• Nov 24th 2008 at 11:57AM
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Click above for high-res image gallery of the 2009 Acura L SH-AWD

2008 has been a busy year for Acura's design and manufacturing engineering staff. It's not often that a brand refreshes its entire sedan lineup in the span of just over six months. Of course, in Acura's case that only amounts to three cars, but includes two completely redesigned cars with the TL and TSX and one heavy face-lift for the RL. Actually, "heavy face-lift" is something that applies to all three, as Acura has implemented a new front end design for its sedans that has seemingly gone over with pundits like the proverbial lead balloon.

We use the word "seemingly" because while most of the media and the majority of commenters here on Autoblog have howled in visual pain whenever the new shield grille pops up, it doesn't seem to have hurt sales. In fact, sales of the both the TSX and TL have been up significantly in the first few months that the cars have been on sale. Now that Acura has dropped off a 2009 TL SH-AWD in the Autoblog Garage for a week, it's time to see if our initial impressions need adjusting.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

We got our first look at the 2009 Acura TL back in July, and at that time felt it was the best executed of the three cars. It turned out from talking with Acura designers that the TL was actually the first of the three designed around this new look, though it was the last to debut. This means the new shield grille was something of an afterthought for the RL and TSX. Regardless of what you might think of the shield grille, it certainly looks better integrated on the TL than the other two cars.

In profile the TL is a bit of a mixed bag. From the A-pillar back, the fastback roof-line adds to its sporting character. Some have complained that the C-pillar is too derivative with the kinked angle of the back end of the side glass. Another questionable design element is the car's long front overhang, although this is largely defined by the mechanical architecture underneath. Since the TL is derived from the transverse engine, front-wheel-drive layout of the Accord, the front wheels are pushed back from the corners.

On the plus side, the swept back corners mean that the overhang is really only obvious in profile view. If you move to either a front- or rear three-quarter view, it becomes far less obvious. Personally, we find the rear three-quarter sight-line to be the TL's strongest angle.

Under the hood, the SH-AWD version of the TL gets the same 3.7L V6 now found in the RL. At 305 horsepower, this is the strongest engine that Honda has ever offered in North America. At 273 lb-ft of torque, the 3.7L even has some decent twisting force, a relative rarity in Honda engines. The larger bore of the 3.7 means that Honda has skipped the cast iron liners of the 3.5 in favor of the same silicon-impregnated aluminum that was pioneered way back when on the Chevy Vega.

For now if you want Acura's torque vectoring Super Handling-All Wheel Drive system, you'll have to be satisfied with a 5-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Next year Acura will make a 6-speed manual gearbox available in the SH-AWD. For now, though, the automatic is not a bad option. When you engage manual shifting mode, the gearbox actually stays in the selected gear all the way to red-line and bounces off the rev-limiter instead of automatically shifting up.

The interior of the TL is fairly typical of contemporary Acuras. The top surface of the dashboard is a single piece and seams in the lower areas are kept to a bare minimum. The seats are covered in a nice soft leather and offer firm supportive side bolsters.

The TL offers two memory settings for the position of the seats and mirrors, which itself is not unusual. A unique feature, however, is storage of the memory settings in the two key-less fobs. Anyone whose spouse/partner is of significantly different stature will surely appreciate this, as each partner gets their own fob. You get in the car, set everything up and then store your settings in your own fob. Once your fob is programmed, when you approach the car a proximity sensor detects which fob is next to the drivers door. As you open the door, everything automatically moves to your desired position. Very handy indeed.

On the road the 3.7L V6 has a reasonable amount of grunt and moves the nearly two-ton TL with relative ease. The TL, like so many other cars, has grown progressively bigger and heavier with each generation and that extra mass can be felt especially in the AWD model. it simply feels more dense when changing direction, especially compared to the lighter front driver. In spite of that mass, the super handling-all wheel drive can pay dividends in dynamic behavior when pushed to the limit.

While the front drive TL tends to understeer, you can get the back end to loosen up with some aggressive trail braking into corners. For a driver who wants to test his skills, the lighter model is likely to be more a more rewarding ride. It provides limit handling behavior more commensurate with driver's commands.

The torque vectoring system in the SH-AWD sends drive torque not just to the wheel with traction but it works in conjunction with the stability control to send power to either the inner or outer wheel to help guide the car in the desired direction. If you accelerate too early before the apex in the front-wheel-drive TL, engine torque will be cut and the inside rear wheel will be braked to help turn in and fight understeer. In the SH-AWD model, instead of cutting torque from the engine, power will get sent to the outer rear wheel to help push the outside of the car around.

The overall impression is of a much more buttoned down machine that goes precisely where you point it and does so at a speed in proportion to your pressure on the accelerator or brake. It can make the most ham-handed driver look much better then he or she really is. It's faster and easier to drive, but perhaps less challenging to wring out. On the other hand, someone looking to exercise a car this way might prefer to wait for the manual transmission version.

For those who find the new Acura TL's look appealing, or at least tolerable, it's a solid, well built sedan. It's devoid of any early build glitches like the ones we noticed the first time we drove the 2008 Accord. The interior is roomy, comfortable, well laid out and put together. The '09 TL is also capable on the road and reasonably engaging to drive. It's not a hardcore sports sedan, but it isn't meant to be. With a price tag of $42,235 for the SH-AWD model (with the Tech package), it doesn't exactly come cheap, and during our week with the car we averaged about 20 mpg.

