX has arrived. By that I’m not saying for a second that Acura should swap out the MDX’ lower console-mounted pushbutton gear selector for the bizarre contraption clinging to the RDX’ centre stack, nor for that matter the smaller SUV’s big space-robbing drive mode selector dial housed just above the gear selector switchgear, but the sizeable multi-information display (MID) within the otherwise analogue gauge cluster does a reasonably good job of modernizing the look (a fully digital design would be better) and the single fixed tablet-style infotainment display atop the RDX dash is a major improvement over the double-stacked MDX design in every way, except for its lack of touchscreen capability. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Darkened trim, LED headlamps and fog lights, 20-inch grey alloys, the new MDX A-Spec certainly looks sporty. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By comparison, the MDX’ MID is a thin sliver of remedial graphics and passable info, lacking the wow-factor of an Audi Virtual Cockpit that transforms into a massive map just by pressing a steering wheel-mounted button, or for that matter the new 2020 Mercedes GLE/GLS that does away with a traditional gauge binnacle altogether, instead melding two big tablet-style screens together and using the left-side for driver info and the right-side for touch-actuated infotainment. Back to Acura reality, the MDX uses the two-tiered combination of displays just noted, the top 8.0-inch monitor more of a true MID that’s controllable via a rotating dial just under the bottom display, although defaulting to the navigation system’s map/route guidance info most of the time, and multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines when in reverse; the overhead 360-degree surround camera is reserved for aforementioned Elite trim. This said, the lower 7.0-inch display is a touchscreen and quite utile, providing easy control of the audio and HVAC systems, plus more. 

While some of my comments might sound as if I’m getting down on Acura and its MDX, it’s clearly not alone, as in-car digitalization is one of the most comprehensive transformations being undertaken by the auto industry today. After years of getting it wrong, some are now getting it right, while Acura is getting close with its most recent designs, and obviously requires modernization within some of its older models, like this MDX. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
A revised rear bumper sports larger tailpipe finishers for yet more of a performance look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This brings up an important point, the MDX will most likely be completely redesigned next year as a 2021 model, at which point we hope it takes a few cues from the aforementioned Mercedes pair, Volvo’s XC90, and some others, by integrating both a touchscreen like the current MDX, as well as a touchpad like that in the RDX, the latter for those who’d rather not reach so far. For the time being the MDX two-screen setup does the trick, but of course buyers of the latest MDX won’t go home feeling like they’ve just traded in their old Samsung Note 4 for a new Note 10 (or for you Apple fans, swapping the old iPhone 6 for the new XS Max). 

Speaking of Google and iOS operating systems, the base MDX infotainment system includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Siri Eyes Free, SMS text message and email reading capability, satellite radio, and four USB charging ports, while this A-Spec model sources its navigation with voice recognition from mid-range Tech trim, which also adds an impressive sounding 10-speaker ELS Studio surround audio system, hard disk drive (HDD) media storage, and AcuraLink subscription services to the in-car electronics experience. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Most should be impressed with the MDX interior, which is upgraded nicely in A-Spec trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s so tempting to prattle on about features, because each trim provides such a lengthy list that the MDX’ value proposition becomes immediately clear, so suffice to say that additional items not yet covered on the $60,490 A-Spec include LED fog lights, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, perimeter/approach puddle lamps, keyless access buttons on the rear doors, and ventilated/cooled front seats, while other features pulled up from Tech trim include a sun position detection system for the climate control, front and rear parking sensors, plus Blind Spot Information (BSI) with rear cross traffic monitoring. 

Speaking of advanced driver assistive systems, all MDX trims come standard with AcuraWatch, a comprehensive suite of safety goodies including Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with low-speed follow. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The dated MDX dash won’t be confused for anything else, but at least the quality of materials is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, a shortlist of key features from the $54,390 base MDX incorporated into the A-Spec include signature Jewel Eye LED headlights with auto high beams, LED taillights, acoustic glass, a heated windshield, remote start, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, ambient lighting, memory for the steering column, side mirrors and climate control, an electromechanical parking brake, a powered moonroof, a HomeLink universal remote, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, driver recognition, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, a heated steering wheel with paddle shifters, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone front and rear automatic climate control, Active Noise Control (ANC), Active Sound Control (ASC), heated 12-way powered front seats with four-way lumbar, a powered tailgate, a 1,588-kilo towing capacity (or 2,268 kg with the towing package), and more. 

