2008 Acura TL Expert Review:Autoblog
Click the photo of the 2008 TL for a high-res gallery
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.
New Car Test Drive
Sporty new Type-S broadens line of near-luxury sedans.
The market for near-luxury cars has changed dramatically in the last several years, and the Acura TL shows us the way in which personalized performance has become more important than restrained luxury.
The front-wheel-drive Acura TL combines dramatic style, a powerful V6 engine, a responsive chassis. Just as important, the TL offers an extensive complement of the latest electronic features, making the driving experience more entertaining and more enjoyable as well as faster and safer. Since its introduction in 2004, the current-generation TL has led Acura toward a bolder, more aggressive identity.
For 2007, the Acura TL receives a useful makeover that features styling changes and upgraded mechanical details, plus more electronic features. Most important, there are now two models, the standard TL and the performance-oriented TL Type-S.
As before, the standard TL features a 258-hp 3.2-liter V6 engine. For 2007, it has been re-tuned to deliver a relaxing balance of comfort, driving enjoyment and practical luxury. Meanwhile, the TL Type-S has a 286-hp 3.5-liter V6, and it's a hard-edged sports sedan, with unique styling and an aggressive personality more in keeping with the TL's original mission statement.
As popular-priced sedans have become quieter, more comfortable, and more spacious, premium near-luxury sedans have changed their focus, and they now emphasize style and driving enjoyment. The Acura TL's evolution over the last decade into a sports sedan reflects this trend. But in keeping with its Honda-bred heritage, the Acura TL is also about being modern and efficient. As a consequence, the lightweight, front-wheel-drive TL is refreshingly different from the heavy, rear-wheel-drive sedans found elsewhere in the near-luxury category.
The Acura TL is a mid-size, front-wheel-drive, four-door sedan powered by a V6 engine. Two models are available, the TL ($33,624) and the TL Type-S ($38,125), distinguished by engine performance, suspension tuning, and convenience features.
The TL comes with a 258 hp 3.2-liter V6 with a five-speed automatic transmission that has a manual-shifting feature with a console-mounted lever. The TL Type-S features a 286-hp 3.5-liter V6 with a five-speed automatic that has shift paddles on the steering wheel. The S-type R is available with a six-speed manual transmission, and it's matched with a limited-slip differential for improved traction.
Leather upholstery comes as standard equipment on both the TL and the TL Type-S, along with an eight-way, power-adjustable seat for the driver, a four-way power-adjustable seat for the front-seat passenger, dual-zone air-conditioning, power door locks, and a power moonroof are also standard, a 225-watt, eight-speaker sound system with a six-disc CD, DVD-Audio with Acura's own ELS 5.1 surround sound, cassette tape player, and XM satellite-ready AM/FM radio. Additional audio features for 2007 include WMA- and MP3-compatible playback, Dolby Pro Logic II, and automatic, speed-sensitive volume control. In addition, a hands-free, wireless, cellular telephone system employing Bluetooth technology is built right into the TL.
A navigation system comes standard on the Type-S and is optional on the TL ($2500). The navigation system is bundled with 3D Solar Sensing Climate Control, a unique feature of the ventilation system that correlates the position of the sun with the car's direction of travel in order to automatically balance temperature control on either side of the car. High-performance summer tires are optional ($200).
Safety features include dual front airbags, front-seat side-impact airbags (for torso protection), and curtain-type head-protection airbags. Sophisticated electronic sensors help modulate airbag deployment depending on the weight and position of the front-seat passengers. Active safety features include electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, and electronic brake-force distribution. A monitoring system for tire pressure is also standard.
The Acura TL has a dramatic creased-and-folded look, almost as if it had been extruded from some amazing high-tech machine. Designed in the U.S., it has nothing in common with the soporific, soap-like shapes that you might remember from Japanese-brand near-luxury cars of the past. It's signature is a beveled front fascia matched with a wide, impressive stance, and there's an attention-grabbing gutter at the beltline. For all this visual aggression, the TL's bodywork has a surprisingly sleek coefficient of aerodynamic drag at 0.29 Cd.
For 2007, Acura has made the TL slightly more formal than before with a larger grille, a new-style cluster for the high-intensity- discharge headlights, and a new front fascia element that now incorporates the foglights. There's also more chrome trim. New mirrors incorporate turn-signal lights.
The 2007 TL Type-S, meanwhile, looks more aggressive thanks to a unique front fascia, additional bits of aerodynamic trim, four exhaust tips peaking out from the rear bumper, and trim in black chrome.
Overall dimensions lie between the rear-wheel-drive Infiniti G35 and the all-wheel-drive Audi A6. Although it has a wheelbase that's a couple inches shorter than either, the TL offers 97.9 cubic feet of interior passenger volume. It has much the same measurements in front-seat leg- and head- and shoulder-room as its competition from Infiniti and Audi, yet the TL offers more legroom in the back seats.
