EXPERT REVIEW

chicagotribune.com's view

Great car. Stupid name.

Acura, the folks who brought us the Legend and Integra, are going alphanumeric and dropping familiar and recognizable names in favor of number and letter designations.

For example, for 1996 the new midsize luxury sedan from Honda’s luxury car division is called the 3.2 TL or the 2.5 TL. The 3.2 denotes a 3.2-liter, 24-valve, V-6, the 2.5 a 2.5-liter, 20-valve, 5-cylinder. The TL designates that someone in Japan thinks people would rather call their cars letters than names.

In keeping with this foolishness, the top-of-the-line Acura Legend will be called the RL when it is replaced in February by a new model. In spring, 1996 a new coupe replaces the old Legend coupe and will be called the CL-X. Then, in 1997, the Integra lineup is redesigned, and it, too, will get alphanumeric designations so the Acura owner will be totally confused.

The new moniker is dumb, but the car is the stuff legends are made of, or Should we say, that TLs or RLs are made of.

The 3.2 TL, which is only 3 inches shorter and 1 inch narrower than the Legend, is powered by the same 200-horsepower V-6 that’s whisper quiet yet packs a punch when you need to leap from the light or pull out and pass. The V-6 performs effortlessly and delivers a respectable mileage rating–19 miles per gallon city/24 m.p.g. highway.

The seats are comfortable though the leather feels too slippery. When you drive aggressively, you wish for more butt-hugging cloth.

The TL comes with dual air bags, anti-lock brakes and traction control for year-round safety. And kudos to Honda’s braking engineers. Touch the pedal and you stop. No vagueness, no wander, just sure-footed stopping action.

And a tip of the hat to the TL’s fingertip light steering. Move the wheel and the front end goes where directed immediately.

Other nice touches include adjustable lap/shoulder belts, easy-to-see and use controls, dual cupholders and coinholder with a top to hide the money. An ashtray is optional.

Roomy, quiet, comfortable, good mileage, excellent performance and ample safety features.

One problem. The rake of the windshield and the dash top make for glare when driving into the sun. Finding where the hood ended was a chore. A glare-free dash top is need–pronto.

The 3.2 TL we tested starts at $35,500. It needs no options, though you have to add $420 for freight. The car comes with 4-speed automatic, speed-sensitive power steering, front and rear stabilizer bars, four-wheel double wishbone suspension, side-impact door beams, child-proof rear door locks, leather interior, power windows/door locks/sliding moonroof/seats (heated)/mirrors (heated), automatic climate control, cruise control, AM/FM stereo with cassette and compact disc player and eight speakers, tilt steering, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, remote trunk and fuel lid release, keyless entry, alloy whe els and all-season tires.

In the luxury segment, those not buying four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicles–and those who are, but still want a sedan in the driveway for everyday use–are turning to smaller, more manageable cars with stickers less than $50,000. The TL is right on target.

>> 1996 Acura 3.2 TL
Wheelbase: 111.8 inches – Length: 191.7 inches Engine: 3.2-liter, 200-h.p., 24-valve, V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic EPA mileage: 19 m.p.g. city/24 m.p.g. highway Base price: $35,500 Price as tested: $35,500. Add $420 for freight. Pluses: Tad smaller, but less costly than a Legend. The more manageable and less ostentatious size that luxury-car buyers are gravitating to. Quiet operation, smooth ride, responsive handling and except for the absence of side air bags, which only a couple of Volvos and a few Mercedes off er for 1996, the car has the full complement of safety features. Minuses: Leather seats are a bit slippery. Sedate styling. Price is only about $3,000 less than a comparable Acura Legend, which will be replaced in February by a new model called the RL. >>

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