Important to you, all 2019 Acura MDX trim, package, and options prices was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find helpful rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, so make sure to check it out our many useful features matter which vehicle you end up purchasing. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Classic analogue dials and a relatively small TFT multi-info display makes for a utile if not modern look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with all of the just noted features and previously mentioned A-Spec interior upgrades, the steering wheel of which is especially nice thanks to its thick textured leather rim and nicely carved thumb spats, is a tasteful assortment of satin-silver finish aluminum accents, plus high-quality soft-touch synthetics across the dash top, door uppers (the door inserts upgraded with plush ultrasuede, like the seats, in A-Spec trim), and most everywhere else including the glove box lid, with only the left portion of the panel below the driver’s knees, the sides of the lower console, and the lower half of the door panels finished in more commonplace hard plastics. 

As it should, but is not always the case with some MDX rivals, the driver’s seat features previously noted four-way powered lumbar for optimal lower back support, plus all of the usual adjustments in this class, but I would’ve appreciated an extension for the lower squab to add comfort and support below the knees, even if this were manually adjustable, while some other manufacturers also include adjustable side torso bolsters. As it is, even this sporty A-Spec trim doesn’t provide all that much lateral seat support, but they should work for wider body types that sometimes find more performance-oriented seat designs uncomfortable. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The double-stacked infotainment system works quite well, but is hardly new. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With the driver’s seat positioned high to maximize my view, being just five-foot-eight, I found the rear seating position more than adequately spacious for legs and feet, even while wearing big winter boots. The second row slides back and forth easily, and when all the way forward I still had a few inches between my knees and the driver’s seatback, and when positioned all the way rearward I found second-row legroom quite generous with about eight inches ahead of my knees. 

The MDX’ third row only works for smaller folk and children when the second row is pushed all the way back, but when slid forward I was able to sit in the very back without my knees rubbing the backrest ahead, plus those just noted winter boots fit nicely below. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the third row comfortable, but it was workable. Rearmost passengers can also see out a small set of side windows, so it’s not claustrophobic either, plus they get cupholders to each side and nice reading lights overhead. Getting out when in the very back is easy too, only requiring the push of a seatback button that automatically slides the second-row forward, but I wouldn’t say this is the easiest third row to climb in or out of, due to very little space between the folded second-row seatback and door jam. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The MDX gear selector is unusual, but after a little time becomes easy enough to use. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back in the MDX’ second row of seats, Acura provides a separate climate control interface for rear passengers, with two USB device chargers underneath. Being that my tester was in A-Spec trim there were no second-row outboard seat warmers included, which is a bit of a shame for those who want all the luxury features together with this model’s sportier demeanor. 

The rear hatch is powered of course, opening up to a nicely finished cargo compartment that’s dotted with chromed tie-down hooks and covered in quality carpeting all the way up the sidewalls and seatbacks, plus adorned with some attractive aluminum trim on the threshold. There’s a reasonable amount of luggage space behind the third row at 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet), plus a handy compartment under the load floor, and while easy to fold down manually there’s no powered operation for getting them back up. Likewise the second row is purely manual, and while fairly easy to drop down, a process that expands the 1,230 litres (43.4 cu ft) behind the second row seatbacks to a maximum of 2,575 litres (90.9 cu ft) when all seats are lowered, but there’s no centre pass-through for longer items like skis. This means the MDX doesn’t offer the same type of seating/cargo flexibility as the majority of European competitors. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Comfortable 12-way front seats benefit from suede-like Alcantara inserts. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The well-proven powertrain is a bit lacklustre too, even when compared to competitors’ base engines. Acura has been producing the same SOHC 3.5-litre V6 since 2014, making a modest 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, and before that, in the previous 2007-2013 second-generation MDX, they used a 3.7-litre version of this engine that (believe it or not) made 10 horsepower and 3 lb-ft of torque more for a total of 300 hp and 270 lb-ft, so effectively they’ve been going backwards when it comes to performance. 

Of course, introducing the highly efficient nine-speed ZF automatic with this latest third-generation MDX in 2014 made the less potent engine feel livelier, although it still suffers from a Honda family hauler pedigree when compared to the base 333-hp Audi Q7 mill, the base 335-hp BMW X5, and some others. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Second-row comfort, spaciousness and adjustability is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, its performance is decent enough and its pricing a lot lower than those highfalutin Europeans, while the just noted standard nine-speed autobox is fairly quick shifting and very smooth, with the aforementioned standard steering wheel paddle shifters enjoyable to use, plus the standard torque-vectoring SH-AWD system is extremely well engineered and therefore performs superbly no matter the road or weather conditions. 

