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The Acura TL, The Line between near and Luxury grows ever thinner

by Larry Weitzman


SEE ALSO: Acura Buyer's Guide

It's hard to believe that Soichiro (So-each-e-row) Honda's idea for a small 50cc motor scooter would grow into one of the finest automobile companies in the world in less than 50 years. Honda changed the image of motorcycling from Marlon Brando and the rough and tumble into "You meet the nicest people on a Honda".

From building the world's largest motorcycle company, Honda decided that cars were the next step. With the introduction of the Honda Civic in the early 1970's, with the CVCC (compound vortex, controlled combustion) engine that ran clean without a catalytic converter, Honda was on its way.

That evolution eventually developed into an upscale line of automobiles named Acura in 1986. That line has expanded from two models, the Legend and Integra to six models: The RL, TL, CL, Integra, the super slick mid engined sports car NSX, and the SUV model SLX.

For the past week I had the arduous duty to live with the new TL. Now in its second generation, it has completely been redesigned from the original TL. It has a new body, chassis, engine and interior. It's a new automobile.

The body is one that grows on you. The front end has a resemblance to the Accord, but it's only a resemblance. The TL is sleeker and cleaner. The entire body has a lower, longer and more aggressive look, even though its only 3 inches longer than the Accord and one inch taller. The wheelbase has been stretched 1.2 inches to 108.1 with the width of both vehicles identical at 70.3 inches.

But the Acura has some subtle styling touches. The lower crease line that starts at the front head light assemblies extends to and into the beautiful rear tail lights. It is only interrupted by the aggressive front wheel flares. The sharp edge styling continues to the clean tail and the trick chromed tip dual exhausts.

But the sharp edge ends as soon as the doors open. The interior is luxurious, soft and warm. With the TL there are no factory options, everything is standard. Every detail exudes luxury. The seats are leather, as is the door paneling, center console arm rest, steering wheel and shift knob. The front seats are sumptuous and a wonderful place to spend considerable time. The driver's seat is eight way power with lumbar and the passenger is 4 way power.

The dash is tastefully done with the control center for the driver containing three large instrument holes. The center for the speedo, the left for the tach and the right for the fuel and temp gauges. An information center below the speedo contains the outside temperature.

At the top of the vertical center console is the Acura Navigation System. It is in living color and trick. It maps wherever you are going and has an easy zoom rocker switch to see detail with street names or the big picture of the entire area. The display is remarkable clear, and easy to use. No book was necessary to get up to speed. After having one for a week, it can spoil you.

The environmental systems are controlled automatically by four buttons beneath the navigation system. However, if manual control is desired, it is done through the A/C button to the right of the nav screen. By activating this button, A/C "buttons" appear on screen and are controlled by simply touching the screen. Very easy. There is a downside to this system and that is a screen full of fingerprints that under certain lighting conditions can become hard to see. Sherlock Holmes would love it. Since the screen is plastic covered, cleaning must be done carefully so as not to scratch the screen. A minor annoyance.

The sound system located just below the nav system is powerful, simple to use and most importantly, magnificent in its operation. Using a Bose system of speakers, you will have to search hard to find a more comfortable concert hall.

The rear seating area provides spacious room for two adults, less so for three, but there are not too many vehicles that provide limousine comfort for three in the rear these days. Two lucky six footers could spend hours in the rear of a TL and arrive fresh at their destination.

Materials used in the TL are of exceptional quality. The dash is dense and soft touch. The door panels are exquisite and even the sides of the center console are soft touch. There is no hard plastics except for the piece below the steering column and even that feels good. The sparingly used faux wood trim even looks real. Even the large well shaped trunk is nicely done. This car is meticulously finished. Can you say luxury?

Part of the reason for the fresh arrival is the fully independent advanced five link double wishbone rear suspension and double wishbone independent front suspension. The rear setup attaches to a subframe which helps isolate road noise and vibrations. Both ends have stabilizer bars, the front being hollow with the rear having a smaller diameter, solid bar.

The Acura strutted its stuff on Ponderosa Road. Smooth would be an understatement. Its washboard surface and bumpy corners didn't exist as far as the driver and occupants were concerned. It's that good.

However in the twisties, the tires and the sightly softer biased suspension tuning limit its cornering prowess. Tires are 205/60's mounted on 16X16.5 inch alloys. Bigger tires such as 215/60's in this case may be better. Notwithstanding, the twisties of El Dorado County were no problem for the TL, but I did notice some body roll. Green Valley, South Shingle and Latrobe could all be handled with ease and confidence at the speed limit. Balance is the goal and the TL surpasses that goal.

I did a few laps in the TL at Willow Springs last November. I was able to be relatively quick because of the ability to select the proper gear, strong engine performance and its almost totally benign handling. It has no vices.

Handling is helped by the speed sensitive rack and pinion power steering which has near perfect road feel and resistance. It is accurate without being twitchy while maintaining superb on center feel. It definitely improves the driving experience especially in the twisties. The TL will go exactly where you point it. Turning circle is a tight 36.8 feet.

