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New Car Review: 2004 Acura TL

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2004 Acura TL provides an excuse to take the back road home

By: Walter Hager

Just like you had to eat all your veggies before you got dessert, I’m going to make you sit through a brief history lesson before we go play with the new TL. Since its US inception in 1986, Acura’s goal has been to provide well-crafted, high performance vehicles. That wasn’t hard to do because it was created by Honda to be its upscale brand, and we all know Honda’s reputation speaks for itself. While it was at one time their marketing slogan, the term “precision-crafted performance” still lives on in today’s Acura vehicles.

OK, time to close the books. Let’s go out to the parking lot and examine the new TL. The first thing that you should notice, especially if you own a previous model, is that it has much more aggressive styling than its predecessors. Acura made sure of this, as some of the critics claim most of their cars are a little bland in the styling department. The upcoming 2005 RL sedan will also take some cues from this new styling as well.

Can you have a car that is all show and no go? Sure, but not in the competitive luxury performance market. To back up the TL’s new skin, they also gave it a heart transplant. Under the hood is an all-new aluminum 3.2-liter 24-valve VTEC V-6 that generates 270 horsepower and 238 lb-ft of torque, much more than the previous engine. In case you’re not aware of the VTEC system, it stands for Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC is much easier than saying VVTLEC). This is a marvelous system that, through two distinct cam profiles, provides the best in low-end torque and high horsepower production. What this ultimately means is you have power whenever you want it, and zero-to 60 comes faster than you can say 6.5 seconds. The power comes at a price, however, as the TL runs on premium fuel. Estimated fuel mileage comes in around 19-mpg city/29-mpg highway with a 17-gallon tank.

Once you take it out on the road you’ll realize that the TL is more than just another luxury car. Handling and stability are also some of the car’s strong points. All TL’s are equipped with a 4-channel Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) system that can help you out of a bad driving situation. If the system begins to detect skidding, it will brake one or both of the outside wheels to keep you pointed in the right direction. If it detects understeer, the system will brake one or both of the inside wheels and reduce the throttle automatically. I wouldn’t recommend you go out and try this on I-540 in the middle of rush hour, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you need it. Peace of mind will also come from the standard dual-stage, dual-threshold front and side airbags.

Acura has improved the TL’s interior as well. The previous three-pod instrument cluster design still remains, but there are higher-quality materials and a host of innovative features as well. For example, you can determine when you want the doors to lock and unlock, or you can even program your car to beep (or not) when you lock it with your keyless entry remote. And we all want it to beep and make us look cool, right? If you’re like me though, as long as my doors lock and whatever I have inside is safe, I couldn’t care less if it played an Elvis song.

We’ve all experienced at least one occasion where we’re driving and talking on the cell phone and almost got into a wreck or run off the road. Acura has a cure for that and it’s called BlueTooth. This is a hands-free wireless phone system that you can activate by pressing a button on the steering wheel. Upon activation, you can speak the number you want to dial and you’ll ultimately hear the other person through the TL’s nice 8-speaker surround-sound audio system. When you’re receiving an incoming call, the audio system mutes and the caller’s number is displayed on the instrument panel. Probably even more impressive is the fact that you can transfer calls from the car’s system to your cell phone, or vice versa. So if you pull up to work and you’re still talking to your sweetheart through the car system, you don’t have to hang up – just transfer the call from your car to your cell phone and you can keep talking as you’re walking into your workplace. Just don’t let the boss hear you.

Oddly enough there are no model variations with the new TL, no base model or high-end model. There is just one model that offers lots of features to choose from. Some of the goodies you can get include XM satellite radio, navigation, surround sound, and dual climate control. Expect the TL to top out just above $35,000.

The 2004 TL is overall a more refined package than its predecessor. With precision-crafted performance at a precision-crafted price, it is definitely a worthy alternative to some of its higher priced competitors.