To be clear, the MDX, even in this sportier A-Spec trim, is biased toward comfort over performance. This doesn’t mean it’s a sloth off the line, or cumbersome through corners, but instead is easily fast enough for most peoples’ needs, as proven by its reasonably strong sales numbers year after year, and handles commendably when pushed hard through tight weaving corners, yet never tries to pass itself off as a sport sedan for seven, like some of its Euro rivals do quite effectively. Instead, the MDX’ ride is pleasurable no matter the road surface beneath, its manners particularly nice around town where it sits high above the majority of surrounding traffic and provides excellent visibility through all windows, and its creature comforts plentiful. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The third row has a surprising amount of room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

One of those features, specific to performance, is a drive mode selector that includes Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings that remain as selected even after shutting off the engine, locking up and leaving, coming back, and restarting. Therefore, if you personally prefer driving in Sport mode, which I’m going to guess most people who purchase this sportier looking A-Spec model do, then the drivetrain is ready and waiting without any extra effort every time you climb inside. 

Another MDX attribute I can attest to is its prowess over snowy roads. This thing is a beast, and with proper snow tires can overcome nearly any depth of powdery (or chunky, wet) white stuff. The latter was addressed with a set of 265/ 45R20 Michelin Latitude Alpin all-season tires, so I can only guess it would even be more formidable when shod in true winters. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Even with all three rows in use, the MDX provides about as much cargo space as an average mid-size sedan’s trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another positive is real-world fuel economy, which actually benefits from a one-size-fits-all V6 under the hood, especially when burdened by a three-row SUV weighing in at 1,945 kilos (4,288 lbs); the A-Spec the second heaviest trim in the MDX lineup. Thanks to direct-injection, i-VTEC, and Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) that shuts one bank of cylinders down under light loads to save fuel, plus standard engine idle stop-start to reduce consumptions yet more, not to mention emissions, and lastly the nine-speed autobox, the A-Spec is rated at 12.2 L/100km in the city, 9.5 on the highway and 11.0 combined, which is only a tad more than all other MDX trims that get a claimed rating of 12.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.8 combined. On the subject of efficiency, I should also mention the much more interesting MDX Sport Hybrid that, thanks to a two-motor electrified drivetrain is good for 9.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 9.0 combined. I’ll cover this model soon, so stay tuned. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Loads of space available with the rear rows folded flat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So there you have it, an honest, straightforward review of an aging albeit still credible three-row luxury SUV, that I can still recommend you purchasing if you’re not one of the luxury sector’s usual latest-and-greatest consumer. Let’s face it. The MDX isn’t the newest kid on the block. Its powertrain is archaic compared to the turbocharged and supercharged 316-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the aforementioned Volvo XC90, which can be upgraded to 400-hp plug-in hybrid specs no less, or for that matter the supercharged 3.0-litre V6 in the Audi Q7, and the list goes on, while its infotainment works well enough yet is seriously lacking in modernity, but as long as you’re ok with some aging issues the MDX provides everything families in this class need, and does so in a stylish, refined, quiet, comfortable, spacious, safe, and reasonably reliable package, all for thousands less than any of the noted competitors. That should be reason enough to keep the MDX on your radar when it comes time to trade up, and when you do I recommend checking out this sportier A-Spec trim, because the styling updates and interior details are certainly worth the extra cost. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

Acura marks 15 years of Super Handling All-Wheel Drive

2005 Acura RL SH-AWD
Acura marks 15 years of Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, and looks back to the advanced torque vectoring technology’s beginnings with the 2005 Acura RL SH-AWD. (Photo: Acura)

Acura rolled a few eyes when introducing its somewhat wordy Super Handling All-Wheel Drive back in 2004, but as soon as the automotive press drove the brand’s then-new 2005 RL flagship luxury sedan all snickering stopped, it really was super. 

A decade and a half later the Japanese luxury brand is now celebrating a significant milestone, the 15th anniversary of its industry-leading torque-vectoring SH-AWD technology. To mark the event, Acura has produced a video (see below) highlighting the advanced all-wheel drive system’s history and capability. 

