2004 TL New Car Test Drive
Acura is reinventing itself. The originator of the Japanese-brand luxury car is no longer the leader in the market subsegment, and hasn't been for some time. Acura feels it's time to change this.
Enter the 2004 Acura TL, new in every possible way, save for moving five passengers around in a vehicle powered by a gasoline engine driving the front two of four wheels. It bristles with new safety and emissions technology and new features, a few of them nothing less than industry firsts.
The interior has been modernized. The exterior styling marks a fresh departure from the car maker's traditionally conservative design motifs. All but one of the options on last year's list have been moved to the standard column. Horsepower and torque are up, and markedly so. A new transmission is available. And there's only one version, instead of two.
Not much more could be different, or much better. It's pricey, yes, but in perspective, worth it.
Acura offers one model of the TL for 2004.
The performance-oriented Type-S has been dropped. Type-S intenders should not be dismayed, however, as Honda's luxury car division has endowed the new TL with the essential features and capabilities of the Type-S. And in the pipeline is an optional suspension setup intended to bring the TL's handling even closer to the company's admitted benchmark for the class, the BMW 5 Series sedans.
The 2004 Acura TL is outfitted with almost every luxury amenity buyers in the class seek or expect, plus one or two either not offered elsewhere or available for the first time in any class. Topping this list is a stereo system that redefines the overused term premium. Not content with a multi-speaker, externally power-amplified, DVD/CD/cassette/AM/FM/XM Satellite Radio system, Acura has added a technology known as DVD-Audio 5.1. DVDs recorded with this technology triple the channels in traditional stereo and virtual (electronically synthesized) surround sound systems, from two to six. The hope is to do for digital recordings what Dolby did for analog tapes. This more discrete surround sound is common in recording studio gear and has only recently begun appearing in home entertainment systems. Also standard, and another first, is a hands-free, wireless, cellular telephone capability (that is, the buyer provides the phone) employing Bluetooth technology.
Other standard features include power everything, from windows, to seats, to outside mirrors, etc. Leather is standard and not only trims the seats and door panels, but also wraps the shift knob and steering wheel. Even lowly carpeted floor mats are standard.
The latest generation of occupant safety developments, including seat-mounted, side-impact and full-cabin, side curtain airbags, are included at no extra cost. Frontal airbags are dual stage and dual threshold, meaning they deploy at different rates depending on the severity of the crash and whether the front seat occupants are belted in. The side-impact airbag sensors note the seat occupant's height and position to minimize potential injury to out-of-place and smaller-stature individuals. The only disappointment, especially from Honda, is the omission of a head restraint for the center rear passenger.
Xenon High Intensity Discharge headlights brighten the road ahead of every '04 TL. The greenhouse is that in more than stylist terminology, using green-tinted glass to block some of the sun's heat. A dual-zone, dual-mode, air conditioner automatically does the rest of the job, managing interior temperatures with air cleansed by a micron filter.
Acura's navigation system ($2000) is the only major option offered (at least initially) for the 2004 TL. The system features voice recognition of 293 verbal commands, including adjustments to the stereo and climate control system and selection of more than 7 million points of interest (restaurants, lodging, airports, shopping malls, etc.). All this information is also accessible through a dash-mounted touch screen and assorted knobs and switches. With the navigation system buyers get what Acura calls 3D Solar Sensing Climate Control. Using time of day and direction of travel, this calculates the sun's position relative to the car to adjust side-to-side interior temperatures to maintain desired settings.
High performance tires are optional ($200) with the 6-speed manual transmission.
Also available, though not initially, is a sport suspension package called A-SPEC. This includes firmer springs and shock absorbers, unique 18-inch wheels wearing Z-rated Yokohama tires, aero/ground effects body pieces, special steering wheel, upgraded brake pads for cars with the automatic transmission and bragging-rights body badges.