When I get a vehicle to test that is so obviously aimed at women and families, I turn to the women in my family for their opinions.
And with the new Acura TL, the verdict from three women in my household -- a wife and two daughters -- was an astounding "Wow! That's a really nice car."
Now, before you Acura fans jump all over me for saying the TL is aimed at women, remember that I said "and families" as well. It's a great family car, and for that reason, a lot of men can be expected to buy it, too.
But as with most of the entry-luxury models such as the TL, Lexus ES 330 and Mercedes-Benz C-class, the majority are purchased either by or for women, and the automakers design the vehicles to appease that market.
I'm not suggesting that the TL is a "chick" car, though. It's clearly a fun-to-drive, well-equipped sport sedan that even the manliest of men would enjoy. But the economics of car-buying seem to dictate that more women buy the lower-priced premium models, while their husbands or signficant others go for the more-expensive models.
In other words, Dad would choose the TL for Mom, but pick the RL for himself. That's just how it works. And in today's market, Mom might get the TL, but Dad would choose a fancy pickup or a truck-based SUV for himself.
These are not my opinions about how it should be; these are reflections on how it really is. In a premium-car family where Dad makes the major financial decisions, Mom can have a nice car, just not one quite as nice as the one Dad drives.
Of course, this is always a subject for debate. At a recent car event I attended, the head of one of the top automakers, discussing family car-buying dynamics, said that it's often tough to figure out who really is making the decision on which vehicle to choose. "In my house," he said, "I wear the pants. But my wife picks them out."
Personally, I wouldn't mind being "stuck" with the TL. While this is a car that does everything it can to please the women who will drive it, it also fulfills --very well -- the needs of any man who ends up with it. This is one briar patch I wouldn't mind being thrown into, but I have a feeling that if I bought one of these, I would have a hard time getting it away from my wife or even my daughters.
I already have an older TL in my household, and yes, it's driven daily by a woman -- one of my daughters. And while she found the 2005 TL to be a considerable improvement over her car, thank goodness it didn't spoil her to the point where she's no longer happy with her TL.
The fact of the matter is that by anyone's standards, the new TL, introduced last year as a 2004 model, is one of the best Acuras yet, along with being one of the best premium sport sedans on the market. And that's even before you turn on the audio system, which sounds better than the one in my living room.
The midsize TL is Acura's most popular model and the nation's best-selling entry-level luxury sedan. This newest version comes with just one engine offering, instead of the previous-generation's two, but it has more power and at least slightly more-exciting styling. And even though the engine still is a 3.2-liter V-6, Acura has dropped the "3.2" portion of the name from the previous generation, so the car is now called simply the "TL."
Prices begin at $33,670 (including freight), pitting the new TL directly against other premium sedans such as the Infiniti G35, Lexus ES 330, Mercedes C-class and BMW 3-series.
To make sure no one ever accuses the TL of being a chick car, a six-speed manual gearbox is offered at the same price. Now, I understand that there are women who enjoy performance driving and who would also choose the manual, it really is aimed at men, who buy straight-shift cars in much greater numbers than women.
Also to help prove its manliness, the TL now has class-leading horsepower -- 270 -- thanks to the revised 3.2-liter V-6 engine from the previous-generation's 3.2TL S-model. That's 10 hp more than the 3.5-liter V-6 in the G35, the previous class leader. You'll find that similarly equipped C-class and 3-series sedans don't even come close to that power, and neither does the 3.3-liter V-6 in the Lexus ES.
Because Acura wanted to position the TL as performance sedan -- in large part to counter the performance images of the G35 and 3-series -- Honda Motor Co. chose to offer just one version of the new TL.
No longer do customers have the option of buying a lower-priced model with a lower-powered engine; the TL comes with only the 270-hp V-6, and one price covers everything but the navigation system, a $2,000 option that was included on our test car. Acura decided that the primary goal in this vehicle's redesign would be to increase the excitement factor, which would involve both increased performance and sportier styling. The performance certainly is there, but the styling still is pretty much cookie-cutter Japanese premium sedan, similar to the Honda Accord, upon which this vehicle is based. It's not boring, but not overly inspiring, either. The G35 has the clear edge in that department.
