The Truth About Cars » TL The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 18 Jul 2014 20:52:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » TL Acura’s TL, TSX Out, TLX Coming Next Summer Fri, 20 Dec 2013 11:30:46 +0000 2015 Acura TLX Spy Shot

We’re a bit late on this one, but it’s still worth noting that both the Acura TL and TSX will soon fade into history, and will be replaced next summer by the TLX.

Acura’s newest mid-sized offering — slotted between the Civic-sized ILX and the automaker’s RLX flagship (what do these letters mean, B&B?) — will be underpinned by the current Honda Accord, which will also make the sedan smaller than the TL it will replace; the TSX, underpinned by the outgoing European Accord, will simply be phased out.

Under the hood will be the Honda’s Earth Dreams 3.5-liter V6, which, in spite of the granola name, makes 310 horsepower under the bonnet of the RLX. The TLX will most likely also include AWD, an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and all-wheel steering like the system used in the aforementioned RLX.

Though no price has been given as of this writing, the TLX will make its worldwide debut as a prototype during the 2014 Detroit Auto Show alongside the new Honda Fit, and will be assembled at Honda’s Marysville, Ohio plant.

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Piston Slap: A High Mileage Tale to TL Wed, 11 Sep 2013 11:15:41 +0000 Capture

Dan writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I enjoy your columns and thought I would get your input regarding what I should do with my current vehicle, a 2002 Acura TL 3.2. I purchased the vehicle new almost 12 years ago. The Acura has about 200,000 miles on it and is still on its third-transmission. As we all know, the transmission used on this vehicle was problematic but seems to be running okay. The car is very clean inside.

I recently priced out a new headlamp ballast and was surprised at the expense. I probably also need a new temperature sensor for the cooling fan, which seems to run in temperate weather when it shouldn’t. Timing belt change coming up and probably the brakes will also need to be changed soon.

A used car dealer I know, who I thought could sell the car for me instead suggested that I could get $5,000 or $6,000 at auction. I was surprised that the car could get such a high dollar amount, but he insisted that a lot of foreigners attend the auction and purchase vehicles such as mine to be sent overseas. He speculates that the mileage gets rolled back when they arrive in their overseas destination.

Sounds like it’s time for a new car and there are a lot of interesting vehicles these days, but at the end of the day, Honda/Acura has treated me right over the years and I don’t dare rock the boat. Besides, I’m from the Columbus area so I’m doing my part to help the local economy.

Ideally, I would like to wait for the new Acura TLX to purchase as a replacement. According to a local Acura dealer, it should start coming out about March, 2014. Would you 1) keep the TL around until the new TLX comes out, knowing that there might be expensive repairs coming up; 2) dump it now and get an Accord (with leather) or a CRV; or 3) just keep it until it dies?

Sajeev answers:

I’m surprised to hear a price range that high at auction, no matter who rolls back the odometer! Me thinks $3500-4500 is the high side with a very clean leather interior and shiny paint. Just for giggles, I logged into Manheim Auctions (thanks Steven Lang!) and verified that I was–once again–correct about the market for 2002-2003 Acura TLs. Why do I even bother with modesty anymore? 

Oh right: the Best and Brightest…but I digress…

Your man on the used car scene knows the local market: who participates, what they like, what they’d pay, etc. And I bet you want a new Acura TL, no matter what.  How difficult is that?

If a new TL is too damn hideous (could be worse, it was somewhat de-fugly’d in 2012) for your tastes, limp yours along until the next version arrives. And why not? You stomached those transaxle swaps and still love Honda/Acuras, so you can handle anything.

Buy a new TL or wait for the next one.  Either way, you can’t lose. Off to you, Best and Brightest.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Trust In Yourself, Love Thy Acura Mon, 15 Aug 2011 16:23:36 +0000


Jeffrey writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I had a question regarding one of the vehicles I own and the potential for head gasket issues. Suprisingly, this is not in regards to the Subaru!

We have a 1998 Acura 3.2TL, a great vehicle and perfect sized. I am the second owner and it does have just over 134,000 miles. It was first purchased in Boise, with an easy commute…spent some time in California with a more grueling San Jose commute, and back in Boise for 6 years. I drive it pretty easily on a 20 mile, roundtrip, commute every other day and a couple trips on the weekend. I enjoy this car. It has the classic Honda feel to it; low cowl, buttons and switches with a fluid movement, handles nicely, double-wishbone suspension, longitudinal drivetrain means no torque steer, heated mirrors/seats, excellent climate control (cold A/C). The only item(s) that do need replacing are the shocks. But overall, I’ve put minimal money into a car I purchased for $4500. Only accessory I added was a PIE Hon-Aux auxiliary port. Only dislikes are excessive wind noise in winter, due to frameless windows. Yet, I always liked frameless windows on a four-door…Subaru has them too.

