I used to be enamored with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine format. I owned a 2004 Subaru WRX, with its turbo boxer mill, and liked it quite a bit, rough though it could be. Then turbo-fours, often displacing the same 2.0 liters, began replacing heavier and thirstier naturally aspirated V6 powerplants across the industry, and I was on board.
Since then, they’ve become much more refined and responsive, all while their often uninspiring soundtracks faded into the background as automakers worked to improve the experience inside the cabin. They’ve also become so ubiquitous that, apart from certain standouts like the turbo boxer in the Porsche 718, they ceased to be as exciting to me.
Then Autoblog’s long-term 2021 Acura TLX arrived in my driveway, equipped with a 2.0-liter turbo I4. I was excited about the styling and the handling, but I didn’t expect this four-pot to make a huge impression on me.
The first time I opened her up under wide-open throttle, though, I was pleasantly surprised. This 2.0T’s 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque are ample motivation for this sporty sedan, even with all-wheel drive and a 3,990-pound curb weight. It won’t knock your hat into the back seat, but it’s quick enough, especially in Sport mode.
The thing that really won me over with this 2.0T, though, is the sound. Ripping to this thing’s 6,800-rpm redline produces a melodious song that sounds a lot more exciting and expressive than most other fours. The cherry on top is the punctuated hiss of the turbo releasing its pressure when you get off the throttle.
The amplitude of the engine note is manipulated using Acura’s Active Sound Control. As an Acura spokesperson explained it:
“Active Sound Control uses the TLX’s speakers (whether audio is playing or not) to add sound (same-phase or reverse-phase) to the cabin that smooths the sound of the engine heard inside the cabin. Engine noise doesn’t increase in a linear way with rising revs; instead there can be many resonances that create peaks and valleys in the sound pressure level and an uneven sound. The level of ASC is tailored to each drive mode (Comfort, Normal and Sport).”
Put another way, ASC is basically an electronic filter that can deaden or amplify the sound and smoothen it out, similar to how active suspension damping adjusts to the situation and drive modes to either let in more or less road feel, while actively eliminating the harshest of vibrations.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to be everyone’s favorite soundtrack (and feel free to add your opinion in the comments below). And if the chord doesn’t resonate as well with you, the fact that the engine sound is piped into the speakers is going to drive you nuts. It’s not quiet, especially in Sport mode. Thankfully, you can opt for sportier settings with a quieter engine note using the Individual drive mode.
For me, though, this soundtrack is a great accompaniment for the spirited driving the TLX does so well. It’s one of those rare cars where it sounds better from the inside than the outside. Even better, it’s reminded me how soulful and interesting a 2.0-liter turbo-four — even an inline one — can be.