The Acura TL has long been a favorite among entry-luxury cars. Significantly redesigned for 2009, when it received a powerful V6 engine and the availability of all-wheel drive, it continues into 2010 with only a few changes. The most important new feature for the 2010 TL is the availability of a six-speed manual transmission on the upper-level SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) model.
The 2010 Acura TL lineup consists of two models: The base Acura TL has a 280-hp 3.5-liter V6. The Acura TL SH-AWD has a 305-hp 3.7-liter V6. Both engines come with a five-speed automatic, but the SH-AWD is available with the new six-speed manual. (Both transmissions are the same price.)
Get behind the wheel of the Acura 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. A Technology Package, available on both models, includes the Acura Navigation System with Voice Recognition, AcuraLink Real-Time Traffic with Traffic Rerouting, AcuraLink Real-Time Weather with radar image maps, an Acura/ELS Surround premium audio system, and the Keyless Access System with pushbutton ignition. The Navigation System features an eight-inch full VGA high-resolution color display for excellent visibility. The Acura/ELS Surround 10-speaker, 440-watt premium sound system includes DVD-Audio, CD, DTS, AM/FM tuner, XM Radio and a 2,500-song hard disk drive (HDD) media storage.
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.
On the road, the TL drives smaller than its size, and that's a compliment. 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 responsive handling doesn't come at the expense of ride quality, however. 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 of the two versions is similar. Both engines provide enough power to make a 0-60 mph run in 6.0 seconds or less. The automatic transmission has a manual shiftgate and standard steering-wheel shift paddles to allow drivers more interaction with the powertrain. The six-speed manual provides a high degree of shift accuracy with great feel and low effort, and utilizes a short-throw shifter. The manual transmission is matched with a dual-mass clutch for consistent feel and effort.
Bottom line: The Acura TL offers bold styling, plenty of responsive more power, great handling, and the benefit of available all-wheel drive. Anyone looking for a capable sport sedan will do well to give the TL a test drive.
The Acura TL has a wheelbase of 109.3 inches and overall length of 195.3. To help reduce weight, there is aluminum in the hood, front bumper beams, subframe and steering hanger beam. The TL has what Acura calls a Motion Surface body design, which is a styling theme 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 design is the beak-like front grille assembly, similar to that of the TSX and 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 mimics the shape of the front air intakes, and the TL has dual exhaust, while the SH-AWD has quad exhaust outlets.
Step inside the TL and you are presented with a quality, driver-focused interior. 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. The rear seats include a fold-down armrest with two cupholders and a center pass-through, which will allow carrying skis or fishing poles, but long, flat packages won't fit.
Trunk space is about average for the class, at 13.1 cubic feet. With the SH-AWD model a bit of the floor space is taken up by the all-wheel-drive 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 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, the Multi-Information Display is replaced by an eight-inch VGA high-resolution screen that is easy to see in any light conditions. With the Technology 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. The XM NavWeather 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 it from CDs. Acura says the hard drive can hold up to 2,500 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.
The Acura TL is surprisingly agile and tossable for such a large and fairly heavy car. It is very easy to drive, with an electric power steering (EPS) system instead of hydraulic power steering. The EPS gives the TL a light 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 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.
The front-drive model has 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. As for the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, under normal conditions it 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 most of the power to the outside rear wheel in a turn, which helps rotate the car through that turn.
Standard on the TL SH-AWD model are 18-inch wheels, with 19-inch wheels and tires optional. 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 roughly 250 pounds more than the base model, it feels every bit as responsive. It also has the added bonus of more grip in fast, sweeping turns, thanks to the wider tires. Plus, it is the best choice for snow-belt customers, though without the 19-inch summer tires.
All those handling improvements don’t come at the expense of ride quality. The TL is forgiving over bumps, even the SH-AWD model with the optional 19-inch wheels and tires. 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 TL also has ample brakes, with large two-piston calipers. 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 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 254 pound-feet of torque at 5400 rpm. The TL SH-AWD is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 305 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. Both engines are matched with the five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate and steering-wheel shift paddles, and the 3.7-liter V6 is available with the six-speed manual. EPA fuel-economy ratings are 18 mpg City, 26 mpg Highway for the 3.5-liter engine and 17 mpg City, 25 mpg Highway for the 3.7-liter engine with either transmission.
While the 3.5-liter V6 has Acura's VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) for the intake valves, the 3.7 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 makes the SW-AWD only slightly quicker than the base TL with the 3.5. Both cars should easily reach 60 mph 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 of the automatic are easy to use if you want to take the shifting duties into your own hands. If you put the TL's automatic transmission in Sport mode, it will hold the gears and not shift up for you.
The Acura TL delivers decent interior room with handling befitting a smaller vehicle. It offers good value for the money, a lot of capabilities, great handling and ride comfort, the latest technology and safety features, and 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.