Acura retired its Type S nameplate in the US in 2008 with the departure of the TL. But with a reinvigorated lineup and a snazzy new sedan, the performance moniker makes its long-awaited return in the form of the 2021 Acura TLX Type S. Soon we'll even see performance variants of the MDX and RDX SUVs, too.
Acura was so confident in the return of the Type S that the company hauled us out to Monterey, California – more specifically, Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca and the surrounding roads. This is one of the most challenging tracks in North America, headlined by the dreaded Corkscrew, a three-story blind drop into an apex on the uphill approach that pushes cars to their limits.
The TLX Type S is no race car, but on paper at least, it does have some proper performance accolades to take on the challenge. A new turbocharged V6 lives under the hood, an adaptive suspension rides underneath, and some additional sporty upgrades dot the exterior, so the TLX will at least look while good barreling down the Corkscrew.
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Bold In Gold
Acura engineers said that the TLX Type S "needed to be distinct from every angle" – and boy is it. Designers tossed all subtleties out the window starting with the paint; the new Tiger Eye gold hue is absolutely gorgeous in person. The Type S–exclusive color wraps around the signature Diamond Pentagon grille, complete with a new mesh that allows for 10-percent better airflow to the engine. On top of that, blacked-out mirror caps, a shiny black spoiler (with the option of carbon fiber), and tinted taillights complete the aggressive look.
Buyers get the choice of two 20-inch wheel options wrapped around four-piston Brembo brakes: The busier 10-spoke setup comes standard with Pirelli all-seasons, while the cleaner five-spoke units get stickier Pirelli summer rubber. We prefer the look of the latter and drove that setup exclusively in our street and track test.
Beyond that, the proportions of this car are damn near perfect from a visual standpoint. Key carryover elements from the base TLX, like the long hood and fastback-style rear, look even sharper with help from new wheels and additional sporty cues. Plus the TLX Type S is wider than anything else in the class, stretching out to 75.2 inches, which gives it a properly aggressive stance.
Very little about the inside of the TLX Type S, though, screams "sporty" like the emboldened exterior does. You can get some carbon fiber accents, a unique Orchid color borrowed from the NSX, and the "Type S" moniker stitched into the headrests. But that's about it. The rest of the cabin is essentially a clean carryover from the traditional TLX.
From a technical standpoint, the Type S’ new twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 is amazing. Manufactured in Anna, Ohio, just down the street from where the company cobbles together the NSX, this powertrain has six-bolt sintered main caps to help keep the block rigid, a forged crankshaft and connecting rods, and for the first time in any Acura product, variable cylinder management paired to a twin-scroll turbocharger.
The end result of all that awesome engineering is – wait for it – 355 horsepower and 354 pound-feet sent to all four wheels. Yeah, that's not a lot of power against the competitive set; the BMW M340i, Genesis G70 3.3T, Mercedes-AMG C43, and even the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport all have more juice by comparison. Only the Audi S4 is less powerful, producing 349 horses.
And it’s blatantly obvious as we blast down the front straight of Laguna Seca that the Type S could use more power. Torque peaks at a low 1,400 RPM – quicker than any alternative – but it still doesn’t feel like enough. While Acura won't publish an official 60 time for the Type S, my butt dyno tells me that most of its competitors would be quicker down the same stretch of track.
Hard on the brakes into the first turn and the Type S exhibits some unusual squirreliness, too. The four-piston Brembo brakes, joined by an NSX-inspired "electro-servo" braking system – better known as brake-by-wire – are too grabby. And that abruptness makes the car feel uneasy at speed, made worse by overly boosted steering and a thick-rimmed steering wheel that don't do a great job of translating the pavement to your fingertips, even in the most aggressive Sport Plus mode (exclusive to Type S).
But the TLX Type S does redeem itself elsewhere as we hammer it harder on the backend of the track. That V6 delivers an effortless, lag-free, linear stream of power at all times, even if there isn't enough of it, while the throttle tells you exactly what the car is doing, which means the TLX is easy to feather out of corners with no chance of oversteer. The suspension is extremely well-sorted, too, especially on the trickiest part of the track. The TLX Type S slithers through the infamous Corkscrew without so much as a shrug, shifting its weight flawlessly from side to side.
The TLX Type S slithers through the infamous Corkscrew without so much as a shrug, shifting its weight flawlessly from side to side.
And the levels of grip on this car are unbelievable, nearly mimicking the abilities of its big brother, the NSX. The SH-AWD system and optional Pirelli summer tires keep the Type S planted even in the trickiest corners, helped by advanced torque vectoring to prevent slip, which comes in handy on Laguna’s long sweeper.
After a few fast laps in the TLX Type S, this car proved that it has solid on-track skills, even though there are certain features that could be notched up even more, assuming Acura wants to turn the TLX into a true track terror. But once we hit the road, it was a different story.
Although the TLX Type S felt slightly underpowered for such a large track, that V6 delivers plenty of grunt for sporty on-road driving, with a buttery smoothness that you won't find in its competitors. That ultra-low 1,400 RPM peak maintains all the way up to 5,000, and this engine displays impressive fluidity throughout. Even higher up in the range, as we pushed the TLX hurriedly up steeper inclines, the engine never struggled, always delivering a smooth stream of power.
The 10-speed automatic is equally precise, shifting quickly at all times, but especially in the aggressive Sport Plus drive mode. But like a lot of Sport Plus modes, the combo of a too-eager transmission and a touchy throttle makes it a touch aggressive for everyday driving – Sport feels like the perfect compromise.
And when the roads got curvy, that impressive agility we experienced on the track carries over. New stabilizer bars, a 40-percent stiffer spring rate, and a 13-percent increase in torsional rigidity yielded totally flat movements, even in the trickiest corners. Acura has very nearly quashed all of the body roll found in the base TLX.
It’s obvious that Acura tuned the TLX Type S for the road first, track second. And that’s fine. Laguna Seca might have been too big of an ask, anyways, for a car with mid-range power and subtle performance tuning, but the roads around Monterey and Pebble Beach proved to be the perfect setting for this Acura.
And when you’re not hammering it, the TLX Type S drives like, well, a TLX. Tick the drive mode selector to Normal mode, and you might not be able to tell the difference between this version and its base sibling – until you lay your foot into the throttle. The addition of an Active Vibration system, which helps cancel out vibration from the engine and chassis, makes a noticeable difference when simply puttering around.
And nearly all of the same comfort and conveniences of the base TLX carry over. A 10.2-inch touchscreen adorns the dash, managed by the brand’s TrueTouchpad interface, and an ELS premium audio system with 17 speakers is standard. Also standard is AcuraWatch, the brand’s most advanced active safety suite. That combines forward collision monitoring, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and traffic jam assist.
Worthy Of The Name?
So in just a few hours behind the wheel, it’s hard to say definitively that this car lives up to its lofty expectations. Looking purely at price, the TLX does undercut most alternatives with an asking MSRP of just $52,300 (not including $1,025 in destination fees) – so that's a good start. The BMW M340i starts at $54,700, the Mercedes-AMG C43 costs $56,500, and even the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport costs $55,850. With the high-performance wheel option and summer rubber (as-tested), the TLX Type S costs $53,100.
In terms of overall performance, though, Acura is wholly confident in the new TLX Type S. The fact that they let us drive it on Laguna Seca is proof enough. And while it may not be the most track-focused option – there's room for improvement in a few areas that might make it more capable – it is a strong on-road performer. This car is comfortable, quick, and extremely competent, like most Type S models before it, and showed a lot of promise in this initial impression. We can't wait to spend more time with it.
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2021 Acura TLX Type S