Review: 2009 Acura TL Take Two

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
review 2009 acura tl take two

Once upon a time, I mistook an automotive journalist for a member of ZZ Top. After a proper introduction, L.J.K. Setright subjected me to a twenty-minute lecture on the Euro-Accord’s five-spoke wheels. He was deeply offended by the fact that the lug nuts didn’t line up with the spokes. I got the message: people who truly understand and appreciate engineering excellence are wrapped WAY too tight. And yet, the desire for a meticulously designed automobile transcends geekery. The market rewards over-engineering– or at least the aura of over-engineering (cough Mercedes cough). In that sense, the Acura brand is not without inherent appeal– despite the TL’s inability to live up to the marque’s upmarket aspirations. Which is a fancy way of saying the TL is an epic fail.

You don’t need a degree to reach that conclusion. Let’s put it this way: when a buff book says a car’s looks are “a matter of personal taste,” you know it’s Medusa-class ugly. Personally, I don’t find the Acura TL’s smiling snow plow prow grossly objectionable. Not like, say, a maggot-ridden squirrel carcass. The TL’s snout is a bit… ungainly. Like a confused squirrel before it gets run over. The TL’s central crease– an over-literal interpretation of “cutting edge”– is just plain silly. The car’s profile shows the design team how it should have been done. It’s subtle, elegant and vaguely European; a striking differentiation from the mass market machine with which the TL shares a platform.

Yes, there is that. Suffice it to say, there’s more than aesthetically challenged sheetmetal to separate the sibs. The TL offers a few extra inches of lebensraum here and there. The TL’s materials are also suitably luxe, except for the buttons, which are not. (L.J.K. would have had a conniption over the power outlet cover’s herky-jerky sliding action.) The TL’s meaty steering wheel and hooded dials are the cabin’s finest hour. But there’s no disguising the fact that there’s no “there” there. The TL is as generic as a blank box of Kleenex.

Lurking within the TL’s all-too-familiar interior: enough gizmology to annihilate the car’s resale value in ten years or less. I mean, mandate an hour-long handover and at least five post-purchase phone calls. I’m slightly skeptical about some of the toys’ utility. Why would I want to burn CDs onto a built-in hard drive when I can just plug-in my iPhone? The more I use voice recognition systems the less I use them. (Although I’m always amused by a car’s answers to life’s big questions. What’s the meaning of life? “XM channel 18 on.”) And if I can upload ten images to wallpaper the nav screen, why can’t I create a slideshow? Or can I? GPS-linked climate control? Real-time power distribution meter?

Ah yes, power. A 3.7-liter V6 powers the top spec (of the two) TL. With 305hp and 273 lbs.ft of torque on tap, the TL makes a powerful case for itself as a performance sedan. In theory. In reality, the TL’s engine is a sonic affront at anything less than 5000rpm. Whiny. Tinny. Cheap. Although the TL’s five-speed autobox has a class-leading ratio spread (how’s that for a boast?), it’s a couple of bolts short of class-compliant silkiness. Traditionally, steering feel is a Honda/Acura strong suit. In this case, the electric variable power-assisted helm is, as the Brits say, pants. The TL’s brakes are effective enough, hauling the porky four-door down from speed with fade-free confidence. But the stoppers are numb in both initial bite and subsequent modulation.

Ask any Lexus driver: a novocain nature is not the worst thing that can happen to a car. Which is why the TL’s suspension is such a shock. Literally. As far as I can tell, K Mart supplied the Acura’s independent double wishbone (front) and independent multilink (rear) components. The TL’s 18″ wheels and all-season rubber crash and thump over the slightest imperfection. At city speeds, the TL feels nervous. Jumpy. Cheap. It’s an unforgivable sin for a car cresting the $30k mark.

The only possible justification for a ride that reminds me of the last gen GT-R: super handling. While the all wheel-drive part of the TL equation keeps the Acura planted, the two-ton sedan feels more like an oak than a willow through the bends. Worse, the seats don’t offer enough bolstering when you get stuck in. The TL’s sweet spinning six delivers a lovely grinding growl at maximum revs, but there’s only one situation where the TL feels the equal of a BMW 3-Series. No wait, there isn’t.

As L.J.K. would tell you, a well-engineered car adheres to a coherent philosophy. By trying to be everything to everyone, the TL is nothing in particular to anyone, save expensive. Back to the drawing board, then. Next time, start with the wheels.

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2 of 105 comments
  • Ohsnapback Ohsnapback on Aug 05, 2009

    I thought, initially after the release, it was possible that my eyes would adjust to what I perceived as a monstrosity. That won't ever happen. The TL is as hideous now as it was at inception. I finally got a chance to drive in one again. My initial driving impressions remain intact, also. Different strokes for different folks, but all I can say is that it is simply mind boggling to me that people are paying what they are for this car, because I wouldn't want it for free. Yes, it's that bad. I fear the direction both Honda and Acura are headed in. For their sake.

  • Msrsx Msrsx on Oct 11, 2009

    okay first of yes its not the best looking acura out there but like honda did to the civic they are trying to branch out and figure out what their consumers like.. i believe that psarhjinian is first car was a 98 integra ls and i loved it..great on gas good looks i did some after market things to it (tein lowering new rims strut bars) this car was so great when it came to buy car number 2 i had to go with the rsx..acura made the new integra the rsx and upgraded it with better interior bose sound systems (types) but i do wish that they continued the line..i think its time to ressurect the dead here and get some of the younger people 20 and theres no way i would be able to afford a tl or tsx the rsx was priced great esp a great buy for the money! if people honestly cannot understand that if you want a Acura tsx tl why would you buy a Honda Accord? Acura is luxury for a reason..Honda is great but they dont compare luxury wise there are resons why acura is above honda just like lexus is above toyota.. also just to throw this out there..the G35 drives like shit, the interior is plastic-y and just made me appreciate my next car will be the 2008 tl type-s for sure...if you drive and love acura why would you want the hassle of owning a bmw? 200 dollar oil changes? 400 dollar breaks? im good =) acura will hopefully give the new tl tsx a face lift and then you'll have a all around lovely car

  • FifaCup Loving both Interior and exterior designs.
  • FifaCup This is not good for the auto industry
  • Jeff S This would be a good commuter vehicle especially for those working in a large metropolitan area. The only thing is that by the time you put airbags, backup cameras, and a few of the other required safety features this car would no longer be simple and the price would be not much cheaper than a subcompact. I like the idea but I doubt a car like this would get marketed in anyplace besides Europe and the 3rd World.
  • ScarecrowRepair That's what I came to say!
  • Inside Looking Out " the plastic reinforced with cotton waste used on select garbage vehicles assembled by the Soviet Union. "Wrong. The car you are talking about was the product German engineering, East German. It's name was Trabant.