2009 Acura TL Expert Review:Autoblog
Beginning in February at the Chicago Auto Show, Acura began rolling out redesigned versions of its three sedans in the span of six months. Beginning with the RL in Chicago, Acura has rolled out its new design ethos intended to make these cars stand out in the increasingly crowded entry luxury segment. When we first showed you the RL, it got what would charitably be described as a negative reception. The new shield grille design was almost universally reviled both in the media and amongst you readers. By the time the entry-level TSX arrived a month later, reactions softened somewhat as people became accustomed to the look. In its first few months on the street, sales of the new TSX have jumped more than 20 percent compared to the old model.
The last to arrive and arguably the best looking of the three is the mid-level TL, which arrives this September to replace the best selling sedan in Acura's lineup. Acura invited us to New York to sample its new mainstream model on the roads of Connecticut and the Empire State in mid-July. While the TL was the last to be unveiled, it is actually the first and only one of the three sedans to be completely designed around this new look. Read more about the new TL and our first drive impressions after the jump.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
The entire TL effort was handled by Honda R&D in the United States with Art Osborn leading the exterior design at Acura's new design studio in Torrance California. After getting approval for the new look, the decision was made to at least add the shield grille to the other sedans and roll them all out at about the same time. Unfortunately for the RL, this means that the grille looks tacked on and far less integrated than the TL. The TSX isn't as bad, but the nose still looks better in Europe where it is sold as the Honda Accord. The next generation of Acuras including the upcoming NSX replacement and the next generation, all-new RL will incorporate a style more in keeping with the TL.
Osborn discussed the look of the new TL with its "keen-edge dynamic" language saying, "On the one hand we have technology which is precision machined, billet and shear, high-tech, and on the other hand we have emotion which is human, dynamic, sensual. We fuse those together and get keen edge dynamic." Regardless of what you might think of the aesthetic, there is no doubt that they succeeded in their goal of giving the car a strong presence. While The RL was almost universally reviled at its launch, Acura's new design language is now growing on us, especially with the new TL that looks like its name should be followed by "concept car". It retains the linear headlight shape and solid lower bumper of the previous generation, while the back end look is dominated by sharp angles that pull together all of the lines flowing from the front of the car over the top and sides.
At both ends of the car the design team incorporated a sharp longitudinal crease that is especially prominent in the rear. Interestingly, the crease in the trunk-lid is concave rather than convex. The flowing roof-line at the C-pillars was deemed to have a more upscale look, though the fastback greenhouse leaves a deck-lid that's both short and high. To prevent the deck-lid from looking too high, the center crease was bent the opposite direction, giving the appearance of a piece of paper that has been folded in half and in half again before being partially opened. In spite of the still controversial shield grille, the overall look of the TL is handsome and far better integrated than its siblings.
Acura is offering two distinct models of the TL for 2009 with different drivetrains. The previous Type-S model is gone (for now at least) and replaced by the SH-AWD model. As that acronym implies, the top model has inherited the Super Handling-All Wheel Drive that is used on the RL, MDX and RDX. The base TL continues with only the front wheels receiving drive torque from its 3.5L V6. Helping to overcome the extra mass of all that hardware to drive the rear wheels, the SH-AWD gets a larger 3.7L version of the V6.
The new TLs were waiting for us at the shops of Highcroft Racing in Danbury Connecticut when we arrived. Highcroft is one four teams running the Acura AXR-01B in the LMP2 class of the American Le Mans Series and we arrived in Danbury just days after the team had captured the first overall win for an Acura in an ALMS race.
The TL has a similar look and feel inside as its little brother the TSX with sweeping metallic trim separating the upper and lower halves of the dash that flows all the way from the doors to the console. The sweep of the forms separates the front cabin into a "dual personal structure" giving individual space to each front occupant. The upper surfaces are covered in a soft-touch rubberized material that is eerily devoid of visible seams. The center is dominated by the navigation screen with a cluster of buttons and switches with the now standard Acura/Honda control knob in the middle of it all.
