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Over the past few decades, Honda has dominated virtually every segment with its outstanding vehicles. User-friendly and affordable, the Honda Accord is a mid-size sedan that offers a striking balance of power and comfort. Acura - whose parent company just so happens to be Honda - is essentially Honda's luxury group. So it is no wonder that people often get them confused.
On the outside, the 2021 Honda Accord and the 2021 Acura TLX look a lot alike. Swap their badges around, and people might not be able to tell the difference. The differences here are under the hood and inside of the cabin.
The 2021 Accord line-up received a trim level revision this year, now sporting a total of six different trim levels: LX, Sport, Sport Special Edition (or, more simply put, Sport SE), EX-L, Sport 2.0T, and Touring. The front fascia received some editing as well, making it sleeker than before. Wireless smartphone app integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also available starting this year, thereby eliminating the need for another cluttering cord. Just take note that the old manual transmission is no longer available since demand for it has dipped so low.
The Acura TLX has fallen short of true luxury status in recent years, coming off as more of a mid-range car. 2021, however, marks a new generation of the TLX - one that promises to be a lot spicier. An entirely new design platform means that the TLX has been rebuilt from the ground up. The wheelbase is now longer and wider, and the front end has a more aggressive styling to it. The hood itself has been elongated for more athletic appeal. There are also a series of new engine options, more high-grade interior materials, and a slew of standard tech features.
So, which of these two vehicles is going to offer you the best deal? Which has more value? Hang tight as we discuss their powertrains, drivability factors, and safety gadgets. In the end, we will let you know whether the 2021 Honda Accord or the newly revamped 2021 Acura TLX provides buyers with a better bargain.
Power and fuel economy are typically things that buyers want a nice balance of, whether they are buying an economy vehicle or a luxury model. No matter what, with fuel prices feeling out-of-control, buyers want a nice blend of power and efficiency. They also like having options.
The 2021 Honda Accord is powered by a base turbocharged 1.5-L 4-cylinder engine that generates 190 horsepower with the help of a continuously variable automatic transmission (or CVT). However, if you decide to upgrade to either the Sport 2.0T or the Touring, you will get a 2.0-L turbo 4-cylinder that musters up a solid 252 hp. This engine gets paired up with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is the standard drivetrain for the Accord. You can also opt for an Accord Hybrid that provides more fuel efficiency with its hybrid powertrain.
The 2021 Acura TLX has several engine options, all of which are new for the model year. Its base turbo 2.0-L 4-cylinder generates 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, making this slightly less hp and more torque when compared to the previous generation's optional V6 engine. A 10-speed automatic transmission directs power to the front wheels, although all-wheel drive is optional on any trim level.
Meanwhile, the TLX Type S (which makes its debut halfway through the model year) swaps in a 3.0-L turbo V6 engine that creates 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. Brembo brakes are included as part of the upgrade on this model.
What makes a vehicle enjoyable (or less-than-enjoyable) to drive? What factors into a well-rounded overall performance? For us, drivability includes how quickly a vehicle accelerates, how strong its brakes are, how well it steers and handles, how smooth and comfortable a ride quality it possesses, and just how functional are its technological features.
That being said, let's consider what makes the 2021 Honda Accord drivable. It provides buyers with two strong engine options that are both turbocharged for extra power. The engine and transmission will both respond sufficiently to power requests. While the CVT does try to lower rpms as much as possible in order to create better fuel economy, its shifts feel effortless and smooth. The CVT does a good job of providing power when you demand it, something with CVTs are not exactly known for doing. However, Honda has clearly worked hard over the years to refine their CVTs, making them rather a staple of their line-ups.
When it comes to steering and handling, the Accord is all about being drama-free. You can easily round through turns without any signs of body roll, and the brakes will bring the Accord to a hassle-free stop. It can make a panic stop from 60 miles per hour in a respectable distance for the segment and tracks straight-on the entire time. Steering provides minimal feedback from the road but has a nice on-center feel and good weight to it.
Although the seat cushions are not extremely well padded, they do have backs and headrests that provide ample comfort. The side bolstering will keep you locked in as you round through corners, and the automatic climate control system is a straightforward one that keeps the set temperature going. The cabin remains well insulated against wind and road noise. The Touring offers a lot of nice features, but the optional 19-inch wheels and adaptive suspension do not seem to enhance the ride quality by much. The lower trim levels do a good enough job of that while staying reasonably priced.
