2002 Acura TL Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
New Type-S model adds raw edge of performance.
Acura's TL delivers performance, style, and comfort. The base TL comes with a powerful 3.2-liter V6 engine, a nicely balanced suspension, a rigid chassis, and classy good looks. For 2002, Acura revised the front and rear styling.
A new model designed for enthusiasts, the Type-S ups the ante with a more powerful V6, a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch V-rated tires, and an electronic stability program. It's quick and fun to drive, with a level of rawness that gives it character.
The 2002 Acura TL is available as two models: TL and TL Type-S.
The TL ($28,880), alternately called the 3.2 TL in reference to its 3.2-liter engine displacement, comes fully loaded, and retails for less than many of the other cars in its class. It offers a strong value, though Acura has not had to resort to the deep discounts seen from other manufacturers.
The only option offered is Acura's DVD navigation system, which adds $2000. No manual transmission is available, although the five-speed Sportshift automatic offers a convenient, sequential manual override.
TL Type-S ($31,230) is the hot one, and represents about 40 percent of total TL sales. It provides 260 horsepower as opposed to the TL's 225 horsepower, with the extra power coming from a higher compression ratio, a two-stage induction system, a larger throttle body (with no decrease in gas mileage), free-flowing exhaust, high-performance intake valves and camshafts, and modified variable valve (VTEC) timing. Type S also comes with an increased steering ratio and a firmer suspension, thanks to stiffer shocks, a slightly larger rear stabilizer bar, and 17-inch alloy wheels with Michelin P215/50R17 high-performance tires.
Notably, the Type-S comes standard with Acura's Vehicle Stability Assist, an electronic stability program that uses anti-lock braking and traction control to keep the car from sliding. Yaw, lateral g, speed and steering sensors all provide input, and the throttle and brakes are automatically reduced or applied as needed.
For 2002, Acura has redesigned the front of the TL. Bold new headlights and a new grille give it a more aggressive look. The taillights have been redesigned to enhance the TL's graceful lines and Acura has revised the badging. Fog lights are now standard.
Designed, engineered and manufactured in the USA, TL maintains a conservative profile. Its lines are modern and refined, and its stance is athletic. As 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 last complete redesign of the TL was for the 1999 model year. A rear spoiler is available--Acura dealers sell it as an accessory--but we don't think it improves the TL's clean lines.
The Acura TL is roomier than the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and offers more interior space than the Lexus ES 300. The TL interior is quite attractive, particularly in the lovely light tan that's available. Switchgear is nicely designed. The mirror control is whisper quiet and the stereo features big, handsome buttons that are easy to operate.
The front seats, though cushy and attractive, did not meet our expectations for an upscale Acura sedan. They lack support and the adjustable lumbar bulge is of marginal help. The leather seats in the S-Type don't provide enough lateral support when you start throwing the car around. There's a dead pedal to brace your left leg, however.
The back seats are roomy. The center position features a three-point shoulder belt, instead of just a lap belt. The rear seat doesn'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. Acura thoughtfully provided a little flip-down coat hook in back so your nice coat doesn't end up on the floor.
The TL comes with a high level of standard equipment. Leather upholstery, heated and powered front seats, wood-grain 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.
The Type-S interior is racy (and handsome), with firm leather seats and a great leather sport steering wheel, cool shift knob, and instrument panel touches including metallic faces and ebony wood-patterned plastic trim.
At $2,000, the navigation system is an expensive option. It uses Global Positioning Satellites and DVD to plot your course and provide instructions. A brightly lit touch-screen monitor displays a map or an alpine-type route instruction. The navigation system 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. Our 2003 Navi system was slow recalculating routes in downtown Washington. Also, there's no obvious way to quickly shut the thing off so, like when you're trying to talk on your cell phone and it keeps telling you to turn around. If possible, spend some time trying 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. It is an easy car to drive fast, one that inspires confidence, rather than that uncomfortable tightening in your stomach. Like most front-drive cars, the TL understeers -- the front tires slide before the rear tires -- when driven past its cornering limits. This makes for easy, predictable handling, but limits its cornering performance for highly skilled drivers.
The TL doesn't have the hard, precise edge of a BMW. The steering is very light at low speed, 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 you're sitting at the controls of a video game.
Acura designed the TL's multi-link rear suspension and double-wishbone-style front suspension to enhance its sporting performance while preserving its luxury feel. The chassis roll center of the current-generation car was lowered to reduce body lean in corners. 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 TL is a compact, 225-horsepower VTEC V6. It 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 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. 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.
The 5-speed sequential SportShift automatic works like any other automatic most of the time, although it is 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. And the shifter in the TL-S model that we also tested was much too stiff, even when just notching side-to-side in the SportShift mode.
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 it 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 contributes to the car's overall agility.
We also drove the Acura TL Type-S, which is new for the 2002 model year.
We drove it harder than we drove the TL,.
The Acura TL (for 'Touring Luxury') is well worth being on the list of anyone shopping for a mid-size luxury sedan in the $29,000 to $32,000 class, particularly for those who want a sporty driving experience. When price is a factor -- and it always is -- the Acura 3.2 TL compares very well to the Lexus ES 300, Infiniti I35, 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.
The new TL Type-S model adds a raw, untamed edge to this sword with a 260-horsepower engine.
3.2 TL ($28,880) (UA5662JT); 3.2 TL Type-S ($31,230) (UA5682JW).
Options As Tested
3.2 TL Type-S ($31,230) (UA5682JW).
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