Acura TL SH-AWD — Impeccable performance
By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
Styling sells cars. Look no further than current Hyundai and Kia products as evidence. The Korean automakers’ sales have skyrocketed as they bombard the auto-buying public with one piece of delectable eye candy after another.
But beauty is, as wise sages have noted, only skin deep and eventually inner beauty will triumph. And so it is with the 2012 Acura TL, perhaps the best all-around luxury sports sedan for under $50,000. BMW 3-Series and Infiniti G37 fanatics will argue, of course.
Still after nearly 1,000 miles behind the wheel of an Acura TL SH (Super Handling) AWD (all-wheel drive) top trim version, our high regard of the TL continues to grow.
Its impeccable road manners, rewarding performance, quiet cabin, wonderful seats, and top-level sound system help melt the miles away like cold butter on a hot skillet.
As for the Acura’s outer beauty, that of course remains in the eye of the beholder. From our perspective, we wish for a more compelling outer skin, sleeker sheetmetal, and most of all, elimination of the big-blade grille and the chrome piece on the rear end.
In a mid-cycle refreshening, Acura addressed these concerns toning down the grille and reshaping the front and rear fascias for a more refined look, as well as addressing some other needed improvements such as replacing the outdated five-speed automatic transmission with a six-speed.
While the TL retains its basic look, which arrived with the complete redesign in 2009, the refreshening does improve its appearance. When you see a 2011 next to a 2012 model, the changes become obvious.
When the 2009 was introduced in the summer of 2008, we could not overcome our instant dislike for the snowplow-looking front end. The dominant grille has been called everything from a vegetable slicer to a gladiator shield.
The V-shaped rear decklid was also a puzzler. From the side, the TL design was handsomely conservative with muscular wheel arches and interesting character lines, rising above the ordinary. And overall, the TL presented a wide, solid stance.
When we heard of the redesign a couple of years ago, we had hopes that the disagreeable grille would become unattached from the front end. It has remained, but through the use of subtle styling techniques that push the grille forward and down, the front end has a wider more hunkered-down look that minimizes the offending schnoz. The rear end is also the beneficiary of some artful tweaks including a broadening character line broken only by a newly placed license plate area.
The overall result gives the sedan a more planted, less tall and gawky look. “With the 2009 TL, the exterior design was a lot about passion. With the 2012 TL, we pushed for an increased level of sophistication,” explained Damon Schell, senior designer with the Acura Design Studio.
The TL comes in two distinct choices, the base model that comes with a revised 3.5-liter V-6 producing 280 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque mated to the new six-speed shifter; and the upscale TL SH AWD that gets a 3.7-liter V-6 making 305 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque.
The difference in driving dynamics is evident in the price. The standard TL starts at $36,490 including destination charge, and the SH-AWD begins at $40,040.
We think people who value luxury and comfort, those in the market for a sedan rivaling such nameplates as the Hyundai Genesis V-6 and Lexus ES 350 will be pleased with the TL. The TL carries all the creature comforts of the SH-AWD version including a roomy and quiet cabin, excellent ride quality, great seats, wonderful sound system and state-of-the-art navigation. What you give up are extra handling and cornering attributes and some straight-ahead performance. That’s not to say the TL is sluggish in any way — or can’t offer a rewarding experience on the curves of driving life — with a measured 0-to-60 time of 6.5 seconds.
And there’s fuel economy to be considered. While the aforementioned new transmission adds a small dose of performance, it measurably helps with fuel economy — the base 3.5-liter V-6 in the front-wheel-driven TL is rated at an astounding 29 mpg in highway driving (20 mpg city). That same engine in the 2011 model is rated at 26 mpg.
The SH-AWD edition will appeal to those folks who are shopping for such vehicles as the BMW 3-Series, Infiniti G37, Lexus IS 350 and Audi A4.
With power to all four wheels through the new six-speed, we found the SH-AWD nothing less than exciting on some winding blacktops in Texas hill country last spring and more recently in California’s coastal mountains. In many ways the car’s driving attributes were just as rewarding on a 400-mile journey that included mostly interstates and city streets.
The 3.7-liter V-6 and the all-wheel drive capability continue to be big selling points for the top-trim TL. The new Acura has been measured from 0 to 60 as low as 5.3 seconds. It can complete a quarter mile in 13.9 seconds at 99.6 mph and come to a dead stop from 60 mph is a short 117 feet.
The SH-AWD edition can also be ordered with a six-speed manual, one of very few true mid-sized sport sedans that can be purchased with all-wheel drive and a manual for less than 50 grand.
Like most high-end Japanese products, options are bundled in packages, but both models in base form are loaded with numerous goodies including 17-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated eight-way power front seats, sunroof, xenon headlamps, and an eight-speaker sound system with Bluetooth and audio connectivity.
The Technology package is worth a look because it adds, among other things, the incredible Acura/ELS surround-sound audio system, navigation with real-time traffic, and a back-up camera. Our last SH-AWD test car included the Tech package and the Advanced package that included a Blind Spot information system, 19-inch alloy wheels and ventilated front seats for a bottom line price of $45,970.
With toned down and revised front and rear treatments the TL offers acceptable styling. More important, the TL delivers a terrific driving experience for a very good competitive price.
Base price: $36,495; as driven, $45,970
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6
Horsepower: 305 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 273 foot-pounds @ 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Length: 194 inches
Curb weight: 3,968
Turning circle: 38.9 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 26 mpg highway, 18 mpg city
0-60: 5.3 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: BMW 3-Series, Infiniti G37, Lexus IS 350
• Spacious, well-appointed cabin
• Excellent all-wheel drive system
• Top-level sound system
• Gas mileage suffers with bigger engine
• Mild redesign did not completely fix the needed changes