Payne: Acura TLX Type S unveiled. While riding shotgun. With Helio Castroneves at the wheel.

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 25, 2021

Lexington, Ohio — “Yahooooo!” yelled Helio Castroneves as we hit 117 mph in the new Acura TLX Type S on the back straight of the Mid-Ohio race course. Hard on the Brembo brakes, he crested blind Turn 9, then flattened the throttle. “Love the grip!” he said of Acura’s signature, sophisticated all-wheel-drive system.

Say hello to the ferocious, 355-horsepower Type S, the first performance sedan from Acura in over a decade. And say hello to the post-auto show world of car debuts.

Rather than unveil the long-awaited, 2021 TLX Type S at a static car show display, media members like me got to experience the beast from the right-hand seat. Under the lash of the one of the world’s premier race jockeys. In front of thousands of racing fans at IMSA Weathertech’s annual Mid-Ohio speed-fest.

IndyCar superstar Helio Castroneves introduced the 2021 Acura TLX Type S by giving hot laps to journalists.

The Type S debut was more than a coming-out party. It was the intersection of three 21st century auto trends: the shift to experiential car premieres, the marriage of racing and production cars, and the integration of foreign automakers in America’s heartland.

Acura last debuted a performance car in 2015 at the Detroit Auto How. There were videos. A light display. The NSX supercar on a turntable. Celebrity exotic car collector Jerry Seinfeld was in attendance.

This time, the celerity was at the wheel on a race track.

Adding to the excitement, Castroneves — the winner of four Indy 500s, not to mention “Dancing with the Stars” — had never driven the car.

Castroneves gunned the turbo V-6, and we were off, the Brazilian ringing its neck like the Acura ARX-05 dPi prototype race car he won with at Mid-Ohio here a year ago. “Awright, here we go into Turn 1,” cheered the veteran, who will enter his 21st Indy 500 at the end of this month.

Type S was appropriately unveiled here at a track that Acura race has dominated. The dPi racer was part of a full-court press by Acura to return the brand to its performance roots after losing its way at the dawn of the 21st century.

Helio at the wheel of the 2021 Acura TLX Type S

Not only did Acura develop a halo, $160k, mid-engine NSX supercar sequel to the 1990 legend that wowed the world, it also developed a GT race version for the IMSA series. Not content with that, Acura also entered the ARX-05 at the pinnacle of U.S. motorsport — a 600-horsepower, winged weapon that won the last two IMSA championships under Team Penske’s management.

Type S, aimed at European athletes like the Audi S4 and BMW M340i in the heart of the luxury market, is the production beneficiary of that performance investment.

“I’m excited to try it,” said Castroneves ahead of our Type S test. “A lot that we have learned in sports car racing has been applied to this car.”

Based on the $38,525 TLX sedan, the 4,221-pound Type S is stiffer and wider — its fenders engorged with 20-inch wheels rapped in Pirelli P Zero summer tires. Behind the menacing, black Diamond Pentagon grille beats a 3.0-liter turbo V-6 unique to the Type S — and a major upgrade over the base TLX’s 272 -horse turbo 4. The V-6 is a close cousin to the 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6 that makes 600-horsepower in the Acura dPi.

Interestingly, Type S does not follow the NSX supercar with hybrid drivetrain. The next-gen Acura prototype racer, due in 2023, is expected to utilize hybrid technology

Detroit News auto critic (right) got a ride along in the 2021 Acura TLX Type S with Helio Castroneves

“I love how the car handles,” said Castroneves later as we weaved through the Acura race team’s garage — mechanics feverishly preparing the race car for battle later that day. Following my ride, he had given other journalists hot laps. “With each lap, I was giving it more. It handled very flat, very stable. Acura does everything so simple — the car was easy to learn.”

Having seen the Type S on the track, race fans in attendance could see it up close — along with the rest of Acura’s lineup — at a pop-up “showroom” at Mid-Ohio. There, visitors could get in the cars, do laps on a simulator, and fill out an Acura customer survey.

Like at an auto show.

Auto shows have been laid low by the coronavirus pandemic — but were already struggling as social media and experiential opportunities have allowed brands like Acura to do more customer-targeted events. Auto shows are coming back to life — see Chicago July 15-19 — but they are no longer the exclusive domain of auto debuts.

The Midwest is also no longer exclusively Detroit Three manufacturing. Indeed, Ohio is Honda/Acura country — the track is just an hour northeast of Marysville, where Type S is built alongside the TLX, ILX sedan and Honda Accord. A stone’s throw away from Marysville is the Performance Manufacturing Center, where NSX is hand-built. Drive further west to East Liberty, and the Japanese transplant churns out Acura’s RDX compact SUV, MDX three-row SUV and Honda’s mega-selling CR-V SUV.

All in, Honda’s Ohio empire employs over 8,000 people over 8,000 acres, pumping out nearly 700,000 vehicles a year.

2021 Acura TLX Type S

Rounding Mid-Ohio’s famous Carousel turn onto the pit straight in the Type S, the guardrail is plastered with Acura signs — the scoreboard sponsored by Honda. “The weight distribution is really good,” Castroneves muses over the V-6 roar. “I was not expecting it to be this quick — wow.”

Mid-Ohio has become a training ground for tomorrow’s enthusiast. Acura ILX and Honda Civic are official track school cars in which budding motorheads can hone their skills.

While most Acura buyers gravitate to RDX and MDX SUVs these days, the Type S is targeted at motoring enthusiasts who won’t consider an SUV. Interest, said a local dealer rep, has been intense ahead of the thoroughbred’s arrival in showrooms next month.

Right on cue to celebrate Type S’s big debut, the Acurs dPi prototype — piloted by American ace Ricky Taylor — won Sunday’s race for the fourth year in a row.

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.

2021 Acura TLX Type S debuted at Mid-Ohio

2021 Acura TLX Type S

Vehicle type: Front engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: est. $50,000-$60,000

Powerplant: 3.0-liter turbo V-6

Power: 355 horsepower, 354 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, about 5 seconds (mnftr.); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 4,221 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 19 city/25 highway/21 combined

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