The TL also gets the latest edition of the ELS premium sound system produced by Panasonic. The 5.1 channel surround sound system has support for DVD-audio playback, which sounds absolutely amazing in demonstrations. Unfortunately, only about a dozen people have actually bought DVD-A discs, which means most drivers will only ever experience the system in stereo. One complaint of the previous generation ELS system was that rear seat passengers couldn't really appreciate it, with the sound being dominated by the rear deck speakers and sub-woofer. That's been addressed by adding a pair of speakers to the rear doors that provide a much fuller experience for all passengers. Along with the THX certified audio system in the new Lincoln MKS, this TL's audio quality is among the best we've ever experienced in a car.
We picked out a 3.5L front-wheel-drive model for the first leg of our journey. The smaller engine is rated at 280 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque, while the 3.7L unit gets bumped up to 305 hp and 273 lb-ft. That makes it the most powerful V6 Honda has ever produced, though both engines are tuned to run on premium unleaded gasoline.
Unlike an increasing number of competitors in the segment, Honda has opted to stick with its existing five-speed automatic with both models getting the same gear ratios. The AWD model gets a lower 4.533:1 final drive ratio compared to the 4.312:1 of the front-wheel-drive car to help compensate for the extra 260 lbs that comes with the rear drive hardware. Front drive TLs come with 17-inch rolling stock while the the SH-AWD gets a bump to 18-inch rims standard and 19-inchers as an option.
The drive route consisted of the usual blend of urban stop and go, highway cruising and some marvelous curving rural roads. The front-wheel-drive TL felt lighter on the road than its 3,700-lb mass would lead you to expect. The seats, which are shared with other recent Honda/Acura models like the Accord, are comfortable and supportive. The thickly rimmed steering wheel has the usual array of switches for audio, communication and information systems. Since Americans are so averse to operating clutch pedals, Acura has equipped the back side of the steering wheel with paddle shifters that yield quick, smooth gear changes when the driver feels like getting more involved in the process.
Unfortunately, the TL also inherits the mediocre steering feel of the TSX. There still seems to be a bit of a dead spot around the straight ahead position and the overall feedback about the tire-road interaction is vague at all speeds. The rest of the mechanisms for controlling wheel motion did a good job of absorbing imperfections in the road surface while keeping the body relatively parallel to the ground. Mild understeer could be felt at the limit on tighter corners as we started pushing the TL harder. That's a handling trait that largely vanishes when you move into the SH-AWD model.
A-pillars on many cars grown into tree trunks, increasingly blocking the driver's view to the front corners of the vehicle. One thing that's readily apparent when you drive off in the new TL is its slimmer pillars. Acura claims that the visual obstruction from the TL's pillars has been reduced by five percent compared to the outgoing model, a welcome difference.
The top TL is equipped with the latest version of Acura's torque vectoring Super Handling-All Wheel Drive. A pair of electronically controlled clutch packs in the rear axle are integrated with the sensors used for the stability control system. This allows the car's computer to direct more drive torque to the outside rear wheels when understeer is detected, which helps the car bite the road and turn in. The result is that the stability control doesn't have to brake the inside front wheel to accomplish the same effect, and therefore less engine torque reduction is required to get around the corner. The system works seamlessly to provide wonderfully neutral handling, making the TL go precisely where it is pointed.
One common complaint of many existing Acuras with the SH-AWD system has been that the brakes aren't up to par, quickly fading into a smoky mess after relatively short periods of hard driving. Since the AWD system encourages more aggressive driving, this is a non-trivial matter. The TL SH-AWD model gets ducts routing air directly from the fascia to the front brakes providing increased resistance to fade. During our time in the TL, the brakes never let us down.
