2009 Acura TL Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2009 Acura TL with Technology Package

The Acura TL plays in a tough neighborhood, one defined by the Germans and challenged by the Japanese and Americans. Performance-luxury is the name of the game, and all of the world's premium automakers have a presence. And all of the cars in the class are among the best made. Competition is fierce, and so product differentiation and definition are very important.

Acura's strategy is a little different. Where most competitors have four- and six-cylinder models of their small performance-luxury sedans, Acura has two different cars. The TSX takes care of the four-cylinder sub-segment, while the TL handles V6 duties.

Now into its fourth generation with the release of the 2009 models, the TL is larger, more powerful, and better-equipped than ever. The standard TL is analogous to the previous Type S, as the old 3.2-liter V6 has been dropped in favor of a 3.5 in nearly the same state of tune as the Type S, with 280 horsepower. The Type S has given way to the TL SH-AWD, named for the "Super Handling AWD" all-wheel drive system that makes it the first TL to be so-equipped. It boasts a 3.7-liter derivative of Acura's V6, with 305 horsepower, and a more sport-oriented suspension tuning. Both versions use a wide-ratio five-speed automatic transmission with dual automatic modes, and manual shifting in each by means of steering wheel-mounted paddles.

The new TLis a bit larger than before, for enhanced interior space, and its revised unibody structure is stronger, more rigid, and more crashworthy. The The TL is still small enough for maneuverability and easy parking, and its roomier and restyled interior has all of the accoutrements expected in a sports-luxury sedan as standard equipment, with options including upgraded audio and Acura's Technology Package, which, with navigation with real-time traffic, weather, database of scenic attractions, calendar, and calculator, could almost make the TL a PDA on wheels. Outside, it's not likely to be mistaken for anything else.

The TL that was my test car for the past week was not the SH-AWD, but it seems wrong to call it a "base model" as it was entirely too well-equipped even had it not had the inclusive Technology Package. Fine road manners, a comfortable ride, and an excellent performance by its engine and, especially, transmission make it a fine choice, and the extra space is icing on the cake.

APPEARANCE: Long ago, Acura styling was conservative almost to the point of blandness. No longer, especially in the case of the TL. It's radical and distinctive, but is also a logical development of the previous-generation TL. Its concept-car looks are dominated in front by the massive new Acura five-point grille, while strong shoulder lines on the sides and pseudo-venturi panels around the rectangular exhausts distinguish it from the sides and rear. The angled surfaces that are Acura styling hallmarks are found in convex form on the front panel and hood, and concavely on the top of the trunk, and convex again at the rear. With the grille wide, low headlights and "twin nostril" lower intakes give the front a Japanese Anime look. Chrome trim around the side windows and auxiliary turn signals in the outside rear-view mirrors are modern luxury cues.

COMFORT: Other manufacturers in the performance-luxury segment go for more traditional interior styling. Acura does not, at least in the TL. It's more youthful and flamboyant. Think tuner sport-compact meets sport-luxury. It's visually busy, with a variety of shapes, materials and textures. Technology Package models get keyless access and push-button starting, premium leather upholstery, and upgraded trim in addition to all of the cabin electronics. The heated, power-adjustable front seats have firmer padding that has been usual in Acuras, for improved comfort and support. The rear seat has noticeably more room than in previous generations. Although it does not fold, there is a locking ski passthrough. The trunk is large for the car's size. The leather-trimmed steering wheel adjusts (manually) for both tilt and reach, and has cruise and auxiliary audio controls. Manual shifting is controlled by paddles behind the steering wheel spokes. Instruments are brightly backlit for easy visibility, and all controls, even those for the navigation and allied systems, are logically designed and intuitive to use. AM/FM/XM radio, a 6-CD changer, mini-jack and USB auxiliary connectivity, and Bluetooth¨ phone connectivity are standard, as is a tilt-and-slide moonroof; the nav system with real-time traffic display and re-routing and real-time weather forecasts and visual doppler radar display are included in the Technology Package.

SAFETY: Acura's "Advanced Compatibility Engineering" (ACE)(tm) means that the 2009 TL's structure is designed and built to protect passengers with a strong central structure and dissipate crash energy as much as possible for further protection. Six airbags -- dual front, front seat side, and side curtain -- are standard, as are four-wheel antilock disc brakes with EBD and Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Assist, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and daytime running lights. The TL is expected to score the highest ratings for crash protection in government and insurance industry tests. The backup camera that is part of the Technology Package aids vision to the rear.

RIDE AND HANDLING: "Sport-luxury" means high standards of cornering and handling ability plus comfort and quiet. Those can be mutually-exclusive goals without careful engineering, but Acura engineers are nothing if not careful and thorough. A redesigned double-wishbone front / multilink rear suspension reduces lift under acceleration and dive under braking, and also reduce body roll during hard cornering. Torque steer, the bane of high-powered front-wheel drive cars, is also reduced. The ride is moderately firm, but still very comfortable -- just about perfect for the TL's intent. Electric power steering ensures an appropriate effort at all speeds, never too light and never too heavy. Twin-piston calipers on the front brakes (regular single-piston at the rear) help ensure excellent braking ability.

PERFORMANCE: Power is never a problem, not with 280 horses (at 6200 rpm) and 254 lb-ft of torque (at 5000 rpm) on tap. If the peak speeds seem high, the 3.5 liters of displacement ensures plenty of low-end grunt, as does Acura's VTEC variable valve lift and timing on the intake valves. A high 11.2:1 compression ratio helps both torque and efficiency, although it does mean a diet of premium unleaded. The five-speed automatic transmission also helps with both performance and efficiency. In "D", it is optimized for fuel efficiency, shifting early and holding higher gears as much as possible. "S" mode immediately drops down a gear or two, for higher revs and more power, and holds gears longer when upshifting. Grade Logic Control works in both modes to keep the transmission from hunting between gears on hills, and, more importantly, to keep it from shifting while cornering. Sequential SportShift manual mode is available in both S and D, merely by pressing the race car-style shift paddles behind the steering wheel. In D, the transmission will soon revert to automatic mode. In S, manual mode will be held until shifting to D. Acceleration is quick, and high cruising speeds are possible -- without undue use of that premium unleaded. EPA mileage is 18/26; in a week of 80% highway, 20% city driving I got just over 25 mpg.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2009 Acura TL combines performance with luxury and high-tech information and entertainment.

SPECIFICATIONS
2009 Acura TL with Technology Package

Base Price			$ 38,685
Price As Tested			$ 39,445
Engine Type			single overhead cam 24-valve aluminum
				 alloy V6 with VTEC variable valve lift
				 and timing on the intake valves 
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 212 cu. in.
Horsepower			280 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			254 @ 5000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		109.3 in. / 195.5 in.
Curb Weight			3715 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		13.3
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
Tires				P245/50R17 98V Michelin hx mxm4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS and VSA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 26 / 25
0 to 60 mph				6.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination charge			$ 780
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