Since I’ve had for a few years, I’ve always had it serviced at the local Honda shop and he takes a look over everything carefully. ATF was recently changed, not a flush but all new fluid (3 drain/fills). EGR was replaced due to triggering CEL, belts and a pulley have been replaced, brake pads/rotors and 2-year-old Continentals. Transmission shifts smoothly, engine runs strong…only a few times I’ve floored it and run it to redline but even just 200hp, you don’t really need too.

I feel like everything on the car will last quite a long time, but I’ve read about a few people having headgasket issues with this engine in older Legends and early TLs. Do you know if this is a widespread issue, in the back of my head I feel like it could be…but only from reading a few forums. Forums don’t sample all the owners of a car model.

The Honda mechanic I visit says he has never seen a Legend or TL with a blown headgasket, but those people may not be going to him or may be dumping them. He also stated that the engine looks to be in great shape, the only visible leaks are from the rear main seal, which amounts to a dime sized oil spot in winter months. And a slight seep from the rear side of the left cylinder bank (I’ve noticed this on Toyota Tacoma V6 models with high mileage).

I have not seen any irregular behavior yet. Such as an erratic tempature gauge, overheating, or white smoke. I really like the car and would like to get another 5 years or so out of it, is it worth spending a few grand to replace the head gaskets? And the valve cover gasket too. I’d like to think so, with everything else on the vehicle being sound. Starters, alternators, pumps, compressors…those are bound to go out on any vehicle.

I feel like there is always a point of diminishing returns on a vehicle, at 13 years and 134,000 miles, I’m not sure if I’ve hit that point. Have I?

Sajeev answers:

I generally feel these models are well crafted for luxury and well engineered for durability: a former co-worker of mine is in your shoes but with well over 200k on his TL’s odometer.  So listen to the dude with a 16-year-old car with 172,000 miles: the point of diminishing returns is absolutely, entirely in your head.

You will know it when you hit that point. But I’m here to convince you that, with proper upkeep with a wise mechanic, you’ve got a long way to go.

Eventually you will reach the point where the repairs will outpace the time value of money lost in downtime, but I just don’t see that happening any time soon.  Head gaskets are not a common problem from my (limited) forum searching, and you really don’t have a lot of miles on yours. If I were you, I’d start worrying about head gaskets after another 100,000 miles. Or after you (unwittingly) overheat the motor while driving for an extended period of time. Not that I expect that to happen…

That’s a nice car, by the way. Keep on lovin’ it. Say yes to replacing any and all part that is wearing out, if you trust your mechanic’s word.  From what I’m reading, the shocks and valve (cam) cover gaskets should be on your hit list.  But also trust yourself: you know what part is not behaving like new anymore, you are the one who knows when something feels different.

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

Years from now, you will need a new car to keep you on time for your job. Or for your family needs.  Whatever that need shall be, the time is now to think of your back up plan. I did just that in a recent New or Used column. Or at least I alluded to it. But I digress…

I’d start thinking about what you’d want in the distant future, maybe plan on keeping this Acura as a “spare car” as you’ve invested far more than its actual worth…to anyone else but yourself. It’d make a good part time daily driver, letting you can buy something completely different: maybe something totally looney!  Just think about it before you have to take action.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Review: 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT Wed, 10 Aug 2011 18:13:01 +0000

Even if the Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT were not a good car, it would still deserve our support as the only upscale midsize sedan available with both all-wheel-drive and a manual transmission in North America. Even BMW has vacated this space. You can still get the 5-Series with either all-wheel-drive or a manual transmission, but not both in the same car. If you need all-weather capability and ample space for four adults, but also want to row your own, the TL is it. So, what are you stuck with?

