Acura's Best Is Still Tough To Beat
Acura has been a bit of an enigma of late. Honda's premium marque has endured its share of struggles, with new entries like the ZDX and more established models like the RL falling short of buyers' expectations. Even the mighty TL, which has been Acura's top-selling sedan for years, has seen better days.
At the height of its popularity in 2005, Acura moved 78,218 copies of its mainstream luxury sled, putting the TL behind only the BMW 3 Series and Lexus ES in luxury car sales. But then two things happened to turn the TL's world upside-down. First, vehicle sales took a dive beginning in the second half of 2008, and at the same time, Acura unveiled a newly styled TL that stoked more controversy than conquests.
To steer its bread-and-butter mid-sizer back on the right course, Acura designers nipped and tucked the TL this year to quell some of the car's disagreeable design decisions, while engineers worked to improve its already excellent driving dynamics. Has it worked? We've taken the reins of a well-equipped 2012 TL SH-AWD to see if Acura's cash cow is ready for another shot at Lexus and BMW.
Our Forged Silver Metallic TL tester came equipped with Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive and six-speed manual gearbox. Every Acura comes equipped with a veritable treasure trove of standard equipment, including a power moonroof, Xenon headamps, heated front seats, leather, automatic climate control and Bluetooth. Our tester also featured the Technology Package, which adds perforated Milano premium leather, a rearview camera, navigation with real-time traffic and weather and an ELS Surround Sound system designed to rock your world. Or your Enya. Whatever you're into...
That's a lot of kit for $42,885, but to persuade luxury car buyers to experience the TL, the exterior needed a bit of work. When looking at the TL from 50 feet away, it's difficult to discern where Acura designers have made improvements, but somehow, the TL looks more agreeable than last year's model. Gone is the awkward front fascia that gave the TL its vertical appearance. In its stead is a softer, gentler face that swaps a sharp, toothy grille in favor of a less blunt beak. The front bumper has also been revised, along with the headlight design and fog lamp setup. As a result, the 2012 TL appears lower and wider, even though the sedan is almost dimensionally identical to the 2011 model.
The updated TL's cabin looks nearly the same as the 2011. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since the TL's confines already sported a cockpit-like architecture and plenty of richly textured, soft touch materials. And the best provisions of all are, of course, reserved for the steering wheel and shift knob, where the hands spend the most time.
We're also fans of the TL's well-bolstered front seats. These leather-laden thrones kept our butts planted during aggressive driving, while also coddling at cruising speeds on Michigan's highways and bi-ways. Like the last TL, this model continues to feature plenty of room for passengers, with 42.5 inches of front leg room and 36.2 inches for back seat occupants. Trunk space continues to be a problem, though, as the 12.5 cubic feet of storage space in our all-wheel-drive tester (front-drive models eke out 13.1 cubes) is among the worst in this class. At one point, we were stunned to find that the trunk of the TL couldn't swallow a small cooler, a moderately sized suitcase and a handbag filled with beach accessories. Then again, there's always the Acura TSX Sport Wagon for an enlarged family of four.
Acura claims to have done extensive engineering work to make the cabin of the TL quieter, and our muted week with this Acura proves their efforts weren't in vein. But while interior din has been curbed, the din of switchgear has not. The TL continues to employ a multitude of knobs and buttons on the center stack and steering wheel. We're not sure we'd ever be able to intuitively adjust the temperature or change the radio station without taking our eyes off the road. Another issue is Acura's continued use of a navigation joystick instead of a touchscreen setup. On several occasions, we inadvertently hit the protruding, oddly placed joystick when shifting from second to third, altering the nav screen.
The TL comes with one of two V6 powertrains, starting with a base 3.5-liter engine good for 280 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. The SH-AWD-equipped TL boasts a larger 3.7-liter with 305 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of twist.
