2010 Acura TL SH-AWD Review
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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2010 Acura TL SH-AWD
The spirit that gave the world such gems as the Acura NSX and Integra GS-R and Type R lives on in the new-for-2010 TL SH-AWD® with six-speed manual gearbox.
When the fourth generation of the TL, Acura's core-model sedan, debuted for the 2009 model year, it was slightly larger outside, for increased and improved interior space, and better-equipped than the car it replaced. After all, it competes in one of the toughest classes in the automotive world, mid-level performance/luxury. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Lexus, Infiniti, Cadillac, and Lincoln all have one or more entries. So product differentiation and distinctiveness are a must.
With a 3.5-liter, 280-horsepower VTEC® V6, five-speed "Sequential Sportshift" automatic, and front-wheel drive, the "base" TL is nearly as potent as the previous generation's performance-oriented Type S. That model's place has been taken by the TL SH-AWD. Introduced last year with the automatic and a larger and more powerful 3.7-liter, 305-horsepower V6 coupled to a sophisticated "Super Handling-All-Wheel Drive" system that optimally gets that power to the ground in dry as well as winter conditions, and a more performance-oriented suspension tuning, Acura has now upped the ante with the manual model.
That a stick-shift performance-luxury sedan is now the option is a sign of the times, as automatics have improved considerably from the ancient days of "slushboxes" and even first-line racing cars no longer use the traditional manual transmission. Maybe five percent of cars sold today have sticks, and most of those are in the class in which the TL competes. A stick demands a higher degree of involvement with the vehicle, and physical and mental coordination on the part of the driver, than an automatic. And so, for the enthusiast driver, is more rewarding. And to make the manual TL SH-AWD even more rewarding for that sort of driver, its suspension and driveline are further upgraded from regular SH-AWD specification. The result is a car that is a proud continuation of a line pioneered by the NSX and Integra Type R.
Fittingly, my first experience with the 2010 TL SH-AWD stick was on a racetrack, at a journalists' association test day. The car was impressive - the harder I pushed it, the happier it felt. No lap records were in danger - the purpose of such an event is to be able to drive comfortably fast but still well within one's limits, without having to worry about flashing lights in the rear-view mirror. The TL was popular, and circulated all day long, none the worse for wear. Well, except for the tires…
The same car, with what was left of the same tires, showed up in my driveway last week. It worked as well on the street as it did on the track, giving a very pleasurable driving experience. The AWD system neatly eliminates torque steer, and despite the high-performance tuned suspension the ride quality is supple enough for maximum seat time. Which is also enhanced by the inclusion of Acura's Technology Package with upgraded leather sport seats and navigation, communications, and premium audio systems. The stick-shift TL SH-AWD establishes Acura's presence in the mid-size performance-luxury field.
APPEARANCE: If Acura's massive grille is controversial, at least it's distinctive and immediately identifiable. As is the dynamically-angular shape, with well-defined lines, low, wide headlamps, prominent wheel arches, and long, arched, near-fastback passenger cabin. Large LED taillights, stainless steel trim, and "quad" exhaust tips define the rear.
COMFORT: Welcome to what Acura calls "intelligent luxury". The TL does not have the overstuffed softness of Old American Luxury, nor does it have the near-austerity of the German interpretation. With visually busy forms and multiple materials and textures, think "tuner sport-compact does luxury". Which, come to think of it, is the car's mien, and factory tuner car at that. With the stick, the SH-AWD gets the Technology Package, which means all of the current high-tech accoutrements: pushbutton start/stop and keyless entry, voice-activated navigation system with real-time traffic display and re-routing and real-time weather forecasts and visual doppler radar display, upgraded seats, and an upgraded AM/FM/XM/CD/USB/minijack audio system. The driving experience is improved by good ergonomics, an instrument panel with clearly visible backlit instruments and easy-to-use controls (including the nav system) and a tilt- and telescope-adjustable leather-rimmed steering wheel with cruise, phone, and auxiliary audio controls. The rear seat will comfortably hold two medium-sized adults and has a ski-passthrough and armrest in the center. It doesn't fold, all the better for structural integrity and chassis rigidity. The medium-sized trunk has a moderate opening and a space-saver spare under its floor.
SAFETY: Acura's "Advanced Compatibility Engineering" (ACE™)means that the 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 scores the highest ratings -- five stars -- for crash front, side, and rollover protection in government tests. The backup camera that is part of the Technology Package aids vision to the rear.
RIDE AND HANDLING: This is a car that works best when it's being driven hard. If it feels a little loose and imprecise going slowly, that all goes away as the active torque vectoring of the SH-AWD sends torque to the outside rear wheel during hard cornering for maximum traction. It actually rotates the outside rear wheel faster than the front axle to help reduce understeer and push the car forward. The SH-AWD electronic control system is integrated with the Vehicle Stability Assist™system and uses active electronics and electromagnetic clutches to vary torque distribution from 90% front in normal cruising to 30/70 front/rear under hard acceleration, with up to 100% of rear axle torque sent to one wheel if necessary. Think of it as analogous to the control systems in jet fighters. Add it to a firm double wishbone/multilink suspension and large, sticky 245/40 ZR19 tires on alloy wheels and the result is world class cornering prowess.
PERFORMANCE: Being the performance flagship of the TL line means that the SH-AWD gets more engine than the regular model. While basically the same as the 3.5-liter V6 in the base model, the SH-AWD's 3.7-liter engine has a greater bore and stroke, for more displacement, and minor internal differences. Oil jets directly to the underside of the piston crowns allow higher compression and so more power -- and with 305 horsepower (at 6300 rpm) and 273 lb-ft of torque (at 5000 rpm) it's the most-powerful Acura engine ever. The VTEC® variable valve control system works on both intake and exhaust valves, changing from low-speed efficiency mode to high-speed maximum-performance mode seamlessly at 4700 rpm. The large displacement and low-speed cam profile ensure plentiful low-rpm torque for reasonable fuel efficiency -- up to 30 mpg at moderate highway speeds -- but if you're gonna play, you're gonna pay at the pump, with 15 to 18 mpg more likely on the street and a lot less on the track. Horsepower = fuel + air; more horsepower = more fuel. The six-speed manual gearbox is a gem, with a lovely short-throw shifter, crisp linkage, and well-chosen gear ratios conspiring to further increase the fun quotient.
CONCLUSIONS: The spirit of high-tech high performance lives on at Acura in the guise of the 2010 TL SH-AWD 6MT.
2010 Acura TL SH-AWD
Base Price $ 43,385 Price As Tested $ 44,195 Engine Type SOHC 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 with VTEC variable cam timing and lift Engine Size 3.7 liters / 223 cu. in. Horsepower 305 @ 6300 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 273 @ 5000 rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 109.3 in. / 195.5 in. Curb Weight 3889 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 12.8 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline Tires 245/40 ZR19 94Y Michelin Pilot Sport Brakes, front/rear vented disc, dual-piston calipers / solid disc, single-piston calipers; ABS, VSA® standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, full-time all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 25 / 19 0 to 60 mph est 5.5 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES : None Destination charge $ 810