The Detroit News's view

It’s more fashionable these days to forgo mink and instead wrap yourself up in 5,000 pounds of metal (think the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator sport-utilities.) But luxury doesn’t always have to come at the expense of your wallet and fitting easily into a parking space.

We were reminded of that when we tested the all-new 1999 Acura 3.2TL sedan, which impressed us with its $28,514 price tag and long list of standard features.

The U.S.-built, entry-luxury car from Honda’s upscale division gets our recommendation, especially since it’s a better value than the Cadillac Catera, Lexus ES 300 and Infiniti I30.

She: I think we ought to first alert the people who aren’t going to like the new TL – then they can go on to the comics and the sports pages. If your idea of a fully loaded vehicle includes side air bags, better keep shopping. You won’t get them on the new Acura. And then there’s the matter of style. I looked over the TL and thought – hmm, could almost be mistaken for some of the more nondescript General Motors Corp. products. Rather plain and unexciting, don’t you agree?

He: I’m sorry. When your wallet is bulging, your perspective tends to change. Remember, cars in this segment tend to cost between $30,000 and $40,000. And when you add value to the Acura’s equation, looks don’t matter as much. Besides, aren’t you the one who’s always worked up about accessories? Look at all the standard stuff on the Acura that dresses it up – a power moonroof, Bose CD stereo, heated leather seats. You’re only going to pay extra for the optional navigation system, which costs $2,000. Oh, and floor mats are an additional $109.

She: Don’t get me wrong. I’m giving the redesigned TL four stars with those little caveats. Except for the side air bags, it does a terrific job on things that are important to me, such as safety features. You get standard traction control and antilock brakes. And those high-intensity headlights are a real plus. I’m appreciating features that improve my night vision more than ever.

He: As much as I like the old TL and its five-cylinder engine, the redesign and the new 3.2-liter V-6 are really exceptional. The engine makes 225 horsepower and it’s hooked up to a cool, four-speed SportShift transmission. You can stay in automatic mode, or for a little more fun, slide the gearshift lever over and move it up and down to shift manually.

She: I was impressed with the fact that Acura stretched the TL. It’s longer with a wider track and that means more room inside and out. Even though it’s entry-luxury, the EPA rates it as a mid-size, not compact car. But the TL doesn’t feel bulky to park or handle. It seems perfectly sized for somebody like me. I had no trouble arranging myself in it, even with a winter coat and packages in hand. I love a car that I feel instantly at home in. For a sedan, it’s got great seats.

He: I could see myself living in the TL, and living quite comfortably for that matter, thank you. And while the exterior styling may have bored you, I think the TL is crisper and cleaner looking than the Lexus ES 300 or the Infiniti I30..

She: One final thought: You can’t discount the effort that Acura is putting into your experience after the sale. You not only get 24-hour roadside assistance, which seems to be more common these days on new vehicles, you also get “concierge service.” Now I doubt you’d be able to get scarce Detroit Red Wings playoff tickets, but you can get help with things such as hotel reservations in unfamiliar cities. So you kind of get two things for the price of one: A great value on a really nice car and a relationship with the people you bought it from.

1999 Acura 3.2TL

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger near-luxury, mid-size sedan

Price: Base, $27,950; as tested; $28,514 (including $455 destination charge)

Engine: 3.2-liter V-6; 225 hp at 5,500 rpm; 216 lb-ft torque at 5 rpm P>

EPA fuel economy: 19 city/27 highway

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,197 (*Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Marysville, Ohio

What we liked: Value-plus – cheaper than comparable Cadillac, Lexus and Infiniti models; put together well; incredible list of standard features – you’ll pay extra for just two items (floor mats and optional navigation system); improved standard engine and handling over old TL; good safety features such as traction control, ABS and high-intensity discharge headlights; four-speed SportShift transmission makes driving more fun

What we didn’t like: Exterior is a bit ho-hum and Honda-ish (Anita); no side airbags.

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