You won't find direct injection or a turbocharger in the lineup, but you will experience one sweet-sounding growl once the push-button start is pressed. It's almost too bad that Acura has opted to spend money to reduce the intrusion of outside noise. Now we have to roll down the windows to hear more of this melodic powertrain.
Some would say that the 280-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine is more than powerful enough for the vast majority of luxury car owners. No arguments here, but to check off the box for a precise, short-throw six-speed manual, buyers will have to opt for the 3.7, making it the enthusiast engine of choice. The trot to 60 takes about 5.5 seconds, thanks in part to Acura's amazing all-wheel drive system. The SH-AWD system provides full-time, four-wheel traction that can route 70 percent of the available torque to the rear wheels and up to 100 percent of the rear-wheel twist can be directed to the left or right wheel for optimal cornering. Hammer the throttle from a dead stop, and the Michelin P245/45 R18 96V high-performance all-seasons will struggle to make a sound. All that power goes straight to the pavement... and that makes us happy.
The TL has always been a sure handler, and that doesn't change with this updated model. The front suspension consists of an independent double-wishbone with coil springs and stabilizer bar, and the rear setup is a multi-link affair with coil springs and a stabilizer bar. This setup, when coupled with all-wheel drive, results in prodigious grip and plenty of feel through your posterior.
Conversely, to help improve fuel economy, Acura has turned to an electronic power steering setup. The result is a wheel that feels a bit vague, often giving more power assist than is necessary. Speaking of economy, the Environmental Protection Agency contends that the AWD-equipped 2012 TL averages 26 miles per gallon on the highway and 18 mpg in the city. Our time with the TL didn't quite live up to those numbers, with a combined 19.7 mpg in mixed driving. We can live with that figure, though, considering the workout our TL put up with.
After a week with the refreshed TL SH-AWD, it's obvious that Acura has taken measures to fix what was broken without hurting what already worked. Could the mid-cycle refresh have gone farther to make the TL a bit more attractive? Sure. Could the interior have benefited from a few more changes? Maybe. Is the sharp-handling chassis and silky smooth powertrain still among the best in the class? Absolutely.
In aggregate, Acura started with a very competent luxury sport sedan and, over the last year, made it more attractive, improved its efficiency and increased its driving dynamics. That may not be enough of an overhaul to bring sales of the TL back to 2005 levels, but the improvements should be significant enough to keep this Honda on your shopping list.
For years, Acura approached the evolution of its vehicles with the deliberate patience of a carpenter wielding a sanding block. Rough mechanical or aesthetic edges were banished not with axe swings, but with small motions that seemed barely perceptible compared to the ranging whims of the competition.
Then the 2009 TL came along.
While the automaker had already begun to dabble with its then-new corporate shield grille, the TL took the piece and ran with it in a direction no one else was heading. Ask Acura about the thinking behind the design, and the company will say that the look was a product of the times. When the vehicle was penned, the world was preoccupied with ever larger displays of affluence, and Acura wanted a sedan that was unmistakable in every way. Unfortunately, the fourth-generation TL landed right as the housing bubble popped and the rest of the economy began circling the drain.
In order to right the TL's wrongs for 2012, Acura has put down the chainsaw in favor of the carving knife to build an altogether more attractive vehicle that brings additional fuel economy to the table as well. Are the small changes enough for the luxury sedan to put its dreaded beak behind it?
Continue reading First Drive: 2012 Acura TL...
Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL
Acura's designers set about reorganizing the front fascia and the rear valance of the 2012 TL to diminish the vehicle's vertical look in favor of more horizontal lines. First and foremost, that involved shrinking the formerly massive grille by backing it away from the headlights and off of the hood. That simple change serves up some much needed proportion to the nose, and a new waterline nestled below the grille and above the air inlets is a simple detail that changes the sedan from slab-faced to athletic. The grille also wears a new variety of materials, including a set of gloss black wings tucked below the shield to help break up the negative space down low.