True performance-enthusiasts probably won't like the TL's front-wheel-drive configuration, a carryover from the previous generation. Honda has no rear-drive platform.in its stable except for the little S2000 sports car. The G35 and 3-series have the edge here -- they both have rear-wheel drive (and all-wheel drive is available on the G35). It really wasn't the G35 that Acura aimed for with the new TL anyway. The company chose the BMW 530i as its role model for the performance element, not the similarly priced 3-series (the previous-generation 530i; a new generation arrived last year about the same time as the new TL).
Our test car came with the five-speed automatic transmission, however. This is the one that most TL buyers will choose; generally fewer that 5 percent of buyers would pick a manual gearbox on a car in this class.
Among other performance features, the new TL has Brembo brake calipers on the front wheels.
The TL comes well-equipped, with a very short list of available options -- just the navigation system and high-performance tires for the manual-transmission model. The nav system, which costs $2,000, was included on our test vehicle.
Among the standard equipment is the Panasonic ELS DVD-audio system with Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. Panasonic teamed with multiple-Emmy-award-winning recording engineer Elliot Scheiner to create this audio system for Acura.
Scheiner created DVD discs that produce six-channel, concert-quality audio through home-theater DVD surround-sound systems or the ELS audio system that comes in the TL. The discs play through eight speakers, giving the listener the feeling that he is standing in the middle of the stage during a live musical performance.
The system includes a six-disc DVD changer in the dash, XM satellite radio, and a five-mode steering-wheel control switch. It cranks out 225 watts of power, and also can play regular music CDs (although not creating the enhanced sound that comes from an audio DVD).
Other standard TL features include leather and wood interior trim, dual-zone/dual-mode automatic climate control, side-curtain air bags, 17-inch light-alloy wheels, one-touch open/close power windows and moon roof, power door locks with remote, electronic stability control, high-intensity-discharge headlights, drive-by-wire throttle control, and a limited-slip differential.
A maintenance-minder system that cues the driver when the car needs an oil change, new tires, spark plugs, coolant or automatic-transmission service. The system is based on more than just miles driven; it also takes into account driving conditions and other factors, the company said.
The car has increased headroom over the previous model, as well as more shoulder room, and I found the back seat to have adequate room for two adults, but crowded for three.
The trunk is small for this class -- just 12.5 cubic feet (or 12.3 with the navigation system). The TL's biggest competitors -- the ES 330 and G35 --- have 14.5 cubic feet of cargo space.
A wireless hands-free cellular phone link is included, and it works with any Bluetooth-enabled cell phone.
EPA fuel-economy ratings are 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway with the automatic transmission, and 20city/30 highway with the manual.
Total sticker price for our test car was $35,670, including freight and the nav system.
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G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com.
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2005 Acura TL sport sedan
The package: Midsize, front-drive, five-passenger, V-6 powered premium sedan.
Highlights: This car was all new last year, based on the chassis of the redesigned Honda Accord, featuring an awesome DVD audio entertainment system, more power than even in the previous-generation's S-type performance model, and lots of other improvements. The coupe model has been discontinued.
Negatives: Styling is rather bland; small trunk for this class of vehicle.
Engine: 3.2 liters.
Transmissions: Five-speed automatic, six-speed manual (no price difference).
Power/torque: 270 hp./238 foot-pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Length: 189.3 inches.
Curb weight: 3,582 pounds (automatic transmission with nav system).
Trunk capacity: 12.5 cubic feet (12.3 with navigation system).
EPA fuel economy: 20 miles per gallon city/28 highway (automatic); 20 city/30 highway (manual).
Major competitors: Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C320, Volvo S60, Infiniti G35, Lexus ES 330, Cadillac CTS, Volkswagen Passat, Nissan Maxima, BMW 330i, Jaguar X-type, Saab 9-3.
Base price: $33,100 plus $570 freight.
Price as tested: $35,670 including navigation system ($2,000) and freight.
On the Road rating: ****-1/2 (four-and-a-half stars out of five).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.