The new styling of the 2009 Acura TL is polarizing, but as often happens, those who don't hate it will likely love it. The big question for Acura is whether or not the latter outnumber the former. So far in its first few months on the market, TL sales are up compared to the same period the year before, including a 22-percent jump in October. Only time will tell if these numbers hold up after the early adopters are done buying.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      The shield makes the vehicle noticeable and distinct. I like the side view as the car is higher in the rear and lower in the front.

      The interior is of excellent quality.

      It is a good car.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I never thought I'd see an Acura compared to a Chevy Vega, but you never know what to expect out of Autoblog! (Well actually, yeah you do, but whatever.)
      • 6 Years Ago
      i think it looks awesome.

      but that is some crazy overhang.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Programmable positions for the keyless entry fob? BIG DEAL... which Luxo maker hasn't had that yet? UGH... last to the show again for Acura.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Talk about grasping for straws. My '03 CL-S and my brother's '02 TL-S came with a pair of programmable remote fobs that trigger one of the two seat presets, which also stores mirror positioning. Not quite as comprehensive as anoldbikeguy's Aurora, but as neither of us has a Mrs. P to share the car with. . .
      • 6 Years Ago

      1) The side profile is HORRID

      2) The Front looks horrible.

      3) The overall desgin of the car is SLOPPY

      I cant get past that the bad looks...even if it was a "Good" car....its looks would stop me from buying it. The previous model...even tho not all that good looking, still looked better then this.

      One of worst looking cars of 2008.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I feel bad since my few blog comments today are so negative, but I just can't help but reiterate what so many others feel so strongly. This is one ugly car, especially the front end. There just seems to be no coherent flow between the different design elements. The bumper has huge flat bland spaces with seemingly random placed openings. I won't even start on the back end. This thing is already due for a mid-life design update. Sure it may be selling, but I'll bet it's the usual "new model" buyers that typically hedged their bets and waited for the more dated models to be replaced.

      I was formerly a huge Acura fan and drove an Integra for years. But Acura has so totally lost it's sense of direction by becoming obsessed with just 4 door sedans and SUVs, sort of like GM. The really, really cool cars such as the NSX, CL coupe, and RSX hatchback were the only models I would have seriously considered, but have surprisingly all been discontinued. My Integra was great because it had such an excellent drivetrain with fully independent suspension, high revving motor, 4 wheel disc, anti-lock brakes, as well as excellent fuel economy, all standard. The better part was that I had the option of foregoing all of the pretentious options such as the sweaty leather and gawdy wood grain. Give me an RSX with a cloth interior and stainless trim and I'll reconsider buying Acura. Until then, Hyundai has my business (seriously).

      • 6 Years Ago
      Why does the rear look so much like a re-shaped Saturn Aura, and the front like a Wagon Queen Family Truckster?????
      • 6 Years Ago
      I dont understand why anyone would say no the the g37, a4, 3-series, c-class, lexus IS, and get the TL instead.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Well, for one, the TL is cheaper than most of those, and most of those you listed are more the size of a Honda Civic on the interior, or smaller than a Civic on the inside. The TL is a much larger and luxurious car.
      • 6 Years Ago
      My impression: It's not as terrible as some here have said, but the previous had a great look that the newer model is straying too far from.

        • 6 Years Ago
        I agree.

        I'll take this gen's running gear in the previous gen's sheetmetal.
      • 6 Years Ago
      the comment about the wagon queen family truckster end was priceless. that said the last gen 2004-2008 acura tl was a sharp looking car. i looked at that as an avant guarde, just ever so slightly ahead of it's time design much in the vein of the original oldsmobile aurora and the same for the difference in design in the 1998-2002 honda accord coupe relative to that generation's sedan model. also kinda pleased(and also a bit surprised) that this is actually the first place i've seen it in print that the "new" tl sits on accord underpinnings(as if this is somehow not obvious to look at the car). still, this is really butt-fugly for an acura which tend to be good looking. too overdone for the sake of being a new model. the infinite g37 and cadillac cts are much better looking cars if your gonna push or crest 40,000 dollars. hell the hyundai genesis, while somewhat derivative of other luxury cars, is still better looking. hmmmm, what i really want though is the cadillac cts coupe and the audi a5. pleasant dreams
      • 6 Years Ago
      I actually like the looks of the car (don't get me wrong, I HATE the new RL and I'm still sort of "meh" about the TSX, though the TSX does look better in person), and I think this is a fabulously engineered car.
      I would get this over a G37 simply because it has better interior materials quality and because it is noticeably more spacious. I'm not so sure about getting this over a CTS, though. I would have to think about that one long and hard.
      • 6 Years Ago
      well at least Pontiac Aztec has an equal now; 2009.5 should be here soon enough
        • 6 Years Ago
        Damn...beat me to it. The Aztec now has a runner up as "ugliest car ever made". Seriously, can anything top the aztec's ugliness?

        The profile of this TL is absolutely hideous; the front isn't so great either, but the profile? YICK!

        Ok...going to look for a used TL now...damn..was hoping to like this one too.
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