2012 Acura TL


AUSTIN, Texas — The beak is back. There had been speculation that the guillotine blade grille on the current-generation Acura TL would be eliminated with its 2012 mid-cycle refresh. The answer is in — and it's no.

But it has been toned down and the front end is now smoothed out and not so in-your-face. While the TL retains its basic look, tweaking the styling without reworking the entire car was a key objective for the TL designers. And when you see a 2011 next to a 2012 model, the changes become much more obvious.

The disagreeable grille is still attached to the front end, 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 schnozzle. 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.

It's underneath the sheetmetal skin where the TL has always shined, and thanks to the elimination — finally — of the five-speed automatic for a more modern six speed, the Acura shines even brighter making it one of best sports sedan values in the country.

The new transmission adds a small dose of performance, but it very 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. Rewarding performance that we guess will be measured at around six seconds 0-to-60 is a bargain at the base price of $35,605.

Acura definitely steps it up a notch with the 3.7-liter V-6 that makes 305 horsepower in the TL SH-AWD model. 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. The bigger engine and the all-wheel drive capability continue to be big selling points for the TL. The torque vectoring SH (super handling) AWD adds about $4,500 to the price at $39,155.

Technology and Advance packages can be added to both trim levels.

Our enthusiasm for the TL's overall performance was renewed with the 2012 models. Our dislike for the exterior styling was somewhat mollified, but all cannot be forgiven until Acura makes things right with a new iteration in a couple of years.

— Jim Meachen