By Jim Bray
Once again Acura has left me in awe and I wasnt even able to
drive the car properly!
The Acura TL Type S may be gone, but performance aficionados need not mourn.
Its replacement gives you everything that was great about that car, and a lot
And if youre an audiophile, the new TL just may be the set of wheels
you want to wield - at least until the competition catches up. But more about
that later, and in another column. Stay Tuned, so to speak!
The TL, second from the top of Hondas upscale divisions line,
is new for 2004. Not that the previous, second generation was a slouch. I got
to drive it about a year ago, in its sportier Type
S configuration, and really liked it. About the only things I could find
to nitpick were its kind of bland (though in a nice way) body style and the
lack of a manual transmission.
Well get a load of the new TL. This is an attractive luxury performance sedan
with an aggressive new look and - hooray! - its available with a six
speed manual transmission.
Alas, the test unit I got to drive had the 5 speed automatic transmission,
with sequential sportshift pretend manual shift feature. Its
a fine automatic, almost enough to make me want an automatic, but I really,
really wanted to try the six speed stick to see what kind of driving experience
the TL could really be. After all, the TSX, reviewed here,
knocked off my socks, and my tester TSX had the wonderful manual.
Oh, well. Fortunately, the TL has plenty of other things to love.
Such as a 3.2 liter V6 engine that ups the horsepower ante even from the Type
S version of last years model. The new TL puts out 270 horses @ 6200
rpm, 10 more than the 2003 Type S and 45 more than the base model 03
TL. Torque is up to 238 @ 5000 rpm, compared with 232 (Type S) and 215 (garden
variety) lb.-ft. last year.
Not surprisingly, this is a fast car. Car
and Driver Magazine, in a preview test of the new TL, estimated a 0-60
time of six seconds flat, which aint bad at all.
Unfortunately, the day after I took delivery of my tester we got about a foot
of snow, so rather than having a chance to test its acceleration and handling,
I got to test its traction control, ABS, and dual zone climate control. All
work extremely well. I can only assume that the TL is a blast to drive, based
on my experience with other Acura and Honda products and the gut feel
you get from making the car perform as much as is practical in inclement weather.
The bad weather did make me notice one thing about the TL Id like to
see changed: the location of the hand brake. Its across the center console
from the driver, on the passenger seat side. Under normal conditions this is
great; it gives the driver a little extra room. However, its also just
a little bit too far away to reach easily without looking for it for those
irresponsible times when the road or parking lot is slippery you want to do
a few hand brake turns - just to practice your skills of course.
On the other hand, Acura has finally put the sunroof controls where, in my
opinion, they belong. They're on the ceiling, where most other cars (but no
other Hondas I can think of) have it. And its a little joystick-type
thingy: press it and the roof tilts, pull it backwards and the sunroof opens
smoothly; the auto open feature means you dont have to keep your hand
you can put it back on the steering wheel where it belongs.
Likewise, theres an auto closing feature and if you stick your arm up
when its closing itll bounce back after hitting it, gently. Its
And this is a very attractive Acura. Gone are the old TLs swooping curves,
replaced by a muscular and angular style that looks athletic and looks like
it means business. In one swell foop theyve taken the TL from vanilla
to butterscotch, (this is written by a butterscotch nut, of course)
from slightly bland to aggressively attractive. I love the new body style.
It reminds me of the TSX, only better.
This is a car that easily inspires passion something Honda said it
was striving for with the current Accord. I think they missed the passion
with the Accord, despite its excellence but they came through here,
Acura says the TL is aimed to compete head to head with the likes of the BMW
5 series and Audi A6, which are pretty good targets at which to aim. Does it
hit them? Alas, Ive never driven either so I cant honestly say.
But while Ive lusted after the 5 for years, I wouldnt hesitate
to look at the TL were I in a buying mood.
If only it had rear wheel drive or even all wheel drive. Still, it
doesnt exhibit much, if any, torque steer in this slushbox incarnation
and the combination of limited slip differential and all the other traction
toys (such as stability assist, ABS, and traction control) help impart plenty
Acura says the new TL is the first Acura to debut in Canada offering a satellite
Navigation System with Voice Recognition - even featuring Canadian-specific
French. My tester didnt come with an owners manual so I never
figured out the voice recognition, and since I dont speak French I didnt
bother trying that aspect of it. But overall, the navigation system works extremely
well, and sports an interface that, while not perfect, is better than I expected.
The GPS-based unit uses a DVD-based map of North America thats mounted
in a player on the floor of the trunk and interacts with you (if you so choose)
with a pleasant female voice that eschews a soulless robotic sound in favor
of a mellifluous virtual larynx that, no matter how hard I tried to make it
mad, never ceased to sound unruffled.
This even keel is only to be expected from a robot, of course. Despite that,
however, I (displaying my typical maturity) took delight in veering off the
routes it would suggest, forcing it to recalculate over and over again. Just
once, I hoped - even though I knew it wouldnt - it would exhibit some
exasperation at my cavalier disregard for its digital wisdom and toss a little
binary bitchiness my way, hollering at me, calling me an idiot, or whatever.
But no, this robot was built to serve, no matter what nasty things it may have
been thinking about me in its silicon brain.
The only real downside to the nav system is the way the big LCD screen acts
as a finger mark magnet, and the fact that you really have to mash the buttons
sometimes. And what's with the warning screen you have to click through every
time you start the car? Lawyers...
The TL also offers other new technologies such as a Bluetooth wireless-linked
telephone system that will interact with a Bluetooth-equipped cellular phone,
and the first North American automotive application of a DVD-audio sound system.