The 2004-2008 Acura TL was an astonishingly attractive car. There was nothing flashy about the exterior, but its athletic proportions, its angular (but not too angular) lines, its size—everything was just right. But then the Accord was super-sized, and took its Acura platform mate with it. At the same time, Honda had somehow received the message that its designs were too subtle. So the 2009 TL was cursed with bulky bodysides, pointy ends, and a chunky chrome cheese grater for a grille. A unique look, certainly, but also one with many vocal critics. For 2012 the pointy ends have been blunted and the grille genericized, yielding a blander exterior that, while still not likely to inspire lust, should at least blend safely into the crowd.

The 2012 TL’s interior received no readily evident changes. So the atmosphere remains high-tech and the materials semi-premium, roughly on a level with Buick and Lincoln. Ergonomics are first rate, with the secondary controls logically arranged and close at hand. Many functions are handled via a large knob mounted just ahead of the shifter—so close that I bumped it a couple of times while grabbing third. The instrument panel isn’t nearly as low or compact as those in classic Hondas, but the A-pillars are thin by current standards, the windshield rake and instrument panel depth are both moderate, and the view forward is open. The view rearward is compromised by the high tail and sweeping roofline, but this is typical of current sedans. The nav system includes a rearview monitor to aid in rearward maneuvers.

While other auto makers shape and space their front bucket seats’ side bolsters to fit the average NFL linebacker, those in the TL are shaped and positioned to actually provide lateral support for the average adult. Yet the thickly padded seats are also comfortable unless your posture is more upright than most, in which case the headrests jut too far forward. In the rear seat, knee room is plentiful and headroom sufficient for adults up to 6-2 or so. The shortcomings here: minimal toe space under the front seats and a cushion that’s a little too close to the floor. At 12.5 cubic feet, the trunk is small, especially considering the 194-by-74-inch exterior. And, as in other Asian upscale sedans, the rear seats don’t fold to expand it. The glove compartment and center console are similarly minimal.

Honda’s engine technology remains about a decade behind the bleeding edge, so there’s no boost and no direct injection. While even “nothing wrong with pushrods” GM finally coughed up the nickles for DOHC, Honda remains wedded to a Rube Goldberg valvetrain that connects the dozen valves in each head to a single belt-driven cam. So the valleys between said valves aren’t as deep as they’d optimally be. No matter. While 305 horsepower is on the low side for a modern, premium-burning 3.7-liter engine, the big V6 delivers where it counts, with strong, immediate responses and a song that gets sweeter the closer you get to the 6,700 rpm redline. Even without a turbo it’s possible to get to sixty in well under six seconds. GM’s, Ford’s, and Hyundai’s V6s might employ more recent technology, and Infiniti’s might be stronger, but the Acura powerplant sounds and feels the best in this bunch. But when you don’t want to hear the engine, you don’t. When cruising at highway speeds the exhaust, so throaty at full throttle, is barely audible. Despite a 3,889-pound curb weight and all-wheel-drive, fuel economy isn’t bad, either, with low twenties reported by the trip computer in suburban driving. (The EPA reports 17/25.)

Though not the engineering powerhouse it used to be, Honda remains the master in a few areas, and manual transmissions are one of them. Despite some softening in the car’s overall character, the TL’s six-speed shifter retains short throws that positively engage each gear with the direct, mechanical feel of a rifle bolt. Though clearly under pressure to cater to a broader market, Honda’s engineers drew the line here. The gear ratios are near ideal, with a short first gear then a minimal drop with each shift. While it would have been easy given the minimal sales potential to toss a manual transmission into the car and call it a day, someone clearly sweated the details.

The TL’s all-wheel-drive system, though largely unchanged since it debuted in the 2005 Acura RL, similarly remains the standard towards which other manufacturers should aspire. Perhaps if Acura’s marketers had coined a catchier trademark than “SH-AWD” (doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the way “quattro” does) the engineers would receive the recognition they deserve. While active rear differentials intended to provide all-wheel-drive cars with the feel of a rear-driver have become increasingly common, they often fail to make a substantial difference. Acura’s system goes a step further than simply shunting torque to the outside rear wheel—it actually spins this wheel a little faster than the others. Get on the gas through a curve, and the effect is readily evident. Like the best rear-wheel-drive cars, the TL can be precisely steered with the throttle. Despite the TL’s decidedly nose-heavy 58/42 weight distribution, underteer is minimal to begin with. With even a touch of acceleration it’s gone altogether. Press on and the chassis progressively transitions into oversteer.

