2011 Acura TL
    MSRP
    $38,855
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    2011 Acura TL Expert Review:Autoblog

    The following review is for a 2010 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.


    Click above for high-res image gallery of the 2009 Acura L SH-AWD

    2008 has been a busy year for Acura's design and manufacturing engineering staff. It's not often that a brand refreshes its entire sedan lineup in the span of just over six months. Of course, in Acura's case that only amounts to three cars, but includes two completely redesigned cars with the TL and TSX and one heavy face-lift for the RL. Actually, "heavy face-lift" is something that applies to all three, as Acura has implemented a new front end design for its sedans that has seemingly gone over with pundits like the proverbial lead balloon.

    We use the word "seemingly" because while most of the media and the majority of commenters here on Autoblog have howled in visual pain whenever the new shield grille pops up, it doesn't seem to have hurt sales. In fact, sales of the both the TSX and TL have been up significantly in the first few months that the cars have been on sale. Now that Acura has dropped off a 2009 TL SH-AWD in the Autoblog Garage for a week, it's time to see if our initial impressions need adjusting.


    Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.



    We got our first look at the 2009 Acura TL back in July, and at that time felt it was the best executed of the three cars. It turned out from talking with Acura designers that the TL was actually the first of the three designed around this new look, though it was the last to debut. This means the new shield grille was something of an afterthought for the RL and TSX. Regardless of what you might think of the shield grille, it certainly looks better integrated on the TL than the other two cars.



    In profile the TL is a bit of a mixed bag. From the A-pillar back, the fastback roof-line adds to its sporting character. Some have complained that the C-pillar is too derivative with the kinked angle of the back end of the side glass. Another questionable design element is the car's long front overhang, although this is largely defined by the mechanical architecture underneath. Since the TL is derived from the transverse engine, front-wheel-drive layout of the Accord, the front wheels are pushed back from the corners.



    On the plus side, the swept back corners mean that the overhang is really only obvious in profile view. If you move to either a front- or rear three-quarter view, it becomes far less obvious. Personally, we find the rear three-quarter sight-line to be the TL's strongest angle.



    Under the hood, the SH-AWD version of the TL gets the same 3.7L V6 now found in the RL. At 305 horsepower, this is the strongest engine that Honda has ever offered in North America. At 273 lb-ft of torque, the 3.7L even has some decent twisting force, a relative rarity in Honda engines. The larger bore of the 3.7 means that Honda has skipped the cast iron liners of the 3.5 in favor of the same silicon-impregnated aluminum that was pioneered way back when on the Chevy Vega.



    For now if you want Acura's torque vectoring Super Handling-All Wheel Drive system, you'll have to be satisfied with a 5-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Next year Acura will make a 6-speed manual gearbox available in the SH-AWD. For now, though, the automatic is not a bad option. When you engage manual shifting mode, the gearbox actually stays in the selected gear all the way to red-line and bounces off the rev-limiter instead of automatically shifting up.



    The interior of the TL is fairly typical of contemporary Acuras. The top surface of the dashboard is a single piece and seams in the lower areas are kept to a bare minimum. The seats are covered in a nice soft leather and offer firm supportive side bolsters.



    The TL offers two memory settings for the position of the seats and mirrors, which itself is not unusual. A unique feature, however, is storage of the memory settings in the two key-less fobs. Anyone whose spouse/partner is of significantly different stature will surely appreciate this, as each partner gets their own fob. You get in the car, set everything up and then store your settings in your own fob. Once your fob is programmed, when you approach the car a proximity sensor detects which fob is next to the drivers door. As you open the door, everything automatically moves to your desired position. Very handy indeed.

    On the road the 3.7L V6 has a reasonable amount of grunt and moves the nearly two-ton TL with relative ease. The TL, like so many other cars, has grown progressively bigger and heavier with each generation and that extra mass can be felt especially in the AWD model. it simply feels more dense when changing direction, especially compared to the lighter front driver. In spite of that mass, the super handling-all wheel drive can pay dividends in dynamic behavior when pushed to the limit.