SH-AWD actively and continually distributes engine torque between the front and rear wheels, from 70 percent to the front and 30 percent to the rear, or 30 percent to the front and 70 percent to the rear, while additionally up to 100 percent of rear twist could be distributed to either the left or right wheel to reduce understeer and therefore aid high-speed cornering. Of course, SH-AWD has improved with each new generation, and now is either standard or available in five of Acura’s six models. 

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
The 2019 Acura RDX ushers in the fourth-generation of SH-AWD. (Photo: Acura)

The latest version of Acura’s mechanical SH-AWD, now in its fourth generation, debuted on the new 2019 RDX last year, with 40 percent greater torque capacity at the rear axle, quicker front-to-rear torque transfer, plus 30 percent faster torque transfer between the left and right rear wheels. 

Looking toward the future, the 2014 RLX Sport Hybrid, the second-generation 2017 NSX, and the 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid came equipped with the most advanced iteration of SH-AWD yet. The new Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system incorporates electric motor torque for a more immediate application of four-wheel performance as well as much greater efficiency. 

The mid-engine NSX supercar utilizes a unique design with three electric motors, two of which form a Twin Motor Unit (TMU) that distributes torque to each front wheel individually, whereas the RLX and MDX reverse the process with the gas-electric hybrid engine up front and TMU in back, distributing torque between each rear wheel, just like with the mechanical SH-AWD system. Despite the different layouts, the supercar, sport sedan and three-row SUV that feature Acura’s electrified Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system apply identical technologies and use many of the same components. 

2017 Acura NSX, RLX and MDX with Sport Hybrid SH-AWD
This cutaway shows the NSX, RLX and MDX (left to right) with their unique versions of electrified Sport Hybrid SH-AWD. (Photo: Acura)

Also notable, later this year Acura will be celebrating another milestone, one million SH-AWD-equipped vehicles sold worldwide. Past models equipped with SH-AWD have included the RL (2005-2012) that utilized the first-generation system, the MDX (2007-2015), RDX (2007-2012), TL (2009-2014), and ZDX (2010-2013) that incorporated the second-generation system with Hill Logic, VSA and TCS, the TLX (2015-present) and MDX (2016-present) that feature the third-generation system with a 25-percent lighter rear differential and more, RDX (2019-present) that boasts the fourth-generation system with a more compact and quicker responding design, and lastly the RLX Sport Hybrid (2015-present), NSX (2017-present) and MDX Sport Hybrid (2017-present) that feature the electrified Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system. 

Make sure to check out our photo gallery above to see images of all the aforementioned Acura models past and present, plus remember to watch the “What is Acura Super Handling All-Wheel Drive?” video below that details out the history and capability of Acura’s SH-AWD system: 

What is Acura Super Handling All-Wheel Drive? (6:23):

2019 Acura TLX Tech Road Test

2019 Acura TLX Tech
The new TLX looks good in Tech trim, which doesn’t add any exterior upgrades to the base model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Acura does well in almost every Canadian market segment it competes in. As calendar year 2018 ended the RDX sat within the top three of 15 compact luxury SUV competitors, while the MDX was fifth out of 21 mid-size premium crossovers and number one amongst dedicated three-row rivals. What about cars? The ILX was mid-pack in its entry-level luxury segment, and surprisingly the top-line RLX Sport Hybrid mid-size four-door was just one of two cars to show positive sales growth in a sector that’s been getting hammered by the aforementioned SUVs, although its actual final sales tally placed it second to last out of 17 competitors. Truly, Acura’s best sales success in Canada’s car sector is summed up in the TLX. 

A total of 17 models compete in the compact luxury car D-segment, led by such notable names as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Tesla Model 3 (if you can trust their sales numbers that seem very suspect), BMW 3 Series, and Audi A4, which makes the TLX’ eighth position quite credible, albeit not as good as its previous best-of-the-rest status. Despite a thorough facelift last year, some of the shine has come off this car in recent years, or at least the Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50 have now passed by on the sales charts. The latter Japanese sport-luxury sedan is one of a handful that grew sales last year, the other direct four-door competitor being the C-Class, which means other than the Jaguar XE that slid rearward by 27.8 percent, the TLX’s loss of 25.2 percent made for the worst backward move in its four-door compact luxury segment. Yikes! 

