By on May 4, 2021

On yesterday’s lovely Camaro-cum-Trans Am article, commenter dal20402 presented a very tidy Acura TL located in the gentle climate of Washington state. Said TL happened to be a pretty desirable example, so let’s take a look.

TL was a new midsize entry from Acura for the 1996 model year. A direct replacement for the ill-received inline-five Vigor, the TL was larger and more conventional in an attempt to curry more favor with American customers. Initially called the 2.5 TL or 3.2 TL, the former actually used the same I5 from the Vigor – an odd choice by Honda. TL was the first time Acura used alphanumeric naming instead of words, a trend that quickly took over the brand and continues today.

The TL was successful enough to warrant a second generation in 1999, and the new version moved even more mainstream and further from its Japanese roots. While the first TL was made in Japan, had a longitudinal engine layout, and was a rebadge of the Japanese Honda Saber, the second was transverse, made in Ohio, and shared a platform with the Accord. Inline-five power was gone, as the 3.2 TL carried on alone with V6 power. The second generation lived longer than the first and was on offer through the 2003 model year.

2004 saw the TL switch its softer, more organic styling for sharper edges and a strong beltline. Nomenclature was now just TL, with no indication of the power beneath the hood. Said power varied by trim. Standard versions used the 3.2-liter as before, good for 258 horsepower. In 2007 a new Type-S performance trim received the 3.5-liter Accord V6 tuned to 286 horses. Transmissions on offer were either a five-speed auto or a six-speed manual. The vast majority of examples sold were of automatic variety.

TL received another generation for 2009 and saw the model grow to its largest-ever proportions. Overall length grew by five inches, and the base trim gained about 300 pounds over its predecessor. Other trims were even heavier as all-wheel drive made its way to the TL. Styling was increasingly questionable as Peak Beak set in at Acura, and sales of the large midsize faltered. Its last year was in 2014, as Acura consolidated the larger TL and smaller TSX models into the singular midsize TLX.

Today’s TL is the sportiest one could buy in 2005 before the Type-S debuted. In graphite with a black interior, the six-speed is fully loaded but has questionable chrome five-spokes. With 96,000 miles on the odometer, the one-owner car seeks $8,995.

[Images: Acura]

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42 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Six-speed Acura TL, From 2005...”


  • avatar
    BigKoppa

    ’04 TL owner here. This one looks really nice, but I don’t think I could ever buy something from a place named ‘Karz n More’.

    At 96,000 miles, this is due for a timing belt replacement. Figure ~$800 for that.

    • 0 avatar

      CarFax says the t-belt was preemptively changed at 69k miles. It’s good to go.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        Don’t assume that. I just had to junk a 2002 Outback in February because the timing belt failed. It had been replaced by a “quality Napa timing belt” just 33,000 miles before. A piece of Chinese junk that cost me a usable car.

        Unless you have the receipt which shows that a genuine Honda timing belt kit was used, or the Carfax says it was done at an Acura dealer, I would replace it as a precaution. And use an oem part. Don’t buy something from the auto parts store. Even brand names like Gates make their stuff in China now.

        • 0 avatar

          You know you too, can click the Carfax link on the dealer’s listing.

          It was done at the Acura dealer where the TL was purchased.

        • 0 avatar
          jkross22

          There’s a good chance the keyboard you type on, the phone you talk on, the headphones you use and the furniture you sit on is all made in China.

          Any bets on where the genuine OEM timing belt for your Outback was made?

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            Carefully hand crafted by Bubba and Floyd follow good enough for us specifications on a Monday after a weekend drug and alcohol-fueled bender down by the creek.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            My keyboard was made in Kentucky in 1982 and emits a glorious clicking heard throughout the house when it’s buckling spring switches are activated thank you very much. Long live the IBM Model F!

          • 0 avatar
            Superdessucke

            It was team crafted in Indiana! And that they make the keyboards we type on, the phones we talk on, the headphones we use and the furniture we sit on isn’t much of an endorsement these days honestly.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I agree with this, timing belts should be assumed guilty until proven innocent.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            We may not have much choice regarding electronics but there are still a large number of furniture (both home and office) manufacturers in North America.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I like this generation of the TL the best. Real plus for me is the 6 speed manual. Agree the timing belt should be replaced.