    While the front drive TL tends to understeer, you can get the back end to loosen up with some aggressive trail braking into corners. For a driver who wants to test his skills, the lighter model is likely to be more a more rewarding ride. It provides limit handling behavior more commensurate with driver's commands.

    The torque vectoring system in the SH-AWD sends drive torque not just to the wheel with traction but it works in conjunction with the stability control to send power to either the inner or outer wheel to help guide the car in the desired direction. If you accelerate too early before the apex in the front-wheel-drive TL, engine torque will be cut and the inside rear wheel will be braked to help turn in and fight understeer. In the SH-AWD model, instead of cutting torque from the engine, power will get sent to the outer rear wheel to help push the outside of the car around.



    The overall impression is of a much more buttoned down machine that goes precisely where you point it and does so at a speed in proportion to your pressure on the accelerator or brake. It can make the most ham-handed driver look much better then he or she really is. It's faster and easier to drive, but perhaps less challenging to wring out. On the other hand, someone looking to exercise a car this way might prefer to wait for the manual transmission version.



    For those who find the new Acura TL's look appealing, or at least tolerable, it's a solid, well built sedan. It's devoid of any early build glitches like the ones we noticed the first time we drove the 2008 Accord. The interior is roomy, comfortable, well laid out and put together. The '09 TL is also capable on the road and reasonably engaging to drive. It's not a hardcore sports sedan, but it isn't meant to be. With a price tag of $42,235 for the SH-AWD model (with the Tech package), it doesn't exactly come cheap, and during our week with the car we averaged about 20 mpg.



    The new styling of the 2009 Acura TL is polarizing, but as often happens, those who don't hate it will likely love it. The big question for Acura is whether or not the latter outnumber the former. So far in its first few months on the market, TL sales are up compared to the same period the year before, including a 22-percent jump in October. Only time will tell if these numbers hold up after the early adopters are done buying.


    Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.


    2010 Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT - Click above for high-res image gallery

    When the redesigned Acura TL debuted in late 2008, it represented a substantial transformation over previous iterations. The third-generation model retained the transverse V6 of its two predecessors, but for the first time included an all-wheel-drive option. But while the torque-vectoring Super Handling-All Wheel Drive is an appreciated addition when you're putting out over 300 horsepower, performance oriented drivers were appropriately miffed that both the TL Type-S and a manual transmission were no longer available.

    Thankfully, shortly after the 2009 TL went on sale, Acura announced plans to add a manual gearbox back to the lineup. Unfortunately, it would take an entire year before it hit the market. Now it's here, and we're ready to find out if the Acura TL SH-AWD six-speed can fill the Type-S-sized hole in our hearts.



    Photos Copyright ©2010 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.



    When Acura took the wraps off its new look in 2008, it was hard to ignore the controversial styling – particularly the shield grille. But on the TL, it works – at least more effectively than it has in some applications. Like the new ZDX, the fascia integrates well with the creased lines and hard strakes, and when viewed from the rear, the pointed protuberance matches the plummeting trunk line.

    The vast majority of observers howled at the brand's controversial styling, particularly that new shield grille. Pundits and reviewers have applied an assortment of derogatory names to the grille, and the majority of the Autoblog team has gone on record continuing to hate it. This particular writer remains the exception to that consensus, and aside from the "refreshed" RL, believes the face works well here. The TL and ZDX in particular seem to have the best integration of the fascia with the rest of the vehicle. Thankfully at least one Detroit police officer felt the same way during a traffic stop following an inappropriate left hand turn in an unfamiliar part of the city. Following a stern warning about the driver's navigational skills, he spent the next several minutes just talking about the car.



    Although the last generation TL had the cleanest design of any Acura to date, the current model has its strong points. The proportions of the hood, greenhouse and rear deck seem particularly well thought out, but where the design continues to fall flat is in its ratio of wheelbase to overall length. An additional four inches in the middle would do wonders to reduce the overhangs and provide the TL with better overall balance.

