2000 Acura TL Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Affordable luxury with sports appeal.
The Acura TL offers performance, styling, luxury and value. Completely redesigned and re-engineered just last year, the TL comes with a powerful 3.2-liter V6 engine, a nicely balanced suspension, a rigid chassis and classy styling.
For 2000, Acura has replaced the four-speed automatic transmission with Sportshift with a wonderful new five-speed Sportshift. Advanced side-impact airbags were added. Revisions to the engine increase mid-range acceleration performance and reduce emissions.
Acura's TL is available as one fully loaded model that retails for $28,400. It is called the 3.2 TL in reference to its 3.2-liter V6. (The previous-generation TL came as two models with a choice of engines.) Its price is less than many of the TL's current competitors, representing a strong value.
The only option available is Acura's navigation system, which adds $2000; this system has been improved for model year 2000 and now uses a Digital Video Disc (DVD) player for mapping.
Though the styling is conservative, the TL is no longer the wallflower it was prior to 1999. Its lines are modern and refined and its stance is athletic. Acura's mid-level luxury sedan, the TL fits in the so-called near luxury segment of cars in the $30,000 range, and its upscale looks are in keeping with this role. The TL was designed, engineered and manufactured in the U.S. A rear spoiler is available that Acura dealers sell as an accessory, but it doesn't improve the TL's clean lines.
The TL is roomier than the Lexus ES 300, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The interior is quite attractive. Last year it only came in gray, but we drove a 2000 model that had a lovely light tan interior. Switchgear is nicely designed. The mirror control is whisper quiet and the stereo features big, handsome controls that are easy to operate. Though cushy and attractive, the front seats didn't meet our expectations for an upscale Acura sedan; they lack support and the adjustable lumbar support is of marginal help.
The back seats are roomy. The center position features a three-point shoulder belt, instead of just a lap belt. The rear seats don't fold down, but a small center section opens to allow skis, fly rods and other long objects in the trunk to pass through the seats.
The TL comes with a high level of standard equipment. Leather seating, heated front seats, power front seats, wood-grained trim, automatic climate control, tilt steering column, cruise control, Bose AM/FM/CD/cassette with steering wheel-mounted audio controls, power moonroof, power heated door mirrors, keyless entry, theft-deterrent system, auto-off headlights, and the Homelink Universal Transceiver System are all standard. Active safety features include ABS, traction control, and high-intensity discharge headlights. Passive safety features include dual front airbags and side-impact door beams.
At $2,000, the navigation system is an expensive option. It uses Global Positioning Satellites to plot your course and provide instructions. A brightly lit touch-screen monitor displays a map or alpine-type route instructions. It works well and can provide a lot of help in unfamiliar territory. The verbal instructions can help you avoid missing an exit and the map can help you figure out your location. It's always fun when you spontaneously decide to go to a hot restaurant while you're on the far side of town and it quickly finds it for you. Like all these systems, however, it's about 95 percent there in terms of development. It will occasionally send you the wrong way and operating the controls can, at times, be confusing and frustrating. Try the system out before deciding whether to order it.
Acura's TL strikes an excellent balance on many levels. It's very quiet underway, yet it doesn't make the driver feel totally isolated from what's going on outside. It dampens bumps and vibration, yet the handling is taut and it doesn't make the driver feel disconnected from the pavement.
One of the best features of the TL is that it is very stable at high speeds. The TL encourages its driver to bend it around fast sweeping turns with confidence. This is an easy car to drive fast. Driving around a sweeping turn at high speeds won't cause that uncomfortable tightening in your stomach. Like most front-drive cars, it understeers -- the front tires slide before the rear tires -- when driven past its cornering limits. This makes for easy, predictable handling.
The TL doesn't have the hard, precise edge of a BMW. The steering is very light at low speeds, which makes it easy to handle in the crowded parking lots where many of us spend far too much of our time. Yet on the open road, the steering offers enough feedback that you don't feel like your sitting at the controls of a video game.
Acura designed the TL's five-link double-wishbone rear suspension and double-wishbone front suspension to enhance its sporting performance while preserving its luxury feel. The chassis roll center was lowered to reduce body lean in corners. High performance V-rated Michelin MXV4 tires that provide good grip are mounted on 16-inch wheels. Equipped with four-wheel disc brakes, the TL provides smooth, sure braking performance. Anti-lock brakes are standard.
At the core of the new TL is a compact, newly designed 3.2-liter 225-horsepower VTEC V6. Power is up slightly for 2000, while emissions are down. (Maximum torque now comes at 4700 rpm instead of 5000 rpm.) This engine provides the TL with more power than many of the other cars in its class. The 3.2-liter V6 comes with four cams, 24 valves and Honda's now famous VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) valvetrain. The VTEC system provides a remarkable combination of performance and fuel economy. It delivers strong acceleration at highway speeds and sharp throttle response at lower speeds. Acura claims the TL is quicker than a Mercedes-Benz C280 or BMW 528i. The TL can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 7.5 seconds. At the same time, the engine is supremely smooth and quiet, and it gets an EPA-rated 29 mpg on the highway.
For 2000, the TL comes standard with a new sequential SportShift 5-speed automatic. The added gears improve acceleration performance and add flexibility to the drive train. Normally, it works like any other automatic, though much more refined than most. Shifting is silky smooth. It downshifts into the appropriate gear when quick acceleration is needed. And it doesn't hunt unnecessarily between gears. The staggered design of the PRND side of the shifter gate seems a bit clumsy, however. I found it cumbersome to shift from drive to reverse when trying to get out of tight quarters in a hurry.
The semi-automatic SportShift feature allows the driver to change gears manually. Slide the shifter into a two-way gate on the left; downshift by pulling the lever back, upshift by pushing it forward. It's fun to use and, if used correctly, can improve performance and efficiency in many situations. Mostly it gives you a heightened sense of control. You can use it for slowing the car slightly on a grade, so you don't have to brake for a slower car. Or you can use is to hold the transmission in third or fourth gear when you're in the mountains or on a winding road. You don't always want the automatic to upshift on short straight stretches because it will just have to downshift again after you brake and accelerate out of the next corner; the Sportshift solves this. The SportShift can also add a little entertainment when slogging along in stop-and-go traffic. From an engineering standpoint, the TL's transmission -- like its engine -- is extremely lightweight, which.
When price is a factor -- and it always is -- the Acura 3.2 TL compares very well to the Lexus ES 300, Infiniti I30, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4.
With its 225-horsepower V6 and five-speed Sportshift, the Acura 3.2 TL is a solid luxury sports sedan. Its suspension strikes a good balance between handling and a luxurious, well-controlled ride.
3.2 TL ($28,400).
Options As Tested
Navigation system ($2,000); destination charge ($455).
3.2 TL ($28,400).
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