  • avatar
    ElSnuggles

    Of all the cars I’ve owned, my 04 TL is one of the top two that I look back on fondly. My wife and I were just talking about it this weekend.

    If only Acura hadn’t added the stupid metal grin, I’d have probably never looked at a different manufacturer.

    • 0 avatar
      cimarron typeR

      Us too. My wife used an inheritance when her grandmother died to buy her first new car, an 2002 CL. We still talk about that car with fond memories too. Everytime we see a clean CT or TL on the road (they seem to be worth keeping roadworthy for alot of folks), it’s worthy of mention.
      Most times she has better car sense than I do. I was trying to get her to buy a V6 Solara. The CL was such a better driver, and worth the price premium.
      It was so reliable we bought an 03 MDX. Neither gave us any transmission issues.

    • 0 avatar
      BigKoppa

      I’m still dailying my ’04. 218K miles and the beginning of the end for the transmission.

      I really like the looks of the 2018-2020 models and the 2021s look even better, but I’m not a fan of four cylinders and the upcoming V-6 is out of my price range.

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    This generation is not one of the best. In fact their transmissions are notoriously having issues. Better off getting anything but this gen… Try 09 on up.

    • 0 avatar

      Your statement applies only to the automatics, which this is not. But I’m sure you knew that right.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      6-speed manuals are bulletproof, the 5-speed automatic is trash.

      • 0 avatar
        2ACL

        Not necessarily. The automatics of this generation initially continued the legacy of premature self-destruction that began with the UA5 (1999-2003), but MCE cars (2006-2008) fielded a revised unit that also made it into some UA5s and YA4s (2001-2003 CL) that held out to its availability. Positive feedback from their owners along with Acura disclosing how it addressed the instigating design flaws inclined some of its online communities to endorse pursuing the revised unit over rebuilding or remanufacturing a defective one (since the class-action suit revealed that latter was a fundamentally lost case), which is how I dealt with impending transmission failure in my 2003 CL Type-S.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          You opted for the former I take it?

          • 0 avatar
            2ACL

            Sorry about the mess made in replying, guys. I need to do a better job with clarity, too.

            @28-Cars-Later

            If you’re talking to me, yes. In fact, the revised 5AT I sourced came from a 60k mile, 2007 Accord V6 (good old Honda/Acura parts interchangeability). Mine blew up at 9 years old and 129k miles, so it fell outside of the extended warranty incited by the class action suit (8 years/110k miles). More crucially, I had read enough accounts from other premature transmission death victims to determine that even if I succeeded at raising enough of a stink with Acura Client Relations to compel a goodwill repair, I was more apt to receive a rebuilt/remanufactured unit that would just blow up again.

            Finding a shop willing to perform the surgery took slightly more effort (many refuse to work with parts from outside of their supply chain), but the car was ultimately roadworthy again for a hair under $2,000 (part AND labor), and I drove it for another seven years. The only issue I had afterward was a bad neutral safety switch, which I didn’t bother fixing until a few weeks prior to trading her in.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Interesting, I was not aware a swap to the revised transaxle could be done. Then again I should not find it surprising as I read the Legend Gen 2 accepts the transmission from the Legend Gen 3, er “RL”, which is done as a swap to decrease NVH as I recall.

          • 0 avatar
            2ACL

            @28-Cars-Later

            Indeed. Smitten as I was by the six-speed CL I bought in 2015, I might’ve kept the automatic if I were more mechanically inclined (and had a garage). Acura/Honda parts interchangeability between models (and even across generations) makes for some interesting and rewarding projects. Transaxle swaps for reasons similar to what you’ve mentioned are fairly common; I unwittingly gained a 10% lower 4th gear through mine, which helped reduced the necessity of downshifting for passing power. TL/CLs were quick in their day, yet the gearing margin between 3rd and 4th was very noticeable.

            I’ve casually looked into what it would take to retrofit the ILX 2.4 6MT with concurrent Civic Si’s LSD (one of several erroneous omissions from that car) as a means of having a nice, anonymous backroad burner that is also suitable for daily duty.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @2ACL

            I like you, you do the things I only think about.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          I can vouch for the later 5A transmission, at least secondhand, as my father put 210,000 hard miles on his 2006 before trading it in on a 2014.