The TL's 60-degree V6 engines are truly works of art. As you'd expect from Honda-derived engineering, they have a surprising number of features to maximize both power and efficiency. A relatively tall 11:1 compression ratio helps deliver crisp throttle response, while forged connecting rods and a forged crankshaft add strength and durability. The SOHC cylinder head has four valves for each cylinder, and variable valve timing improves torque at low rpm without compromising horsepower at peak rpm. A drive-by-wire throttle control helps deliver both excellent throttle response and good fuel efficiency.
In keeping with its aspirations as a sports sedan, the TL has a sophisticated suspension layout. Unlike most front-wheel-drive cars, its independent front suspension uses wishbone-style, upper- and lower control arms with coil-over gas-charged dampers, furnishing for optimum geometry for wheel control and heightened sensitivity to bumps. The five-link independent rear suspension has special geometry to improve stability under braking, a worthwhile measure in a nose-heavy, front-wheel-drive car like this one.
The standard TL has large, 300-mm front disc brakes with single-piston calipers, while the type-S gets additional stopping power from 310-mm front discs with Brembo-built four-piston calipers. In addition, the S-Type also has special steering hardware to improve on-center feel, increase steering effort at high speed, and damp bumpy road inputs.
Bridgestone 235/45R-17 all-season tries are specified for the standard TL. When the TL is ordered with the optional navigation system upgraded Michelin tires are specified. These Michelin tires are also standard equipment for the TL S-type, while high-performance 235/45R-17 Bridgestone Potenza RE-030 tires are available.
Acura also continues to offer its high-performance A-Spec suspension kit for the TL, which maximizes road performance with special dampers and springs that lower the ride height an inch, big 18-inch wheels with 235/40ZR-18 Yokohama AVS ES100 tires, high-performance brake pads, and a kit of aerodynamic trim pieces.
In keeping with Acura's heritage of functional Japanese efficiency, the TL's interior emphasizes practicality and useful features rather than sumptuous luxury. At the same time, a sure sense of graceful design and the use of impeccable materials make the TL's cabin appealing.
The TL's interior has a clean, spare look, and its open, uncluttered feel makes this a relaxing place to spend your travel time. Leather upholstery is standard, and it meets a high standard of quality, though it's a little firm and cold. The interior of the standard TL mixes leather, aluminum brightwork and wood trim in an effectively sophisticated presentation, while the TL S-type incorporates carbon fiber in place of wood.
Acura puts a lot of emphasis on human-factor engineering, and the TL's interior has a special goodness as a result. The driving position gives you a commanding view, with the extraordinary panoramic visibility that is the hallmark of Honda engineering. The thick rim of the tilt/telescope-adjustable steering wheel fills your hand, while the switch gear is easy to find and simple to understand. Anyone can take the driving position in the TL and feel immediately at home.
An eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat is standard, as is a four-way power-adjustable passenger seat. The configuration of the front seats is inspired by the best high-performance designs, with supportive hip bolsters and an elaborately shaped seat back that supports your back and shoulders without being constrictive, plus new high-damping foam cushions. The rear seat is comfortable, although it's clear that Acura has provided a fairly short seat squab as a means of getting a lengthy measurement of legroom.
The instrument binnacle is protected from glare by a pronounced hood over three instrument pods, and the back-lit LED read-outs against new spun-metal faces are easy to see. The instruments of the standard TL use blue ambient lighting, while those of the S-Type feature red light.
Aside from instrument lighting, the S-Type's interior is detailed with lots of high-performance cues. These include carbon-fiber appearance rim, more prominent and supportive seat bolsters, stainless-steel pedal covers, and color-contrast stitching for the leather upholstery of the steering wheel, seats, and door panels.
The Acura TL's sophisticated ergonomics enable you to take advantage of its equally sophisticated electronic convenience features without confusion. The center stack between the two front seats uses switches, knobs and electronic buttons for the ventilation, audio and navigations systems in a way that prevents a nightmare of electronic confusion.
Topmost in the center stack is the LCD screen that displays the climate control and audio settings as well as the optional navigation system. With the navigation system comes a line of PDA-like buttons and a central, cursor-style controller arrayed beneath the screen. Bracketing the screen are perpendicular rows of large, finger-friendly buttons for setting climate preferences for the dual-zone air-conditioning system. It's also simple to adjust the interior temperature or change the force of the ventilation fan because the climate control can be operated by physical buttons instead of just the touch-screen inputs.
