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Expert Reviews 1 of 6
By Joe Wiesenfelder
October 23, 2006
The TL sedan is Acura's best-selling model, and for good reason. The midsize sedan has broad appeal, and its design and performance have raised it above the level of the generation — called the 3.2 TL — that it replaced in 2004. Along with incremental styling and chassis changes, the big news for 2007 is the reintroduction of the sporty Type-S version, which boasts significant enhancements from bumper to bumper that make it more fun to drive and distinctive but not clownish in appearance. Exterior & Styling Most people won't notice the TL's styling changes, but if you study it, you'll find a larger grille with honeycomb mesh. The previous grille was set deeper and was less noticeable than the honeycomb, which I'm not sure is an improvement — especially because a cutout that enables access to the hood latch is clearly visible. The bumper has been reshaped and makes the lower twin intake vents less visually dominant. Now containing the fog lights and a horizontal chrome strip, they make the car look lower and wider — a nice effect overall. The headlight clusters, which formerly included the fog lights, now house a pair of more defined daytime running lights. The rear bumper also has been reshaped, and the all-red taillight lenses have been replaced by clear lenses over a more intricate cluster of lights with a new LED pattern. In the regular TL, the largest segments are now white — again, not an improvement in my eyes. The side mirrors now incorporate turn-signal lights.
The Type-S variant is nicely distinguished by a number of cosmetic and functional elements — most noticeably in the rear. Here the taillights are all-red, delineated by a smoked-chrome bezel, which is a much better look. Atop the trunklid is a small, tasteful spoiler. The biggest at-a-glance difference is the tailpipes, which consist of dual chrome tips on either side. I'm not wild about the execution; the TL's rear is one of the most cohesive and distinctive on the road, a solid wedge with a brilliantly executed interplay of trapezoidal shapes. The Type-S' tubular pipes do away with one of the slickest elements, the trapezoidal exhaust tips that fit flush with the bumper in perfectly shaped notches. Certainly there was a way to distinguish the Type-S without borrowing from a different stylistic vocabulary. (What am I, an art critic?) Between the pipes is another honeycomb grille posing as a diffuser; it is strictly cosmetic.
The Type-S has wider side sills than the regular TL but shares its front-end changes and is distinguished by "black chrome" trim on the grille and bumper in place of the bright chrome elements. Alloy wheels with five split spokes are new for 2007. The Type-S has charcoal wheels with matrix-style spokes. Both are 17 inches in diameter, but Acura offers 18-inch wheels as an option.
Beauty is subjective, but for what it's worth, I think the TL is one of the best-looking cars on the market. Granted, most models look tragically similar, and the TL is guilty of the same, but I've never mistaken one with anything else in traffic — except maybe its look-alike little brother, the TSX. Practically since they were first imported, Hondas, Toyotas and their luxury versions have been exceptionally well-rounded, quality cars held back by uninspiring styling. (Hard to imagine how much more successful they could have been.) When I first saw the TL, I believed that the tide had begun to turn, and that competing automakers should be very concerned. Going & Stopping As before, the TL has a 3.2-liter V-6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. The Type-S has a larger version of the same engine, a 3.5-liter. Power rating comparisons aren't necessarily useful among different models, but they are illustrative in this instance, between different engines in the same model:
Acura TL Engines
Horsepower (@ rpm)
258 @ 6,200
286 @ 6,200
Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm)
233 @ 5,000
256 @ 5,000
premium (91 octane)
premium (91 octane)
EPA gas mileage (city / highway, mpg)
20 / 29 (auto only)
20 / 29 (manual) 19 / 28 (auto)
Source: Manufacturer data
The regular TL is a quick car to begin with. The Type-S is noticeably quicker, but mainly under heavy acceleration and high engine revs. As the table shows, the maximum torque comes at a relatively high rpm (5,000). What this means to you is that the car doesn't lurch from a standing start, but this has an important upside: It minimizes torque steer upon launch. Both versions exhibit some torque steer under heavy acceleration and/or when traction is lost. It's unavoidable when a front-wheel-drive car has any power to speak of. Though traction control, a standard feature on the TL, keeps it from getting out of hand, torque steer is one of the reasons driving enthusiasts reject front-drive cars.
Acura has reduced torque steer in its RL flagship sedan and MDX and RDX SUVs by employing Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, which shares acceleration duties among all four wheels. If the feature comes to the TL, it likely won't be until the next complete redesign.
Transmission choices include a competent five-speed automatic in either version of the TL, and an optional six-speed manual for the Type-S. As before, the automatic includes a clutchless-manual mode, but there are two enhancements: Acura has added rev-matching, whereby the engine automatically revs slightly when you downshift, to match its speed to the transmission's. This eliminates abrupt shifts and saves wear on the components. The second addition is steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters on the Type-S. The left one downshifts and the right upshifts, in Formula 1 style.