Speaking of those air inlets, Acura has trimmed down the size of both the turning indicators and the fog lights and added in some attractive chrome detailing to do away with the gaping holes in the old car.
As much as all of the small details help, two larger overall changes up front have made the biggest difference for the face of the TL. The designers trimmed the front overhang by a full inch and pushed the nose down for a more poised look. Park the 2012 TL and its 2011 sibling next to one another and the changes are immense.
That shorter overhang becomes more apparent as you move along the side of the vehicle, where the wheel wells seem pushed to the corners. That effect is amplified by the fact that the company's designers trimmed an additional half-inch from the rear valance as well. Otherwise, you won't find too many differences between the flanks of the 2011 and its replacement. While the company has brought two new 17- and 18-inch wheel designs to the option sheet for 2012, the larger 19-inch roller from the last generation will remain on hand.
Along with that diminished rear valance, the 2012 TL packs a slew of design tweaks out back, too. Those include a significantly smaller garnish along the trunk sill, smaller reflectors and a new diffuser mounted low. That last bit of kit goes a long way towards breaking up the vast cliff face of plastic that adorned the old model and does much to carry the horizontal design cues of the front around to the vehicle's tail.
For all of the moaning that the exterior design of the fourth-generation Acura TL evoked, we never really heard too much bellyaching about the vehicle's cabin. That's largely because Acura got the cockpit in its bread-and-butter sedan right the first time around. Designers have swapped out the dimpled chrome accents of the dash and door panels for a fish-scale material that looks more at home in a vehicle of this caliber, and buttons along the stereo are now color-matched to the rest of the controls on the dash. It's not a reinvention of the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, but we never felt that the cabin was an unpleasant place to spend time to begin with.
We're still frustrated to see Acura sticking with the company's cumbersome wheel/joystick interface for the infotainment system instead of a more natural touch-screen layout, or at least a horizontally mounted controller. The system sticks out like a sore thumb in an interior that's largely very intuitive. While the center-stack is a bit button-happy, we never found ourselves struggling to adjust the cabin temperature or the stereo's volume.
While buyers are likely to respond to the new face of the 2012 Acura TL, the most serious changes to the vehicle lurk under its redesigned hood. The automaker's engineers have managed to dig up an additional two miles per gallon city and three mpg highway from the lower-rung 3.5-liter V6 engine thanks to aerodynamic tweaks, a few engineering tricks and a new-to-the-platform six-speed automatic transmission.
That new face doesn't simply look better. It also helps serve up a 5.4-percent reduction in drag thanks to changes in the grille and lower fascia. Additionally, airflow through the radiator has been optimized and new underbody cladding helps reduce turbulence from below to make the sedan as slippery as possible.
Engineers also bolted on a new intake system that focuses on bringing in fresh, cool air from outside of the engine bay. Cooler temperatures mean denser air, allowing the ECU to slightly advance the engine timing to increase torque and efficiency. Additionally, the pistons in the 3.5-liter V6 now make use of a moly-dot coating to reduce friction. The piston skirts wear a matrix of lithium dots that work in concert with a new block boring process to keep mechanical drag to a minimum.
Those substantial alterations join new dual-fine-electrode spark plugs and low viscosity 0w-20 oil to make the 3.5-liter as fit for fuel economy duty as possible. All told, the engine is good for 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway – up from 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway in the last generation – all while delivering 280 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque.
Of course, that leap in fuel economy isn't solely due to the clever engineering under the valve cover. Acura finally said adieu to the aging five-speed automatic transmission in the 2011 model and welcomed a new six-speed to the party for 2012. Make no mistake, adding an additional gear makes a huge difference to how the vehicle drives and clearly helps the jump in fuel economy, but competitors from Lexus, Infiniti and elsewhere are all dabbling in gearboxes with an ever-growing number of speeds.
We pinged the company's engineers on why exactly they opted for a more conservative six-speed automatic instead of something with a higher cog-count like their competitors. As it turns out, a larger number of gears was investigated, but officials say they were found to offer returns that paled in contrast to steep development costs and added complexity. The bottom line? At nearly 30 mpg, Acura simply didn't need an eight-speed transmission.
