A lot of folks - TheCarConnection's editors included - have considered the mid-range TL Acura's coolest car since its 2004 redesign. This is due to its crisp Euro styling, its equally crisp dynamics, and its ground-breaking ELS surround-sound audio system. Buyers apparently have agreed, since the TL has been Acura's best-selling vehicle since then at roughly 76,000 U.S. units annually.

For 2007, TL gets honed and sharpened, and - heads up, enthusiasts - the higher-performance Type-S returns to take on BMW's 3-Series and every other entry aspiring to that throne. With a 3.5-liter V-6 pumping 286 eager horses and 256 lb-ft of torque through a choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic, the latter with fast-responding steering wheel paddle shifts, it's fully capable of doing thatexcept for one thing, which we'll get to later.

Acura is deadly serious in its quest to expand the TL's image and reach from its current high-tech mid-size luxury position to where it can woo true performance buyers. As proof, it claims better 0-60, quarter-mile and 50-75-mph acceleration for the '07 Type-S vs. the (2006) BMW 330i and Infiniti G35, and superior handling (slalom speed) vs. those two and the Lexus IS 350. (It does not claim it will out-drag the 306-hp IS350 or BMW's new 300-hp twin-turbo 335i, because it won't). With 0-60 capability in the sub-six-second range with the manual, this hot new Type-S lands well in the ballpark even as the bar keeps moving upward. But there's that one thing, which we'll get to later.

Sharpened TL

For those not into more serious performance, the regular TL improves from good to better with meaningful refinements for 2007. Motivated by a 3.2-liter 258-hp version of the same VTEC V-6 mated to the 5-speed automatic (no available manual or paddle shifts), it delivers 0-60 performance in the low-seven-second range and gets a somewhat smoother ride without losing its tightly connected handling and feel.

With an exterior theme described by Design Principal Engineer Philip LaPointe as "Laser Tension," which he defines as "taut, aggressive, poised and intense," its '07 styling changes are subtle. The most obvious differences are satin chrome crossbars bisecting the lower air intakes and fog lamps in their outer corners.

Inside, the theme is "Exotic Industrial" with colors and trims defined as "Bauhaus with Attitude." LaPointe says that translates to "modern metal and dark exotic woods with more textures and contrasts." We'd call it modern handsome and functional, with more precise-looking gauges behind a new three-spoke steering wheel, with oft-used controls on and between its spokes, and most everything else concentrated in the center stack. Audiophiles and commuters will appreciate the Acura/ELS 8-speaker premium surround-sound with 6-disc CD/DVD-Audio, DTS and Dolby Pro Logic II - updated to play WMA and MP3 - the satellite-linked navigation with real-time traffic info (standard on Type-S), and the Bluetooth hands-free communications link, which will quickly synch your cellphone address book with the car.

Type-S stunner

The Type-S, happily reborn after a three-year hiatus, is a pleasant surprise and a genuine hoot to pilot aggressively on twisty two-lanes. With available summer tires and either the close-ratio manual or the quick-shifting manumatic, its performance is strong, its grip tenacious, its higher-effort steering quick and precise and its big four-piston Brembo brakes truly impressive. We believe it's fully competitive in its entry performance luxury class, as all-around good as any, and better than mostbut for that one thing, which we'll get to later.

The Type-S's 11 percent stronger engine gets that way through an eight-percent boost in displacement (from 3.2 liters to 3.5 liters), thanks to a seven-millimeter longer stroke, slightly larger intake valves with increased lift and duration and 14-percent freer exhaust flow. Its engine is also lighter via hollow camshafts and judicious use of lightweight materials, which improves front-to-rear weight balance, and its double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspensions are retuned with stiffer springs, dampers, and stabilizer bars to optimize both handling and stability.

The Type-S' exterior look is distinguished from the TL's by specific front and rear fascias with unique bumpers, black chrome trim, wider side sills, racing-inspired ten-spoke alloy wheels, and big quad-outlet tailpipes (love those pipes!). Inside, it gets terrific added-lateral-support sport seats, red (vs. the TL's blue) ambient lighting, Type-S logos on the steering wheel and seatbacks, and Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). ANC uses microphones in the headliner to sense powertrain booming noises (mostly from the larger engine), which the car's sound then system "cancels" by generating synchronized opposite-amplitude sound waves.

The one thing

So what is that one thing, which will indeed damage this excellent new TL Type-S' chances in its effort to compete head-to-head with BMW 3, Lexus IS, and Infiniti G35? You guessed itfront-wheel drive. Rightly or wrongly (depending on geographic location and weather), the majority of serious performance buyers prefer the feel and response they get from having their drive wheels out back. Most won't accept fwd performance, no matter how strong or well refined.

Then again, Audi's doing reasonably well with front-drive and available high-performance all-wheel drive. Maybe that is Acura's ultimate answer, and Audi its most natural target.

Honda's luxury division aims to move some 70,000 Acura TLs this year in North America, at prices ranging from $34,000-$39,000, and believes about 40 percent will be Type-S models. Despite that one key handicap, we wouldn't bet against it. It's really that good.

See TL Type-S Slideshow Here

2007 Acura TL; TL Type S

Base price: $39,500 (est.)

Engine: 3.2-liter SOHC V-6, 258 hp/233 lb-ft; 3.5-liter SOHC V-6, 286 hp/256 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic (TL); six-speed manual or five-speed automatic (Type-S); front-wheel drive

Length x width x height: 189.3 (Type-S, 189.8) x 72.2 x 56.7 in

Wheelbase: 107.9 in

Curb weight: 3623 lb (TL); 3559 lb (Type-S)

Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 20/28 (TL); 19/28 mpg (Type-S)

Major standard features: Perforated leather interior; dual-zone automatic climate control with humidity control and air filtration; keyless remote; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering wheel; steering-wheel-mounted controls; power windows, locks, and mirrors; leather seating; power heated front seats (8-way driver, 4-way passenger); Multi-Information Display; Bluetooth wireless telephone interface; Acura/ELS premium 8-speaker audio with 6-disc CD, DVD-Audio, DTS and Dolby Pro Logic II, MP3, WMA, and XM Satellite Radio; 17-inch alloy wheels.

Type-S: exclusive 17-in alloy wheels; sport suspension, specific exterior and interior trim; quad-outlet sport exhausts; Active Noise Cancellation (ANC); Acura Navigation System with voice recognition and real-time traffic info; rearview camera

Safety features: Dual-stage, dual threshold front airbags, driver and passenger side airbags and full-length side curtains; anti-lock brakes with EBD and Brake Assist; Cooperative Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA); Xenon HID headlights; daytime running lights (DRLs)

Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles (powertrain six years/70,000 miles)

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