    Since most observers remain less-than-enamored with Acura's current styling direction, it's likely that the next generation of products will be softened in a similar way to the 2002 BMW 7 Series. During a visit to the Honda design studio in Japan last fall, Nobuki Ebisawa, General Manager of Global Design discussed the reaction to the new Acura language and hinted that changes could be forthcoming. For now, we'll have to live with what we have – in this case a Mayan Bronze Metallic tester that appears to be molded out of dark chocolate infused with metal flakes – and keep in mind that drivers typically spend more time inside the car rather than staring at it from the outside.




    From the driver's perch, the TL remains an enjoyable place to conduct business, beginning with front seats that provide an excellent balance of support and comfort. The sweeping dual cockpit layout is thankfully devoid of any wood and instead is highlighted with strips of speckled metal trim. While we have nothing against dead tree inlays, the highly polished veneers infecting most interiors often look overwrought, making even the finest real wood look like the cheap plastic stuff.

    The primary controls in the TL are well positioned, with a thick-rimmed steering wheel adjustable for both distance and height, and there's a perfect gap between the wheel and manual shifter. Through that wheel's rim, the large, round gauges are clearly visible and very legible. The information display between the speedometer and tachometer can also be toggled between a number of different readouts, including the torque distribution for the all-wheel drive system. Unfortunately, placing this display in the main cluster pushes it below the driver's main sight-line while cornering, rendering it largely useless.



    Back before Ford introduced its SYNC media interface system, we considered Honda/Acura's implementation of a control knob one of the better offerings to date. However, time hasn't been kind to the TL. In particular, digging through the system's menus to find the Bluetooth setup page for our phone was a major chore, and while controlling an iPod was straightforward enough, the TL would inexplicably change the setting to Repeat each time we plugged it in. Setting a destination in the navigation system is easy enough, although it can grow tedious as you have to select individual letters using the center stack-mounted knob.

    The rear seating positions are nicely contoured to provide comfort and support on a road trip. However, anyone attempting to occupy that center position will find his or herself sitting up above their neighbors with a solid-feeling armrest pressing into their backside, so it's best to keep your party to four for anything longer than a short jaunt.



    All TLs with SH-AWD are powered by Honda's 3.7-liter V6 delivering 305 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. While the automatic version is still saddled with just five forward gears, the manual version gets a sixth cog. Pressing the start button fires the V6 into a smooth, steady idle with the soundtrack you'd expect of a high-tech performance engine. The stop and go pedals are well-placed for easy heel-and-toe downshifts, and the newly added left pedal has a smooth, predictable take-up that engages mid-travel and never feels grabby.

    Honda and Acura's manual gearboxes are known for their smooth, slick mechanisms and short throws, and the TL doesn't disappoint. Rowing the lever through its gates, there are no hangups or notches, it simply glides from gear to gear like the precise piece of machinery it is. Let out the clutch and the TL pulls away with nary a lurch, even during hurried launches on dry pavement. The engine's note is more mechanical precision than brutish wail, evolving into a howl as it winds to its 6,700 rpm redline. While the specs remain unchanged, the V6 in this application feels stronger across the range than its automatic counterpart, indicating that the torque converter may have sapped some of the life out of it.



    Along with the addition of the manual gearbox, Acura engineers went back and took another look at the power steering calibration. Like most contemporary Honda products, the TL has electric power assist steering (EPAS), which, along with reducing parasitic losses provides for an impressive amount of flexibility with its calibration. Unfortunately, extra flexibility can often make it more difficult for the engineers to find just the right mix.

    Think of it like manipulating a digital photo on the computer. There are countless settings and tricks to employ, with the result occasionally ruining the image in the process. While the EPAS on the Honda Fit provides reasonable feedback, that's not the case with the new TL or its smaller sibling, the TSX. Both sedans are plagued with a slight dead zone when pointed straight ahead, resulting in a lack of engagement while cruising along at a steady state. Surprisingly, the new manual TL is a marked improvement compared to its automatic counterpart, with precise, even steering across the full range of motion. The amount of effort required to turn the tiller now feels spot-on regardless of vehicle speed, but there's still a lack of connection between cornering force and the wheel's tendency to straighten up – something we assume could be fixed with a quick reflash.