And then you run up against the not-so-good changes. Last year the car was available with sticky 245/40YR19 Michelin PS2s. For 2012 these have been replaced with 245/40VR19 Goodyear Eagle RS-As that, according to the Acura flacks, “offer significantly improved performance in snow and ice.” What they also offer: much less grip and squishier steering feel on dry pavement. Adding insult to injury, the 19s are now only available together with a blind spot warning system and cooled front seats as part of the Advance Package, and this package is only available with the new-for-2012 six-speed automatic transmission. There’s now only one tire available with the manual: 245/45VR18 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4s. A touring tire, these readily (and loudly) give way when subjected to more than half of the capability of the drivetrain. Go for a quick corner exit, and the rear end rolls over into a mushy slide. If they were going to make only one tire available in conjunction with a clutch, it shouldn’t have been this one.

The aforementioned roll indicates that all isn’t quite right with the suspension tuning, either. The suspension is far from soft, with a somewhat lumpy, busy ride. The 2010 I drove a couple years ago felt harsher, but the suspension tuning supposedly remains the same so this is probably because the 2012 car is quieter. Bumps are still felt, but they aren’t so much heard. Despite this firm tuning, when pushed the car doesn’t feel as tied down or as precise as the best, partly because the body structure isn’t as solid, and body roll is especially evident at the rear end in hard turns. While the TL initially feels responsive and agile thanks to quick steering and the trick AWD system, push it and those inches and pounds make themselves known.

The 2010’s electric-assist system didn’t provide much in the way of road feel, but at least it had a heft commensurate with its quickness. For 2012 they’ve lightened the SH-AWD’s special steering calibration to, in the words of the press release, “generate a more relaxed on-center feel at normal road speeds— a steering feel that more closely matches that of the front-wheel-drive TL.” More relaxed? Try comatose. There’s now a dead zone on-center that, in combination with the quick ratio, makes it too easy to dial in too much angle. Even off center and at higher speeds the lobotomized steering never approaches its former firm feel. Some manual transmission intender asked for this?

If you want a 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT, then it’s going to list for $43,770. With the manual transmission the Tech Package (with nav and ELS audio) is mandatory while the Advance Package is not available. As mentioned in the intro, there are no direct competitors to this car. The closest match: an Audi S4, which has tighter handling but also a tighter interior. Equipped like the TL SH-AWD Tech, the Audi lists for over $12,000 more. Adjusting for feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool narrows the gap to just under $11,000.

Don’t need the premium brand or the perks that attend it? Then (as some readers reminded me below) Subaru offers the Legacy GT (or at least did in 2011; changes for the 2012 haven’t been announced). The LGT with nav lists for $9,600 less, and adjusting for feature differences cuts this to about $6,800. There’s actually more room inside the Legacy, but the interior materials and driving experience aren’t what they were in the 2005-2009 car.

My criticisms notwithstanding, the Acura TL is a good car, even a very good car. If you need the traction of all-wheel-drive and a midsize interior, but also want to have fun, this is your car. Nothing beats a manual transmission for driver involvement, and the TL’s is one of the best. The highly responsive engine and chassis similarly encourage uncivil behavior. But the TL could have been a great car. The engine, transmission, and drivetrain carry the ball within a couple yards of the goal line, only to have the steering and tires promptly fumble it. With the 2012 revisions, Acura has tried to address the shortcomings of the 2009-2011 car, but it’s hard to see what they were thinking with these tweaks. The powertrain remains optimized for driver involvement, while the lighter steering and mandatory touring tires do a mushy 180 in the other direction. Tires, of course, can be swapped in an hour. With any luck, it’s also possible to have a dealer reflash the steering system with the 2010 software. So perhaps these changes for the worse can easily be reversed. But to put so much brilliance and sweat into the powertrain and then hobble it makes me wonder about Acura. Who do they think this car is for? Unless they’re trying to kill what remains of 6MT sales (and perhaps they are), they should pair the SH-AWD with tighter, more communicative steering and stickier, sharper-handling treads pronto. Marketers can’t identify the tastes of the target buyer? Just ask the engineer who fine-tuned the transmission or the one who dreamed up the trick differential what he’d like in his car.

Acura provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

2012 TL trunk 2012 TL front quarter 2012 TL rear seat 2012 TL instrument panel 2012 TL rear quarter 3 2012 TL interior 2012 TL side 2012 TL front Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 2012 Tl rear quarter 2012 TL rear quarter 2 2012 TL engine 2012 TL rear One of a kind? ]]> 129
Review: 2012 Acura TL Fri, 24 Jun 2011 14:28:58 +0000

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?