Interestingly enough, even though the more powerful 3.7-liter V6 engine skipped many of the fuel-saving tweaks of its smaller-displacement kin, it also gained an additional one mpg in both city and highway cycles thanks to the aerodynamic alterations. That engine is still good for 305 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque.
We were able to spend time in both the 3.7-liter-powered TL SH-AWD and the front-wheel-drive TL with the 3.5-liter V6 under the hood during our time with the vehicle. Both sedans deliver refined handling characteristics thanks to a new damper design that uses an internal bypass. Under normal driving conditions, the damper provides an aggressive rate to deliver more precise handling, but should the vehicle hit a pothole or strike an uneven portion of pavement, the valve will open to allow a greater amount of fluid to move more quickly from one reservoir to the next. The change allows the suspension in the TL to soak up irregularities in the road surface while still offering a stable driving experience.
While the TL SH-AWD still retains its specific spring and damper rates to work in concert with the vehicle's tarmac-gripping all-wheel-drive system, the standard TL isn't exactly a slouch when the road starts twisting. We found that both vehicles are capable of serving up an enjoyable run through the Texas hills. Unfortunately, the electric power steering on both sedans feels unnecessarily light and vague.
Still, we don't imagine too many TL buyers will find that problem to be enough to dissuade them from writing Acura a big, fat check. The one issue that we simply couldn't wrap our minds around was why Acura insists on offering two V6 engines with this platform. Yes, we know that the SH-AWD system adds a not-inconsequential 242 pounds to the sedan's 3,726-pound curb weight, and an extra 25 ponies goes a long way to offset that heft, but the smaller 3.5-liter V6 is an absolute star. Acceleration from that engine is smooth and linear and seems to offer more propulsion than its power figures would suggest.
For those who don't exactly find themselves braving glacial roads for a good number of days out of the year, we'd just as soon recommend saving some money and sticking with the front-wheel-drive TL with its new-found enthusiasm for fuel efficiency. Speaking of money, Acura has priced the 2012 TL starting at $35,605. If you absolutely must have the SH-AWD, be prepared to fork over $39,155.
It's worth noting that Acura kept the excellent six-speed manual transmission as an option for the TL, but it's only available in SH-AWD configuration with the Technology Package. As such, that vehicle will command a lofty price tag of $42,885. We love ourselves some third pedal, but over $7,000 is a steep price to pay for the joy of rowing your own. Given that the new six-speed automatic transmission leaves nothing to be desired in the cog-swapping department, we'd have a hard time ponying up for the manual.
We're thrilled to see Acura invested in toning down its over-the-top styling in favor of lines that are significantly more palatable. Here's hoping that the 2012 TL will be the new face of things to come from Acura.
Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL
New Car Test Drive
Fresh styling, improved fuel economy.
The Acura TL is freshened for 2012 with styling revisions and a new 6-speed automatic that improves fuel economy.
The 2012 Acura TL, styled in Acura's Design Studio, in Torrance, California, continues a long Acura tradition of being outspoken, iconoclastic and polarizing. Many will find the TL distinctive and self-defined, while others will find it lacking in gracefulness.
As the luxury division of Honda Motors, Acura has a high pedigree in advanced, efficient design. And with the continued evolution of its versatile TL line of sedans, Acura delivers a car that will satisfy a broad range of driver demands.
We found the 2012 Acura TL has strong performance and sumptuous creature comforts. Front-wheel drive is standard, but the Acura TL SH-AWD features all-weather all-wheel drive. Packaged in edgy, controversial styling, the fresh looks of the 2012 TL will please many and confuse many others.
The 2012 Acura TL offers two engine packages: The TL comes with a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that generates 254 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm and front-wheel drive. The TL SH-AWD gets a 305-hp 3.7-liter V6 that produces 273 lb/ft of torque at 5000 rpm for higher-performance.
