Payne: To Hell and back in the Acura TLX Type S

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 24, 2024

Hell — At a time when electric vehicle mandates are forcing a commoditization of auto products, the Type S dynamic duo of the Acura Integra and TLX are welcome rebels.

I fell hard for the Integra Type S when it debuted last year, and now the TLX Type S gets a healthy mid-cycle update for 2024. Dressed in Urban Grey Peal, body stampings you could slice paper with and quad tailpipes the size of ship cannons, the TLX Type S isn’t shy.

I took it out on Hell’s asphalt dance floor this January to tango. When I turned the fat DRIVE MODE knob to SPORT+, the Acura suspension noticeably stiffened. The 10-speed transmission dropped a gear. The engine growled. We danced across Hadley Road, the big sedan’s turbo V-6 delivering effortless power while the neutral chassis rotated beautifully through corners.

With a 355 horses and a liquid-smooth, 10-speed transmission, the 2024 Acura TLX Type S was a joy in Hell’s winding roads. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Born in 2020, TLX is still cursed by inherent flaws of a mouse pad-controlled console screen and cramped rear seats in a brutally competitive luxury muscle space. Those flaws were corrected on its Integra stablemate.

The pair make for an intriguing choice. But first, let’s hear it for muscle.

Performance auto fans are blue as the auto industry struggles with a government-forced transition to electrics. Mandating battery-powered drivetrains is inevitably breeding homogeneity: quiet, smooth soap bars focused on maximizing range.

The 2024 Acura TLX Type S goes 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds with its turbo V-6 engine.

The 2024 Acura TLX Type S goes 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds with its turbo V-6 engine. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

That’s the opposite of highly individualized, multi-cylinder hellions aimed at enthusiasts. Recent years have seen low-volume standouts of the breed — Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger, Kia Stinger, Hyundai Veloster, Audi TT, Ford Focus/Fiesta ST, Alfa Romeo 4C — sacrificed for low-volume EVs aimed at meeting government regs.

Increasingly enthusiasts must seek refuge — not in bespoke models like Camaro and Challenger, but in performance sub-brands of existing models like Cadillac CT5-V, BMW M340i, Audi S5. Type S is Acura’s sub-brand that endows TLX with a special 355-horsepower six that immediately got me thinking of Hell.

Hell, Michigan, that is, where the roads are curved and people scarce — a playground for Type S, which is aimed at enthusiasts, but not track rats. For the hardcore motorhead, there are steroid-fed 500-plus-horsepower cyborgs like the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing, BMW M3 and Audi RS5. The Type S is a middle ground between beauty and beast — a sedan upgraded to thrill without a supercar bill (my favorite CT5-V Blackwing, for example, rings the register at $100K).

The interior of the 2024 Acura TLX Type S shows off the latest wireless tech. Its mousepad controller, however, is out of date.

The interior of the 2024 Acura TLX Type S shows off the latest wireless tech. Its mousepad controller, however, is out of date. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

My $58K TLX Type S tester, meanwhile, boasts a sticker not far from some of our dearly departed favorites: the $53K Dodge Charger Scat Pack and $53K Kia Stinger GT2, for example. It does this while providing luxurious red leather confines, rad styling handed down from the NSX supercar and an array of standard safety features, including blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control and Brembo brakes.

For the new model year, Acura also gifted TLX standard jewelry like a fashionable, frameless front grille, new wheel designs, digital instrument cluster, 12.3-inch dash screen, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, 360-degree camera and 10.5-inch head-up display. That’s a lotta goodies under the Christmas tree.

The ergonomics complementing these tech goodies are typically excellent for a Honda product, including NSX supercar hand-me-downs like a compact trigger shifter and meaty Drive Mode knob. Notably, the head-up display is operated by a button on the left dash so 5’5” Mrs. Payne and her 6’5” husband don’t have to fish around in the infotainment screen every time we swap seats.

The 2024 Acura TLX Type S was at home on Hell's challenging roads.

