Is the sedan champion 2021 Honda Accord better than its corporate cousin the Acura TLX? We dive into the details to find the best car for the money.
The 2021 Honda Accord is about as good a sedan as you can find for the money. At between $25,000 and $35,000, the Accord ticks all the boxes from generous standard features and safety tech to a comfortable and stylish interior and a sporty driving experience. The 2021 Acura TLX is analogous to the Lexus ES, that is a fancier luxury-badged version of their parent company’s best-selling sedan. In the case of the ES, it’s a refined, luxury version of Toyota’s Camry with a distinctly different personality. The Acura TLX has often replicated more than redefined the Accord. But the new 2021 TLX is a whole new generation, with significant improvements over the prior generation. Given how good the Accord is, one has to ask, is the new TLX finally more than just a rebadge with a fancy interior?
The 2021 Honda Accord offers three different powertrain options. The base is a turbocharged 1.5L four-cylinder making 192 horsepower and 192 lb.-ft. of torque and connected to a CVT (continuously variable transmission). Fuel economy is 30 city and 38 highway mpg for the base; the Sport and Sport Special Edition are slightly less efficient at 29/35 mpg.
For more excitement there’s a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 252 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque. Not only is it more powerful, this engine also gets a 10-speed automatic rather than a CVT. The extra power comes at a cost to fuel economy, down to 22 city and 32 highway mpg.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Accord’s hybrid option that combines the 2.0L engine with two electric motors making a combined 212 horsepower and 232 lb.-ft. of torque and paired with a CVT. Fuel economy is great at 48 city and 48 highway with the Touring trim dips a bit to 44 city and 41 highway.
The Acura TLX currently offers a single powertrain, a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder tuned to make 272 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque and mated to a 10-speed automatic. Unlike the Accord, which comes exclusively in front-wheel drive, the TLX offers the option of all-wheel drive. Fuel economy runs 22 city and 31 highway mpg for the FWD version and 21/29 for the AWD. If the 2.0L isn’t enough displacement for you, Acura plans to debut a turbocharged 3.0L V6 by mid-year with 355 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque.
There’s something to be said about being the fastest, the most refined, the most technologically advanced. But the 2021 Honda Accord is a great car not because it excels at any one thing but rather because of how well rounded it is. Like the transcendent athlete, the Accord is very good at a great many thing and that includes how it drives. The steering is light yet precise. It corners well, with a minimum of body roll. The suspension is nicely balanced between sporty stiffness and compliant comfort. The 2.0L turbo provides impressive acceleration for the segment. And though the hybrid isn’t as swift, it’s very efficient.
The Acura TLX is a fun car to drive. The stiff chassis likes being tossed into corners. Handling is greatly improved from the prior generation of TLX thanks to performance upgrades like the electro-servo brake-by-wire set up and the adaptive electric steering. The turbo 2.0L can be a little laggy but comes alive at higher rev ranges. The optional AWD is probably the biggest differentiator from the Accord (which comes exclusively in front-wheel drive). As good at the Accord is to drive, the TLX is clearly the better driver’s car. The upcoming 3.0L V6 will probably make that distinction decisive. The middling fuel economy is the only detraction for the TLX.
As with the performance comparison, the interior of the Accord is at or near the top of its segment while the TLX dials up that quality another few notches. The Accord offers an impressive blend of functional design and high-quality materials that makes it a very reasonable alternative to more expensive luxury models like the TLX. The TLX, for its part, is both original in its design (often an aspect lacking in modern luxury cars, or really all cars for that matter) and impressive in its quality of materials. Both of these aspects are marked improvements over the prior generation and help make the case for the extra expense of the TLX over Accord.
However, the Accord does have one distinct advantage and that is space. The Accord is the much roomier car with 40.4-inches of rear seat leg room to the TLX’s 34.9 inches. The same holds true in the cargo department as the Accord offers a generous 16.7 cu.-ft. of space while the TLX is left wanting with just 13.5 cu.-ft.
Another weak point for the TLX is the infotainment interface with is mediated through a touchpad rather than a touchscreen. Thankfully, Acura was wise enough to offer plenty of actual buttons for dash controls so some of the cumbersome learning curve that comes with the touchpad is mitigated.
The Honda Accord is the top of the mid-size sedan heap in part because of how much car you get for your money. The base LX starts under $25,000 and comes very well-equipped for that price. On the opposite end, the Touring trim abuts luxury levels of bells-and-whistles at $36,900. The TLX starts at just $600 dollars more and offers a boatload of standard features itself. In fact, aside from some items like blind spot monitoring and ventilated front seats, most buyers will be very happy with the base TLX.
Dual-zone climate control, 8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, push-button start. Standard safety tech includes lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking.
Power driver’s seat, 8-speaker stereo, access to larger 2.0L engine (for $4,530) which also adds access to satellite radio, wireless charging, and blind spot monitoring.
Adds leather and a power passenger seat
10-speaker stereo, satellite and HD radio, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, moonroof, and safety features like blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts.
The 2.0L engine comes standard. Navigation, WiFi hot spot, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, and heads-up display.
10.2-inch touchscreen, WiFi hot spot, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED head and taillights (with automatic high beams), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, HD and satellite radio, synthetic leather, heated power front seats, and keyless entry. Standard safety features include forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist.
13-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloy wheels, blind spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors.
17-speaker stereo, suede leather accenting, flat bottom steering wheel, rear diffuser and rear trunk spoiler, and stainless-steel pedals.
Ventilated front seats, wireless charging, adaptive suspension, remote start, HUD, and heated rear seats.
Comparing the Honda Accord and the Acura TLX largely comes down to cost. Part of what makes the Accord so exceptional is the value that it provides compared to its segment rivals. Put simply, the Accord is a lot of car for the money, especially at the lower trim levels. The top Touring trim is only a thousand dollars off the entry point for the Acura TLX. The slicker interior design of the Acura is balanced out by the extra safety features in the Accord Touring (like blond spot monitoring) that are relegated to the higher trim levels in the TLX. Other practical considerations in favor of the Accord are the highly efficient hybrid powertrain option and the additional space for rear passengers.
The Acura is the slicker, more enjoyable car to drive, but the allure of the Accord’s practicality is potent. Unless you’ve got the extra $5-$10,000 sitting around, the Honda Accord is probably the better bet. And if you do have money to burn and a hankering for a more exciting ride, don’t forget there’s the forthcoming 3.0L TLX due out later this year.