The 2012 Acura TL 3.5-liter delivers EPA mileage figures of 20/29 mpg, quite good for a car with serious credentials in the near-luxury field. The 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD with its 3.7-liter and all-wheel drive when equipped with the automatic transmission is rated 18/26 mpg, while the 3.7 all-wheel drive with manual transmission, the quickest version, gets EPA figures of 17/25 mpg.
Keeping pace with the competition, the 2012 TL offers a new sequential 6-speed transmission with paddle shifters in both versions, as well as the 6-speed manual in the fast TL SH-AWD 6MT. Electronic steering is standard, as is drive-by-wire throttle control. The Acura TL features a comprehensive list of technological conveniences. Its eight-inch screen offers voice-recognition navigation. AcuraLink provides direct satellite connection with Acura's roadside assistance as well as real-time traffic information and rerouting, real-time weather with radar-image maps, alerts for severe weather and full weather forecasts. All the usual electronics are present, including satellite radio, Bluetooth audio, hands-free phone link, a hard-disc drive for storage of 3,500 songs, speed-sensitive volume and more. Similarly, the TL is well equipped with all the contemporary active and passive safety features, and its interior appointments will satisfy those looking for deluxe accommodations. The front two seats have individual climate controls, and the driver's seat offers 10-way adjustability (including two-way lumbar support). The passenger seat has eight-way adjustability. Elegant leather upholstery and supportive, finely bolstered seats produce a secure, comfortable environment.
One of the most compelling arguments for the Acura TL is price. Following established Acura/Honda marketing practices, instead of starting with a low stripper base-model price, then offering a broad array of extra-cost additional features, Acura offers fully equipped cars packed with all the most attractive features. Our 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Advance test car was a perfect example. It contained all the basic equipment, plus the bundled Tech Package and Advance Package, for just a tick below $46,000. And as we got to know the TL, we discovered it had the crisp precision of a medical instrument. Like a medical instrument, however, for some, this car will feel a little short on the automotive abstracts, verve, charisma, charm. It is superbly engineered, and when driven hard, it will accomplish a great deal. Yet some TL competitors, the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series, Audi A4 and A6, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and E-Class, effortlessly elicit a warm smile. But the TL styling, which is to some, awkward and heavy-handed, will command little more than a short nod.
The 2012 Acura TL features a redesigned front bumper with improved aerodynamics, a revised grille, updated headlights and turn signals, a new fog light design and a shorter front overhang. The rear features updated taillights and a new bumper that repositions the license plate.
The 2012 Acura TL model line is composed of the TL ($35,605), the TL SH-AWD ($39,155) and the TL SH-AWD 6MT ($42,885).
Acura TL comes standard with a 280-bhp 3.5-liter V6 engine, sequential 6-speed automatic transmission, paddle shifters, 17-inch wheels, satellite radio, MP3/auxiliary input jack, USB interface, driver-recognition system, 10-way power driver seat, eight-way power front passenger seat, heated front seats, HomeLink, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted controls, power windows/doors, auto up/down front windows, auto-dimming rearview, front brake-cooling ducts, power tilt/slide moonroof, LED taillights, fog lights.
Acura TL SH-AWD upgrades with all-wheel drive, 305-bhp 3.7-liter V6 with sequential 6-speed automatic, 18-inch wheels.
The TL SH-AWD 6MT features a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission, heavy-duty clutch, specially tuned AWD system, special front springs and dampers, stiffer engine/transmission mounts, heavy-duty front driveshafts and front CV joints, heavy-duty front differential, special electronic power-steering tuning.
Technology Package ($3,730) includes navigation with voice recognition and rearview camera, AcuraLink communication system, sport seat with perforated leather trim, surround-sound audio, hard-disc drive, push-button ignition, GPS-linked dual climate control, keyless-access security system. Advance Package ($2,200) adds blind-spot information system, ventilated front seats, 19-inch wheels, all-season tires.
