With the Honda Accord redone for '03, it was time for the remake of the Acura TL for '04 that's built off the same platform.

That means new styling, which moves from bland to less bland, though for a brief moment, we thought the young man working valet at the restaurant was going to require a defibrillator when his eyes made contact and he became enamored with the TL we drove up in. Difficult to account for taste.

Have to wonder what designers for the Acura luxury division of Honda must think when they see the creativity that went into a Ford Mustang or Dodge Viper or Chevy SSR--or even a Chrysler PT Cruiser.

But we digress.

The TL gets new dimensions along with new sheet metal. Though the industry trend of late is to go bigger when redoing a model, the TL wheelbase was reduced by 0.2 of an inch while overall length took a hit of 3.2 inches.

Acura spokesman Mike Spencer said the shrinkage was the result of customer complaints the former TL looked "too big and bulky" so some of the rear overhang was lopped off without sacrificing cabin space. In fact, he said, the '04 is nearly 2 inches wider than the former model.

Have to say the extra width is appreciated in providing some more wiggle room as well as space to stretch arms wrapped in winter coats. Those in the back seat, however, might not boast about wiggle or stretch room.

The TL also gets a power boost. The 3.2-liter, 24-valve V-6 now delivers 270 horsepower and 238 foot-pounds of get-away-from-the-line torque, up from 225 h.p. and 216 foot-pounds of torque before the engine was tweaked to generate more muscle.

The power boost in the TL helps explain why Acura has dropped the high-performance Type S from the lineup and let the TL handle the load.

It took only one hard kick of the pedal when moving away from the toll basket to feel the difference a few more horsepower and a little more torque does in improving launch.

However, be prepared for some torque steer, with the car moving sharply to the left or right, as a result of the added power in this front-wheel-drive sedan.

Acura gives you a choice of transmissions, 6-speed manual that's new for 2004 or a 5-speed automatic with a manual mode option. While enthusiasts prefer manual, the 6-speed in the test vehicle was a tad notchy and the clutch just a bit temperamental.

And while the TL is rated at 20 m.p.g. city/30 m.p.g. highway with the 6-speed, the needle tended to move a lot faster toward "E" than you would expect from that rating and a 17-gallon fuel tank.

Ride is smooth, handling effortless and standard vehicle stability assist (VSA) prevents wandering to keep you in control. VSA had been offered on the TL Type S only.

Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are also standard.

As noted, cabin room is good, and the perforated leather seats supportive, especially at playtime.

Gauges are excellent, with a blue background that makes the needles and numbers easy to see. The blue hue also is easy on the eyes--unlike red or orange which is considered decorative, but sometimes blurs at night.

Acura makes it easy to acquire a TL because everything but a navigation system ($2,000) and summer high-performance tires ($200) to replace the 17-inch all-season radials are standard.

New amenities for '04 include a DVD audio system with six-disc CD changer and cassette, a hands-free phone system and XM satellite radio.

When given a choice between watching an arrow float across a map of Illinois on the navigation screen or listening to Jeff Foxworthy on the XM's comedy channel, the map loses.

XM is standard, along with three months free listening. You don't have to pony up the monthly $9.99 fee until month four to enjoy the billion or so static-free satellite stations that provide comedy, talk, sports and music in so many languages that some are tough to spell, much less understand.

Unfortunately, the test car must have been in service for more than three months because, when pressing the XM dial, a recorded voice said the only way to listen was to subscribe--online, difficult because we left the computer in the office, or by phone.

Because a hands-free phone is also standard, we simply pressed the phone icon on the steering column to learn how to bring Foxworthy into the cabin.

Another recorded voice, however, said the phone was not in service, either. So we opted to let the navi provide the entertainment.

The '04 TL tested starts at $32,650. Standard equipment includes power driver/passenger seats (driver 10-way, up from eight-way in the past), power locks, mirrors (heated, too), and windows; power moonroof; dual-zone automatic climate control; rear-window defroster; side-window defoggers; and digital clock.

Also standard are dual-stage driver/passenger front- and side-impact air bags plus air-bag curtains front and rear; outside temperature gauge; Xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps; heat-rejecting tinted glass; trunk-to-cabin pass-through for skis; two power outlets; and pull-out storage compartments in the doors.

TL owners wanting a sportier look can opt for a new A-Spec package available at dealerships for $5,200 plus installation--figure $200 to $250 depending on location. It adds ground effects and performance-tuned shocks and springs.

Acura also has developed an A-Spec concept to explore an even higher-performance upgrade with a more than 300-h.p. V-6, 21-inch tires, track-tuned suspension, as well as adaptive cruise control that automatically applies the brakes if you approach a vehicle too closely. Stay tuned on that one.

Desk-cleaning winners: Winners in the desk-cleaning giveaway, which brought more than 600 post cards, include: Pat Reband, Morton Grove; Vicki Baker, Gardner, Ill.; John Maksyn, Cicero; Mel Franklin, Harwood Heights; Jay Allen, Utica, Ill.; Lucas Sonneborn, Evanston; William Salmons, Hickory Hills; Alfred Stanke, Darien; Michael Victor, Hoffman Estates; Bill Gershon, Skokie; Jim Dillon, Buffalo Grove (yes, we noticed the picture on the card); and Bill Schutt, Western Springs.

Also, Rich Kelly, Mt. Prospect; Julie Berkowicz, Naperville; Lily Rusnak, Villa Park; Gretel Wesolowski, Batavia; Bill Martello, Glencoe; Debby Schnupp, Streamwood; Ken Malecki, Mighigan City, Ind.; Inga Lind, Sawyer, Mich.; Bob Henry, Chicago; Rita Zralek, Chicago; Anthony Hand, Foley, Ala.; Bob Jolly, Arlington Heights; H.A. Laurence, Gurnee; Les Aling, Northbrook; and Richard Highberger, Northbrook.

More winners will be announced next week.

Because we neglected to note that post cards with pictures of cats would be ash-canned upon arrival, those folks were deemed eligible for the drawin g. It is only coincidence, however, that the pile of cards with cat pictures got lost moments before the drawing.

Go figure.

TEST DRIVE

2004 Acura TL

Wheelbase: 107.9 inches

Length: 186.2 inches

Engine: 3.2-liter, 270-h.p., 24-valve V-6

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/30 m.p.g. highway

Base price: $32,650

Price as tested: $34,650. Includes $2,000 for navigation system. Add $545 for freight. Only other options (a 5-speed automatic is a no-cost option) are summer performance tires at $200 and monthly XM satellite radio subscription fee of $9.95 that doesn't start until month four.

Pluses: Redesign. More powerful V-6 with added horsepower and torque. A 6-speed manual now offered. New standard features include DVD audio system, hands-free phone, XM satellite radio, vehicle stability assist and 17-inch radials. Loaded.

Minuses: Notchy manual. Mileage rating seemed a bit optimistic.