Here’s a mind game I sometimes like to play: imagine your car was destroyed by some horrible accident while you were away (e.g., Godzilla was in the neighborhood). To your good fortune, your insurance company gave you a sufficient settlement to buy a brand new version of whatever it was you were driving. Would you consequently buy that brand new car, or something else with the same money?
We’ve got a 2005 Acura TL, manual transmission + satnav, purchased new back in the day and currently with a modest 60K miles on the clock. It’s driven cross-country. It’s driven to the supermarket. It’s had parking lot abuse. It’s had toddler abuse. And it keeps on running. I had it in the shop recently for it’s “B2″ service (oil change, assorted air filters, and wipers: $230 — whee!) and to fix what turned out to be a busted power steering pump ($450 or thereabouts). Of note, the dealer gave me a chance to play my imagination game by loaning me a brand new 2012 Acura TL (automatic transmission, no satnav, no options at all). With one day of driving it around, here are my observations.
Several things have decidedly improved. The seats seem more comfortable and supportive, and the driver’s seat now includes a power lumbar bolster. The car suspension has radically improved (alternately, our 2005 TL’s has seriously degraded). On the cracked up, uneven streets around our house, the new TL is significantly more composed. You still feel the bumps, but you’re less worried that they’re going to destroy your car. It’s similarly better mannered on the freeway. This is a car you’d love to drive cross-country. Some of the smaller electronic gadgety bits have also improved. I’m happy to see a proper tire pressure monitoring system and an auxiliary music input for phones and whatnot. (I didn’t have time to see how well it does at integrating music from my Android phone via USB much less Bluetooth Audio, but the Bluetooth pairing process was painless enough and Bluetooth Audio (A2DP) is claimed to be supported, albeit with some debate as to how well.)
Like the 2005 Acura TL, several things are good, but still frustratingly not quite right. Freeway mileage is excellent and stop-and-go city mileage is an embarrassment; I clocked 31mpg highway and from 13-20mpg stop-and-go city — a marginal improvement on the freeway and a marginal downgrade in the city compared to what our 2005 TL gets.
The car has zillions of things you might like to configure, like what happens when you click the unlock button on your remote. Does it just unlock the driver door or the whole car? Many such settings are handled with the arrow buttons on the steering wheel and the tiny screen between the tach and speedo. That’s good. But, how about that giant selector knob with the huge screen above the center stack? It’s only good for changing the radio station and setting up the audio balance. Similarly, the Bluetooth pairing process can only be done via voice, which talks to you slowly. Very slowly. With modern in-car networks, you’d think they could do everything on the big central screen, making it easier, providing more help with options, etc. Could they, should they centralize all these disparate systems, from no-doubt unrelated parts suppliers, to have a grand unified user interface? Could it be accomplished without reaching iDrive levels of incomprehensibility? For the 2005 TL, such thoughts would have been future fantastic. For the 2012 TL, such thoughts should be entirely achievable. Everything in the car is networked together. Make it so!
Frustratingly, several things have gotten decidedly worse. Foremost is the trunk. If you’re loading something heavy, you’ve now got a 10.5 inch lip to hoist your bags over, versus 7 inches in the 2005 TL. Why? Similarly, if you’re going to the airport, one giant wheely bag will fit without issue, but two of them? Good luck with those bumps on the floor. You can’t blame AWD, since this particular car is FWD. So, again, why? Also from the Department of Fail, you’d think they’d test a family car with family accoutrements like a booster seat. I’ve included a photo of my daughter’s booster seat. You’re supposed to run the seatbelt under both armrests. See the belt latch? It’s way around the back. The old TL was better in this regard, but stil not great. Why not have more slack in the belt latch? (Credit where credit is due: they significantly improved access to the LATCH anchors for younger kids’ car seats.)
Another concern is trying to park this thing into a tight space. The car’s beltlines are higher up and the car feels enormous. It’s notably trickier to park and maneuver in tight environs. Does anybody test these things? I’ll also insert a gripe about the ventilated seats (not present on my loaner car). If I read the options list correctly, it’s not possible to get a manual transmission and ventilated seats, at any price. Really? Do Acura engineers like sitting in a car with Godzilla barbecuing their backside? Do customers who want manual transmissions always wear Nomex racing suits? Hop in my car after a day outside in the Houston summer…
Cosmetically, I’m pretty happy with the new schnoz. It won’t win any beauty contests, but at least it doesn’t cry out for you to put it out of its misery. Also in the cosmetic department, they’ve redone the dashboard and center stack. The gauges are bright and readable, as always. Somebody smart said they should get rid of the blue halos around the old gauges. Somebody less smart decided to add giant fake-chrome rings around them, in a perhaps-confused nod at a Porsche 911. Please revisit the clean, spartan gauges of the previous-generation Acura TSX. No really, please do. Also, I’m baffled by the curvy/slashy lines inside the car. Has somebody been spending too much time looking at Frank Gehry buildings?
So, if Godzilla paid an unfortunate visit to my car and I hit the insurance jackpot, would I buy the new TL? Sadly no. But what? Does anybody make a car with a manual transmission, rear wheel drive, decent tech and luxury features, decent mileage yet good performance, good styling, and high reliability ratings? At any price at all? Yeah, fantasies never quite work out, do they?