Safety features include mandated dual front airbags, dual side-curtain airbags for head protection, dual side-impact airbags for torso protection, three-point seatbelts with automatic pre-tensioning, active front head restraints, tire-pressure monitor, daytime running lights, LATCH child-seat system, immobilizer theft-deterrent. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, electronic brake distribution, brake assist. Optional safety provision: All-wheel drive on the TL SH-AWD improves handling in slippery conditions.
The 2012 TL, styled in Acura's Design Studio, in Torrance, California, continues a long Acura tradition of being outspoken, iconoclastic and polarizing. Many will find the TL distinctive and self-defined, while others will find it lacking in gracefulness. The two stainless-steel, upturned slabs of stainless steel above the grille, matched by similar shapes at the rear, define the car's identity at even great distance. And the wheel arches, flared aggressively to enclose wide P245 tires (on 17-, 18- or 19-inch wheels, depending on the configuration selected) are radiused and knife-edged. They lack the rounded, muscular dynamism seen in some of their competition. The exterior styling is angular rather than flowing, a characteristic many will love, but not everyone.
On the positive side, in profile, the forward-thrusting stance of the TL is athletic and very much in keeping with this performance sedan's personality. Headlight and taillight arrays wrap around the edges of the nose and tail dynamically. Xenon low-beam headlights are accompanied by halogen high beams, which serve as daytime running lights, operating at a lower voltage. The new lower front fascia contains revised fog lamps. Handsome five- or seven-spoke alloy wheels in various sizes are available.
Twin-layer windshield glass and extra-thick side and rear windows are acoustically tuned to reduce wind noise. All are UV absorbent. And to ventilate the TL in hot sun, all four windows and the sunroof can be opened with the keyless remote.
The Acura TL cabin is a handsome combination of sportiness and the elegance. Beautiful copper leather upholstery on the dash and seats give matters a lavish look. As a smallish near-luxury sedan, the rear compartment is compact without being downright small. An available pass-through for skis behind the fold-down armrest is lockable for security. Rear headroom tapers downward quickly, following the sleek downward curve of the roofline.
Handsome titanium-looking trim accents the doors and dashboard. The left side of the steering-wheel hub contains controls for the audio and phone with voice activation. On the right of the hub are controls for the cruise control and info panel, the latter displayed between the speedometer and tachometer. And as expected in a luxury Acura, the switchgear are handsome and of excellent quality.
The key instruments, speedometer, tachometer, water temperature and fuel gauge, are on the small side but adequate and easily read. On the center stack at the top is the medium-sized display screen. It has been well shielded against daylight glare. Moving down the stack, the audio controls are next, and below these are the dual-zone climate controls.
At the bottom are the navigation and connectivity controls. The nav is no-tricks simple and easy to use, with a straightforward top-view map. The screen can also be used to deliver full information about XM/Sirius or other audio programming being used, and real-time traffic and weather data can also be displayed.
The front compartment is comfortable without being huge, and the richness of the colored leather contributes to a feeling of snugness.
The seats are snug without feeling constricting. We found they hold you firmly in position and promote fully alert driving. Hot and cool seat controls for the front seats are on the center console. Concealed in the front elbow rest compartment is a power outlet. And in the glovebox is a keyless-access control switches off the remote system for both the cabin and the trunk.
The Acura TL SH-AWD Advance we drove is by its own lights a near-luxury performance sedan, which is reflected in its attractive pricing. You begin seeing the tiny telltales of this car's modesty the moment you adjust your seat. It has only two driver's-seat memory settings, whereas the competition a few thousand dollars up the ladder commonly provides three memory settings. The Technology and Advance packages add a healthy list of conveniences to add to an already generous equipment inventory.
