2014 Acura TL SH-AWD Review and Road Test By Carey Russ
2014 Acura TL SH-AWD ("Super Handling All-Wheel Drive") Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
THE AUTO CHANNEL
Acura has carved its niche in the sports-luxury marketplace as a mix of performance, luxury, and technology. Note that here "technology" is not just the marketing department's euphemism for "latest electronic infotainment gizmos and gadgets" -- although those are included in the package -- but use of electronic control technology to improve performance, cornering ability, and fuel economy. The company's mid-sized TL sedan is the best example of that blend, especially in premium "SH-AWD®" form.
"SH-AWD" is an acronym for "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive". When it was introduced back in 2000, it was the first AWD system to use active torque vectoring to send more torque to the outside rear wheel during hard cornering to help turn-in, and reduce understeer. It uses sophisticated electronic sensors and integration of the car's multiple electronic control modules to seamlessly improve adhesion on dry or slippery surfaces, in any weather and all seasons. It was first used in the TL when the fourth generation debuted for 2009.
That version has been with us ever since, but not unchanged. The original "Keen Edge Dynamic" styling featured the controversial "Power Plenum" grille. Sometimes limits are discovered by exceeding them; and so 2012 saw a "Motion Surface" restyle featuring a much less radical grille and other changes to the front and rear that just happened to improve airflow, both for engine cooling and decreased drag. The automatic transmission was upgraded from five speeds to six; the available six-speed manual version continued.
Changes since then have been minimal, and the Acura TL lineup goes into model year 2014 as it left 2013. With front-wheel drive, the power is from a 3.5-liter V6 with 280 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque in regular trim, Special Edition, or with the Technology or Advance option packages. SH-AWD means a 3.7-liter V6, 305 hp, and 273 lb-ft, regular trim with automatic or stick, or Technology or Advance Packages with the automatic. In deference to the manual version being a serious enthusiast's car, it gets a stiffer suspension calibration and other chassis upgrades and foregoes weight-adding luxury options. The manual gearbox also decreases weight compared to the automatic, further improving performance.
My first experience with a TL SH-AWD was on the track back in `09, with the stick. "Impressive" would be understatement -- tenacious traction and excellent manners made it easy and enjoyable to drive. Congratulations if you have one of those -- I suspect they are very rare, given American (non) shifting preferences. And in truth, after a week with a new SH-AWD Advance of the more common automatic variety, there's enough torque from the engine that playing hard in Sport mode is nearly as rewarding. And you can shift manually, using paddles behind the steering wheel. The six-speed torque-converter automatic will even match revs on downshift just like a dual-clutch automanual or a manual-shift driver talented in heel-and-toe shifting.
Make no mistake -- all of the expected luxury items are included in the Advance Package, but the car is still much more aimed at the sport side of sport-luxury. Quick acceleration, impressive braking, and excellent agility and grip from the SH-AWD system meet a suspension that is compliant enough for long-distance comfort yet firm enough to handle directional changes with aplomb. And four people can travel in complete comfort, with a reasonable amount of cargo. Sport plus luxury plus technology, must be an Acura.
APPEARANCE: Rhinoplasty as applied to the automobile; the nose is just a bit smaller, and reshaped. And makes all the difference, for the better. The ovalish auxiliary intakes in the front bumper fascia have been detailed, bringing them in line with other Acuras. The TL's overall lines and proportions haven't changed. With multiple planes and lines, the styling is busy but cohesive. The passenger cabin is dominant from the side, with a highly-raked windshield and near-fastback roof line. Strong shoulders, with prominent bulges over the front wheels, are notable. As has been a popular Acura styling detail, both ends come to a point, emphasized by a central crease line in the front fascia and hood and rear deck and fascia.
COMFORT: As outside, the TL's interior styling is busy but cohesive, interesting without being distracting. Materials are as expected, stitched leather for seating surfaces, the steering wheel rim, and the shift knob, with soft-touch molded material for the upper surfaces of the instrument panel and door panels. Trim is an honest patterned plastic that makes no attempt to be wood, aluminum, or carbon fiber. Seat adjustment is power, with two memory positions for the driver's seat. Front seat comfort and support are very good. The steering wheel adjusts manually for both tilt and reach, and has controls for audio, cruise, phone, and information systems. The bezeled main instruments are brightly backlit for easy visibility, with useful information on mileage, range, and such located between the tach and speedometer. The center stack is topped by the screen used for navigation, AM/FM/XM/internal hard disk/auxiliary jack and USB audio, and phone, traffic, weather, and voice control systems. Yes, the Advance Package means "fully equipped", adding heated and cooled front seats, a blind-spot detection system, and 19" alloy wheels with all-season performance tires to the Technology Package's premium perforated leather, rearview camera, navigation, voice-recognition, and solar-sensing climate-control systems and other luxury accoutrements. The climate control system works well in triple-digit temperatures.
Rear seat accommodations are business-class for outboard passengers. A high central tunnel and the seat cushion contour make the center position less friendly. The seatback doesn't fold, but there is a locking ski-passthrough. The trunk should be adequate for most uses, and a space-saver spare is found under its floor.
SAFETY: The TL includes all of Acura's current passive safety features, starting with its Advanced Compatibility Engineering, unibody structure, designed to channel crash energy around, not into, the passenger cabin, and continuing with a full complement of airbags, front active head restraints, and seat harnesses and child seat tethering. Active safety includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA), the Vehicle Stability Assist, electronic stability control system, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and the excellent road manners and capabilities given by the SH-AWD system and suspension calibration.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Sport and luxury balance well here. The TL's double-wishbone front, multilink rear suspension is calibrated for comfort and handling, supple enough to go the distance yet firm enough for excellent control. Electric assist is used for the steering; unlike some such systems it never feels numb and detached. Brakes are up to the engine's performance level. The harder the car is pushed, the better the SH-AWD system works. You won't find its limits on the street!
PERFORMANCE: Yes, the TL SH-AWS Advance Package weighs in at a hefty two tons. To balance the extra weight of the AWD system (and all the luxury items), AWD cars get a bigger engine than their FWD equivalents, 3.7 to 3.5 liters. The two are similar in design and construction, but the 3.7 is not merely a bored and stroked version of the 3.5. Many internal enhancements make it a more performance-oriented power unit. Although docile at low speeds, it likes to rev. As with most performance-oriented VTEC engines, the sweet spot is at the top -- maximum horsepower is 305, at 6300 rpm, with torque peaking at 273 lb-ft at a 5000 rpm. Keep it above 3000 for maximum fun, or below that for best fuel economy. The six-speed automatic also helps economy, with lower gearing than the old five-speed but a higher (numerically lower) final drive ratio. Play hard, feed often, as in 15 mpg at best. Drive normally, does better. EPA estimates are 18 mpg city, 26 highway, 21 overall. With more city and backroads than highway, I got 19.
CONCLUSIONS: The Acura TL successfully combines sports performance and handling with luxury comfort thanks to intelligent use of technology.
2014 Acura TL SH-AWD
Base Price $ 45,510 Price As Tested $ 46,405 Engine Type SOHC 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 with VTEC variable cam timing and lift control for both intake and exhaust valves Engine Size 3.7 liters / 224 cu. in. Horsepower 305 @ 6300 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 273 @ 5000 rpm Transmission 6-speed multimode automatic with manual shifting Wheelbase / Length 109.3 in. / 194.0 in. Curb Weight 4001 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 13.1 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline Tires P245/40 R19 Goodyear 94V Eagle RS-A Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, VSA, EBD, BA 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 18 / 26 / 19 0 to 60 mph 6.3 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Destination Charge $ 895