If you remember, I started this review by claiming that Acura does well in almost every Canadian market segment it competes in, not all. And to be honest, I thought this was going to be a positive story that would look good on the car and brand, because in previous years the TLX always held a solid fourth place behind the C-Class or 3 Series (depending on which one came first) and the A4, but to see it slide to sixth amongst its four-door sedan rivals was a shocker. Rather than analyze possible reasons why, I’ll steer away from that rabbit hole and instead talk about my experience with the car at hand, at which point maybe you’ll understand why I’m perplexed at its shaky sales results. 

2019 Acura TLX Tech
Long and lean, the TLX Tech provides a lot of style for the money. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The TLX has only been with us since 2014 when it arrived as a 2015 model. It came about by combining the smaller TSX with the larger TL, in spirit at least, resulting in a just-right-sized D-segment sedan. What I mean by that is it’s still a bit larger than most competitors, measuring 61 millimetres (2.4 inches) longer than its nearest challenger at 4,844 mm (190.7 in), albeit coming up 74 mm (2.9 in) short in wheelbase length when compared to that Q50, which was the longest next to the fractionally (0.1 mm) longer wheelbase of the C-Class. Its 1,854-mm (73.0-in) width (without mirrors) is widest in its class by 12 mm (0.5 in), while its 1,447 mm (57.0 in) height is tallest by a hair, or rather 4 mm (0.15 in). So if you want more luxury car for similar money, or more precisely quite a bit less money, the TLX should be high on your list. 

The 2019 TLX starts at just $34,890 plus freight and fees, which is closer to the entry-level models of all brands just mentioned than anything sized and equipped like this Acura. Some quick comparisons have the segment’s next most affordable Cadillac ATS starting at $37,845, the Audi A4 at $39,800, the Lexus IS at $41,050, the Volvo S60 at $42,400, the Jaguar XE at $43,900, the Infiniti Q50 at $44,995, the Genesis G70 at $45,500, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class at $46,100, and the BMW 3 Series at $49,000, or in other words the TLX has every competitor beaten on price by a long shot. 

By the way, all pricing was sourced right here at CarCostCanada, which not only provides all trims, packages and standalone options, but also lets you know about available rebates that might help you save money when it comes time to make a deal, plus even better, you can access dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

2019 Acura TLX Tech
The base 17-inch alloys look good, but you can’t upgrade the TLX tech with larger rims unless opting for A-Spec trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Just in case you’re thinking that Acura’s most basic D-segment entry must shortchange its owner something awful for under $35k, the base TLX gets full LED headlamps with automatic high beams, remote engine start, proximity access, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a colour TFT multi-info display, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low Speed Follow, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an excellent multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 10-way power driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar, remote-linked two-way memory for the driver’s seat, side mirrors and climate control, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, heated front seats, an 8.0-inch On Demand Multi-use Display (ODMD) above a 7.0-inch capacitive touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, seven-speaker audio, satellite radio, active noise cancellation, a Homelink universal garage door opener, a powered moonroof, and much more. 

On top of that impressive list, all TLX trims boast standard AcuraWatch advanced driver assistance systems including Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) with Heads Up Warning, Lane Departure Warning (LDW) with steering wheel haptic feedback, Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), plus the segment’s usual array of active and passive safety features, including an airbag for the driver’s knees, while Blind Spot Information (BSI) with a Rear Cross Traffic Monitor come as part of my tester’s second-rung Tech trim. 

That’s right. We were able to test a less equipped trim this time around, ideal because plenty of buyers choose this well equipped model that still manages to slip under the base price points of most competitors at $38,590. Along with the safety upgrades, Tech trim adds rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, an accurate navigation system with detailed mapping, voice recognition, the AcuraLink connectivity system, great sounding 10-speaker ELS Studio audio, hard disk drive (HDD) media storage, an always welcome heatable steering wheel rim, heated rear outboard seats, and last but hardly least perforated Milano leather upholstery replacing the standard leatherette. 

2019 Acura TLX Tech
Last year’s mid-cycle refresh didn’t change the interior design, although the two-tier infotainment system was upgraded. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Features in mind, I was disappointed that TLX buyers are forced to step up to Elite trim, which is only available with a V6 and all-wheel drive, to access a number of fairly basic luxury items such as auto-dimming side mirrors, rear parking sensors (that come packaged with the front sensors included), and a wireless smartphone charger, while LED fog lamps only come standard with the Elite and sportier A-Spec models, the latter made available with the four-cylinder and front-wheel drive for 2019. Offering these optionally would be beneficial to those who prize fuel economy more than performance, and Acura could package in the Elite model’s excellent surround view camera and ventilated front seats too. 