The Acura TL SH-AWD model's 3.7-liter V6 makes a throaty grumble at start-up; its exhaust system is carefully tuned to sound more authoritative and more like a V8. The gear selector is a simple PRNDS, with no sidetrack for making individual +/- gear selections. To the contrary, as you get under way, a simple flip of the paddle shifters automatically overrides the usual automatic-transmission shift map, immediately giving you the gear you need. That is as it should be in a performance sedan.
Throttle response is immediate and forceful. At normal cruising throttle, the drivetrain is pleasantly quiet, but the minute you tromp down on the throttle, you're reminded that this car is determined, if you are, to go very fast.
Snugly tucked into the well-fitted seat, feeling very much in control, it's natural to exercise this engine, transmission and suspension vigorously. And the more you do so, the more clearly you recognize that wringing out this agile and powerful car might best be done on a racetrack. Acura claims an extremely grippy 0.97g of lateral acceleration on the skidpad, and in real-world driving, the TL's cornering force and stability are impressive.
The big plus of our test TL was its brand-new and oddly named SH-AWD, which stands for the gee-whiz-sounding Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. We had occasion to test the Acura in some raw early-spring Northeast inclemency, a mix of rain and sleet that didn't test the system's hard-core snow-handling capability but nonetheless proved beyond doubt its high competence in similarly demanding conditions. Acura is proud not only of the system's snow traction but of its all-wheel-drive system's vector-guiding directional stability in any kind of slide-inducing conditions.
Driven up to the limit on wet, slippery roads, the SH-AWD guided us with confidence-inspiring surefootedness. The system automatically delivers power to whichever wheel can help most in delivering control and driving the TL forward on its course. This Super Handling drive system is so good that it's tempting to begin thinking you're some kind of foul-weather driving phenomenon. The phenomenon isn't you; it's SH-AWD.
The other standout quality of the Acura TL is its firm, excellent steering feel. It allows you to accurately feel everything that's happening on the road during hard driving. Yet it also lets you drive comfortably at more relaxed speeds, keeping you properly informed whenever something on the road surface demands closer attention. First class.
The sharpened feel of the TL's steering and its alert ride, however, have a consequence that's not quite as happy. The TL ride is tuned to give the driver all necessary road information, and provided the road you're on is in the Sun Belt and billiard-table smooth, the news is all good. Driven on rougher roads caused by winter and frost heaves, however, the TL's ride is sharp and choppy. Conceding Acura's unquestioned ability to produce a superb-handling sporty sedan, the TL misses the real-world ride-quality compromise that will be best for many wintery parts of the U.S. This is in the purist sense an agile, fine-handling car, perhaps just a hair too fine. It could prophet from a little of the Europeans' finely calculated ride compliance; everyone, even the best of us, comes upon a rough road from time to time.
As a near-luxury performance sedan, the Acura TL is well priced and inviting. Its engineering is excellent, and the experience of driving it is very good. But if all-wheel-drive peak performance is the buyer's motive, for only about $5000 more than our test SH-AWD Advance, an Audi S4 sedan, the definitive performance sedan, delivers the kind of visceral brilliance the Acura only hints at. That is another way of saying, the TL is properly priced. If getting a lot for less money is the measure, the Acura will continue to attract masses of buyers. It is a quality sedan of very great capabilities, delivering that little bit extra many buyers crave. And with good EPA figures of 18/26 mpg (the Audi S4 gets 18/27 mpg), our test car is well situated in the market during a time of rising fuel prices.
As befits a product from the engineering brilliance of Honda Motors, the Acura TL is an agile, fine-handling near-luxury sedan with strong performance. It is well equipped and comfortable, and its interior is elegantly furnished. The TL's styling continues to be controversial and somewhat polarizing, pleasing many while turning others away.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Ted West filed this report after his test drive of the TL SH-AWD.
Acura TL ($35,605), TL SH-AWD ($39,155), TL SH-AWD 6MT ($42,885).
Options As Tested
Acura TL SH-AWD Advance ($45,085).
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