By on February 27, 2004

 Front wheel drive sucks. Case in point: the Acura TL. Here's a perfectly good car ruined by the simple fact that its front wheels have to steer and propel at the same time. Give the TL's gas pedal a shove, feed the engine some revs, unleash a bit of torque and, well, it's all a bit too much for the front tires. Traction takes a powder, taking with it any chance of giving the TL a proper thrashing. In fact, you can't even give the TL a mild slap on the wrist without a dramatic loss of steering control.

What a shame. While Toyota's Lexus has firmly established itself as a distinct and worthy competitor to Germany's finest, Acura is still trying to convince the world that an Acura is more than a Honda with a slightly bigger engine, leather, wood and a few toys. Which, in this case, it is. Anyway, given Honda's impeccable engineering and build quality, there's nothing particularly wrong with this "Acura as a posh Honda" product perception. But there's nothing particularly right with it either—especially when cachet (a.k.a. "snob value") sells cars in this segment.

 The TL's exterior highlights Honda's struggle to raise Acura's game. Its designers have done everything possible to separate the Acura TL from its donor DNA: narrowed headlights, split front spoiler, indented swage line, raised side skirts, five-spoke alloys, rear lip spoiler, dual exhausts and sharper rear lights. The end result is… a Honda Accord with a bit of Alfa Romeo 156 thrown in. It's not a displeasing design, but it isn't terribly classy or, um, bling.

The TL's interior, by contrast, is both. High end materials have Cinderella-ed the Accord's cabin into a comfort zone as sharp as a Chanel suit— worn by Missy Elliott. Check out those hooded, backlit blue dials and glowing key slot. Safe! And if that's not massive enough, pop in a DVD-A and crank up the 5.1 Surround Sound. Yes, the new format means you have to buy all your favorite music again. But the TL's eight-channel audio attack easily justifies the re-re-re-investment. Until BOSE unleashes its own DVD-A system (with better bass response), Acura's boom box is about as good as it gets. If not better.

 I wish I could say the same about the TL's driving dynamics. The trouble began the moment I slotted the test car's five-speed auto box into Drive. Er, Neutral. Wow! Who would have thought that Honda – sorry, Acura – could come up with a shift gate that rivals BMW's iDrive for counter-intuitive complexity? Once I figured out why I was going nowhere fast, I was free to explore the TL's heart and soul: its engine.

Honda makes some of the world's best engines: smooth, powerful, tractable, free-revving, frugal and clean. The TL's V6 powerplant is typical of the breed. Although the 3.2-liter engine stumps up only 30 more horses than the Accord's [optional] six, it's noticeably punchier throughout the rev range. The TL's two hundred and seventy horses (fed on Variable Valve Timing) fling the car from zero to sixty in a fraction under seven seconds– provided you can find a way to coax and baby the go pedal at the same time. Otherwise, you're right back where we started: Wheel Spin City.

 To its credit, Acura's boffins have attempted to mitigate the problem with Vehicle Stability Assist and an electronic traction control system. No dice. In a straight line, the TL's nose squirm is annoying. Around corners, it's positively alarming. The defining handling characteristic of this pretender to the mid-sized sports sedan throne is neither understeer nor oversteer; it's no steer. Press-on drivers will need both sensitive hands and nerves of steel.

Bummer. Everything else about the TL's set-up is superb. The double wishbone front and rear suspension allows just the right amount of road feel, without a hint of discomfort. Four-way disc brakes combine consummate linear control with serious stopping power. (The six-speed manual adds Brembo brake calipers up front.) Overall body control is exemplary. Granted, the TL is not a focused sports sedan in the 3-Series sense of the term. But if Acura had bitten the bullet and built a rear-wheel-drive TL, I reckon it could have given Munich's medium-sized meisterwerk a decent run for the money.

 Ah yes, money. For value-driven buyers, the fully equipped Acura TL is a steal. It offers quality, reliability and every conceivable luxury for thousands less than anything else in its class, and much above. For the rest of us, the TL is maddeningly close to greatness. Luckily, it's only a matter of time before Honda/Acura follows Detroit's lead and converts its premium products to rear wheel drive. When that glorious day arrives, Acura will prove once and for all that it's ready to play with the big boys.

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7 Comments on “Acura TL Review...”

  • avatar

    Unfortunately, this review falls a little short of truth.

    The Acura TL’s handling is better or superior to the BMW 330i, the Infiniti G35, or the Lexus IS.

    Look at the skid-pad and slalom numbers. They match or beat anything the competition does. The biggest difference with the TL versus its RWD competition is that it feels different. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. There’s no power oversteer, and no serious understeer. It’s all very neutral.

    The styling of the new TL is distinctive in a class where BMW’s are Bangle-ized, “redesigned” Mercedes look the same…or worse, like BMW’s and Lexus continues to make the most perfectly sterile cars on the market. You won’t mistake it for anything else on the road, and if you want “bling” you can google Lexani rims.

