The Acura TL, a bona fide competitor to the best from Europe, is a great example of how thoroughly the company does its homework.
Acura is the American luxury division of Honda.
The TL's taut, athletic styling catches your eye first. The sharp-nose, wedge-shaped profile with a chopped-off derriere bears a strong resemblance to the TSX, but it has been executed with even more flair. One nice touch is the concave character line that runs the length of each side. It creates visual interest and provides an accent to the wedge shape. This line is a key ingredient in the way the light dances along the side of the car, which is one of its most interesting aspects.
TL prices start at $33,325. The navigation system is a $2,000 option, and high-performance tires add $200.
While styling may be the first thing to catch your attention, the high-quality interior and responsive handling mean more to the everyday driver. The TL has a 3.2-liter V-6 that produces 258 horsepower. The test car was equipped with a six-speed manual whose tight, direct shift linkage worked as well or better than most rear-wheel-drive cars.
The design of the TL's cabin is as good as the best in the business. The interior has more standard amenities, better materials and some technical highlights such as a DVD-audio system that uses six distinct channels to deliver sound quality that is 500 times better than a CD. The system also plays standard CDs and has XM satellite radio. The knobs for the audio system feel like those of a home stereo.
The instrument panel's multiple textures not only are pleasing to the eye, but also provide good visual rhythm. The gauges are rimmed with iridescent blue marks that look very sharp. Brushed silver accents flank the center console, and tiny blue LEDs in the ceiling direct a small beam of light on the center console at night.
The front seats are extremely comfortable and supportive.
The all-aluminum V-6 is a jewel. High compression, a two-stage intake manifold and VTEC valve control all work to give it sharp throttle response across a wide power band. Drive slowly and the engine is content to dawdle, but call on its resources for a surge of power and it screams right through the gears. The Environmental Protection Agency mileage rating is 20 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway. The engine also meets ULEV emission standards.
The TL's drive-by-wire electronic throttle means there is no mechanical connection between the accelerator pedal and the engine. The neat thing about the electronic throttle is that it can be tuned to maximize the engine's characteristics.
If the TL has a flaw, it is that front-wheel drive is slightly less balanced than rear-wheel drive in high-speed handling. In normal driving, the TL's fully independent suspension acquits itself exceptionally well.
A limited-slip differential is standard on cars with the manual transmission, but I could still feel some torque-steer through the steering wheel under hard acceleration. That is the one fly in the TL ointment.
The four-channel vehicle stability system works in conjunction with the drive-by-wire throttle and antilock brakes on each wheel to provide stability for accelerating, braking and cornering.
The 17-inch wheels and firmly tuned suspension make the TL feel like a European car. Huge Brembo disc brakes come standard with the six-speed manual transmission, and they do an excellent job of erasing speed. Brake Assist automatically applies maximum braking pressure in emergencies while Electronic Brake Distribution changes front/rear brake force depending on the load.
The TL also has a Bluetooth-based hands-free phone system standard. This system allows voice-activated, hands-free calling through the built-in audio system with any cell phone.
Styling, performance and an exceptional interior make the TL a delight to drive every day.
The base price of the test car, with navigation system and performance tires, was $35,525. Destination charges of $615 bring the sticker price to $36,130.
Four years or 50,000 miles.
Engine: 3.2-liter, 258-hp V-6
Configuration: Front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 107.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,492 lbs.
Base price: $35,525
As driven: $36,130
Mpg rating: 20 city, 29 highway
At A Glance
Point: The Acura TL has great looks and a performance personality to back it up. The attractive interior is well-designed and outfitted with quality materials. The 258-horse V-6 is both strong and smooth.
Counterpoint: Front-wheel drive is great for inclement weather, but for spirited driving it lacks the balance of rear-wheel drive.