    We've always been fond of Acura's torque vectoring all-wheel drive system whether in sedan or crossover form, and with the TL, it lives up to our expectations yet again. The management of torque distribution to the wheels is integrated with the stability control so that the tractive effort can be sent to outboard wheels under cornering to help the car turn in, mitigating the understeer present in front-wheel-drive models. Think of it as proactive torque steer, but in a good way. The result is much better handling balance and we're more than willing to put up with the extra mass when it works this well. We'd still prefer a proper rear-wheel-drive chassis most of the time, but if the choice is SH-AWD or front-wheel drive in a "sport" sedan, it's a no-brainer.

    Since life involves more than just carving corners, the TL also deals well with uneven pavement. The sedan doesn't include a fancy adaptive damping system, but the two-stage "blow-off" dampers do an admirable job of keeping body motions in check while still absorbing potholes and patches without beating up its occupants.



    As far as we know, Acura has no plans to re-introduce an actual TL Type-S, so this is as close as you can get for now. Admittedly, most people (at least those who are speaking up) are less than enamored with the styling. However, we found the driving experience of the TL to be a pleasure thanks to the newly available manual transmission and its seamless interaction with the SH-AWD system. For the most part, we aren't fans of paddle-shifter torque converter automatics, so having the ability to opt for a stick that works this well can make up for a lot of faults. And the price for such a complete package – along with the security of all-wheel drive – is more than reasonable.

    Kitted out with Acura's comprehensive technology package, our TL tester stickered at $43,195 including delivery, and it came equipped with 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season rubber. If you are going to opt for the more sporting gearbox, we'd recommend going all the way and selecting the summer tire package for an extra $1,000. With it comes 19-inch wheels and tires, and fewer traction compromises on dry pavement. If you live somewhere that deals with the white stuff, drop another grand on a second set of wheels with proper snow tires and you're good to go – assuming you can get past the TL's looks. We have.



    Photos Copyright ©2010 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

    The following review is for a 2010 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    Super smooth, highly capable, lots of technology.

    Introduction

    The Acura TL has long been a favorite among entry-luxury cars. Significantly redesigned for 2009, when it received a powerful V6 engine and the availability of all-wheel drive, it continues into 2010 with only a few changes. The most important new feature for the 2010 TL is the availability of a six-speed manual transmission on the upper-level SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) model. 

    The 2010 Acura TL lineup consists of two models: The base Acura TL has a 280-hp 3.5-liter V6. The Acura TL SH-AWD has a 305-hp 3.7-liter V6. Both engines come with a five-speed automatic, but the SH-AWD is available with the new six-speed manual. (Both transmissions are the same price.)

    Get behind the wheel of the Acura 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. A Technology Package, available on both models, includes the Acura Navigation System with Voice Recognition, AcuraLink Real-Time Traffic with Traffic Rerouting, AcuraLink Real-Time Weather with radar image maps, an Acura/ELS Surround premium audio system, and the Keyless Access System with pushbutton ignition. The Navigation System features an eight-inch full VGA high-resolution color display for excellent visibility. The Acura/ELS Surround 10-speaker, 440-watt premium sound system includes DVD-Audio, CD, DTS, AM/FM tuner, XM Radio and a 2,500-song hard disk drive (HDD) media storage. 

    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. 

    On the road, the TL drives smaller than its size, and that's a compliment. 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 responsive handling doesn't come at the expense of ride quality, however. 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 of the two versions is similar. Both engines provide enough power to make a 0-60 mph run in 6.0 seconds or less. The automatic transmission has a manual shiftgate and standard steering-wheel shift paddles to allow drivers more interaction with the powertrain. The six-speed manual provides a high degree of shift accuracy with great feel and low effort, and utilizes a short-throw shifter. The manual transmission is matched with a dual-mass clutch for consistent feel and effort. 

    Bottom line: The Acura TL offers bold styling, plenty of responsive more power, great handling, and the benefit of available all-wheel drive. Anyone looking for a capable sport sedan will do well to give the TL a test drive. 

