Review: 2009 Acura TL
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Current owners of Acura's best-selling TL told the company they wished their cars were sportier, with more distinctive styling. In September Acura will present them with the undeniably more distinct 2009 TL — a car that it says strikes a perfect balance between the rational and the emotional. We say the TL will continue to sell because it's the obvious rational choice of the segment — packed with technology, comfortable to drive and priced right.
The SH-AWD model is highlighted by Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive — one of the most advanced on the market today, offering enhanced dry weather enjoyment as well as wet weather traction. The SH-AWD version comes with 18-inch wheels and tires, and also has unique sport seating, a contoured steering wheel and special stitching. Nineteen-inch wheels are also available on the SH-AWD.
Either car can be equipped with a Technology Package that includes navigation with voice recognition, an unbelievable 10-speaker audio system, a rearview camera and a rear spoiler. The technology package climate control links up with GPS and a solar sensor to determine the ideal cabin temperature and humidity, and the car will tell you if you're headed into a snowstorm or a traffic jam.
Under the Hood
Acura estimates that 25 percent of buyers will opt for the SH-AWD model, which comes with a 3.7-liter V6 that bumps output to 305 horsepower, making it the most powerful production Acura ever made. The larger engine generates 273 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm, and gas mileage goes down to 17/25 mpg (city/hwy).
In the SH-AWD, the same five-speed transmission supplies rev-matched downshifts via steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and is linked to a shorter final drive to help acceleration. In 2010 a manual transmission will be offered, but Acura won't say which trim will be the recipient.
If you can remember where the right button is, you can do more in the TL than in any other car. Real-time weather? A three-day forecast? No problem. The top-notch navigation with real-time traffic has been updated with a few new search features, like "café/coffee shop", and "chain restaurants". On top of that, it's now possible to find the nearest Starbucks, rather than a Starbucks, as on the previous car.
Every TL will seat five in a plush leather interior, and whether you opt for the seats of the base TL or the more supportive SH-AWD seats, your rear end will never complain. There is a neat drawer in the armrest, perfect for an mp3 player or cell phone, and there's another compartment in the passenger footwell that's ideal for storing such antiquated methods of music reproduction as the CD.
On the Road
The SH-AWD has more sporting pretensions. Lay into the gas and the engine elicits a surprising roar, but you aren't exactly rocketing forward with 3,983 pounds to motivate. Acura assures us this car is faster than its predecessor, but it somehow doesn't feel that way. The paddle shifters are fun to use, but the shift algorithm needs work to match the sportiness of six-speed offerings from the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, often taking a second to react to tugs of the paddle and sometimes misguessing the correct revs altogether.
The advanced SH-AWD system makes any driver look like a pro — push too hard into a corner, and it will help keep you on your intended course. Try the same trick on the front-wheel-drive TL and you might find yourself doing some unplanned off-roading. Like the new Acura TSX, the TL's electric power steering is precise but lacks feel compared to the traditional belt-driven system of the previous car. A back-to-back drive with the 2008 TL highlights this, despite the quicker ratio of the new car.
Twin-piston front brakes are a vast improvement in pedal feel and effort over the previous model. The SH-AWD has functional brake cooling ducts in the front bumper.
In response to customer requests, the shock absorbers have a "blow-off" function, which allows them to be taut in the twisties, but react incredibly quickly on sharp impacts. Our drive in the SH-AWD confirmed their effectiveness, striking up an impressive compromise between handling and comfort.
Right for You?
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.
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