The Acura TL has been a favorite among the so-called entry-luxury cars since its release for the 1996 model year. Last redesigned for 2004, the TL is redone again for 2009, adding the most powerful engine ever in an Acura and all-wheel drive for the first time.
Based on the Honda Accord platform, the 2009 Acura TL is larger than the car it replaces, though it handles better and gets similar fuel mileage.
Two models are offered, each with a different engine. The base Acura TL has a 280-hp V6. The Acura TL SH-AWD model has a 305-hp 3.7-liter V6 as well as Acura's Super Handling All Wheel Drive.
Get behind the wheel of the 2009 TL and you are presented with a quality, driver-focused interior with plenty of available gadgets. Standard features include solar-sensing, dual-zone automatic climate control with automatic humidity control, XM satellite radio, an iPod interface, and a Bluetooth cell phone link. Available in a Technology Package are keyless access and starting, a rear view camera, and a navigation system with real-time traffic, new real-time weather, DVD Audio playback capability, and hard-drive audio.
Room in the front seat is plentiful. The back seat is big enough for most passengers, though tall rear passengers will want more head room. The trunk offers a decent amount of space, but split folding rear seats are not offered, which may be a deal breaker for some.
On the road, the TL drives smaller than its size, and that's a complement. The base front-wheel-drive model handles quite well, reacting readily to quick changes of direction and leaning very little through turns. The SH-AWD model is heavier but stiffer suspension settings make it handle capably as well. Acura's Super Handling All Wheel Drive system can send power to the outside rear wheel in a turn, which helps rotate the car through that turn. All-wheel drive is a great option for customers in northern climates.
The improved handling doesn't come at the expense of ride quality. Bumps seldom intrude, there is no float or wallow, and up-and-down motions are kept to a minimum. The TL's balance of ride quality and handling prowess is quite impressive. Braking is quick and worry free.
Both models offer plenty of power to get in front of traffic from a stop or pass with ease. While the SH-AWD model has more power, it also weighs more, so straight line performance is similar to the less powerful model. Both engines provide enough power to make a 0-60 mph run in 6.0 seconds or less. The only transmission is a smooth shifting, responsive five-speed automatic. It comes with a manual shiftgate and standard steering wheel shift paddles to allow drivers more interaction with the powertrain.
Bottom line, the new, 2009 Acura TL is even better than the previous-generation model, which was a very good car. The 2009 TL has bolder styling, more power, better handling, and the benefit of available all-wheel drive. Anyone looking for a capable sport sedan will do well to give the 2009 Acura TL a test drive.
The 2009 Acura TL is a bigger car than the outgoing model. The wheelbase is up 1.4 inches to 109.3 and overall length is up six inches to 195.3. The new car is 1.8 inches wider at 74 inches. Curb weight is up only 80 pounds to 3708 pounds thanks to the use of aluminum in the hood, front bumper beams, subframe and steering hanger beam. The architecture is shared with the Honda Accord, though the Accord sedan is actually slightly shorter and about 150 pounds lighter (for a V6 model).
The new TL has all-new sheet metal in what Acura calls a Motion Surface body design. Acura says that the styling theme is marked by emotional design, linear fluidity and strong presence. While the first two of those traits may be debatable, the TL certainly has a stronger presence than any Acura in recent memory.
The calling card of the new design is the beak-like front grille assembly, similar to that of the redesigned TSX and restyled RL models. On the TL, this silver-painted assembly extends up and over to meet the hood, where it ends abruptly. The grille is flanked by a set of slit-like headlights that rise up toward the edges of the front end, giving the TL a sinister, grinning look. Below the grille assembly is a pair of trapezoidal air intakes that house the fog lights. Additional driving lights are found in these intakes on the TL model, while the SH-AWD lacks them for improved air flow. The SH-AWD also incorporates brake cooling ducts into these intakes at the outside corners.
The bottom edges of the headlights resolve into character lines that flow all the way to the taillights and angle upward to give the TL a sporty, raked appearance. Prominent flares surround the front wheels, and these extend up into the aforementioned character lines, giving the TL a visually interesting and distinguishing front wheel hump design trait. The base model's 17-inch wheels look uninspired, but the SH-AWD's 18s and optional 19s look great and fill out the wheelwells nicely.