My tester’s interior was finished in classic Ebony black, needless to say a good match to its $500 coat of optional Platinum White Pearl exterior paint, making for an elegantly sporty four-door thanks to tastefully applied bright metal and glossy black detailing outside plus plenty of satin-silver accents and grey woodgrain inlays inside. Take note that Parchment tan interior could have been selected at no extra charge, so if a lighter interior is more to your liking Acura has got you covered. 

Despite its entry-level luxury asking price the TLX Tech interior’s fit, finish and materials quality is fully up to par with its D-segment peers, thanks to a soft-touch dash top that wraps down around the instrument panel, even to the lowest edges of the centre stack. Likewise, front and rear door uppers are finished with the same premium padded material, while the long, curving door inserts are nice stitched leather, as are the armrests side and centre. Acura even finishes the glove box lid off with the same pliable surfacing, only coming up a bit short on the sides of the lower console and each lower door panel, all areas that many rivals also apply harder plastic. Of course, all pillars are fabric-wrapped, and the roofliner is nicely finished in a high-grade woven fabric. 

2019 Acura TLX Tech
The TLX’ gauge cluster is effective, but looks a bit yesteryear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The primary gauge cluster is a nice straightforward combination of metal-rimmed dials with a colour multi-info display at centre, the latter rather simple by today’s standards, but this more classic driving-focused cockpit is more than made up for in digital display acreage by Acura’s two-tiered infotainment system on the centre stack, the larger top monitor controlled by a big knurled metallic knob and row of surrounding buttons just below the smaller display, which is a touchscreen as noted earlier. 

This second-generation dual-screen system was updated last year and now processes inputs 30-percent faster while also including the aforementioned branded smartphone integration, but be aware that a couple of features that function best with a touchscreen’s tablet-like pinch and swipe gesture capability, notably the navigation system’s map interface as well as both CarPlay and Android Auto, are shown up high on the larger display and therefore controlled more clumsily by the rotating knob and buttons below, while features like the climate control system, heatable front seats, and audio functions are found within the lower hands-on unit. 

Other than the navigation map, the upper display’s graphics are rather drab with a basic grey/blue font and not much else to look at, while the screen resolution isn’t quite as fine as some others in the class, but this made me glad that Acura chose the more colourful map as the default function. The touchscreen’s graphics are certainly more appealing and also benefit from a higher resolution display with richer colours and deeper contrast. 

Of note, you can adjust some of the climate functions via the narrow row of buttons and rocker switches just below the screen, and these are some of the tightest fitting, best damped switchgear in the business. This pretty well sums up most of the controls in the TLX’ cabin, although the buttons for the power windows and locks on the door panels seem like afterthoughts and therefore aren’t quite up to the same standard. 

2019 Acura TLX Tech
The navigation system’s route guidance works well, but the display is lower in resolution than some rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Adjusting the power side mirror controller on the same panel provided good rearward visibility, which when joined by plenty of glass in every direction, plus the auto-dimming rearview mirror and aforementioned multi-angle rearview camera, results in a car that’s easy to drive through congested city traffic and tight parking lots. 

The multi-adjustable driver’s seat is very comfortable too, although I would have preferred four-way lumbar support to press more accurately against the small of my back, plus extendable thigh supports for cupping under the knees would’ve been nice as well. Still, the tilt and telescopic steering column extended the steering wheel far enough rearward to provide a comfortable seat distance for my legs while leaving my elbows properly bent for maximum control when resting the hands at 9 and 3 o’clock, plus all controls were within easy reach. 

The rear seating area offers plenty of space too, plus excellent lower back comfort in the outboard positions. A large folding armrest provides a nice place for inside elbows when only two are seated abreast, plus the usual twin cupholders and a tiny open bin for holding snacks or what-have-you. Acura adds a couple of vents to the backside of the front console to keep rear passengers aerated, while providing three temperatures for the rear seat heaters is better than the usual two. 

2019 Acura TLX Tech
The touchscreen is a big improvement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The TLX’ trunk provides a decent amount of space as well, measuring 405 litres (14.3 cubic feet) thanks to the car’s extra length mentioned earlier. Pull tabs release the 60/40 split seatbacks if you want to lower one side or both for longer cargo, but unless you’ve got something strong enough to push them forward with, like a set of skis, you’ll be forced to walk around to the side doors to drop them down anyway. Another shortcoming is the 60/40 split itself, which doesn’t include a centre pass-through and therefore limits the use of the seat heaters when transporting said skis or snowboard equipment—cue one whining tweenager now. 

