Vehicle Overview
Acura has dramatically redesigned its midsize luxury performance sedan for 2004, calling it “all new.” A new 3.2-liter V-6 engine that delivers 270 horsepower to a five-speed Sequential SportShift automatic transmission or a new close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox is installed.

The Japanese automaker promises greater performance as well as sportier handling from the 2004 model. Among other improvements, the TL is said to benefit from the first application of DVD Audio 5.1 surround sound, as well as HandsFreeLink wireless phone capability and an XM Satellite Radio system.

Honda’s luxury division first launched the TL as a 1996 model and redesigned it three seasons later. Styling revisions for 2002 gave the front-wheel-drive TL a more aggressive look. Produced in Marysville, Ohio, Acura’s TL duo competes against such sedans as the BMW 3 Series and Lexus ES 300. The previous generation included a higher-performance Type-S model, but the 2004 sedans come only in one trim level.

The 2004 TL sedan exhibits a wider and more aggressive stance and promises enhanced torsional rigidity. As before, the body displays a pronounced wedge-shaped cabin-forward profile that is led by a shield-shaped grille that incorporates a large logo. Acoustic windshield glass is installed. High-intensity-discharge headlights operate with both low and high beams. A power moonroof is standard. The TL sedan rides on 17-inch tires, and high-performance tires are available on sedans equipped with the manual transmission.

Space is provided for five people on perforated leather seating surfaces. A 10-way power driver’s seat is equipped with powered lumbar support adjustment. All models include dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry with seven memory functions, and an Acura/ELS eight-speaker surround sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer and DVD audio. Steering-wheel buttons are provided for the audio, cruise-control and voice-recognition functions. A tilt/telescoping steering column is standard. The dashboard features brushed-aluminum accent trim.

Acura’s navigation system features voice recognition and an 8-inch Multi-Info display screen; it is available as a factory-installed option.

Under the Hood
Operating with a drive-by-wire throttle system and a dual-stage intake manifold, Acura’s new 3.2-liter V-6 engine produces 270 hp at 6,200 rpm and 238 pounds-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. The five-speed Sequential SportShift automatic transmission permits semi-manual gear changes when desired. A six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox is also available, and a limited-slip differential is installed. A Maintenance Minder system is standard. The V-6 engine meets ULEV-2 (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) standards.

The antilock brakes include electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist functions. Side-impact airbags, dual-stage dual-threshold front airbags and side curtain-type airbags are installed. A passenger-side position sensor controls airbag deployment. A Vehicle Stability Assist system can apply brake force to either front wheel as necessary while managing the throttle and ignition systems.

Driving Impressions
Overall excellence is the best way to describe the latest TL, which reaches well beyond its predecessor’s already-fine qualities to become a superior, refined touring machine. Except for the automatic transmission, which occasionally delivers a harsh shift on downgrades or when pushed especially hard, this sedan ranks close to flawless. Acura’s manual gearbox is calm, collected and eminently capable.

On good roads, the TL’s ride is practically dreamy as the suspension absorbs most of the commotion and transmits little of it to occupants. Handling is confident and sure. With its substantial steering feel, the TL comes surprisingly close to sports-car behavior in demanding driving.

The TL’s acceleration is vigorous but not overpowering. Its exhaust sounds are heard only while accelerating, and they’re subtle but noticeable. The seats are firm but appealing and offer excellent support. The sound quality from the new Acura/ELS surround-sound system with DVD Audio is stunning. Acura’s navigation system is one of the better examples on the market, and it features a large display screen