The greenhouse is thoroughly modern, balancing maximum interior space with a sporty coupe-like rake. At the rear edges, the rear window is inset slightly, giving the rear pillars a flying buttress look.
The rear view has the most presence. The angled trunk shape reflects the beak-like look of the front end. Below the trunk is a silver-painted, wing-shaped decorative piece that combines with the trunk shape and a center character line to give the rear end something of a boattail appearance. Models with the Technology Package also have a tasteful rear spoiler that only adds to the look. At the bottom, a pair of backup lights mimic the shape of the front air intakes, and the TL has dual exhaust, while the SH-AWD has quad exhaust outlets.
All in all, the TL has a much bolder shape than previous Acuras. We're not entirely enamored of the design at this point, but we have the feeling that it will grow on us.
Step inside the TL and you are presented with a quality, driver-focused interior. Gone are the blue-lit gauges that some may have found a bit sophomoric in the outgoing model. The center stack is thoughtfully angled toward the passengers, making every control easy to reach. The design is attractive, and the materials have a quality feel with a lot of soft-touch surfaces and tight panel gaps. Small items storage is fair, including a change tray at the bottom of the center console, two cupholders behind the gearshift, map pockets in the doors, and a center console that can hold about 10 CD cases. The glove box is also fairly large, and it has two levels.
The driver's seating position offers plenty of adjustments to make most drivers happy. Head and leg room up front are plentiful, and the seats do a good job of keeping passengers in place, especially those in the SH-AWD model, which have more side bolstering. The rear seat is quite livable for all but tall passengers, who will complain about head room. Getting in and out of the front seat is easy, but the rear requires some ankle twisting, especially if the front seats are set far back.
For structural reasons, Acura opted against split-folding rear seats, choosing instead to include a fold-down armrest with two cupholders and a center passthrough. That'll allow you to carry your skis to the slopes, but long, flat packages won't fit.
Trunk space otherwise is up from the last model, but at 13.1 cubic feet is small for the class. Buy the SH-AWD model and a bit of the floor space is taken up by the AWD components.
From the driver's seat, you are presented with four, individually shrouded gauges under an overarching shroud. The large tachometer and speedometer are flanked by smaller fuel and water temperature gauges. Between the tach and speedo is a digital readout for gear selection, outside temperature, and other information.
The center stack has a shrouded black and white Multi-Information Display screen that displays radio information, interior temperature settings, and compass direction, among other tidbits. The screen has a Plexiglas cover and we found that it washed out in strong sunlight.
Below the display are centrally located radio controls with a dual-zone climate control settings along the sides, easily accessible to each passenger. An interface dial is found under the radio settings. It controls the Multi-Information Display and is fairly easy to use. When the Technology Package is chosen, Multi-Information Display is replaced by an 8-inch VGA high-resolution screen that is easy to see in any light conditions. With the Tech Package, the interface knob adds more functions, controlling the navigation system and various audio and climate control settings. It can also be controlled by voice commands. This interface is generally easier to use than similar systems from BMW and Audi, but it can still complicate such functions as programming a radio station.
The navigation system comes with XM NavTraffic that can give real-time traffic updates and suggest alternate routes. New for 2009 is XM NavWeather that shows real-time weather information for 21 metropolitan areas, one- and three-day forecasts, severe weather alerts, and Doppler-style radar maps.
All TLs come with an auxiliary audio input jack and a USB port. The latter offers iPod connectivity and can also read thumb drive storage devices. The iPod interface is displayed in three lines on the Multi-Information Display or navigation screen. Long playlists will require a lot of scrolling, but it's nice that you can control an iPod through the audio system. Music on a thumb drive can also be played through the audio system, but cannot be loaded to the 12.7 gigabyte hard-drive that comes with the Technology Package. The only way to load music to the hard drive is to rip if from CDs. Acura says the hard drive can hold up to 2500 songs.
The audio system offered with the Technology Package was developed with music producer/engineer Elliot Scheiner. It has DVD Audio capability. DVD Audio is a high-quality audio format that delivers more accurate sound through six discreet channels. It requires its own software, meaning audiophiles will want to buy their own DVD Audio discs.
One of the advantages to maintaining and updating a particular model is that it can be monitored and improved from one generation to the next. Acura started with one of the best handling front-drive sport sedans on the market and made improvements to craft an even better fourth-generation model. As a result, the Acura TL is surprisingly agile and tossable for such a large, and fairly heavy car.