The ride either in the bumps or on the highway offers that aforementioned balance. It is very well controlled and absorbs bumps, tar strips, expansion joints and potholes like a walk in the park. And it does so without any float, wind or road noise. It is quiet and very comfortable. I very much like the blend of handling and ride Acura has created in the TL. It's what 99 percent of the drivers want.

It only gets better. The V-6 that powers the TL is a new generation, Accord derived, 60 degree, 3.2L V-6 that pumps out 225 very big horses at a relatively low 5,500 rpm. Torque is 216 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm. It was created by boring the Accord block by 3 mm to 89mm while retaining the same stroke of 86 mm. It is a SOHC 24 valve unit with VTEC (variable (valve) timing electronic control). Although the redline is listed at 6,300 rpm, the rev limiter doesn't come into play until about 6,600 rpm and it is easy to bump the limiter because this is a genuine silk motor.

With this kind of power on tap, it will pull the 3472 pound TL from standing start to 60 mph in only 7.3 seconds (I had one run at 7.05 seconds). Passing performance is equally as quick with 50-70 mph coming up in a average of 4.23 seconds. Up a steep grade only slowed that time to 5.61 seconds. These times are within a blink of an eye from super car luxury sedan numbers.

And it does it with ease and little commotion. The transmission is a four speed electronically controlled automatic with a sport shift feature. First its a full automatic. Put it in D4 and go. It will do everything you need, from silky imperceptible upshifts to crisp downshifts. However, when in sport shift mode, which is done by simply pulling the console shifter to the left into a special gate, shifts are controlled by the driver by pushing the shifter forward and releasing for up shifts and rearward for downshifts. Without reading the owner's manual, one can inadvertently put the lever into sport shift without realizing which will not let the car out of first gear when starting from a dead stop unless manually shifted.

When sport shifting, the TL becomes "get down" fun. The engine is so smooth, it is easy to bump off the rev limiter. Of course it also allows maximizing the full potential of this jewel of an engine, especially in the lower gears.

When attacking corners, you can downshift a gear for engine braking and then have the appropriate gear selected before exiting. It's a blast, it's smooth and it works oh so naturally without looking.

The standard traction control prevents melting the tires during WOT from a dead stop and enhances traction under slippery conditions. It operates through the ABS system by sensing wheel slip and then retarding throttle first and then selective braking. And it happens unobtrusively in milliseconds.

Speaking of brakes, the TL has four big discs (nearly 12 inches, ventilated in front) with a four channel ABS. They are powerful and natural feeling with superb pedal control and feel.

Fuel economy for my test period was 22 mpg which splits the EPA rating of 19/27 city/highway. With a little restraint. 22-24 mpg should be the norm for El Dorado County and 27 plus on the highway. With a fuel capacity of 17.2 gallons, expect a highway cruising range of over 450 miles.

Now for the best news of all, the price which is the only thing that is not luxurious about this car. The TL with the navigation system lists for $29,950 plus $455 for destination, or a total of $30,405. My test car had one option, dealer installed floor mats (embroidered carpets) for $109. Without the nav system, it's $2,000 less. Standard equipment includes, power moon roof, full power, remote entry, Bose CD with cassette, keyless remote entry, homelink transmitter, speed sensitive intermittent wipers, heated seats and a host of other features. There is nothing more to buy other than a six pack CD changer which can be dealer installed.

Niello Acura in Sacramento actually had a couple of TL's in stock the other day. Demand is high because of the value that this TL offers. It is a better car than the previous model for several thousand dollars less. This is one car that begs to be driven and once inside you will find it very difficult to leave. The TL is one of the new class of "near luxuary cars". The only thing near luxury about the TL is the price, everything else is luxury.


Price                              $28,405 to $30,405

3.2L, SOHC, 24 valve               225 hp @ 5,500 rpm
V-6 with VTEC                      216 lb-ft of torque @ 5,000 rpm

4 speed electronically controlled
automatic with grade logic and
sport shift

Transverse mounted front 
engine, front wheel drive
with traction control

Wheelbase                          108.1  inches
Length                             192.9  inches
Width                              70.3   inches
Height                             56.1   inches
Ground Clearance                   5.9    inches
Curb Weight                        3472   pounds
Fuel Capacity                      17.2   gallons
Trunk Capacity                     14.3   cubic feet
Track                              61.2/60.4  inches
Turning Circle                     36.8   feet
RPM at 70 mph                      2400

0-60                               7.3    seconds
50-70                              4.23   seconds
50-70 (up hill)                    5.61   seconds
Top Speed                          Electronically limited to 130
                                   mph, possibly 145 mph without.
                                   Unless your Evil Knivel there is
                                   no reason to find out.
Fuel                               Economy EPA 19/27 mpg city/highway.

My esitmate is 22-24 in El Dorado County and 27 plus on the highway at legal speeds.