2014 Acura TL Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Fresh styling, improved fuel economy.
The Acura TL is freshened for 2012 with styling revisions and a new 6-speed automatic that improves fuel economy.
The 2012 Acura TL, styled in Acura's Design Studio, in Torrance, California, continues a long Acura tradition of being outspoken, iconoclastic and polarizing. Many will find the TL distinctive and self-defined, while others will find it lacking in gracefulness.
As the luxury division of Honda Motors, Acura has a high pedigree in advanced, efficient design. And with the continued evolution of its versatile TL line of sedans, Acura delivers a car that will satisfy a broad range of driver demands.
We found the 2012 Acura TL has strong performance and sumptuous creature comforts. Front-wheel drive is standard, but the Acura TL SH-AWD features all-weather all-wheel drive. Packaged in edgy, controversial styling, the fresh looks of the 2012 TL will please many and confuse many others.
The 2012 Acura TL offers two engine packages: The TL comes with a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that generates 254 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm and front-wheel drive. The TL SH-AWD gets a 305-hp 3.7-liter V6 that produces 273 lb/ft of torque at 5000 rpm for higher-performance.
The 2012 Acura TL 3.5-liter delivers EPA mileage figures of 20/29 mpg, quite good for a car with serious credentials in the near-luxury field. The 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD with its 3.7-liter and all-wheel drive when equipped with the automatic transmission is rated 18/26 mpg, while the 3.7 all-wheel drive with manual transmission, the quickest version, gets EPA figures of 17/25 mpg.
Keeping pace with the competition, the 2012 TL offers a new sequential 6-speed transmission with paddle shifters in both versions, as well as the 6-speed manual in the fast TL SH-AWD 6MT. Electronic steering is standard, as is drive-by-wire throttle control. The Acura TL features a comprehensive list of technological conveniences. Its eight-inch screen offers voice-recognition navigation. AcuraLink provides direct satellite connection with Acura's roadside assistance as well as real-time traffic information and rerouting, real-time weather with radar-image maps, alerts for severe weather and full weather forecasts. All the usual electronics are present, including satellite radio, Bluetooth audio, hands-free phone link, a hard-disc drive for storage of 3,500 songs, speed-sensitive volume and more. Similarly, the TL is well equipped with all the contemporary active and passive safety features, and its interior appointments will satisfy those looking for deluxe accommodations. The front two seats have individual climate controls, and the driver's seat offers 10-way adjustability (including two-way lumbar support). The passenger seat has eight-way adjustability. Elegant leather upholstery and supportive, finely bolstered seats produce a secure, comfortable environment.
One of the most compelling arguments for the Acura TL is price. Following established Acura/Honda marketing practices, instead of starting with a low stripper base-model price, then offering a broad array of extra-cost additional features, Acura offers fully equipped cars packed with all the most attractive features. Our 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Advance test car was a perfect example. It contained all the basic equipment, plus the bundled Tech Package and Advance Package, for just a tick below $46,000. And as we got to know the TL, we discovered it had the crisp precision of a medical instrument. Like a medical instrument, however, for some, this car will feel a little short on the automotive abstracts, verve, charisma, charm. It is superbly engineered, and when driven hard, it will accomplish a great deal. Yet some TL competitors, the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series, Audi A4 and A6, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and E-Class, effortlessly elicit a warm smile. But the TL styling, which is to some, awkward and heavy-handed, will command little more than a short nod.
The 2012 Acura TL features a redesigned front bumper with improved aerodynamics, a revised grille, updated headlights and turn signals, a new fog light design and a shorter front overhang. The rear features updated taillights and a new bumper that repositions the license plate.
The 2012 Acura TL model line is composed of the TL ($35,605), the TL SH-AWD ($39,155) and the TL SH-AWD 6MT ($42,885).
Acura TL comes standard with a 280-bhp 3.5-liter V6 engine, sequential 6-speed automatic transmission, paddle shifters, 17-inch wheels, satellite radio, MP3/auxiliary input jack, USB interface, driver-recognition system, 10-way power driver seat, eight-way power front passenger seat, heated front seats, HomeLink, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted controls, power windows/doors, auto up/down front windows, auto-dimming rearview, front brake-cooling ducts, power tilt/slide moonroof, LED taillights, fog lights.
