Acura is in the midst of reinventing itself.
Higher prices, changing tastes and tough competition from rebounding European luxury carmakers have sent Acura’s sales into a tailspin.
Acura has been the top-selling import luxury brand for eight years, but Germany’s BMW is closing fast. Acura saw its sales fall while BMW’s increased; through October Acura had a slim 4,000-car lead over BMW in U.S. sales.
Acura’s strategy to remain on top is to bring out new models, broaden its lineup and hold the line on prices as much as possible.
For instance, a few weeks ago Acura dealers started selling its first-ever sport-utility vehicle, and a new Legend – rumored to be powered by a V-8 – is due in the spring. And earlier this year, two new sedans – the 2.5TL and the 3.2TL – joined the Acura lineup.
The 2.5TL arrived in April, while its stablemate was delayed by the recent U.S.-Japan trade negotiations, in which a heavy tariff on Japanese luxury cars was proposed but never levied.
Acura recently sent me both TLs for a week. I chose to review the 3.2TL, which I think offers the most satisfying driving experience. However, the car’s dowdy looks do little to appeal to one’s sense of style. For the same money as the 3.2TL, you could own an Oldsmobile Aurora – a bigger, faster, smoother V-8-powered luxury car with more equipment.
The 3.2TL is a joy to drive. It has a powerful, nearly noiseless 200-horsepower 3.2-liter, 24-valve V-6 engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. The 2.5TL comes with a 176-horsepower five-cylinder engine and an automatic. Acura doesn’t offer a manual transmission in either car.
Unlike most front-wheel-drive cars, the engine in the 3.2TL isn’t sitting sideways, or transversely mounted – it’s pointed straight ahead. The transmission is mounted behind the engine, just as it is in a rear-wheel-drive car. Acura engineers say this arrangement offers several advantages: It reduces torque steer – a slight pulling to the left or right on acceleration – and it enables the car to handle better because the weight is more evenly distributed from front to rear.
But the proof is in the driving. So I drove the 3.2TL with all the enthusiasm the law allows and discovered that Acura has indeed developed a very refined automobile – one that is easy to handle, quick and nicely tuned for those who like to drive with, shall we say, vigor.
The 3.2-liter aluminum engine offers seamless power all the way to its 6,300 rpm limit. The transmission’s shifts are aided by computer sensors that are linked to the engine. When the transmission is about to shift, the engine throttles back slightly to ease the transition from one gear to the next.
When revved high, the engine emits a pleasing hum and delivers robust performance. And fuel consumption is fairly easy on the wallet; mileage averaged 22 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving.
The 3.2TL’s ride just may be the closest any automaker has come to duplicating the solid feel of a Mercedes-Benz.
Underneath, the TL is outfitted with a four-wheel, independent, double wishbone suspension system, a setup that provides a ride that is quiet and athletic yet nimble.
However, the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system nearly undermines the rest of the TL’s terrific suspension system. The steering wheel is so easy to turn that you can spin it all the way from right to left with your pinkie. It’s far too light, and it gives the car a skittish feeling. However, at just 34.8-feet, the 3.2 can turn a very tight circle.
All TLs are equipped with excellent four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes that provide smooth and quick stops. I especially liked the anti-lock system, which engaged at just the right time.
Ifound the TL to be at its best during a long highway cruise to Daytona Beach. Once the car settles into a groove at 65 mph or so, it sl ces through the wind nearly noiselessly.
FIT AND FINISH
The TL’s styling is annoyingly conservative and unimaginative.
Only the clear headlight lenses, the chrome trim around the grille, and the Mercedes C-class look-alike taillights save the car from having a boring look.
In light of such competitive cars as the stylish Infiniti J30 and Buick Riviera, Acura could have – should have – made a bolder statement with the TL.
A luxury car should pamper its owner by delivering the whole package: performance, comfort, plenty of amenities and pleasing aesthetics. The 3.2TL doesn’t look much different than the old Acura Vigor, the monumental flop it replaced.
Be that as it may, there is very little to dislike in the way the 3.2 is assembled or in the features it offers. In fact, the 3.2TL leaves you wanting for nothing. Its list of standard features includes radio-controlled door locks; electric sun roof; heated seats; leather upholstery; cruise control; power door locks, windows, and mirrors; CD player; built-in alarm system; and computer-controlled air-conditioning system.
If the outside of the 3.2 lacks eye-catching appeal, the inside more than makes up for it.
With its soft, attractive tan leather and rich-looking faux wood treatment, the 3.2TL has a warm and inviting interior. Also, I like the dimensions of the 3.2’s interior; it feels just right – a bit cozy but not snug.
The bucket seats offer excellent comfort and support; they also also offer a wide range of adjustments.
Although the 3.2TL looks a bit smaller than many mid-size cars, it offers abundant room for rear passengers and plenty of trunk space. The rear seats also have a small pass-through to the trunk via the fold-down center armrest.
Most of the buttons and controls on the door panels are easy to reach and use. However, the switch for the power sun roof is buried on the dash to the left of the steering wheel, where it is not particularly easyto reach.
Visibility from all angles is another area in which the 3.2 excels. The large rear window and the high seating position in relation to the hood gives the driver a clear view of the road coming and going.
Although there is a lot to like about the 3.2TL, its appearance is unimaginative. If it had a more attractive styling, it could give the other imported cars in its class a serious run for the money.
Truett’s tip: Acura’s 3.2TL may not light your fire with its uninspired styling, but it is a quick, quiet luxury car that is nicely equipped and well built.