    Lineup

    The 2010 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 matched to a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate and steering-wheel shift paddles. The SH-AWD 3.7-liter V6 is available with the six-speed manual. 

    The Acura TL ($35,105) comes standard with 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’s 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 pass-through; automatic high-intensity discharge headlights, fog lamps; and P245/50R17 tires on alloy wheels. 

    The TL with Technology Package ($38,835) 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. 

    The TL SH-AWD ($38,655) adds sport steering wheel, sport front bucket seats, and P245/45ZR18 tires. P245/40ZR19 Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires are optional. Automatic transmission is standard. The TL SH-AWD with Technology Package ($42,385) is available with either the automatic or six-speed manual transmission for the same price. 

    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, and Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA, or electronic stability control) with traction control. Tire-pressure monitoring 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. SH-AWD all-wheel drive improves safety in slippery conditions. 

    Walkaround

    The Acura TL has a wheelbase of 109.3 inches and overall length of 195.3. To help reduce weight, there is aluminum in the hood, front bumper beams, subframe and steering hanger beam. The TL has what Acura calls a Motion Surface body design, which is a styling theme 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 design is the beak-like front grille assembly, similar to that of the TSX and 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 mimics the shape of the front air intakes, and the TL has dual exhaust, while the SH-AWD has quad exhaust outlets. 

    Interior

    Step inside the TL and you are presented with a quality, driver-focused interior. 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. The rear seats include a fold-down armrest with two cupholders and a center pass-through, which will allow carrying skis or fishing poles, but long, flat packages won't fit. 

    Trunk space is about average for the class, at 13.1 cubic feet. With the SH-AWD model a bit of the floor space is taken up by the all-wheel-drive 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 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, the Multi-Information Display is replaced by an eight-inch VGA high-resolution screen that is easy to see in any light conditions. With the Technology 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. The XM NavWeather 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 it from CDs. Acura says the hard drive can hold up to 2,500 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. 

    Driving Impression

    The Acura TL is surprisingly agile and tossable for such a large and fairly heavy car. It is very easy to drive, with an electric power steering (EPS) system instead of hydraulic power steering. The EPS gives the TL a light 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 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. 

    The front-drive model has 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. As for the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, under normal conditions it 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 most of the power to the outside rear wheel in a turn, which helps rotate the car through that turn. 

    Standard on the TL SH-AWD model are 18-inch wheels, with 19-inch wheels and tires optional. 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 roughly 250 pounds more than the base model, it feels every bit as responsive. It also has the added bonus of more grip in fast, sweeping turns, thanks to the wider tires. Plus, it is the best choice for snow-belt customers, though without the 19-inch summer tires. 

    All those handling improvements don’t come at the expense of ride quality. The TL is forgiving over bumps, even the SH-AWD model with the optional 19-inch wheels and tires. 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 TL also has ample brakes, with large two-piston calipers. 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 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 254 pound-feet of torque at 5400 rpm. The TL SH-AWD is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 305 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. Both engines are matched with the five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate and steering-wheel shift paddles, and the 3.7-liter V6 is available with the six-speed manual. EPA fuel-economy ratings are 18 mpg City, 26 mpg Highway for the 3.5-liter engine and 17 mpg City, 25 mpg Highway for the 3.7-liter engine with either transmission. 

    While the 3.5-liter V6 has Acura's VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) for the intake valves, the 3.7 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 makes the SW-AWD only slightly quicker than the base TL with the 3.5. Both cars should easily reach 60 mph 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 of the automatic are easy to use if you want to take the shifting duties into your own hands. If you put the TL's automatic transmission in Sport mode, it will hold the gears and not shift up for you. 

    Summary

    The Acura TL delivers decent interior room with handling befitting a smaller vehicle. It offers good value for the money, a lot of capabilities, great handling and ride comfort, the latest technology and safety features, and 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. 

    Model Lineup

    Acura TL ($35,105); TL SH-AWD ($38,655). 

    Assembled In

    Marysville, Ohio. 

    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; P245/40ZR19 Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires. 

    Model Tested

    Acura TL SH-AWD Technology Package, HPT tires ($43,385). 

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