Acura continues to offer the most user-friendly on-board navigation system that we've ever experienced. It's easy to program and it gives clear and accurate descriptions both visibly and audibly. The large LCD display uses attractive, easy-to-understand graphics, and the combination of context-sensitive screen menus and external hard buttons simplifies operation. Still, you have to call up a screen menu to change radio stations. The voice-recognition system can recognize nearly 300 verbal commands, including adjustments to the audio and climate controls, and the DVD-based navigation system offers a selection of more than 7 million points of in.
The Acura TL is clearly a car for people who like to drive. Its confident, alert composure on the road not only makes driving enjoyable but also makes you a better driver. Compared to most of its rivals, the TL feels lightweight and responsive. The TL's front-wheel-drive configuration provides a dimension of all-weather capability, while effective engineering has made it compatible with a commanding level of horsepower.
It's no surprise that the V6 engine dominates the TL's personality. It has a sharp, mechanical edge to its performance, and it accelerates quickly to its 6250 rpm power peak, more like a small engine than a large one. At the same time, this V6 has enough power at moderate rpm to deliver soothing performance at modest speed. This combination of power on the open road and flexibility in urban traffic is a hallmark of Acura's way of doing things.
The TL comes with a 24-valve, SOHC, 3.2-liter V6, rated at 258 hp at 6200 rpm. A number of key features enhance this engine's all-around performance, and it has a broad torque curve that peaks at 233 pound-feet @ 5000 rpm.
An all-new five-speed automatic transmission for the 2007 TL is derived from that in the RL sedan, and it has a manual-shifting feature with a console-mounted lever. When this transmission is matched with the Type-S, shift paddles are mounted on the steering wheel. The S-type R is also available with a six-speed manual transmission, and it's matched with a limited-slip differential for improved traction.
The addition of the high-performance TL Type-S to the model line has enabled Acura to relax the standard model's chassis calibration significantly with notably softer springs, dampers and suspension bushings.
The standard Acura TL is now more comfortable and easy-going. The five-speed automatic offers a sequential, manual-shift mode for high-performance driving, but it's likely that most drivers will leave it in Drive and forget about the rest. (That's what we do most of the time.) Meanwhile, the standard 235/45WR17 all-season tires furnish a reassuring amount of cornering grip, yet also improve ride quality, as this car tends to transmit a bit more road noise to the interior than we'd prefer.
The new TL Type-S incorporates the 24-valve, SOHC, 3.5-liter V6 already familiar to us in the luxury-oriented Acura RL sedan. Special tuning helps this V6 deliver 286 hp, and it also has special features to improve its torque output to 257 pound-feet @ 5000 rpm.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine of the TL Type-S has only 11 percent more horsepower and 10 percent more torque than the 3.2-liter V6 of the standard TL, so it's no surprise that personality of the two engines is virtually identical. The Type-S fun factor comes from a capable suspension calibration, with significantly less roll and far firmer damping than before, plus dramatically quicker steering response. The short-stroke brake pedal allows you to expertly modulate the large front disc brakes with their four-piston Brembo-calipers. Even on narrow, winding roads, this car rarely loses its composure, and the car feels evenly balanced on all four tires while the suspension rarely bottoms.
Although the Type-S is available with a six-speed manual transmission, this choice makes it more likely that clumsy throttle inputs can upset the car's balance, especially as the TL is distinctly nose heavy, with 61.4 percent of its weight resting on the front tires. The sequential-shift five-speed automatic, featuring shift paddles on the steering wheel, is a far more sensible choice for the Type-S.
If ultimate performance fascinates you, then Acura's optional A-SPEC package is a good choice, as the firmer suspension dampers and big 18-inch tires of the optional kit substantially increase the car's cornering grip. With the chassis dynamics of the front-drive package under control, the six-speed manual transmission becomes a far more reasonable choi.
The Acura TL comes in two distinct models to deliver a mix of practicality and driving enjoyment to a broad range of drivers. The standard TL delivers style, safety, electronic convenience features in a package that offers the all-weather, town-and-country capability that most Americans prefer. It's a great car. The Acura TL Type-S, on the other hand, is a real sports sedan, with power, performance, and sophisticated dynamics that enable it to match up against the finest European sedans. At the same time, the TL manages to deliver a measure of practical efficiency that distinguishes it among its competitors, a unique personality that relates well to the things that Americans want from a luxury car.
Michael Jordan contributed to this report from his base in the Los Angeles area.
Acura TL 5-speed automatic ($33,625), with navigation system ($36,125); TL Type-S 5-speed automatic ($38,125), with high-performance tires ($38,325); Type-S 6–speed manual ($38,125), with high-performance tires ($38,325).
Options As Tested
all-season floor mats ($132); wood shift knob ($119); wheel locks ($45); door visors ($199).
Acura TL 5-speed automatic with navigation system ($36,125).
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