Acura TL SH-AWD upgrades with all-wheel drive, 305-bhp 3.7-liter V6 with sequential 6-speed automatic, 18-inch wheels.
The TL SH-AWD 6MT features a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission, heavy-duty clutch, specially tuned AWD system, special front springs and dampers, stiffer engine/transmission mounts, heavy-duty front driveshafts and front CV joints, heavy-duty front differential, special electronic power-steering tuning.
Technology Package ($3,730) includes navigation with voice recognition and rearview camera, AcuraLink communication system, sport seat with perforated leather trim, surround-sound audio, hard-disc drive, push-button ignition, GPS-linked dual climate control, keyless-access security system. Advance Package ($2,200) adds blind-spot information system, ventilated front seats, 19-inch wheels, all-season tires.
Safety features include mandated dual front airbags, dual side-curtain airbags for head protection, dual side-impact airbags for torso protection, three-point seatbelts with automatic pre-tensioning, active front head restraints, tire-pressure monitor, daytime running lights, LATCH child-seat system, immobilizer theft-deterrent. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, electronic brake distribution, brake assist. Optional safety provision: All-wheel drive on the TL SH-AWD improves handling in slippery conditions.
The 2012 TL, styled in Acura's Design Studio, in Torrance, California, continues a long Acura tradition of being outspoken, iconoclastic and polarizing. Many will find the TL distinctive and self-defined, while others will find it lacking in gracefulness. The two stainless-steel, upturned slabs of stainless steel above the grille, matched by similar shapes at the rear, define the car's identity at even great distance. And the wheel arches, flared aggressively to enclose wide P245 tires (on 17-, 18- or 19-inch wheels, depending on the configuration selected) are radiused and knife-edged. They lack the rounded, muscular dynamism seen in some of their competition. The exterior styling is angular rather than flowing, a characteristic many will love, but not everyone.
On the positive side, in profile, the forward-thrusting stance of the TL is athletic and very much in keeping with this performance sedan's personality. Headlight and taillight arrays wrap around the edges of the nose and tail dynamically. Xenon low-beam headlights are accompanied by halogen high beams, which serve as daytime running lights, operating at a lower voltage. The new lower front fascia contains revised fog lamps. Handsome five- or seven-spoke alloy wheels in various sizes are available.
Twin-layer windshield glass and extra-thick side and rear windows are acoustically tuned to reduce wind noise. All are UV absorbent. And to ventilate the TL in hot sun, all four windows and the sunroof can be opened with the keyless remote.
The Acura TL cabin is a handsome combination of sportiness and the elegance. Beautiful copper leather upholstery on the dash and seats give matters a lavish look. As a smallish near-luxury sedan, the rear compartment is compact without being downright small. An available pass-through for skis behind the fold-down armrest is lockable for security. Rear headroom tapers downward quickly, following the sleek downward curve of the roofline.
Handsome titanium-looking trim accents the doors and dashboard. The left side of the steering-wheel hub contains controls for the audio and phone with voice activation. On the right of the hub are controls for the cruise control and info panel, the latter displayed between the speedometer and tachometer. And as expected in a luxury Acura, the switchgear are handsome and of excellent quality.
The key instruments, speedometer, tachometer, water temperature and fuel gauge, are on the small side but adequate and easily read. On the center stack at the top is the medium-sized display screen. It has been well shielded against daylight glare. Moving down the stack, the audio controls are next, and below these are the dual-zone climate controls.
At the bottom are the navigation and connectivity controls. The nav is no-tricks simple and easy to use, with a straightforward top-view map. The screen can also be used to deliver full information about XM/Sirius or other audio programming being used, and real-time traffic and weather data can also be displayed.
The front compartment is comfortable without being huge, and the richness of the colored leather contributes to a feeling of snugness.
The seats are snug without feeling constricting. We found they hold you firmly in position and promote fully alert driving. Hot and cool seat controls for the front seats are on the center console. Concealed in the front elbow rest compartment is a power outlet. And in the glovebox is a keyless-access control switches off the remote system for both the cabin and the trunk.
