Acura kicked off its 2008 model presentation with a rundown of what's new for 2008, which isn't much. The bulk of the presentation was actually about the development of the AXR-01 LMP2 race car. Once that was over, we had the opportunity to select from a fleet TL and TSX sedans for the drive out to Waterford Hills Raceway. I hopped into a six-speed manual TL Type-S to traverse the forty mile route that Acura laid out for us.
The driving route consisted of a mix of stop-and-go and medium-speed city driving, low-speed neighborhoods and twisty back roads. Under the hood, the TL Type-S has a 3.5L SOHC V-6 equipped with Honda's VTEC variable valve timing system. The V-6 has an output of 286 hp and 256 lb-ft of twisting force. The torque peaks at 5,000 rpm but feels reasonably strong at lower revs as well giving the engine a flexible, responsive feel.
The powerplant's output is transferred from the crankshaft to the front wheels of our tester via a six-speed manual transmission. Rowing the shifter proved to be a smooth, effortless exercise. The gearbox had precise gates and never felt notchy even when being downshifted quickly to make a pass on a two-lane road. The clutch was also nicely weighted with a smooth takeup. Around town, the TL pulled always pulled away smoothly. The Honda V-6 was quiet, smooth-revving and never felt strained.
The only real fly in the ointment reared its ugly head during that same passing maneuver. An aggressive stab at the gas pedal yielded a nasty jerk to the left as torque steer proved again that high powered cars should transmit at least some of their output through non-steering wheels. The current TL is only available with front-wheel-drive, but hopefully the next generation will offer Acura's Super Handling-All Wheel Drive system at least as an option. The current third generation TL has been on the market since September 2003 and is derived from the previous generation US-market Accord. With a new Accord being rolled out as this is written, the next TL will probably launch by this time next year.
Aside from the torque steer, the TL was a pleasurable ride that never lost its composure along some twisty roads in Northern Oakland County. Driven at speeds that could exercise the suspension and tires without putting one's license at excessive risk, the TL's steering was nicely weighted but didn't provide BMW levels of feedback. The Brembo front brakes felt strong and progressive and had good pedal feel with no mushiness. The handling was fairly neutral up to eight-tenths and the suspension did a good job of absorbing the bumps while the dampers kept the body motions in check. Unfortunately, we didn't get the opportunity to flog the front-wheel-drive cars on the track.
Up front, the TL has comfortable, supportive leather seats with plenty of head and leg-room. The test model was equipped with the in-dash navigation system and surprisingly the audio system had a CD changer and another narrower but thicker slot ostensibly for some format called a cassette. I'll have to remember to look those up on Engadget to see when they're coming out.
In previous reviews of the Saturn Aura and Outlook I've complained about some fit and finish issues, particularly the alignment of trim between the door panels and dashboard. As nice a car as the Acura TL is, it too suffers from this very same ailment. If it's not good enough in a $25,000 Aura it sure shouldn't happen in a $38,225 luxury sport sedan.
We only had an hour with the TL and aside from this minor fit and finish issue and the torque steer it acquitted itself very well. Hopefully Honda will see fit to provide one for a more thorough evaluation soon so that we can tell you what the TL is really like to live with.