Inside of the cabin, there are plenty of soft touch materials and barely any cheap hard plastics. Refinement abounds with all the high-quality materials you will find. Some of the steering wheel-mounted buttons could be more intuitively laid out, but the rest of the physical controls are easy to figure out. Overall, the cabin is quite roomy and offers plenty of leg room for taller folks. Head space is slightly limited in the rear due to the sloping roofline, but it is nothing too infringing.
The infotainment system offers some crisp graphics on a system that responds quickly to inputs. Smartphone app integration works well, and near-field Bluetooth pairing will come in handy for many drivers. Stick with the standard audio system if you can though; it provides a good sound quality while still being affordable.
Now, just how does the 2021 Acura TLX stack up? The 4-cylinder's power is strong mid-rev due to its extra torque. The 10-speed automatic is a smart replacement for the clunky old 9-speed, but you will notice that after about 4500 rpms, power delivery begins to drop. The 10-speed's first few gears are short, but the rest of them are much taller. This is when you will really start to notice how non-linear the power delivery can get. The acceleration is less spunky than you might expect from a luxury sedan.
The brakes modulate well in regular driving scenarios, but when you have to press down hard, they respond much more aggressively. This is typical for a sport-oriented car but might not be geared toward the everyday driver.
Handling is where the TLX has the most struggles. The TLX performs well in large, swooping turns but quickly hits a sour note when you try to push it through narrower, more winding turns. The TLX feels very front-heavy and gives some nosedive, perhaps due to the elongated hood and bulk underneath. Tire grip is minimal, which takes away from the sporty appeal the TLX is supposed to offer.
The adaptive suspension on the Advanced trim performs much better, giving a firmer ride when switched into Sport mode. It enhances the AWD system and keeps the body more balanced and controlled. We also suspect that the upcoming TLX Type S might correct some of these issues with its V6 engine.
The Acura TLX does do well on comfort, perhaps a bit more than a sport-oriented luxury sedan should. However, everyday drivers might enjoy its plush seats and the Comfort mode on the adaptive suspension. The HVAC vents distribute air evenly via the automatic climate control system, and the heated and ventilated front seats can feel wonderful.
The TLX's interior materials have been vastly upgraded for 2021. What little plastic is in there is solidly constructed, but everything else is soft touch. One point of contention is the center stack, which is built around the mode selection button. Some folks might like it, but others might find it a bit pretentious. And, while the wheelbase was widened and lengthened, passenger volume has not actually changed. This mid-size sedan still feels a bit cramped. Rear head space has decreased while the rear seat leg space only grew by about half an inch.
The TLX has functional gauges, but there is no fully digital gauge cluster option like what you get on other luxury sedans. The Advanced trim's 10.5-inch head-up display looks nice and is rather practical since you do not have to look down at your info while you drive. The A-Spec and Advanced trims have a stunning ELS 17-speaker, 710-watt stereo system that shines as the crowning tech achievement for the TLX.
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Safety is something Honda and Acura care a lot about, and that is reflected in the standard driver aids they offer. On the 2021 Honda Accord, you get the Honda Sensing suite, which bundles together a handful of helpful features. Frontal collision mitigation will warn you when it detects a potential front-end collision and will apply the brakes for you. Adaptive cruise control sets a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of the Accord. Lane keep assist will make minor adjustments to help you stay within your intended lane. Upgrading to the EX-L trim will get you blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert. Low-speed anti-collision braking on the Touring trim level will apply the brakes if it detects a collision between 1 and 6 mph.
The 2021 Acura TLX offers adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functioning and low-speed steering assist. This is standard and is something you would normally have to pay extra for on a lot of the Acura's competitors.
Which Has the Best Value?
Since the TLX still fails to deliver on its promised sporty performance, we would pick the 2021 Honda Accord for the best value. It is spunky enough for a mid-size sedan and is truly a practical daily driver with a lot of reliability backing it up. The Accord is reasonably priced with a ton of standard infotainment and safety features to sweeten the deal. Either engine option is powerful, but the 1.5-L turbo engine delivers the best fuel efficiency.
Which is Better?
While we appreciate the numerous improvements made to the 2021 Acura TLX, they just do not stack up to the luxury competition. The 2021 Honda Accord is much more affordably priced and offers a lot of well-designed technology and comfort features inside of its cozy cabin.