    • 0 avatar
      2ACL

      2012 TL SH-AWD owner here. I prefer my generation (mainly because the UA6/7’s interior presents well, but the materials age/wear horribly), but the 3.7 in the SH-AWD anyway) has an equally worrying perpetual foible: oil consumption. Torque converters were also a problem early in the generation.

    • 0 avatar
      2ACL

      2012 TL SH-AWD owner here. I prefer my generation (in large part because the UA6/7’s interior presents well, but its materials and trim can age/wear horribly), but the J37 engines in cars like mine have an equally worrying perpetual foible: oil consumption.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    These still look good today, and there are still some on the roads. Bonus points for the excellent 6 speed. Between this, the TL Type-S, and the RSX Type-S, this was probably the last gasp of affordable Acura performance. And that interior still looks and feels put together.

  • avatar
    swester

    Ah, the glory days when when Acura made desirable vehicles. How far they’ve fallen…

    An overlooked must-have feature on this gen was the fantastic DVD-Audio compatible surround sound audio system. Absolutely amazing to hear 5.1 discs in true discrete surround…in a car!

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I figured that would get your attention, Corey :)

    I had an ’04 TSX that was the platform-mate of this TL, but with less length and four cylinders. I always admired the manual TLs of the same generation. In general, the V6 manual Japanese sedan is just about my very favorite genre of car.

    Who knows whether this one would sound like a bucket of bolts when started, but it looks nice. Cosmetically the only real issue with it is the chrome wheels. You can already see how poorly Washington’s environment treats chrome, and they’d just get worse. I’d budget in a set of used factory 17s.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Totally agree. This is the last Acura I found highly attractive. The TL that replaced it was hideous; subsequent Acuras have been meh. Acura really lost their mojo after this one….

    • 0 avatar
      2ACL

      @Dave M

      Aesthetically, I agree despite currently owning a 2012 SH-AWD. However, the fourth-generation is superior to the third in virtually every other way; I would argue that the SH-AWD 6MT in particular was peak TL as well as a finalist for peak Acura. It reviewed very favorably against the likes of the 335i and S4, setting a standard that the subsequent TLX failed to measure up against.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Ahhh the cars that were gettable before dealers raped craigslist.

  • avatar

    I like the wheels. Very nice looking vehicle. Thanks for the write up, Corey!

  • avatar
    A Scientist

    These were very handsome cars in their day, which Acura completely ruined with the subsequent “bird’s beak” generation.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    I bought one of these new in ‘04 and kept it 9 years. 6-speed was great and better suited to the V6 than an automatic in my opinion. Manual cars weren’t any cheaper but did come with brembo front brakes, complete with pads that lasted under 25,000 miles.

    A G35 would have been a sportier choice but the TL was reasonably fast, reasonably sporty, and maybe a bit roomier. The leather was cheap and that metal dash trim dented easily though

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Coincidentally, 2005 was peak U.S. sales volume for Acura [and for the TL]:
    https://carsalesbase.com/us-acura/

    More beak = Fewer sales

    Looking at TL sales volume alone is just depressing:
    https://carsalesbase.com/us-acura-tl/

    [The ‘new’ TLX weighs more (more like an SUV and therefore more desirable) and sells better, because U.S. automotive consumers are genius-level. (But peak TLX was 2015… are Americans teachable?)]
    https://carsalesbase.com/us-acura-tlx/

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Thanks Cory. My advice to change a timing belt as a precaution still stands unless it’s done at the dealer like this or proven to be an OEM part. People see a record of a timing belt replacement and then they don’t think anything of it. So I wanted to point that out.

    If the OEM part happens to be made in China, I would be comfortable with that versus some auto parts store piece of crap. There is a difference in quality.

    Mine unfortunately fell into the lower end of the China quality spectrum. And yes we can prove it was the timing belt. The tensioner failed, at 1/3 the miles it should have.

  • avatar
    azfelix

    I have always admired the side panel grooves anchored at both ends by the running lights. Having the door handles nestled within matches the flow perfectly.

    It is a most beautiful design feature.

  • avatar
    HAIL 2

    ‘04 owner here. Satin Silver metallic, black leather, 6MT and Nav.
    276,000 miles now. Third timing belt, second set of rims, and ORIGINAL CLUTCH.

    I took delivery in April 2004. My twin sons were born two years later. In a few months they’ll begin drivers’ ed and will learn to drive stick in the car I’ve loved for 17 years.

    Thank you Honda/Acura.

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