P1020955 Volkswagen-esque switchblade key. Spaceman Spiff's steering wheel has arrived. P1020959 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail P1020954 P1020952 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD P1020945 P1020976 I can live with this schnoz. Not beautiful but at least no longe P1020948 P1020973 P1020958 2012_acura_tl_rear P1020951 P1020946 ]]> 100
How Do You Fix An Acura TL’s Looks? Wed, 07 Jul 2010 18:18:11 +0000

With commentary on today’s Acura TL review struggling to move past the sedan’s jarring styling, this seems like a good time to discuss alternatives to the TL… or, at least the alternatives to that jangly beak. Remember, even if you like your TL enough to get past the “distinctive” looks, the rest of us still have to look at it. Here, for your consideration, are a number of ways to improve the looks of the TL, starting with Acura’s official cure, the “Full Nose Mask.”

Once again, the Nose Mask.

Acura’s other official fix: a “midnight chrome” sport grille.

Aftermarket firm RonJon makes several grilles as well.

But, for some, there is only one way to fix the TL’s front-end styling…

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Review: 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD Wed, 07 Jul 2010 16:06:11 +0000

Pity Acura. Honda gambled in creating the first Asian luxury brand, and enjoyed four years in the spotlight when this bet paid off, only to then be completely overshadowed by Lexus. Acura has spent the last two decades trying to regain car buyers’ attention. The logical solution: offer cars that look and drive like no others. But what is distinctive it not necessarily desirable. And so we have the Acura TL SH-AWD.

There are over six billion people in the world. Six of them might find the current Acura TL more attractive than its predecessor. This car introduced the cheese slicer grille that has since spread to Acura’s other models. Can’t remember the grille on earlier Acuras? Well, that’s the problem Acura sought to fix, and the new menacing face is certainly distinctive. But sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. One suggested solution: opt for silver paint, so that the grille will blend in.

The problem with this solution: light colors accentuate the massive block of sheetmetal ahead of the TL’s front wheels. This unfortunate overhang, yet another sign that the “man maximum, machine minimum” Honda is no longer with us, is best mitigated by darker colors and the 18-inch alloys optional on the base TL and standard on the SH-AWD. So, light or dark? Well, in dark colors the TL’s crisply chiseled shoulders and fashionably arching roofline are somewhat attractive from some angles, which is better than unattractive from all angles. So dark.

Acura continues to stake out a position between mainstream brands and true luxury brands with the quality of its interior materials. It’s a clear step up from, say, a Nissan Maxima, but about even with Buick and no match for Lexus or the Germans. The TL’s interior styling is somewhat sporty, with a “high tech” ambiance, but even with the faux wood on the center console it feels overwhelmingly plastic and lacking in warmth. One glaring oversight: sunlight often washes out the LCD display for the HVAC and audio systems.

One clear strength: the front seats excel in both comfort and lateral support. Thick C-pillars impede the view rearward, but relatively thin A-pillars and a properly-sized and -positioned instrument panel contribute to an confidence-inspiring view over the hood (if not the wide open view that used to be part of Honda’s DNA). The TL’s 195.3-inch length, nearly equal the RL’s, affords decent rear legroom, though the arched roofline precludes a comfortably high rear seat cushion. The conventionally-hinged trunk isn’t expansive, and the rear seat does not fold to expand it.

GM might have finally caved to logic and introduced a modern rear-wheel-drive sedan platform eight years ago, but “innovative” Honda stubbornly sticks with front-wheel-drive. For those applications where front-wheel-drive just won’t do, Acura lately follows Audi with all-wheel-drive. And so the TL is offered in two forms: front-wheel-drive with a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and all-wheel-drive with a 305-horsepower 3.7-liter. I drove the TL to compare it to the 280-horsepower front-wheel-drive Buick LaCrosse and 290-horsepower front-wheel-drive Nissan Maxima. I opted to drive the TL in SH-AWD form anyway. Why? Because I have a pulse.

Most cars these days, even some acclaimed German sport sedans, feel lazy in day-to-day driving. Their engines and steering systems react slowly and deliberately to inputs, lest they prove tiresome in traffic or on the highway. All-wheel-drive tends to further dull a car’s handling by removing throttle inputs from the equation.

