Review: 2009 Acura TL

Michael Curwood
by Michael Curwood
review 2009 acura tl

The Acura TL is like the brainy girl in math class. If you’d told your friends you had the hots for her, they’d have stifled laughs, paused and said “who?” Since the turn of the century, the Accord-based Acura TL has been the deeply sensible alternative to premium-priced imports. But the TL’s fans knew the joys of stealth smarts: a super-smooth six powering a superbly-crafted cabin sitting atop a well-built and reliable chassis. So, will channeling the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright help or hinder the TL’s ongoing quest for luxury car legitimacy?

I’m convinced that the TL’s designers held a séance with the Prairie School architect, discussed organic architecture, hit the crack pipe and emerged with “Keen Edge Dynamic.” Sure, Acura has finally cured the TL’s aesthetic invisibility. But at what cost? Viewed dead-on from the rear, the TL’s creased butt looks like a Cars character, complete with mouth (Aura-like trunk strip) and eyes (rear headrest). It’s weird, true and freaky.

And then there’s the front…

The TL’s new snowplow snout will have your eye out, and transfer traces of satin chrome paint flecks in the process. Some west coast Acura dealers are painting the power plenum prow the same color as the body for a more, uh, understated look. No surprise there.

The ‘09 TL has received the obligatory dimension creep, upping overall length six inches and increasing track over an inch at both ends. Somehow, this engorgement hasn’t delivered significant increases in the TL’s interior space or overall weight. Blame it on the over-collegenated bumpers.

The TL’s cabin will look familiar to anyone who’s seen the new Accord (odd that). Ablaze with blue accent lighting and the standard Acura button central center console, Acura’s given all the well-situated controls a facelift. In a nod to Audi, the TL holds the interior’s pants up with a silver-sheen belt that dashes its way around the midline before plunging like a twisted thong into the center console. Unfortunately, the fauxcarbialuminumfiber’s pores are so big even Proactive polyfilla couldn’t smooth them out.

The tech package is the bread-and-butter option of Acura’s bread-and-butter saloon. The champagne GPS head-unit has been upgraded from DVD to a hard-drive based system, rewarding TL loyalists with quicker loading and a sharper screen. Even ADD-afflicted technophobes can enjoy easy access to almost every computer-controlled function, including the TL’s signature kick-ass ICE and dual-zone air conditioning.

AcuraLink has new zones in its database. A Doppler radar function lets you play on-the-road prognosticator or gives you a three-day forecast while listening to the modern equivalent of quadraphonic: DVD-A. (Dark Side of the Moon and The Nightfly need apply.) And once you program the TL’s voice command system, you can live life button-free.

Keyless start has been added to the already impressive Keyless Access System’s list of duties. It’ll unlock doors, position the driver’s seat and outside mirrors, select audio and navigation settings and calls you Mother on a weekly basis, all without taking the key out of your pocket.

Ordering an Acura TL is still McDonald’s happy meal easy. Pick a color; add the optional technology package to the front wheel-drive base model and Acura throws in the other toys “free.” Done. At least until the Super-Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) option arrives. And it can’t arrive soon enough.

The TL’s trick six-cylinder engine rises from 3.2 to 3.5-liters, setting loose 280 horses and 254 ft. lbs. of torque. Fuel economy stays the same, despite the extra power and weight. And it’s the right answer for snow-belt dwelling consumers. On the downside, the sweet-spinning six redlines alarmingly quickly, with the front end squirming like a bag of squirrels from the git-go. Acura claims to have reduced torque steer in first and second gears, but it felt more like (or, like more) traction control to me.

Acura slipped the TSX’ new electric steering system into its stealth flagship. Turn-in is precise and predictable at urban speeds, but road feel is reduced. At higher speeds, the weighting applied feels artificial and unintuitive. This is not your father’s Buick. But it could be yours.

I kid. A bit. Aside from takeoff squirm, the TL’s chassis remains composed and confident. The stoppers are powerful, and there are airbags aplenty. But the TL lacks the chassis chops, the joie de conduire, to compete with the Germans; its arrow-shaped snout is now aimed squarely at Lexus.

Again, the SH-AWD system could well be the TL’s ace in the hole. For an extra $3500, the system will undoubtedly make far better use of the six’s extra thrust. If so, the question then becomes, why opt for the more expensive RL? And when the RL gets the V8, the question becomes, why buy a TL? The answer, of course, is rooted in household economics, and the economics of comparison shopping. Not passion. New look or not, there’s your problem with Acura.

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2 of 64 comments
  • Segar925 Segar925 on Aug 01, 2009

    Sorry, I just can't get past the way this car looks, it's too bizare and it won't age well. Reminds me of the older CL coupes that had similar strange styling. Acura missed the boat on this one. There's also way too many buttons on the center stack. The new Maxima beats this car by a mile for less $$.

  • Allen h Allen h on Nov 30, 2009

    ok people - this is the comment you need to read. i own an '09 TL SHAWD w/technology package and will leave you some actual USEFUL feedback instead of wasting your time with my personal opinions on the cars appearance, which you can formulate on your own. While most peole seem to love it or hate it (there appears to be no middle ground), no one denies it is unique. You'll never lose this car in a parking lot. On a side not, I also owned an '07 TL Type S and loved it, but the lease came up. I'll compare the 2 for you, aside from the obvious differences in appearance. first of all, this car does not purport nor aim to be the fastest, sportiest or most luxurious car in whatever "class" these genius reviewers feel it belongs. it does however aim to be, and in my opinion is, the best OVERALL car in it's class. that includes lexus, infiniti, audi and bmw IN IT'S PRICE RANGE. Does the car handle like a BMW on a race track? No. Do any of you plan on driving it on a race track? No. So why does the soft steering even come up. It drives beautifully though and I can drive for miles down the freeway with my hands off the wheel and the car will hold it's lane. Acura really understands how the average person drives and has designed and built a car to give the driver (and passengers) the best overall driving experience for how they will drive 99% of the tiem. I like that. The interior is by far and away the best in it's class at this price point. AGain, there's a matter of opinion but the key differences are the super soft leather, the ergonomic design, the voice activated easy-to-use navigation, the sound system, and the greater interior room than any 3-series, g37, etc. The car is big. Is that a problem? If so, look at something smaller and don't waste anymore time reading this. Again, try a $45k 3-series. It's smaller and gives you fewer options, but.......the steering isn't as soft. I guess to some that's worth a hell of a lot of extra $. Even with the bigger engine (3.7L), the car is slightly slower than my 2007 Type S (3.5L) due to it's extra weight. The fuel econ is about the same though. I average 23-24 mpg city/hwy combined. I'm impressed with that given I like to drive fast and the car is decent size. As far as quality vs. competitors, it's tough to beat Acura. Hope this was helpful.

  • Arthur Dailey So they cut the roof off the hatch area of a Dodge Journey?
  • Desertwanderer Across Australia, from Sydney to Perth, via the Nullarbor Highway. Desolate, very impressed to pass a bicycle tourist somewhere in the middle, I think he'd have a story to tell. Oh, and the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, NS, in my S4.
  • Cprescott Please stop production of all Camry's - they are hideous and vomit inducing ugly.
  • Cprescott Excellent! Complete garbage.
  • Kos65701744 A lot of people back then didn't like the downsizing idea, which is why some didn't sell better than before. Which is why in final gen sales were record high in sales. My own father wouldn't buy a downsized GM car, he switched to a Ford LTD, a nice car but he hated it but wanted a big car