Acura claims lots of specifics when it comes to chassis improvements (front lateral rigidity up 17 percent, rear vertical rigidity up 41 percent, 13 mm lower center of gravity, completely new suspension, etc.), but the bottom line is the new TL handles better than the last and is quite impressive for its size.
Changes to the structure, suspension and geometry have made the new TL very easy to drive, but a new electric power steering (EPS) system is the biggest difference between this generation and the last (which had hydraulic power steering). The new EPS gives the TL a much lighter steering feel, which is especially appreciated at low speeds for parking lot maneuvers. The steering feel firms up at higher speeds, and while we generally like the new steering, we'd like it to be a bit firmer at road speeds. Unlike some electric steering systems, the TL's system feels natural and provides informative feedback. It's also quite quick. In short, if you didn't like the heavy steering feel of the previous car, come back and give the new TL a try.
The 2009 TL is offered with front- or all-wheel drive. The front-drive model comes with 17-inch wheels and is every bit a sport sedan, reacting well to quick changes of direction and driving much smaller than its useful size.
For 2009, Acura's Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system is available to the TL for the first time. Under normal conditions, SH-AWD is front biased, sending 90 percent of the torque to the front wheels. Stomp the throttle or drive on a slippery surface and SH-AWD can send up to 70 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. Plus, the rear differential can apportion the power between the rear wheels. This allows the TL to send 100 percent of the power to the outside rear wheel in a turn, which helps rotate the car through the turn.
SH-AWD is standard on the TL SH-AWD model, which also comes with standard 18-inch wheels and optional 19s. Suspension and chassis changes from the base model include stiffer shocks and springs and revised bushings. The models we drove were equipped with the 19-inch wheels and tires, and though the SH-AWD model weighs 250 pounds more than the base model, it feels every bit as tossable. It also has the added bonus of more grip in fast, sweeping turns, thanks to wider tires. Plus, it is the best choice for Snow Belt customers, though without the 19-inch summer tires.
All those handling improvements haven't come at the expense of ride quality. Having driven both models as well as the previous generation, I can say that the new TL is more forgiving over bumps, even the SH-AWD model with the optional 19s. Bumps seldom intrude, there is no float or wallow, and up-and-down motions are kept to a minimum. The TL is a model of ride and handling balance.
The new TL also has larger brakes than the last model, with larger two-piston calipers (versus 1-piston for the 2008 model), and those changes make for more confident braking. While the name Brembo hasn't been bandied around for this model, Acura claims the new TL's brakes are better than the Brembos on the previous Type S model (and probably cheaper to replace, too). While we didn't get out on a racetrack to really put the brakes through their paces, they were easy to modulate and provided worry-free stops.
When it comes to power, the TL has that, too. The base engine is a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 280 hp at 6200 rpm and 254 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. (That's up from 258 horsepower in the 2008 TL.) The TL SH-AWD is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 305 hp at 6300 rpm and 275 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm, making it the most powerful Acura ever. Both engines are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate and standard steering wheel shift paddles. Acura says the 3.5-liter will get 18/26 mpg City/Highway, while the 3.7-liter is rated at 17/24 mpg.
While the 3.5-liter V6 has Acura's VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Left Electronic Control) for the intake valves, the 3.7 now adds VTEC for the exhaust valves as well. It also comes with lower gear ratios for a sportier driving experience. Given the SH-AWD model's extra weight, however, the 3.7 only makes the SW-AWD slightly quicker than the base TL with the 3.5. Acura wouldn't give out 0-60 mph times, but both cars should comfortably reach 60 in less than six seconds.
Both models have no problems merging with traffic, passing, or accelerating away from an intersection. Power delivery is smooth and linear, and the steering wheel paddles are easy to use if you want to take the shifting duties into your own hands. Note that if you put the TL's transmission in Sport mode, it will hold the gears and not shift up for you. Acura says a six-speed manual transmission will return for 2010.
The new 2009 Acura TL is a big car with decent interior room, and handling befitting a smaller vehicle. It continues to be the value promise it's always been, but now offers the added bonus of available all-wheel drive.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report after his test drive of the Acura TL models along Pacific Coast Highway near Santa Monica, California.