DANBURY, Conn. -- Engineers rule at Honda Motor Co.
This has always been the case for the Japanese automaker whose top executives care as much about slide rulers as they do stick shifts. It was engineers that moved the company from motorcycles to cars. And when they have some down time, they tinker around and come up with things like the Honda Jet.
So it's no surprise when Honda's luxury brand, Acura, unveiled the redesigned 2009 Acura TL, the car would be an ode to the engineer.
This car was created by men and women methodically searching for perfection, no doubt spending countless nights evaluating graphs and charts and curves like Robert Pirsig trying to find another piece of quality. They're a serious bunch.
And that's the first impression you have with the new TL: It's almost too serious. When you first see it, you want to do the same thing to it that you might to some of those engineers: loosen up its tie, slap it on the back and tell it to go have some fun.
Acura added six inches to the TL's overall length making it noticeably larger on the road and inside the cabin. But none of that made an impact on its road manners. It's engineering trickery. Typically, when cars bulk up like this, they act like humans and slow down. Not the TL.
The car handles like a dream. Rolling through the winding hills of Connecticut, the TL was easy to drive and fun. If you wanted to go fast, the TL responded with stoic precision.
There's plenty of power in the two engine choices Acura provides. The base model TL comes with a 3.5-liter V-6 that hits 26 miles per gallon on the highway while producing a respectable 280 horses. The more powerful 3.7-liter V-6 manages 24 mpg and rips out 305 horsepower. That's a lot of go-go under that mild mannered hood, making it par with the likes of the Cadillac CTS and more muscular than the Lexus ES 350.
If you purchase the higher end TL with its 3.7-liter engine, you'll also get Acura's absolutely incredible Super Handling All Wheel Drive system. Try something very un-engineer-like such as going too fast into a tight corner and the car's system takes over faster than you can spell SH-AWD. (When it senses you're in a hard corner, it will send additional torque to the outside rear wheel to help with steering.)
Put that in your pocket protector and think about it. A new frontier
While the engineers have outdone themselves with the new TL, the designers seem to be exploring a new frontier. The new face of Acura is complete with the TL.
And it's quite "interesting," which is the automotive equivalent of calling a woman "handsome." All of the lines meet up perfectly, and there's a beautiful slope to the roofline moving back, but it's just too serious.
The car's grille looks more like a tribute to Gene Roddenberry (who once studied to become an engineer) than something that should adorn the front end of a luxury sports sedan.
Only true Trekkies could point at that glom of metal and say it looks beautiful. It looks like something Captain Kirk could break off and use as a shield against a lizard man while a green brunette gyrates nearby.
As much as I dislike the front end, the rest of the car looks good. The backside's silver chevron below the raised trunk gives the new TL a distinctive tail.
The wedged stance makes it look as athletic. Even the D-shaped exhaust pipes and the LED tail lamps look like little pieces of artwork.
Inside, the TL is practical and luxurious. The dual cockpit design is comfortable and creates a performance atmosphere. The seats are supple and well bolstered. The dash looks compactand it's well laid out. The navigation screen is set deep inside the dash and the buttons are well-organized.
Making the Acura longer increased the amount of cabin space, giving the second row 36.7 inches of legroom. That's more backseat space than the CTS, ES 350 and even the Infiniti G35. With 13.1 cubic feet of space, the trunk can carry a family's worth of luggage and it's on par with the competition. High-tech touches abound
There's more technology inside this car than I can even begin to mention. There's the Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phone operation, the navigation system and back-up screen, keyless entry and Acura's ELS Surround sound system.
This is much more than just a car stereo. It's an acoustic wonder with 10 speakers, a 12.7-gigabyte hard drive and 440 watts of power. Elliot Scheiner, the Grammy-winning producer and sound engineer, personally spent weeks in Ohio fine-tuning the stereo on test tracks so the sound would be perfect. It is. The sacrifice of anyone spending more than a day in Ohio shows dedication only an engineer is willing to endure.
In case you think you have a better ear than Mr. Scheiner, there's a digital equalizer. But if I were you, I'd just leave it alone; you don't have a better ear.
Engineers have always worked in the background, figuring out how to make beautiful things work. The Great Wall of China would be just a line on a map without engineers. And the pyramids would have returned to sand if some engineer had not figured out how to get alien spaceships to properly place all of those carved stones.
In the car world, designers grab most of the glory when a new vehicle debuts. They stand in front of a vehicle decked out in stylish clothes and sparkling smiles as they point out the jewel-like head lamps and expanded trunk space. The engineers sit in the corner and explain how they managed to give the car a stiffer frame, stronger engine and still do it under budget.
Whether it's a sound engineer, someone specializing in powertrains or a guy riding through countless potholes to improve the vehicle's dynamics, the engineers are the true parents of the TL, which arrives at dealerships later this month.
The new TL is better than the previous generation thanks to their work. The ride is sound, the cabin quiet and the performance is excellent.
And if I could write just the right algorithm to say "good job" in engineer-speak, I would. But until then, I'll let the TL speak for their work. It's more becoming than anything I can do with a slide ruler.
Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at (313) 223-3217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2009 Acura TL
Not released, Expected from $34,000 - $42,000
TL: 3.5-liter V-6
TL SH-AWD: 3.7-liter V-6
3.5-liter: 280-horsepower @ 6,200 rpm; 254-pound-feet torque @ 5,000 rpm
3.7-liter: 305-horsepower @ 6,200 rpm; 275-pound-feet torque @ 5,000 rpm
Five-speed automatic with sequential SportShift and paddle type shifters.
Six-speed manual available on Type S.
3.5-liter: 18 mpg city / 26 mpg highway
3.7-liter: 17 mpg / 24 mpg
Overall : ***
Interior : Excellent. Lots of space and comfortable cockpit. Cleaned up center stack
makes this interior simple and clean.
Exterior : Good. Front end takes some getting used to, but distinctive rear offers nice
Performance : Excellent. Fun to drive, lots of power and quiet on the highway. A great
combination. SH-AWD can save you from your own bad driving.
Safety : Excellent. Acura offers a complete compliment of electronic safety devices,
airbags and structural improvements.
Pros: Affordable luxury car with distinctive look, spirited ride and good value.
Cons: Front end takes some getting used to.
Excellent: **** Good: *** Fair: ** Poor: *
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