While the SH-AWD TL feels more neutral and buttoned down, it also feels more massive and rides harder than the front-wheel-drive version. The spring rates are increased by a third while damping forces have been bumped up by 20 percent. Combined with the larger, heavier wheels, the TL definitely doesn't ride as well as its lesser sibling, meaning that drivers will have to decide whether they want more performance or a more luxurious ride. Those living outside of Michigan where they actually pave roads probably won't have any issues with the SH-AWD ride. We'll be looking forward to trying out the SH-AWD on Michigan's pot hole-ridden roads in the near future to find out if it's remotely livable as a daily driver.
Acura hasn't announced pricing for the new TL yet, but the cars should be in dealerships in a few weeks. For those not enamored with the styling, we highly recommend making a trip down to an Acura dealer and viewing one in person before making a decision. The TL is another one of those cars that looks far better in the metal than in a picture.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.
New Car Test Drive
All-new entry-luxury sedan is super smooth.
The Acura TL has been a favorite among the so-called entry-luxury cars since its release for the 1996 model year. Last redesigned for 2004, the TL is redone again for 2009, adding the most powerful engine ever in an Acura and all-wheel drive for the first time.
Based on the Honda Accord platform, the 2009 Acura TL is larger than the car it replaces, though it handles better and gets similar fuel mileage.
Two models are offered, each with a different engine. The base Acura TL has a 280-hp V6. The Acura TL SH-AWD model has a 305-hp 3.7-liter V6 as well as Acura's Super Handling All Wheel Drive.
Get behind the wheel of the 2009 TL and you are presented with a quality, driver-focused interior with plenty of available gadgets. Standard features include solar-sensing, dual-zone automatic climate control with automatic humidity control, XM satellite radio, an iPod interface, and a Bluetooth cell phone link. Available in a Technology Package are keyless access and starting, a rear view camera, and a navigation system with real-time traffic, new real-time weather, DVD Audio playback capability, and hard-drive audio.
Room in the front seat is plentiful. The back seat is big enough for most passengers, though tall rear passengers will want more head room. The trunk offers a decent amount of space, but split folding rear seats are not offered, which may be a deal breaker for some.
On the road, the TL drives smaller than its size, and that's a complement. The base front-wheel-drive model handles quite well, reacting readily to quick changes of direction and leaning very little through turns. The SH-AWD model is heavier but stiffer suspension settings make it handle capably as well. Acura's Super Handling All Wheel Drive system can send power to the outside rear wheel in a turn, which helps rotate the car through that turn. All-wheel drive is a great option for customers in northern climates.
The improved handling doesn't come at the expense of ride quality. Bumps seldom intrude, there is no float or wallow, and up-and-down motions are kept to a minimum. The TL's balance of ride quality and handling prowess is quite impressive. Braking is quick and worry free.
Both models offer plenty of power to get in front of traffic from a stop or pass with ease. While the SH-AWD model has more power, it also weighs more, so straight line performance is similar to the less powerful model. Both engines provide enough power to make a 0-60 mph run in 6.0 seconds or less. The only transmission is a smooth shifting, responsive five-speed automatic. It comes with a manual shiftgate and standard steering wheel shift paddles to allow drivers more interaction with the powertrain.
Bottom line, the new, 2009 Acura TL is even better than the previous-generation model, which was a very good car. The 2009 TL has bolder styling, more power, better handling, and the benefit of available all-wheel drive. Anyone looking for a capable sport sedan will do well to give the 2009 Acura TL a test drive.
The 2009 Acura TL is offered in two models, the base TL and the TL SH-AWD. The base model has a 280-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine, while the SH-AWD model has a 305-hp 3.7-liter V6. Both are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate and steering wheel shift paddles.
Standard features on the Acura TL include leather upholstery; heated front seats; cruise control; solar-sensing, dual-zone automatic climate control with automatic humidity control; tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; power windows and door locks; heated power mirrors with tilt-down back-up aid and turn signals; eight-speaker 276-watt AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD changer; XM satellite radio; auxiliary audio input jack; USB port; Bluetooth cell phone link; multi-information display; 10-way power adjustable driver's seat with lumbar adjustment; eight-way power adjustable front passenger seat; memory for the driver's seat, mirrors, climate control and radio settings; interior air filter; auto-dimming rearview mirror; universal garage door opener; theft-deterrent system; sunroof; rear passthrough; automatic high-intensity discharge headlights, fog lamps, and P245/50R17 tires on alloy wheels.