The Acura TL SH-AWD Advance we drove is by its own lights a near-luxury performance sedan, which is reflected in its attractive pricing. You begin seeing the tiny telltales of this car's modesty the moment you adjust your seat. It has only two driver's-seat memory settings, whereas the competition a few thousand dollars up the ladder commonly provides three memory settings. The Technology and Advance packages add a healthy list of conveniences to add to an already generous equipment inventory.
The Acura TL SH-AWD model's 3.7-liter V6 makes a throaty grumble at start-up; its exhaust system is carefully tuned to sound more authoritative and more like a V8. The gear selector is a simple PRNDS, with no sidetrack for making individual +/- gear selections. To the contrary, as you get under way, a simple flip of the paddle shifters automatically overrides the usual automatic-transmission shift map, immediately giving you the gear you need. That is as it should be in a performance sedan.
Throttle response is immediate and forceful. At normal cruising throttle, the drivetrain is pleasantly quiet, but the minute you tromp down on the throttle, you're reminded that this car is determined, if you are, to go very fast.
Snugly tucked into the well-fitted seat, feeling very much in control, it's natural to exercise this engine, transmission and suspension vigorously. And the more you do so, the more clearly you recognize that wringing out this agile and powerful car might best be done on a racetrack. Acura claims an extremely grippy 0.97g of lateral acceleration on the skidpad, and in real-world driving, the TL's cornering force and stability are impressive.
The big plus of our test TL was its brand-new and oddly named SH-AWD, which stands for the gee-whiz-sounding Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. We had occasion to test the Acura in some raw early-spring Northeast inclemency, a mix of rain and sleet that didn't test the system's hard-core snow-handling capability but nonetheless proved beyond doubt its high competence in similarly demanding conditions. Acura is proud not only of the system's snow traction but of its all-wheel-drive system's vector-guiding directional stability in any kind of slide-inducing conditions.
Driven up to the limit on wet, slippery roads, the SH-AWD guided us with confidence-inspiring surefootedness. The system automatically delivers power to whichever wheel can help most in delivering control and driving the TL forward on its course. This Super Handling drive system is so good that it's tempting to begin thinking you're some kind of foul-weather driving phenomenon. The phenomenon isn't you; it's SH-AWD.
The other standout quality of the Acura TL is its firm, excellent steering feel. It allows you to accurately feel everything that's happening on the road during hard driving. Yet it also lets you drive comfortably at more relaxed speeds, keeping you properly informed whenever something on the road surface demands closer attention. First class.
The sharpened feel of the TL's steering and its alert ride, however, have a consequence that's not quite as happy. The TL ride is tuned to give the driver all necessary road information, and provided the road you're on is in the Sun Belt and billiard-table smooth, the news is all good. Driven on rougher roads caused by winter and frost heaves, however, the TL's ride is sharp and choppy. Conceding Acura's unquestioned ability to produce a superb-handling sporty sedan, the TL misses the real-world ride-quality compromise that will be best for many wintery parts of the U.S. This is in the purist sense an agile, fine-handling car, perhaps just a hair too fine. It could prophet from a little of the Europeans' finely calculated ride compliance; everyone, even the best of us, comes upon a rough road from time to time.
As a near-luxury performance sedan, the Acura TL is well priced and inviting. Its engineering is excellent, and the experience of driving it is very good. But if all-wheel-drive peak performance is the buyer's motive, for only about $5000 more than our test SH-AWD Advance, an Audi S4 sedan, the definitive performance sedan, delivers the kind of visceral brilliance the Acura only hints at. That is another way of saying, the TL is properly priced. If getting a lot for less money is the measure, the Acura will continue to attract masses of buyers. It is a quality sedan of very great capabilities, delivering that little bit extra many buyers crave. And with good EPA figures of 18/26 mpg (the Audi S4 gets 18/27 mpg), our test car is well situated in the market during a time of rising fuel prices.
As befits a product from the engineering brilliance of Honda Motors, the Acura TL is an agile, fine-handling near-luxury sedan with strong performance. It is well equipped and comfortable, and its interior is elegantly furnished. The TL's styling continues to be controversial and somewhat polarizing, pleasing many while turning others away.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Ted West filed this report after his test drive of the TL SH-AWD.
Acura TL ($35,605), TL SH-AWD ($39,155), TL SH-AWD 6MT ($42,885).
Options As Tested
Acura TL SH-AWD Advance ($45,085).
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