Sometimes, a really great car just kind of sneaks up on you. Several years ago, Acura (Honda's luxury division) rolled out a new version of its TLX sedan, a mid-size BMW 3-Series fighter.

That's no easy task; everyone selling a mid-size luxury sedan has been unsuccessfully fighting the 3-Series for decades. But the TLX was absolutely necessary to keep Acura competitive in the segment. That said, everyone also knew that the almighty BMW wasn't going to be dethroned anytime soon, if ever.

Enter the TLX A-Spec, which I borrowed to test out. I drove a well-optioned 2018 model that came with all-wheel-drive and stickered at $45,750. (Interestingly, I sampled the Acura in and around Fremont and San Jose, CA, when I was also checking out the launch of the Tesla Model 3, the all-electric mass-market car of the future, and we later enjoyed the vehicle in the New York-New Jersey area).

It would be a sad understatement to say that I liked this car. I've always been an Acura fan - even though Honda doesn't do rear-wheel-drive and therefore has a tough time competing against BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus, who do. The brand's cars and SUVs are exceptionally well-done, with reasonable performance, great reliability, and fantastic Honda engineering. My TLX had a brilliant 3.5-liter V6 under the hood (Honda makes superb V6's) and all the go-fast upgrades that earned it the A-Spec designation.

The TLX replaced the TL in 2015 and was quickly greeted with the usual sighs about how Acura is never going to top the Big Four luxury automakers: Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, and Audi. Along with Infiniti (Nissan's luxury brand), Acura has long strived to replicate Lexus's achievements, but of the Japanese carmakers, only Toyota has truly cracked the luxe code.

This is a misplaced lament. Acura has been around since Ronald Reagan was in the Oval Office and over the decades has sold many vehicles, including the much-loved Legend and Integra. The brand has its own thing going, and in my view, it's different from Lexus's "Don't think about it" approach toward luxury and the Germans' focus on driving performance.

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