For a long time, if you wanted a premium performance car from Japan, you went with an Acura. From the legendary original NSX to the full-size Legend and boy racer favorite Integra, the marque offered enough performance and luxury to leave virtually every other competitor in the dust.
But in recent years, Acura has seemed to have drifted from its performance car roots. Parent company Honda has shifted its top-shelf brand’s focus to comfortable, tech-focused luxury, and while it’s found sales success with the formula (over 177,000 vehicles sold in 2015), it’s left something to be desired for brand purists — aside from the new NSX, that is.
But Acura seems to be refocusing across its lineup. It’s begun to phase out the polarizing “beak” grille, and in 2014, It discontinued the big TL and the compact TSX, streamlining its sedan lineup and introducing the TLX, an all-new midsize sedan to take on the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class and based on the Honda Accord. Parent company Honda’s venerable Accord is now well into its ninth generation, and has benefited from a number of improvements over its lifespan. As a result, it’s one of the best midsize sedans on the market.
As with many cars we’ve covered in Buy This, Not That, there’s some daylight between Accord and TLX pricing, with the Honda starting at $22,205 and the Acura from $31,695. But there’s also a lot of overlap at the Accord’s top end, where it combines power, luxury, and style better than virtually any other competitor.
Tale of the tape
The Accord’s 2016 refresh has trimmed the fat on an already lean car. It’s benefited from styling updates inside and out, all but erasing the fussiness of early ninth-generation cars. In top-spec Touring trim, the Accord benefits from Honda’s 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter VTEC V6 (a gem of an engine if there ever was one), though the 2.4-liter four offered on lesser models is one of the best four-bangers out there too.
Either way, the Accord is one of the best performers of the midsize sedan segment, with a six-speed CVT, and for the purists, an optional six-speed manual. In Sport and Touring trims, zero to 60 can be reached in under six seconds, and the bigger-for-2016 brakes and revised suspension make the car that much more engaging to drive.
Inside, the Touring model could easily be mistaken for an Acura if the steering hub were covered up. Soft touch surfaces abound, and optional heated and cooled leather seats are enough to keep anybody happy. Honda’s Display Audio infotainment system is easy to use and accessed by the large touchscreen on the dash, and is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. And at the end of the day, you’d have trouble optioning a Touring model above that $40K mark. It may be expensive for an Accord, but when the car can compete with models in — and above — its segment, it begins to feel like a bargain.
Over at Honda’s premium brand, the TLX has almost everything we like about the Accord, and then some. For Acura, that 3.5-liter six has been massaged to put out 290 horsepower, though the 2.4-liter four is the only engine available until you opt for the mid-range P-AWS (Precision All-Wheel Steer) model. The top-trim SH-AWD (the fantastically named “Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) model delivers power to all four wheels (something the Accord doesn’t offer), and four-wheel steering, a feature long associated with Honda thanks to the third-generation Prelude.
But advanced suspension aside, the TLX has more drawbacks compared to its simpler relative. The top-spec Accord may be pricey, but it’s also an underdog punching above its weight. And speaking of pounds, the Acura weighs in at 3,763 of them, putting it at a 150-pound disadvantage against the heaviest Accords (four-cylinder models can weigh as much as 500 pounds less than the Acura). As a result, the TLX doesn’t end up feeling as responsive or sporty as the Accord, and in a segment with BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Mercedes, and Jaguar at the top of their game, that stands out.
The Acura’s interior looks nicer than the Accord’s, but fit and finish is pretty close, if not on par. Trimmed in leather, wood, and aluminum, the cabin is a nice place to spend some time, but the lack of bolstering in the seats, and the slow to respond nine-speed transmission (the only one offered in the car) seem to reinforce the idea that the car wasn’t designed to be driven in anger for long. Topping out in the mid $40K range, the TLX is a fine luxury car, but compared to other cars in its segment, it starts to feel like something of a tough sell.
In the tradition of the best Accords of the past, the current model really stands out, even against its more upscale cousin. The TLX is a fine contemporary luxury sedan; it’s comfortable, it’s heavy on tech, and it looks imposing. But Acura still feels like it’s lacking a connection to the brand’s sporting heritage, a problem the Honda doesn’t have. An Accord may not have the same cache at the country club or at the law office, but it upholds that perfect Honda balance between comfort, value, and performance.
We’ve always had a soft spot for sleeper cars, and to us, the Accord Touring is one of the best on the market. It may not get a second look in a parking lot, but that’s fine with us; we’ll take a luxurious cabin, excellent handling, and a powerful, responsive engine over a little flash any day.