The Acura 3.2TL is a real smooth character, unruffled by bumpy terrain and unflappable under stress.Real smooth, undoubtedly the right tonic for those who reside on this plain of luxury-car refinement. But maybe too smooth for those who like their driving mixed with a dose of excitement. With its soft suspension, light steering and conservative styling, Acura is aiming its midrange mount straight at the heart of the traditional luxury-car market. Clean handling and a powerful V-6 engine add to the appeal, but the overall effect is geared toward comfort and isolation. This is a car for those who eschew the hard edges of a BMW but crave the control of a finely tuned sports sedan. It's also an urban warrior that shaves off the jagged edges, and a back-country tourer that tames the twisting blacktop. And being an Acura, its execution is nearly flawless. This V-6 version of the midsize sedan is the upscale model, while the 2.4TL with its inline 5-cylinder engine and more responsive suspension is the sporty sibling. Acura calls them both midluxury sedans. Both engines are tied to a silky four-speed automatic transmission, electronically controlled, that always seems to be in the right gear at the right time. Acura has been criticized for not offering a V-8 engine, especially in its larger RL version. The 3.2 is one of those V-6 engines that makes you wonder why anyone would want a V-8 in a passenger car. Powerful and vibration-free, it does the same things with two less cylinders and better gas mileage. Strong acceleration is accompanied by an aggressive growl, but otherwise, all mechanical elements are distant and subdued. Much of the TL's quiet manners on the open road can be attributed to a long wheelbase, a rigid chassis that includes a honeycombed floor, and lots of sound-deadening insulation. Handling is sharp and level, despite the soft suspension. The steering is overly light and numb, but fairly precise. Braking is strong. Though conservative, the body styling does impart an athletic stance. Our test car was classy in black, but the overall look failed to stand out in traffic or turn any admiring heads. Behind the wheel of the TL, one gets the oddly reminiscent feeling of driving a pint-size version of a big American sedan, pre-downsizing. Not an insult, just an observation. Seating position is high and the dashboard is low, in typical Honda fashion, which accentuates the feeling. However, the luscious interior is a cut above. With rich, classic forms and appointments, the cabin has a quality feel, soft leather surfaces, nice wood accents and good proportions. It is also free of gimmicky extras, such as trip computers or other gizmos. Interior space is also above par, especially for a midsize car, though three people in the back seat might crave some shoulder room. The trunk is cavernous. One of the major attributes that keeps Acura customers smiling is its ballyhooed reputation for quality and reliability. Typically, Acura models top every list for owner satisfaction and reliability. So there you have all the traditional luxury-car attributes, a handsome profile, decent performance, reliability, and a roomy interior with a quiet, intrusion-free traveling environment. All in a smaller package that promotes improved handling, better gas mileage and parking-space agility. The overall effect may be kind of soft, lacking the edge desired by driving enthusiasts. But in this "midluxury" market, there's much to be said for smoothing off some of life's rough edges. Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel-drive. Base price: $32,950. Price as tested: $35,500. Engine: 3.2-liter V6, 200 horsepower at 5,300 rpm, 210 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. Transmission: Four-speed automatic. Curb weight: 3,461 pounds. Length: 191.7 inches. Wheelbase: 111.8 inches. Safety features: Du al air bags, anti-lock brakes. EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway.
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