The SH-AWD model adds sport steering wheel, sport front bucket seats, and P245/45R18 tires. P245/40R19 Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires are optional.
The Technology Package upgrades with premium Milano leather upholstery, keyless access and starting, rear spoiler, chrome accented door handles, navigation system, rearview camera, AcuraLink real-time traffic with traffic rerouting, real-time weather, and a 440-watt Acura/ELS 10-speaker premium audio system with DVD Audio and 12.7-gigabyte hard drive.
Passive safety features include dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags, torso-protecting front side airbags, and active front head restraints. Active safety features include antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control. The mandated tire-pressure monitor is standard. A rearview camera comes with the Technology Package, and we recommend it because it can help the driver see small children and pedestrians when backing up.
The 2009 Acura TL is a bigger car than the outgoing model. The wheelbase is up 1.4 inches to 109.3 and overall length is up six inches to 195.3. The new car is 1.8 inches wider at 74 inches. Curb weight is up only 80 pounds to 3708 pounds thanks to the use of aluminum in the hood, front bumper beams, subframe and steering hanger beam. The architecture is shared with the Honda Accord, though the Accord sedan is actually slightly shorter and about 150 pounds lighter (for a V6 model).
The new TL has all-new sheet metal in what Acura calls a Motion Surface body design. Acura says that the styling theme is marked by emotional design, linear fluidity and strong presence. While the first two of those traits may be debatable, the TL certainly has a stronger presence than any Acura in recent memory.
The calling card of the new design is the beak-like front grille assembly, similar to that of the redesigned TSX and restyled RL models. On the TL, this silver-painted assembly extends up and over to meet the hood, where it ends abruptly. The grille is flanked by a set of slit-like headlights that rise up toward the edges of the front end, giving the TL a sinister, grinning look. Below the grille assembly is a pair of trapezoidal air intakes that house the fog lights. Additional driving lights are found in these intakes on the TL model, while the SH-AWD lacks them for improved air flow. The SH-AWD also incorporates brake cooling ducts into these intakes at the outside corners.
The bottom edges of the headlights resolve into character lines that flow all the way to the taillights and angle upward to give the TL a sporty, raked appearance. Prominent flares surround the front wheels, and these extend up into the aforementioned character lines, giving the TL a visually interesting and distinguishing front wheel hump design trait. The base model's 17-inch wheels look uninspired, but the SH-AWD's 18s and optional 19s look great and fill out the wheelwells nicely.
The greenhouse is thoroughly modern, balancing maximum interior space with a sporty coupe-like rake. At the rear edges, the rear window is inset slightly, giving the rear pillars a flying buttress look.
The rear view has the most presence. The angled trunk shape reflects the beak-like look of the front end. Below the trunk is a silver-painted, wing-shaped decorative piece that combines with the trunk shape and a center character line to give the rear end something of a boattail appearance. Models with the Technology Package also have a tasteful rear spoiler that only adds to the look. At the bottom, a pair of backup lights mimic the shape of the front air intakes, and the TL has dual exhaust, while the SH-AWD has quad exhaust outlets.
All in all, the TL has a much bolder shape than previous Acuras. We're not entirely enamored of the design at this point, but we have the feeling that it will grow on us.
Step inside the TL and you are presented with a quality, driver-focused interior. Gone are the blue-lit gauges that some may have found a bit sophomoric in the outgoing model. The center stack is thoughtfully angled toward the passengers, making every control easy to reach. The design is attractive, and the materials have a quality feel with a lot of soft-touch surfaces and tight panel gaps. Small items storage is fair, including a change tray at the bottom of the center console, two cupholders behind the gearshift, map pockets in the doors, and a center console that can hold about 10 CD cases. The glove box is also fairly large, and it has two levels.
