The taut, athletic body of the redesigned Acura TL sports sedan makes a good first impression, but it's what underneath that will endear this car to you during the course of ownership.
In the past, the TL was available only with front-wheel drive, but this iteration sports Acura's optional Super Handling All-Wheel Drive that is sure to be a hit both with folks who seek ultimate handling and those who live in a climate that gets a lot of rain and snow. The SH-AWD version has more power and a special suspension tuned for enthusiasts.
The front-wheel-drive model has a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and a base price of $34,995. The SH-AWD gets 305 horsepower from a 3.7-liter V-6, and its base price is $38,505.
SH-AWD is a significant advantage not only because it comes with a more powerful engine, but also because the all-wheel-drive system delivers precise handling in all kinds of weather. This system has the ability to subtly steer the vehicle around turns by speeding up or slowing down the outside rear wheel. While the difference is small, its effectiveness is noticeable in high-speed turns.
Anti-lock brakes, traction control and vehicle stability control are included as well.
Point the TL down your favorite country road, or arc sharply through a freeway ramp, and you can feel the car hunker down and grab the road with confidence.
The previous TL, although a lovely car, sometimes struggled to get all of its horsepower to the road without torque steer or spinning tires. SH-AWD gives the TL surgical handling. The TL drives much like a European sports sedan because it sits flat in turns and gobbles up the highway without breathing hard.
The restyled exterior is lean and angular. Unfortunately, the signature grille gives the car a somewhat bulbous schnoz that detracts from the car's overall excellent design.
The 3.7-liter engine makes enjoyable power across a wide powerband. The transmission is a five-speed automatic, rather unusual these days when six-speed and seven-speed transmissions are plentiful. A manual transmission is not available, as it was last year.
The automatic can be shifted with paddles on the steering wheel, and frankly, that's just as good as a manual and a lot easier to use.
The TL's high-quality interior is warm and inviting. The instrument panel has multiple swoops and curves that reflect the ones of the body.
Large, simple gauges dominate the territory in front of the driver, while the navigation screen sits high on the center stack. Acura's mouselike, multifunction control knob operates the navigation system, which is fairly straightforward and easy to learn.
The navigation system can also be operated with voice controls, as can a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone.
LEDs are used throughout the interior to highlight areas at night, and they are most useful.
The front seats are extremely comfortable and supportive. Rear-seat legroom is 1.3 inches greater than in last year's model.
The surround-sound DVD-audio system is so good it will make your home stereo sound weak. Acura's unit uses six distinct channels to deliver sound quality that is 500 times better than that of a CD player. The system also plays standard CDs and has XM satellite radio.
The disc brakes are powerful, and the SH-AWD has hill-start assist to keep the car from rolling when stopped on an incline.
Front, side and side-curtain airbags are standard.
The base price of the test car, with navigation system, was $42,235. Destination charges brought the sticker price to $42,995.
Four years or 50,000 miles with a six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty.
2009 Acura TL SH-AWD
Engine: 3.7-liter, 305-hp V-6
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,986 lbs.
Base price: $42,235
As driven: $42,995
Mpg rating: 17 city, 26 highway
Tom Strongman's e-mail address is email@example.com.