2009 Acura TL front view
 2009 Acura TL front view
 2009 Acura TL interior
 2009 Acura TL has a lot of cargo room
 2009 Acura TL rear shot

It's a great combination Honda's meticulous craftsmanship, reliability and economy mixed with higher performance and style. That's Acura's mission. With its colorful monikers retired, the brand's three sedans now go by TSX, TL and RL, in small, medium and large respectively. The compact RSX crossover and midsize MDX SUV round out the current lineup. Today, our focus is on the all-new 2009 TL.

The fourth-generation TL sits in the sweet spot of sport sedans, large enough to hold four people, or five in a pinch, but relatively quick on its feet and reasonable to park. With all new, sharp edged styling from Acura's Southern California design center, including a blocky chrome "plenum" nose, the TL aims to lure prospective buyers away from the 5 Series BMW, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz C Class. The new TL has grown. It stretches six inches longer and 1.8 inches wider on a 1.4-inch longer wheelbase and 1.1-inch wider track. While still not as large as its upscale RL sibling, it offers more spacious accommodations than its predecessors. It does weigh 3,700 or 3,950 pounds, however, depending on model.

This new TL impresses with a busy, almost frenetic interior design. It's a swirling environment of high-quality materials, including, in my tester, handsome dotted metallic trim and not a hint of natural or chemical wood. The seats wear some of the softest, most attractive perforated leather around. The doors feature a complex arrangement of convex and concave areas, and you can pull them closed with a grab handle or an indentation in the armrest. Honda/Acura does not offer a V8 engine, a green stance in our days of global warming and demands for higher fuel economy. The TL comes with two V6 engine choices, both of which run through a sequential-shift five-speed automatic. It features steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, just like on F1 racecars.

The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V6 with 280 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque. My Palladium Metallic tester came with it. Driving the front wheels, it earns a credible EPA mileage rating of 18 mpg City, 26 mpg Highway. EPA Green Vehicle Guide numbers are not available, but the engine is targeted to meet California's stringent CARB LEV II ULEV emissions certification.

You can step up to the TL with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). The 2009 TL offers this four-wheel-drive technology for the first time. The SH-AWD model enjoys a 305-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 with 273 lb.-ft. or torque. SH-AWD keeps this extra verve in control by distributing the torque to the outside rear wheel during aggressive cornering, helping the TL turn more precisely and quickly, under any weather conditions. Both engines have electronically controlled engine mounts to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) something expected in an upscale product. The challenge is to filter out the unpleasant while leaving in enough feedback to give the driver a feeling of control and some awareness of the road.

The front-wheel-drive TL comes with 17-inch aluminum rims while the SH-AWD model gets 18-inchers with lower profile rubber. Buyers of all-wheel-drive cars can opt for 19-inch alloys with even lower profile Michelin Pilot summer tires (P245/40ZR19). Acura has always offered the latest technology, both in the powertrain and in the entertainment department. The Technology package, available with or without SH-AWD, includes a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic and weather updates. It also delivers premium sound from a 10-speaker, 440-watt system with all the trimmings, including Sirius/XM Satellite Radio and a 2,500-song hard drive. The previously praised Milano leather seats are part of this package as well.

Another technological marvel is the Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) safety system. The car's body structure dissipates crash energy in severe frontal collisions while preserving the integrity of the passenger compartment (and, presumably, the passengers as well). The new TL receives this lifesaving system for the first time. The TL is assembled in Marysville, Ohio, birthplace of many Hondas and Acuras over the last 26 years. More than half of the TL's materials have American and Canadian origins. Honda's American plants have delivered the quality buyers expect while employing American workers and suppliers.

Prices start at $34,955 for a car that's loaded with a long list of standard features, including dual-zone climate control, power moonroof, 10-way adjustable driver's seat and a sophisticated audio system. You can then add either the Technology package or SH-AWD and bring the base price up to the vicinity of $38,500, or order both and boost it to $42,235. My tester, with the Technology package only, retailed at $39,445 with delivery charges. Over the years, Acuras have developed their own high tech, sporty personality, giving buyers a real choice. If you can warm up to the controversial new corporate face, it could be a perfect fit.

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