The driver's seating position offers plenty of adjustments to make most drivers happy. Head and leg room up front are plentiful, and the seats do a good job of keeping passengers in place, especially those in the SH-AWD model, which have more side bolstering. The rear seat is quite livable for all but tall passengers, who will complain about head room. Getting in and out of the front seat is easy, but the rear requires some ankle twisting, especially if the front seats are set far back.
For structural reasons, Acura opted against split-folding rear seats, choosing instead to include a fold-down armrest with two cupholders and a center passthrough. That'll allow you to carry your skis to the slopes, but long, flat packages won't fit.
Trunk space otherwise is up from the last model, but at 13.1 cubic feet is small for the class. Buy the SH-AWD model and a bit of the floor space is taken up by the AWD components.
From the driver's seat, you are presented with four, individually shrouded gauges under an overarching shroud. The large tachometer and speedometer are flanked by smaller fuel and water temperature gauges. Between the tach and speedo is a digital readout for gear selection, outside temperature, and other information.
The center stack has a shrouded black and white Multi-Information Display screen that displays radio information, interior temperature settings, and compass direction, among other tidbits. The screen has a Plexiglas cover and we found that it washed out in strong sunlight.
Below the display are centrally located radio controls with a dual-zone climate control settings along the sides, easily accessible to each passenger. An interface dial is found under the radio settings. It controls the Multi-Information Display and is fairly easy to use. When the Technology Package is chosen, Multi-Information Display is replaced by an 8-inch VGA high-resolution screen that is easy to see in any light conditions. With the Tech Package, the interface knob adds more functions, controlling the navigation system and various audio and climate control settings. It can also be controlled by voice commands. This interface is generally easier to use than similar systems from BMW and Audi, but it can still complicate such functions as programming a radio station.
The navigation system comes with XM NavTraffic that can give real-time traffic updates and suggest alternate routes. New for 2009 is XM NavWeather that shows real-time weather information for 21 metropolitan areas, one- and three-day forecasts, severe weather alerts, and Doppler-style radar maps.
All TLs come with an auxiliary audio input jack and a USB port. The latter offers iPod connectivity and can also read thumb drive storage devices. The iPod interface is displayed in three lines on the Multi-Information Display or navigation screen. Long playlists will require a lot of scrolling, but it's nice that you can control an iPod through the audio system. Music on a thumb drive can also be played through the audio system, but cannot be loaded to the 12.7 gigabyte hard-drive that comes with the Technology Package. The only way to load music to the hard drive is to rip if from CDs. Acura says the hard drive can hold up to 2500 songs.
The audio system offered with the Technology Package was developed with music producer/engineer Elliot Scheiner. It has DVD Audio capability. DVD Audio is a high-quality audio format that delivers more accurate sound through six discreet channels. It requires its own software, meaning audiophiles will want to buy their own DVD Audio discs.
One of the advantages to maintaining and updating a particular model is that it can be monitored and improved from one generation to the next. Acura started with one of the best handling front-drive sport sedans on the market and made improvements to craft an even better fourth-generation model. As a result, the Acura TL is surprisingly agile and tossable for such a large, and fairly heavy car.
Acura claims lots of specifics when it comes to chassis improvements (front lateral rigidity up 17 percent, rear vertical rigidity up 41 percent, 13 mm lower center of gravity, completely new suspension, etc.), but the bottom line is the new TL handles better than the last and is quite impressive for its size.
Changes to the structure, suspension and geometry have made the new TL very easy to drive, but a new electric power steering (EPS) system is the biggest difference between this generation and the last (which had hydraulic power steering). The new EPS gives the TL a much lighter steering feel, which is especially appreciated at low speeds for parking lot maneuvers. The steering feel firms up at higher speeds, and while we generally like the new steering, we'd like it to be a bit firmer at road speeds. Unlike some electric steering systems, the TL's system feels natural and provides informative feedback. It's also quite quick. In short, if you didn't like the heavy steering feel of the previous car, come back and give the new TL a try.