I wont belabor the sound system review here. Im writing a separate
column on the DVD-A, dts audio system, and itll give you more of my impressions
of this terrific audio system.
The Bluetooth idea is great. I dont have such a cell phone, so couldnt
actually try it, but the concept is sound: your phone automatically becomes
a hands free unit in the TL, interacting with the car through steering wheel-mounted
controls, a microphone on the ceiling and the audio systems speakers.
It also recognizes voice commands and can store frequently called numbers.
What a great safety and convenience feature!
The TL also features drive by wire throttle control, which I first experienced
in the TSX. Other than feeling a little strange for the first while, since
the gas pedal is mounted to the floor via hinges rather than hanging down from
below the instrument panel, but it works fine and allows the electronics to
interact between pedal, engine, and transmission.
The sequential sportshift works well and shifts quickly, though it also shifts
a little too quickly out of first gear. Now, perhaps the slippery roads marred
the performance, but even when I gunned it and tried to red line the engine
in first, it would shift into second anyway, hundreds of rpm earlier than I
wanted. In the real world this probably wouldnt matter, but who knows
when youll be forced to show some unbeliever the cars burnout capabilities?
And what a shame to mute that lovely V6 song as it rises through the revs
On the upside, the new shift gate is wonderful, very intuitive and easy to
The new TL, by the way, is designed for long term performance. Acura has included
a new maintenance minder system that monitors the engine and gives
you an on-dash readout if something such as the engine oil needs attention.
Oil change intervals are up to 10,000 miles and the first tune up isnt
due until youve put 105,000 happy miles on the car.
A few little things, and its the little things that Honda/Acura does
so well (not that they blow the big things!) that I really liked include:
* Nice, solid feeling and easy to grasp outer door handles
* Classy integration of the tail pipes into the rear body styling
* The lateral line running along the doors, which give aggressiveness
and character to the look
* Nice LED taillights and good HID headlights (though I thought the low beams
could have been aimed just a tad higher)
* Power drivers seat lumbar support
* Excellent size of the moonroof (I like em large)
* Tilt and telescope steering wheel (though the functions should be powered)
* Excellent driving position, with everything close at hand
* Smaller side mirrors; the previous TLs were so big you could lose pedestrians
or other traffic behind them
Driving the TL is a gas, or probably would be when conditions warrant. Step
on the gas and youre off to the races right now; step on the brake and
youre losing speed with safe abandon. And between those times youre
in a car that goes where you point it and steps over road irregularities with
aplomb. Im willing to bet that if Id had the TL in summer, and
with the 6 speed stick, I would have been in Heaven,and my wallet would have
been a lot lighter thanks to radar traps.
Suspension is double wishbone up front with coil over shock absorbers; the
rear end features 5 link double wishbone with struts and coil springs. It makes
the car feel very nimble and poised. Steering is a new speed sensitive, torque
sensing power rack and pinion system that seems designed for those with enthusiast
Brakes are four wheel discs with electronic brake force distribution, brake
assist, ABS and four channel vehicle stability assist with traction control.
The latter also works when accelerating, of course, and on the snowy roads
during my test period the system worked fine when going and stopping.
The wheels are lightweight, 17 x 8 inch aluminium alloy, and are quite handsome.
Standard tires are P235/45R17 M+S all seasons.
Inside, the TL is roomy, comfortable, and even with all its electronic doodads
its easy to figure out. As mentioned, my tester didnt have an owners
manual, yet I managed to master everything except some of the more arcane aspects
of the navigation system.
The cabin is bigger than before, giving more head, shoulder and front leg
room, the leather wrapped steering wheel is nice and thick and feels great
in the hands. The instrument panel is bright and legible, though I found its
LED backlighting a tad well, garish is definitely not the right word,
so perhaps obtrusive is better.
And you get keyless entry with two driver profiles as well as two memory settings
for the seats etc.
My tester had the fake wood accents as opposed to the fake carbon fiber. Its
handsome and looks real, though I think the faux fibers nicer. These
are matters of personal taste, of course, though I wonder why in such a tour
de force as this they dont use real wood.
Environmental whackos influence, perhaps?
Ergonomics are outstanding. Despite the gigantic screen in the middle of the
dash, Acura has chosen to use a combination of buttons and readouts, focusing
mostly on buttons, and theyre well-placed, easy to read and easy to reach
from the drivers seat. As mentioned earlier, I could have done without
the lawyers screen of safety advice that inflicts itself
upon you every time you start up the TL, however. Perhaps its time to
start hanging lawyers again.
All the seats are leather, and very comfortable, though things might get a
tad chummy for the person in the middle of the back seat. The front seats are
great, though. The drivers seat has an abundance of power positioning
settings (the front passenger has fewer adjustments, but the seat is powered),
as well as good bolstering for spirited driving. The front seats
also feature bun warmers.
TLs automatic climate control features a dual zone feature that helps
prevent fisticuffs on the road, and it works well. And get this: Acura says
the navigation system can determine where the sun is relative to the driver
and passenger, and adjusts the airflow to compensate for its heating power.
Safety features abound, from the usual ABS and seat belt/front air bags stuff
to side airbags and side curtain airbags, adjustable head restraints. Acura
estimates the car will achieve top ratings when its tested. The cars
even designed to help minimize injuries to pedestrians!
One nitpick, but one I thought unusual: the TLs windows tended to drop
a tad over time. It wasnt anything major, but at least three times during
my week or so with the TL I pulled up on the window controls and discovered
that at least one of them had opened slightly since Id last closed it.
But hell, I can only find such minor quibbles in what is overall a terrific
piece of automobiledom.
Once again, I have to take my hat off to Acura. How do they keep doing it?