2012 Acura TL SH-AWD: Short Take Road Test
This 2012 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2013.
By Steve Siler of Car and Driver
We tend to like Acuras. They usually offer decent handling (the company's torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system only helps), a high level of technology, and good value relative to the German luxury brands. Since the current-generation TL was introduced in 2008, though, we've been unable to get over a couple of significant shortcomings: an automatic transmission that missed the six-speed boat — making do with only five forward ratios — and that awful beak. For 2012, Acura has attempted to address these complaints.
Now That We Have That Out of the Way
First, the styling. That you should defend your products to the death is PR 101, but even Acura folks admit that, if there was one deal breaker that potential customers cited when choosing other cars over Acuras, it was the TL's, um, controversial styling. The 2012 update should help. The stylistic changes might not have much effect in pictures, but seeing the 2011 and 2012 models side by side proves that the numerous small alterations did help.
Changes for 2012 start, of course, with toning down the TL's divisive grille. Yes, the badge blade and the intake aperture remain roughly the same as before, but the clunky silver surround is gone, replaced by a thin chrome frame and a new body-color trim piece between the grille and hood. The headlight innards are now painted black instead of silver, and the bevels in the front and rear bumpers have been raised. The supplemental air intakes in the front fascia feature new detailing. In back, the taillight lenses have been revised, and the license-plate mount has been raised. In the process of making all these tiny tweaks, Acura trimmed an inch from the front overhang and half an inch from the rear.
Six-Speeds across the Board
Whereas the slightly downplayed styling is a subjective fix — and it might help keep Lexus intenders in the Acura showroom for more than a cursory glance — the fitment of a six-speed automatic in place of the old five-speed yields considerable fuel-economy benefits. The TL's two engines — a 3.5-liter V-6 with 280 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque for front-wheel-drive models and a 3.7-liter V-6 with 305 hp and 273 lb-ft for all-wheel-drivers — carry over unchanged save for some friction-reducing measures in the smaller mill. But the extra cog makes it that much easier to access the sweet part of either engine's power band, which is from 4000 to 6000 rpm. Shifts are quick and crisp, and we love the way the transmission holds paddle-selected gears in sport mode, refusing to upshift at redline. Shifts in drive, however, seem somewhat harsh for commuting. Acura boasts that it has programmed the throttle to blip on downshifts, but it's pretty disappointing in actual use.
Naturally, we still prefer Acura's wonderfully organic-feeling six-speed manual to the automatic. But it's only available with all-wheel drive, a fun configuration but one that takes its toll on fuel economy. A manual TL SH-AWD is rated at 17 mpg city/25 highway versus 18/26 for automatic all-wheel-drivers; front-drive models get an impressive 20/29. The best the 2011 TL could muster was 18/26. Since the manual powertrain in the all-wheel-drive TL carries over — and we previously tested one — we hooked our test gear to the AWD-equipped automatic. Although not as fast as the row-your-own, which took only 5.2 seconds to hit 60 mph, the new auto did the dash in 6.2 seconds and needed 14.7 seconds to clear the quarter-mile at 98 mph. Compared with the five-speed auto, those are improvements of 0.3 second to 60 mph and 0.4 second and 3 mph in the quarter. During our time with the car, we split the EPA ratings almost perfectly, averaging 21 mpg.
Without the high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 rubber fitted to our previous test car, we saw a significant drop in skidpad grip and, more important, braking distance. The 2012 TL SH-AWD, with its standard Goodyear Eagle RS-As, only managed 0.86 g on the skidpad and needed 178 feet to stop from 70 mph compared with 0.92 g and an impressive 158 feet on the optional rubber. That's an easy refresher about the importance of what's between you and the road.
The interior gets few changes. Like every Acura, the 2012 TL's dashboard still suffers from severe overbuttonitis, but some new brightwork around the knobs and between the radio buttons helps things aesthetically if not ergonomically. Ventilated front seats are a part of the new Advance package at the top of the TL range, which also comes with upsized wheels (18 inches on front-drive TLs, 19s on all-wheel-drive models) and a blind-spot warning system. The 440-watt ELS surround-sound audio system is spectacular even with MP3s, let alone higher-quality CD and DVD audio tracks.
The 2012 TL is already on sale, starting at $36,465 for a base front-drive model and $40,015 for the TL SH-AWD. Add $3730 for the Tech package, which includes navigation and surround-sound audio. The Advance package adds the aforementioned equipment to the Tech package goodies and costs another $2200. (It is not, however, available on cars equipped with a manual transmission.) Those prices still represent strong value, and now that Acura has mostly fixed its most glaring shortcomings, the TL is a stronger entry than ever.