Current owners of Acura's best-selling TL told the company they wished their cars were sportier, with more distinctive styling. In September Acura will present them with the undeniably more distinct 2009 TL — a car that it says strikes a perfect balance between the rational and the emotional. We say the TL will continue to sell because it's the obvious rational choice of the segment — packed with technology, comfortable to drive and priced right.
In traditional Acura form, the TL will be available in two trims — the TL and the TL SH-AWD. As you may have guessed, the one with the additional acronym is the higher level trim. But the base trim can hardly be called minimalist, since it has such standard features as leather seating, an eight-speaker stereo with Bluetooth compatibility and iPod connectivity, dual-zone climate control and a power moonroof.
The SH-AWD model is highlighted by Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive — one of the most advanced on the market today, offering enhanced dry weather enjoyment as well as wet weather traction. The SH-AWD version comes with 18-inch wheels and tires, and also has unique sport seating, a contoured steering wheel and special stitching. Nineteen-inch wheels are also available on the SH-AWD.
Either car can be equipped with a Technology Package that includes navigation with voice recognition, an unbelievable 10-speaker audio system, a rearview camera and a rear spoiler. The technology package climate control links up with GPS and a solar sensor to determine the ideal cabin temperature and humidity, and the car will tell you if you're headed into a snowstorm or a traffic jam.
Under the Hood
The 2009 TL comes with a 3.5-liter 280 horsepower V6 that makes 254 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm. Despite being bigger than the 3.2-liter V6 of the previous TL, the new engine manages the same gas mileage at 18/26 mpg (city/hwy). This can be attributed to a more advanced valve-timing system and the change to electric power steering. The 3.5-liter V6 is matched with a five-speed automatic transmission, which drives the front wheels.
Acura estimates that 25 percent of buyers will opt for the SH-AWD model, which comes with a 3.7-liter V6 that bumps output to 305 horsepower, making it the most powerful production Acura ever made. The larger engine generates 273 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm, and gas mileage goes down to 17/25 mpg (city/hwy).
In the SH-AWD, the same five-speed transmission supplies rev-matched downshifts via steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and is linked to a shorter final drive to help acceleration. In 2010 a manual transmission will be offered, but Acura won't say which trim will be the recipient.
The cabin of the 2009 TL is full of multifunction buttons, rotary knobs and displays to cover an array of electronic systems. It's the polar opposite of BMW's all-in-one iDrive system, and it's about as effective.
If you can remember where the right button is, you can do more in the TL than in any other car. Real-time weather? A three-day forecast? No problem. The top-notch navigation with real-time traffic has been updated with a few new search features, like "café/coffee shop", and "chain restaurants". On top of that, it's now possible to find the nearest Starbucks, rather than a Starbucks, as on the previous car.
Every TL will seat five in a plush leather interior, and whether you opt for the seats of the base TL or the more supportive SH-AWD seats, your rear end will never complain. There is a neat drawer in the armrest, perfect for an mp3 player or cell phone, and there's another compartment in the passenger footwell that's ideal for storing such antiquated methods of music reproduction as the CD.
On the Road
The new TL is bigger than a current RL, and it's heavier than the previous TL. But the front-wheel-drive model is perfectly capable of transporting techies to Circuit City. And despite being more powerful than its predecessor, there is almost none of the torque steer that once plagued the TL.
The SH-AWD has more sporting pretensions. Lay into the gas and the engine elicits a surprising roar, but you aren't exactly rocketing forward with 3,983 pounds to motivate. Acura assures us this car is faster than its predecessor, but it somehow doesn't feel that way. The paddle shifters are fun to use, but the shift algorithm needs work to match the sportiness of six-speed offerings from the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, often taking a second to react to tugs of the paddle and sometimes misguessing the correct revs altogether.
The advanced SH-AWD system makes any driver look like a pro — push too hard into a corner, and it will help keep you on your intended course. Try the same trick on the front-wheel-drive TL and you might find yourself doing some unplanned off-roading. Like the new Acura TSX, the TL's electric power steering is precise but lacks feel compared to the traditional belt-driven system of the previous car. A back-to-back drive with the 2008 TL highlights this, despite the quicker ratio of the new car.
Twin-piston front brakes are a vast improvement in pedal feel and effort over the previous model. The SH-AWD has functional brake cooling ducts in the front bumper.
In response to customer requests, the shock absorbers have a "blow-off" function, which allows them to be taut in the twisties, but react incredibly quickly on sharp impacts. Our drive in the SH-AWD confirmed their effectiveness, striking up an impressive compromise between handling and comfort.
Right for You?
If you're in the market for a midsize luxury sedan and staying on top of the technology curve is high on your list of priorities, you'd be remiss not to consider the TL. With one of the best sound systems we've ever heard, real-time weather and traffic, and especially with Acura's sublime SH-AWD, the TL is a hard to beat all-rounder. Front-wheel drive versions can be had this September at $34,000, or you can you can wait until November for a decked out all-wheel-drive variant at around $42,000.
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.