The 2009 TL is offered with front- or all-wheel drive. The front-drive model comes with 17-inch wheels and is every bit a sport sedan, reacting well to quick changes of direction and driving much smaller than its useful size.
For 2009, Acura's Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system is available to the TL for the first time. Under normal conditions, SH-AWD is front biased, sending 90 percent of the torque to the front wheels. Stomp the throttle or drive on a slippery surface and SH-AWD can send up to 70 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. Plus, the rear differential can apportion the power between the rear wheels. This allows the TL to send 100 percent of the power to the outside rear wheel in a turn, which helps rotate the car through the turn.
SH-AWD is standard on the TL SH-AWD model, which also comes with standard 18-inch wheels and optional 19s. Suspension and chassis changes from the base model include stiffer shocks and springs and revised bushings. The models we drove were equipped with the 19-inch wheels and tires, and though the SH-AWD model weighs 250 pounds more than the base model, it feels every bit as tossable. It also has the added bonus of more grip in fast, sweeping turns, thanks to wider tires. Plus, it is the best choice for Snow Belt customers, though without the 19-inch summer tires.
All those handling improvements haven't come at the expense of ride quality. Having driven both models as well as the previous generation, I can say that the new TL is more forgiving over bumps, even the SH-AWD model with the optional 19s. Bumps seldom intrude, there is no float or wallow, and up-and-down motions are kept to a minimum. The TL is a model of ride and handling balance.
The new TL also has larger brakes than the last model, with larger two-piston calipers (versus 1-piston for the 2008 model), and those changes make for more confident braking. While the name Brembo hasn't been bandied around for this model, Acura claims the new TL's brakes are better than the Brembos on the previous Type S model (and probably cheaper to replace, too). While we didn't get out on a racetrack to really put the brakes through their paces, they were easy to modulate and provided worry-free stops.
When it comes to power, the TL has that, too. The base engine is a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 280 hp at 6200 rpm and 254 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. (That's up from 258 horsepower in the 2008 TL.) The TL SH-AWD is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 305 hp at 6300 rpm and 275 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm, making it the most powerful Acura ever. Both engines are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate and standard steering wheel shift paddles. Acura says the 3.5-liter will get 18/26 mpg City/Highway, while the 3.7-liter is rated at 17/24 mpg.
While the 3.5-liter V6 has Acura's VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Left Electronic Control) for the intake valves, the 3.7 now adds VTEC for the exhaust valves as well. It also comes with lower gear ratios for a sportier driving experience. Given the SH-AWD model's extra weight, however, the 3.7 only makes the SW-AWD slightly quicker than the base TL with the 3.5. Acura wouldn't give out 0-60 mph times, but both cars should comfortably reach 60 in less than six seconds.
Both models have no problems merging with traffic, passing, or accelerating away from an intersection. Power delivery is smooth and linear, and the steering wheel paddles are easy to use if you want to take the shifting duties into your own hands. Note that if you put the TL's transmission in Sport mode, it will hold the gears and not shift up for you. Acura says a six-speed manual transmission will return for 2010.
The new 2009 Acura TL is a big car with decent interior room, and handling befitting a smaller vehicle. It continues to be the value promise it's always been, but now offers the added bonus of available all-wheel drive.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report after his test drive of the Acura TL models along Pacific Coast Highway near Santa Monica, California.
Acura TL ($34,955); TL SH-AWD ($38,505).
Options As Tested
Technology Package with premium Milano leather upholstery, keyless access and starting, rear spoiler, chrome accented door handles, navigation system, rearview camera, AcuraLink real-time traffic with traffic rerouting, real-time weather, and a 440-watt Acura/ELS 10-speaker premium audio system with DVD Audio and 12.7-gigabyte hard drive; P245/40R19 Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires.
Acura TL SH-AWD Technology Package, performance tires ($43,235).
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