Lexington, Ohio – âYahooooo!â shouted 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 made blind turn 9, then flattened the throttle. âI love the take! He said of Acura’s sophisticated and signature all-wheel drive system.
Say hello to the fierce 355-horsepower Type S, Acura’s first performance sedan in over a decade. And say hello to the post-auto show world of car debuts.
Rather than unveiling the long-awaited 2021 TLX Type S at a static car show, members of the media like myself got to experience the beast from the right seat. Under the whip of one of the best racing jockeys in the world. In front of thousands of racing fans at IMSA Weathertech’s annual speed-fest in Mid-Ohio.
The Type S debut was more than a coming-out night. It was the intersection of three 21st century automotive trends: the shift to experiential car firsts, the marriage of racing and production cars, and the integration of foreign automakers into the heart of America.
Acura made its performance car debut last in 2015 at the Detroit Auto How. There were videos. A bright display. The NSX supercar on a turntable. Famous exotic car collector Jerry Seinfeld was in attendance.
This time, the speed was behind the wheel on a racetrack.
To add to the excitement, Castroneves – the winner of four Indy 500s, not to mention âDancing with the Starsâ – had never driven the car.
Castroneves fired the turbo V-6, and off we went, the Brazilian ringing his neck like the Acura ARX-05 dPi race car prototype he won at Mid-Ohio here a year ago. “Awright, we are entering Turn 1,” applauded the veteran, who will enter his 21st Indy 500 at the end of this month.
The S-Type was appropriately unveiled here on a track dominated by Acura racing. The dPi racer was part of a full press by Acura to bring the brand back to its performance roots after losing its way at the dawn of the 21st century.
Acura not only developed a sequel to the 1990 Legend’s $ 160,000 mid-engined NSX supercar to wow the world, but it also developed a GT racing version for the IMSA series. Not content with that, Acura also engaged the ARX-05 at the pinnacle of American motorsport – a 600 horsepower winged weapon that has won the last two IMSA championships under the leadership of the Penske team.
The Type S, intended for European athletes like the Audi S4 and the BMW M340i at the heart of the luxury market, is the production beneficiary of this performance investment.
âI’m excited to try it out,â Castroneves said ahead of our Type S test. âA lot of what we’ve learned in sports car racing has been applied to this car.â
Based on the $ 38,525 TLX sedan, the 4,221-pound S-Type is stiffer and wider – its fenders chock-full of 20-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli P Zero summer tires. Behind the Pentagon’s menacing black grille beats a 3.0-liter turbo V6 unique to the S-Type – and a major upgrade from the TLX’s 272-horsepower turbo 4. The V-6 is a close cousin of the 3.5-liter. , V6 biturbo that develops 600 horsepower in the Acura dPi.
Interestingly, the S-Type doesn’t follow the hybrid-drivetrain NSX supercar. Next-gen Acura racing prototype, slated for 2023, set to use hybrid technology
âI love the drive of the car,â Castroneves said later as we sneaked into the Acura racing team’s garage – mechanics feverishly preparing the race car for battle later in the day. Following my walk, he had given other journalists hot tricks. âEach round, I gave more. He handled very flat, very stable. Acura made everything so simple – the car was easy to learn.
After seeing the Type S on the track, racing fans in attendance got to see it up close – along with the rest of the Acura lineup – in a pop-up “showroom” in Mid-Ohio. There, visitors could get into the cars, take rides on a simulator, and complete an Acura customer survey.
Like at an auto show.
Auto shows were brought down by the coronavirus pandemic – but were already struggling, as social media and experiential opportunities allowed brands like Acura to host more customer-focused events. Auto shows are coming back to life – see Chicago July 15-19 – but they are no longer the exclusive domain of automotive debut.
The Midwest is also no longer exclusively manufacturing the Detroit Three. Indeed, Ohio is Honda / Acura country – the track is just an hour northeast of Marysville, where the S-Type is built alongside the TLX, ILX sedan and Honda Accord. Just steps from Marysville is the Performance Manufacturing Center, where NSX is handcrafted. Drive further west to East Liberty, and the Japanese transplant produces Acura’s compact RDX SUV, MDX three-row SUV, and Honda’s CR-V SUV.
In total, Honda’s Ohio Empire employs more than 8,000 people on 8,000 acres, producing nearly 700,000 vehicles per year.
Going around the famous Mid-Ohio carousel in the pit straight in the S-Type, the railing is covered in Acura panels – the Honda-sponsored dashboard. âThe weight distribution is really good,â Castroneves muses of the V-6’s roar. “I didn’t expect it to be this quick – wow.”
Mid-Ohio has become a training ground for the enthusiasts of tomorrow. Acura ILX and Honda Civic are official track school cars in which aspiring drivers can hone their skills.
While most Acura buyers are turning to RDX and MDX SUVs these days, the Type S is for auto enthusiasts who won’t consider an SUV. Interest, said a representative from a local dealership, has been intense ahead of the thoroughbred’s arrival in showrooms next month.
Just in time to celebrate the Type S’s big debut, the Acura dPi prototype – driven 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
Vehicle type: Front engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan
Price: est. $ 50,000- $ 60,000
Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbo V6
Horsepower: 355 hp, 354 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, approximately 5 seconds (mnftr.); top speed, 155 mph
Weight: 4,221 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 19 city / 25 highway / 21 combined