2004 Acura TL
This 2004 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2008.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Acura's best-selling sedan now has something for everyone, regardless of whether a car shopper is an audiophile, a techie or a driving enthusiast.
Why, even the old TL's somewhat boring looks are updated.
Re-engineered for the 2004 model year, the new TL is a third-generation car that's the first in North America with DVD-Audio surround sound, the first here with standard Bluetooth communications technology, and the highest horsepower and torque of any TL ever.
It all comes in this near-luxury four door that carried a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of just over $32,600.
It's easy to see why Acura officials felt the need to put so much new equipment in the 2004 TL. Buyers in this segment have a lot of well-appointed choices, including the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3-Series, and Infiniti G35.
Within the Acura line, the TL slots above the TSX sedan, which was a new model introduced in spring 2003 and had a starting MSRP of more than $26,000, and the larger RL sedan, which starts at more than $45,000.
The new, 225-watt audio system with an in-dashboard six-disc changer and 5.1 surround sound is a prime example. It was developed with the help of electronics giant Panasonic and Elliot Scheiner, the Grammy-winning music producer and engineer who produced albums for Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac.
In fact, the official name of the TL sound system—"Acura/ELS Premium 8-speaker Surround Sound System"—includes a nod to Steiner via the "ELS" part of the label.
This system uses six channels (surround sound) rather than the usual two (stereo) found in premium sound systems to deliver digital surround sound that's 500 times the resolution of CD audio.
As a result, it can play the latest DVD-A media to deliver amazingly clear, detailed sounds which made me feel as if I was inside a recording studio, rather than the inside of a car.
An additional benefit for the recording industry to this DVD-Audio system: The new DVD-A media will be difficult to pirate.
The downside right now, though, is that DVD-A selections are limited.
No worry. The TL's audio system also can play regular, two-channel CDs in stereo as well as DTS CDs in surround sound. It doesn't play the MP3 format, though it can play CD-Rs and CD-RWs.
Note the DVD-Audio sound system is standard in the TL. Also found in every 2004 TL: A cassette player for drivers who listen to books on tape and a free, three-month subscription to XM Satellite radio that provides some 100 specialty radio channels, many of them commercial-free.
One engine now
It's just too easy to get up over speed limits in this TL, whose 3.2-liter single overhead cam V6 with Acura's Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) now provides more horsepower and torque than the performance Type S model of TL did in the 2003 model year.
Specifically, horsepower is up to 270 now from 260 in the Type S last year, and torque is 238 lb-ft at 5000 rpm compared with 232 lb-ft at 3500 to 5500 rpm in the old Type S. There is no Type S for 2004.
Engine power comes on readily and steadily, especially with the six-speed manual transmission. It's a fun, short-throw shifter, complete with multi-cone synchronizers on first through fourth gears.
The five-speed automatic can be shifted manually by the driver sans clutch pedal.
Note, though, that only TLs with the six speed get the limited-slip differential and four-piston Brembo front brakes. The six speed TLs also are the only models that offer optional high-performance, summer tires.
Not a rear-wheel-drive performance sedan
The new TL appears to take the front-wheel-drive platform right up to its performance limits. Fitted with standard four-wheel vehicle stability control with traction control, the TL works hard to control under steer and minimize torque steer.
The suspension is more capable now, for sure, and the overall rigidity of the car is noticeable. Driving enthusiasts, putting the TL through its paces, will notice this is no rear-driver.
Still, the ergonomics inside the TL are some of the best around, with seats with perforated leather quite accommodating for someone my size —5 feet 4 inches—or someone who's 6-feet tall.
All controls are within easy reach and easy to understand, and the blue LED-illuminated numbers and letters in the gauges and bright red needles that seem to float inside them are distinctive and jazzy looking.
Technology to the fore
The TL's keyless remote entry not only adjusts the position of seat and outside mirrors, it can automatically go to a personal, preset heating/cooling temperature, too.
The Bluetooth technology allows someone with a Bluetooth-enabled phone to use the car's voice recognition and audio systems to conduct calls hands free. In fact, the phone doesn't even have to be docked. It can be in the glove box or even a suitcase and will still be operational in the TL's Bluetooth system.
The downside: Cellular phones with Bluetooth tend to be the pricier models on the market.
The TL's navigation system, expected to be on 25 percent of the models sold, is upgraded from its predecessor for quicker route calculation and additional information.
It's also integrated into the TL's air conditioning since the navigation system's global positioning satellite can tell the direction the car is traveling and where the sun is positioned. As a result, the cooling system can add extra cooling to the passenger area of the car that's getting the sun's direct rays.
What will they think of next?