Well, the Acura TL SH-AWD is a refreshing departure from this norm. Blip the throttle, and the lusty, sweet-sounding six immediately snaps you back into your seat. Twitch the small diameter steering wheel even a few degrees, and the chassis similarly reacts RIGHT NOW. The steering doesn’t provide much feedback, but it is quick and firm. Through a rear differential that spins the outside wheel faster than the inside wheel, the all-wheel-drive system contributes to rather than detracts from the dynamism of the chassis. Pair this differential with the strong, responsive V6, and enjoy easily controllable oversteer on demand, a rarity with all-wheel-drive. Thanks to its nose-heavy weight distribution, the TL has an inherent predisposition to understeer, but this is readily overcome. Overcome it overly much, and the stability control kicks in unobtrusively. Even Buick now offers an active rear differential, but Acura’s is far more dramatic than others in its effects.

The transmission is the drivetrain’s weakest link. Shifts aren’t the smoothest, manual shifting is available only via paddles and not the shift lever, and there are only five ratios (in case you needed another clue that Honda’s mission has drifted). Honda recently introduced its first six-speed automatic in the MDX and ZDX, well behind even Chrysler. Perhaps the TL will get this transmission soon. A six-speed manual is available with the SH-AWD, and Honda continues to engineer excellent shifters, but good luck finding a dealer with one in stock.

All in all, the TL SH-AWD is a surprisingly fun car to drive. So why aren’t all cars this responsive? Taut tuning has a price. The TL’s immediate responses to even the smallest inputs would prove tiresome to the non-furious in traffic or on the highway. The ride is very firm, even brutal. Typical of Acura, road noise levels are higher than the luxury car norm. Buick, much less Lexus, has little to fear here.

Ultimately, the Acura TL falls between two stools. Enthusiasts want a more compact car with a more even weight distribution. As well as the SH-AWD system compensates for the TL’s inherent understeer, an inherently balanced chassis would be even better. Non-enthusiasts want a smoother, quieter, more relaxed ride. Both groups want a more attractive exterior and higher quality interior. Honda now seems to realize that it has lost its way, so the next TL should include fewer potential deal-killers. Hopefully the current car’s outstanding responses aren’t refined away in the process.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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Capsule Review: 2009 Acura RL Thu, 05 Feb 2009 04:00:10 +0000

When a car salesman tells you an expensive model’s pointless, nine times out of ten, it’s pointless. If he proffers this opinion in the depths of a recession, with new car sales lower than Bernie Madoff’s morals, it’s a dead cert. I’ve experienced this vehicular vertigo twice in the last week. First, when contemplating a zero-mile Honda Civic Mugen Si gathering dust in an otherwise empty former Saturn showroom. Second, whilst sitting in an Acura RL, moments away from an extended test drive. The salesman told me flat out that the Acura TL is a better car than the RL, hinting that anyone who buys an RL is a sap. As I’ve rated the TL as a one-star car, where do you go from there?

Nowhere. And not very fast, either. The main difference between the new top-spec TL and the five-year-old face lifted RL: the über-Acura’s less powerful, even less torquey engine. OK, it’s only a five horsepower deficit (300 HP @ 6300 rpm vs. 305 HP @ 6200 rpm). But luxury brands like Porsche didn’t bank the big bucks by dismissing the importance of insignificant differences in engine power. Other than that, you could be looking at, sitting in and driving the exact same car, crashing over broken pavement, safe in the knowledge that you paid $8k for the privilege of . . . a solid piece of wood embedded in the instrument panel.

Strange to say, this indistinguishableousity is something of a triumph. The RL is made in Saitama, Japan. The TL in Marysville, Ohio, alongside Honda Accords. While the RL feels slightly more upmarket, it’s entirely psychological. Which is stupid to the point of imbecility. While Acura customers await the arrival of a V8 RL (or not, on both counts), Honda should have tuned their instantly demoted flagship for comfort. Put them torques (sorry, couldn’t resist) lower down in the rev range and added huge dollops of mush to the suspension. How much could it cost to detune the damn thing?

More to the point, how much did it cost Acura to debase the RL nameplate by replacing it with a less expensive alternative? Not a lot, one imagines, as the company has already sacrificed the legendary Legend to the gods of German-aping alpha numeric model designations. And priced the RL right off any sane comparison shopper’s vehicle list. And, generally, screwed the pooch. So it’s lose-lose for all concerned—save those who wouldn’t dream of buying an $50k RL. Which is a large and ever-increasing population.

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