Acura’s True Touchpad infotainment system is a hot topic at Autoblog HQ. Some of us utterly detest its functionality. Others, myself included, will plead its case as a worthy alternative to normal infotainment systems. “It’s not that bad,” I’ll say over and over. I had to eat my words to a certain extent when our long term 2021 Acura TLX’s infotainment system broke recently due to bad wire connectors, but now that it’s up and running again, it’s time to give it a proper shake.
The screen in this TLX is a high-resolution, 10.2-inch monitor that sits far from the driver on the car’s dash top. It’s oriented horizontally in a widescreen format. The controversial bit I mentioned at the beginning is all to do with how you navigate the user interface using Acura’s unique touchpad. It uses something Acura calls absolute positioning technology, meaning that where your finger is on the touchpad corresponds to the same spot on the screen, allowing you to select whatever is in that location. Press down on the top right corner of the touchpad, and the square located in the top right corner of the screen is selected — no need to “swipe” over to it.
This takes a considerable amount of time to adapt to. I didn’t master it or get used to it overnight. In fact, it’s really rather frustrating out of the gate. Virtually all touchpads in cars before this one are more intuitive at first. Just swipe around the pad, and your “cursor” swipes around with you. After a couple road trips, plenty of takeout runs and everything in between, I’ve become a believer in Acura’s technology, though, with one major caveat I’ll address later on.
Once you have enough time and practice to become fluent with Acura’s way of doing things (something our long-term Acura TLX has allowed us the rare opportunity to do), the absolute positioning strategy starts to make more sense. You can select an app like FM radio or Apple CarPlay in an instant — faster than any regular touchpad or scroll wheel will allow. It’s no wild speed demon, but you can navigate the main menu structure faster here than you can in most cars.
Acura’s user interface is tailored to fit its operation with big squares that are easily findable in your touchpad to press. It gets a little tougher once you get into an app like Navigation or Sirius XM, as it requires more precise positioning of your finger to get to the right spot. As long as you understand how the interface works, you’re going to have a good enough time. The speed at which the system works is suspect at times — navigation takes a few seconds to pull up on the first load after a start-up, same with the radio. But that slow loading time goes away once you’ve opened the app once.
Unlike most of the German brands, Acura keeps its exotic visualizers and extra features to a minimum. There’s a fairly deep settings menu to wade through, but you won’t find any “revitalizing” or “relaxation” programs inside Acuras. The quirkiest part of the system comes with Acura’s ambient lighting tech. Instead of simple color names, Acura names the color combos after famous racetracks, roads and locations that you might associate with those colors around the world. A few examples include Route 66, Bourbon Street and Manhattan.
Now, about the one caveat. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto quite frankly suck to use with this interface. The touchpad loses its absolute positioning functionality in both CarPlay and Android Auto, leaving you to swipe around on the screen like you have to with Lexus Remote Touch (never a good comparison). However, where you swipe and where your cursor goes doesn’t always make much sense. It’s not tuned or dialed in as well as most touchpads. Plus, neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto were designed to work with touchpads — they’re touchscreen-first interfaces. That makes using those apps super-frustrating in most cases, as it takes abnormally long to execute most tasks that could be done in less time on superior systems. Acura’s widescreen format does come in handy here, though, as it allows you to keep a square to the right of CarPlay/Android Auto open for other use. That means you can keep Waze or Google Maps open in full screen mode and have your current media displayed to the right of it. Thankfully, this cuts down on the amount of screen switching necessary.
That’s all I see when it comes to the really bad part of this infotainment system. It’s definitely not everybody’s favorite option, but I’d recommend spending more time with it to anybody who comes away disgusted after the first test drive. Making such a difficult-to-learn interface isn’t smart for impressing in the dealership, but Acura is clearly angling for long-term, simplistic happiness over the initial flash and bang you might get in a Mercedes-Benz or Audi. I think it’s largely a success, and will be happy to settle into it again when it’s my turn to have another go in our long-term TLX.