The standard brakes are four-wheel discs with ABS, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution. The Type-S has Brembo-brand front discs and larger, four-piston calipers. In addition to more stopping power, the shiny black calipers add a slick cosmetic element in place of the homely standard grippers. In the end, the brakes do their job well. Ride & Handling Considering that it shares its platform with the Honda Accord, which rides firmly, the TL has a pleasant ride. The base TL's suspension has been revised for 2007 and includes a larger stabilizer bar to combat body roll, which was a noticeable problem in the first generation. If anything, the 2007 feels more compliant than the 2006, and more comfortable than its sport-oriented German competitors. Perhaps the new sport-tuned Type-S has allowed the base model to become mellower still.
In the Type-S, a combination of firmer springs, shock absorbers and stabilizer bars keeps the car from heaving its weight left and right, and improves roadholding. The standard tires are all-season, but summer performance tires are an option. If you'll be driving in snow and ice, forget about these unless you're prepared to change between them and all-season or winter tires twice a year.
I had fun driving the TL, especially the Type-S, and even more so the manual fitted with summer tires. As explained above, the Type-S has more power, but both of them exhibit the drawbacks of front-wheel drive for sporty driving. Having more than 60 percent of the car's weight and all of the drive power in front leads to understeer, which even the most brilliant suspension design can't eliminate. All-wheel drive would give the TL much better balance. Acura dealers offer gymkhana aficionados an optional A-Spec kit that lowers the car and further firms up the ride, as well as adding special wheels, tires, brake pads, steering wheel and exterior cosmetic additions.
One shortcoming is the TL's wide turning circle of 39.7 feet. The Audi A6 is only slightly better at 39.0 feet, but the Lexus ES 350 turns a 36.7-foot circle. Rear-wheel-drive competitors tend to require still less space. The Inside The TL's interior is classy and modern, and thankfully above the price threshold at which Acuras switch from faux metal to the real thing, here located on the center console and doors. Simulated wood trim — which looks fine — is also standard, and the Type-S replaces it with a glossy carbon-fiber look. Works for me. The Type-S also adds stainless-steel pedals.
The car's front seats are impressive — firm, supportive and much closer to the industry-leading European brands. Eight-way power adjustment and lumbar support are standard on the driver's seat, and the passenger gets four-way power. Heat for both and two memory settings for the driver's seat are standard.
The controls are well-placed, and if the lack of AWD is a drawback of this model's modest redesign, the remaining touch-screen navigation system option is a major upside. Recent fully redesigned Acuras, like the RL and MDX, have replaced this excellent interface with one of those maddening rotary push-knob/joysticks for which the German brands have rightly been vilified.
Visibility to the rear is pretty good and is dramatically improved by the new rearview camera, which in cars equipped with the navigation system shows the area behind the car on the dashboard screen. Navigation is standard on the Type-S. Parallel parkers will appreciate the side mirrors, which can automatically tilt down when the car is in reverse. Safety Because its underlying structure hasn't been overhauled, the TL's crash ratings are still valid. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, it scored Good in frontal and side-impact collisions (on a scale of Good, Acceptable, Marginal and Poor). A Marginal rating for the less critical rear-impact test is surprising for an Acura. Adding active head restraints, which the company uses in other models, would likely improve the protection.
In addition to the standard safety features already mentioned, the car has all the required airbag technology, plus side-impact torso bags for front occupants and side curtains intended to protect front and rear occupants in a side impact. Cargo & Towing Cargo hauling isn't the TL's strongest attribute. Its trunk offers decent space and accessibility, but its total volume is only 12.5 cubic feet, compared with the Lexus ES 350's 14.5 cubic feet and the Audi A6's 15.9 cubic feet. Another disappointment is the exclusion of a folding backseat to extend the cargo area into the cabin. There's only a narrow pass-thru behind the center armrest. Among comparable cars, the ES 350 and Infiniti M sedan are similarly limited, but the A6 has standard folding rear seats, and BMW makes them optional in its 5 Series sedan. When it comes to hauling stuff, the "need" for SUVs and pickup trucks is widely overstated, but folding rear seats are one of the most significantly useful features to hit sedans in the past couple decades. It seems wrong for them to disappear in cars that are relatively more expensive, not less.
The TL is not rated to tow a trailer. TL in the Market Whether you consider the TL a luxury car or simply a premium car depends in large part on whether you see Acura as a luxury brand. The car is as well-appointed as the ES 350, whose manufacturer, Lexus, is more often perceived as a luxury make. In a class that seems to favor sportiness, there are buyers who will never take a front-drive car seriously, but as these cars go, the TL is quite a performer — certainly more of a driver's car than the cushier ES 350.
It appears that people who can afford a luxury car can afford to maintain it, because the European models that define luxury sport are overwhelmingly worse than average in reliability. No such problem for Acura and Lexus, which are consistently rated as the most reliable brands sold, with correspondingly slow depreciation and high resale value. Priced as it is at the low end of the premium/luxury segment, the TL's expected low cost of ownership is alluring to people who are hesitant to jump from a more modest car class.