Born in the late ’80s, when Japanese carmakers were considered infallible, Acura (Honda’s luxury vehicle division) has, like Honda itself, gone through fits and starts from a design perspective. The outgoing TLX tried to signal a balance between luxury and performance visually, but that left it stuck in the middle. In fall this year, however, we’ll see the just-unveiled, American-designed 2021 TLX (based heavily on the Type-S Concept that Acura showed at Monterey Car Week last August) and it tilts Acura back toward its roots in performance. Here’s a virtual walk around, from stem to stern.
The 2021 TLX is a slightly lower car than the current TLX, as well as being significantly longer (by three inches) and wider (by 2.2 inches) too. The wheels have been pushed to the edges, with as little body overhang as possible. But where you see most of the stretch is in the extended hood that’s now increased nearly eight inches—measured from the dash to the front axle. Acura uses the Porsche Panamera and Audi A7 as guides, and the numbers aren’t far off from the dimensions of both. This puts the TLX in good visual company; though the Panamera is still controversial, both it and the A7 are arguably still being copied by various carmakers.
But Acura isn’t ripping off any of its competitors. The design starts fresh, at the car’s Diamond Pentagon Grille with deep sculpting, and the creases that sweep back on the hood that emphasize the car’s sporty bearing. The inboard hood creases slice from the bonnet back, meeting up with echoing strafes on the roof of the car, showing off length and sinew. Additionally, the outboard tendon line serves multiple visual functions, framing the engine bay, then bending over the front fender to meet a rearward fold on the metalwork as it pulls across the front doors. That unity stretches the eye, and makes it hard to pause on any single aspect of the vehicle. This all results in the 2021 TLX appearing fast because every line flies from nose to tail.
From the side, the car retains much of the Type S Concept’s design language where the shoulder line appears to twist in a knot at the intersection of front and rear doors. In fact, the production TLX shows off this effect more strongly and, like the widening of the split front grille translated from the Type S Concept, Acura’s designers really benefited from working with a longer, lower, wider chassis.
One piece of the puzzle that would have been pleasing to preserve was the concept’s vertical rear door cutline. Visually, that had the effect of a picture frame, dividing the front and rear halves of the car, giving the concept a bit more balance than the production model. There are various reasons designers don’t win these arguments—ranging from safety to ease of entry.
We’re glad to see the Concept’s V-shaped tail lamps remain largely intact. These scallop into the body, echoing the wrap of the headlamps at the front. We do miss the nifty integration of the wing on the trunk deck of the Concept, because on the production car it looks like what it is: a distinct piece. (That said, a wing that’s integrated into the sheet metal would cost a fortune to repair in the event of an accident.)
This car is bigger, but nearly all that length is given over to the hood, rather than the cabin. As EVs become more mainstream we’re seeing their design ethos sift into conventional cars. Short hood; more cabin space. That’s just the opposite of what Acura’s doing on the TLX.
Ultimately, the 2021 TLX proves to be a strong step forward for Acura, and a necessary one. While it looks more like the Acura of old—sporty, precise, and striking—it’s not nostalgic in its design. The resulting vehicle is evidence that thrilling cars can look great and be reliable all at once.
Images courtesy of Acura