    Regarding Acura using the Accord platform to build the TL…I fail to see the problem. Unlike Mr. reviewer, we don’t just drive the car for a few hours or days. We get them for years. And despite his repetative touting of RWD platforms, winter weather tends to put a damper on whatever spirited driving you may have planned. No amount of traction control will overcome an drive architecture that is best reserved for exotics and weekend racers.

    And another point for Mr. Reviewer-next time you get behind the wheel of a car, take the time to learn where the traction control switch is before he complains it’s too invasive. He should look at the statistics of the competing cars in the class before he says the handling is inferior. He should check is glasses the next time he mistakes a Honda Accord for a TL. And the next time he let’s his misplaced bias show so openly, he should consider that this is supposed to be the truth about cars, and not one individuals personal opinion.

  • avatar

    Generic mushroom that I think I may be close to buying. I want the RL but my wallet says TL. They’re both mushrooms anyway….

  • avatar

    I’ve driven front and rear wheel drive cars and this is a typical review of a high powered front wheel drive car. The front wheels are just doing too much. Basic, fundamentals. While FWD has it’s advantages, performance driving in most weather conditions is not one of them.

    Latern42, since you probably pull numbers from magazines to back your position here’s a quote from R&T:

    The bad: torque steer on anything other than a pristine road. Punch it in the first couple of gears on a pock-marked or lumpy-surfaced street, and the wheel writhes in your hands and the nose darts around noticeably. If you hit a mid-corner bump while turning sharply and accelerating, the steering will tighten the radius for you, without asking. It’s a little disconcerting, and makes us wish the driven wheels were behind the back seat. While we’re carping, a more positive clutch engagement would do wonders to increase the TL’s sporting quotient. It’s difficult to find its friction “sweet spot,” and it never feels like it grabs completely on a quick shift, a double shame because it takes some of the joy out of the excellent linkage.

    Car and Driver:

    “Base your performance views on curves instead of straight lines, and the Acura’s shortcomings quickly become evident. Hustled through the 300-foot skidpad, the TL managed to pull 0.81 g, which is less grip than that achieved by the G35 (0.87) and the 330i (0.83). A call to the Potenza bullpen is in order. On our 10Best handling loop, where twisty roads abound, the TL couldn’t attack curves with the same speed and vigor as the Infiniti and BMW, inspiring less confidence because of its heavier front-loaded nature. Balance is key here, and the Acura’s 60/40 front-to-rear weight bias can’t match the BMW’s perfect 50/50 or the Infiniti’s 53/47. At 3521 pounds, the TL feels heavy and not nearly as light on its feet as the 330i, which weighs 144 pounds less, and even the G35, which weighs five pounds more.

    Moreover, the TL’s power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering lacks the direct communication of the BMW’s and Infiniti’s, hampering a close relationship between the driver and the road. We found ourselves constantly adjusting the wheel through sweeping curves. The steering is weighted in a nice, light fashion, but its effort doesn’t build progressively, and there’s too much assist when what you want is direct feedback.”

    Very neutral, very unlikely. I think your bias comes out.

    BTW, has a 335I handed landed you a whupping lattely?

  • avatar

    First off samadams, I drove a 2006 with an automatic.

    In the first two gears, the transmission limits torque so that the torque steer issue is much more controlled. I drive this car every day, in a wide range of situations (you should see my communte) and I have never been in a situation where the steering has made me feel unsafe. (You do hold on to your wheel when you drive, right?) The limits on all these cars are so high, most drivers will never have to deal with them on a regular basis. The thing you’re forgetting is that all cars will understeer at some point. It’s just a question of when. Car and Driver achieved a 0.91 on the skidpad in 2005. Thats tops in the test.

    The TL is also $3,000 cheaper than where the BMW STARTS. Thats too much of a difference to ignore.

    Steering feel is a very subjective thing, and I would never fault the BMW 3’s steering (other things about the 3? Yes.)

    If a 335i wanted to race me, 1) they’d be playing to the BMW stereotype of “boy racer” and 2) all I’d have to do is wait till that 3 litre twin-turbo overheats. Then I can pass them and laugh.

  • avatar

    I’ve heard of lots of stereotypes applied to BMW drivers, but “boy racer” is not one of them. If anything, Acura/Honda gets that stereotype.

  • avatar

    Only with the Integra/RSX. Meanwhile, if I go to my college campus, I’ll see more idiots that voided the warranties on their 3-Series for basketball-launcher exhausts and modified suspensions than Acura products.

    All the same, the dumbest BMW driver and the dumbest Acura driver probably have more in common than they want to admit.

  • avatar

    I doubt either of the people in this thread bickering actually race – as someone who’s raced FWD, RWD, and AWD cars I can clearly attest that FWD is the most inferior driving platform known to man. Great for packaging, interior space, and fuel economy – terrible for performance.

    That said, this car is a great near-luxury family sedan, fantastic price.

    Ironic how Robert talks about switching to RWD at the end – the reality is GM just killed their RWD program and Honda just killed the S2000, and declared that they are no longer interested in performance – just value and “being green”.

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