The 2024 Acura TLX Type S was at home on Hell’s challenging roads. . Henry Payne, The Detroit News

So it’s a surprise the Type S’s two big negatives are ergonomic: remote-controlled screen and small back seat. Even Lexus has abandoned its mouse-pad screen controller — joining Bimmer, Audi, Mercedes and Cadillac with touchscreens (ooooh, check out the 2025 CT5’s new Lyriq-like 33-inch screen).

It’s a smartphone world, and touchscreens rule. The TLX rear seats? Too small for a sedan this size.

Walk across the Acura showroom and TLX’s new little brother, Integra Type S, gets it. Indeed, little brother has a significant 2.5 more inches of legroom in back, courtesy of its shared Civic chassis. Also shared with Civic is a touchscreen with similar standard goodies as TLX: wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, HUD, adaptive cruise control, blind spot-assist, digital instrument display and those comfy red-leather thrones.

Integra’s touchscreen is a major improvement and also opens up console space. My Gen X son is a hot-hatch fan and loves his Mazda3 Turbo but wishes it had a touchscreen. Were he to enter Acura’s showroom, he would run to the Integra Type S.

The rear seats of the 2024 Acura TLX Type S are cramped for six-footers despite its status as a mid-size sedan.
The rear seats of the 2024 Acura TLX Type S are cramped for six-footers despite its status as a mid-size sedan. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

At $5K less than big brother, the $52K 320-horse, turbo-4-powered Integra Type S also gains a hatchback for better utility and loses a whopping 1,000 pounds over TLX. As fun as the TLX Type S is in Hell’s twisties, the lighter Integra is even sharper. The Integra Type S even gains Dodge Widebody-style blistered fenders for added visual menace.

No wonder I wrote “the Integra Type S is as good as it gets” last year after shredding California Route 150. No wonder Car and Driver elevated Integra Type S to its coveted “10 Best List.”

And yet.

Before you turn your back on the TLX and write that Integra check, consider the white powder that buried my driveway as I returned from Hell. The TLX’s all-wheel-drive system drove up my steep driveway like snow wasn’t even there.

It’s an asset Acura didn’t bestow on Integra Type S — unlike its $50,000 AWD competitive set of Audi S3, BMW M235i XDrive and Mercedes CLA AMG 35. Also unlike those beasts, Integra Type S is only available in a stick. Whoooooaaaa! My son just stopped in his tracks.

As much as we motorheads like manual shifters, they can be a turn-off for daily driving — and distasteful to other members of the family who don’t share our passion. As modern as Integra Type S is for a new generation of buyer, the stick shift is a throwback.

Especially when you consider TLX Type S’s delicious 10-speed manual. As I stomped on the gas through Hell, the tranny was smooth as silk, swapping gears like a pro. No jerks, no confusion. To satisfy my Neanderthal manual-mode needs, I used the steering column paddles. They are as crisp as any I’ve driven. Through Hadley Road’s undulating sweepers, I flicked easily between 4th, 5th and 6th gears — the gearbox, engine and AWD system dancing as one.

Quad pipes like ship cannons. You'll know the 2024 Acura TLX Type S by its four exhaust pipes out back.

Quad pipes like ship cannons. You’ll know the 2024 Acura TLX Type S by its four exhaust pipes out back. . Henry Payne, The Detroit News

So rejoice that Acura offers not one — but two — compact mid-sized performance cars: TLX and Integra Type S. Do you like a manual and touchscreen? Or automatic and all-wheel drive?

The choice is yours.

Next week: 2024 Lexus TX

2024 Acura TLX Type S

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

Price: $53,325, including $1,025 destination fee ($58,825 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter turbocharged 6-cylinder

Power: 355 horsepower, 354 pound-feet of torque

Transmissions: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph (4.9 seconds, Car and Driver); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 4,221 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Distinctive styling inside and out; smooth 10-speed auto transmission

Lows: Maddening touchpad; small back seat

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or @HenryEPayne.

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