Cranking up the aforementioned ELS stereo might be a good way to drown out rear seat complainants, mind you, but then again you might find the sound of the high-revving base 2.4-litre engine more to your liking. This engine is right out of the previous-generation Civic Si, so that sonorous song and rorty exhaust note ideally complements its ability to rev all the way to 6,800 rpm. I’m not sure whether I like this V-TEC-infused mill more than the aforementioned 3.5-litre V6, and if it weren’t for the larger engine’s advanced SH-AWD, the FWD version might even be the sportier choice. 

Don’t get me wrong as the V6 spits out a naughty growl of its own when getting hard on the throttle, but my nod in the four-cylinder’s direction has more to do with the excellence of its quick-shifting paddle-shift actuated dual-clutch eight-speed automated transmission than its 206 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque. Certainly the extra 84 horsepower and 85 lb-ft of torque would be had to pass up, but that engine’s nine-speed automatic kills its fun-factor, taking far too long between shifts to feel remotely sporty. 

2019 Acura TLX Tech
The seats are comfortable and finished in perforated leather, but more adjustment would be helpful. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Getting the most out of the TLX drivetrain is Acura’s four-position “Dynamic Mode” driver settings, featuring default Normal, thrifty Econ, Sport and Sport + modes. The latter two really make a difference when pushing the envelope, but I left it in Econ mode when dealing with city traffic, as it was best for eking the most from a tank of fuel. Acura claims 10.0 L/100km city, 7.1 highway and 8.7 combined with the four-cylinder model, while the V6, that gets an engine idle stop-start system, does pretty well at the pump as well with a rating of 11.4, 7.7 and 9.8 respectively. 

Another bonus with the smaller engine is less weight over the front wheels, so it feels nimbler when pressed hard through corners and is less likely to understeer, or push out the front wheels and drive straight when the tires break traction in the middle of a turn. On this note it’s pretty hard to upset the TLX’ nicely sorted front strut and rear multi-link suspension setup, despite the car’s smallish standard 17-inch alloy wheels and 225/55 all-season tires, but this brings up another shortcoming with both base and Tech trims, Acura doesn’t offer any wheel and tire upgrades. These lesser tires are easier on the wallet when it comes time to replace, however, and they help the TLX deliver a nice compliant ride. High-speed stability on the freeway is good too, with the car tracking nicely and wind noise kept to a minimum. 

Once again, four-cylinder fans who want more can now opt for the TLX Tech A-Spec, a car I hope to cover in an upcoming review because it combines what I think is this model’s sportiest drivetrain with a sweet looking set of 19-inch rims on stickier 45/40 rubber, plenty of aerodynamic styling upgrades, and other niceties inside. 

As it is, the 2019 TLX Tech is an attractive car thanks to last year’s refresh, highlighted by the brand’s now trademark “diamond pentagon grille,” tidier lower fascia, and sharper looking rear apron. It already included some of the best-looking LED headlamps and an attractive set of LED taillights, the former nicely revised, while its overall profile is long and sleek. Still, those updates were added to a car that was already three years into its lifecycle and now that it’s heading into its fifth will soon require a complete overhaul in order to keep its loyal followers from looking elsewhere. 

2019 Acura TLX Tech
The rear seating area is spacious and very comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That thought in mind, one reason for the TLX’s recent sales decline could be the introduction of Acura’s all-new RDX, which has no doubt lured away more than a few would-be sport sedan buyers. It truly is better than most rivals and therefore worthy of its success, which bodes well for an upcoming redesign to this TLX. A new version should arrive sometime next year, so fingers crossed they build on all that’s good with this current version, mix in much of what makes the new RDX great, and end up with a new TLX that at the very least reclaims best-of-the-rest status. 

Until then, you can do a lot worse than the 2019 TLX, especially when factoring in expected reliability and stronger than average resale values that come from such a competitive value proposition at time of purchase. The TLX Tech is a very good car for a superb price, and even when loaded up with maximum performance and features the TLX Elite SH-AWD A-Spec slips under the $50k affordability barrier and therefore undercuts most competitors by thousands, let alone tens of thousands. You should consider it seriously.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press 

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press 

Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.